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Students must be properly prepared for the world of work

Later this month, thousands of school students will receive exam results - at GCSE, AS and A Level - that will help determine their future careers and the type of role they will have in the workforce for forty years or more.

These are often defining moments for young people as they try to decide what path to take.

Some will opt to leave school and look for a job or try to secure an apprenticeship. Others will stay in education and take on the further study they hope will enhance their job prospects.

What is important is that these teenagers are fully informed about their options and provided with the skills that today's employers are seeking.

There are many jobs that don't require a degree and the increasing cost of higher education will make many pupils think carefully about embarking on a course that will saddle them with significant debt.

Students studying at a Northern Ireland university will have to pay back around £4,000 in tuition fees for each year of their course plus any maintenance loans taken out for accommodation, food and transport.

That is bad enough but those travelling to England face paying £9,000 a year plus maintenance costs, leaving many graduates facing a debt of around £40,000 before they look for a job.

However, the question many students should be asking is, will a particular course prepare them for work and help them find employment in their chosen field?

The good news is that, according to a new survey of businesses in Northern Ireland by Pearson College, London, graduates are important to local companies and there is demand for higher-level skills.

Less encouraging is the finding that many businesses are unimpressed by the quality of careers advice given to young people with 94 per cent of those surveyed believing it was not good enough to help them make informed decisions about their future career options.

Many employers looked for graduates with the right attitudes and aptitudes to enable them to be effective members of staff.

But a considerable number of firms expressed concern at the lack of relevant work experience and business awareness among university-leavers, which is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed.

On the positive side, companies said they would be willing to do more to support schools and colleges provide better careers advice.

It makes absolute sense for employers to play a more central role at an early stage of the recruitment process, guiding students and teachers on the skills and experience they are looking for and spelling out the range of jobs, opportunities and rewards on offer.

And it is essential our graduates and school leavers are armed with the information they need to make the right choices for their future.

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