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Think about what you’re good at 

Perhaps the first step is thinking about what you’re good at. Most people have a long career ahead of them, spending an average of 36.5 years at work – that’s a long time to be doing something you find naturally difficult. Whilst it’s absolutely possible to learn new skills and push past your challenges if you’re dedicated, most of us feel that there’s an area of school that’s harder than others, and avoiding this may help inform your career choices.

Of course, not every career subject is covered in the classroom. Instead, focus your thought process on individual components, such as problem solving, teamwork, or skills like maths or writing. By identifying which of these areas you’re good at, you can start to explore which sectors offer these opportunities in day-to-day work.

Think about what matters to you

As well as considering what you’re good at, you also need to think about what you enjoy and what matters to you. There may be a cause that you’re passionate about, such as human rights, animal welfare, or sustainability, and aiming for a career in these areas can fill your life with purpose. This doesn’t mean that you have to aim to go into law or policy. Science and research, fundraising, marketing, and other roles are all just as important to driving your cause forward.

As well as your education qualifications, some roles may require you to meet certain legal criteria to ensure you’re suitable for the job. For example, teachers, solicitors, vets, barristers, social workers, and childminders will likely require a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. This is to ensure that you’re suitable to work with children or vulnerable adults. The check may look at information such as your criminal record. 

Whilst it’s less likely to be relevant if you’ve just finished school, UK employers must also always check that you have the right to work in the UK. If you’re a British or Irish citizen, you can generally use your passport, birth or adoption certificate, or certificate of registration or naturalisation as a British citizen to prove this. If you’re not a British or Irish citizen, you can use a ‘share code’ – which you can get from the UK government – or your immigration documents. 

Disability rights and disability discrimination 

If you have a disability as defined by the Equality Act 2010, there are laws in place in the UK to ensure that you are treated fairly when considering your future career. This protection can cover both mental and physical health conditions, and protects employees, workers, contractors, self-employed people, job applicants, and former employees. 

You don’t have to tell your potential employer that you have a disability, but you’re only protected against discrimination if you tell your employer about your disability or if it’s reasonable to assume your employer is aware that you have a condition that needs to be considered. 

If you’re protected by anti-discrimination laws, employers and potential employers are not allowed to treat you less favourably due to your disability (eg by declining you an interview or a job offer because of it). Disability discrimination can be:

  • direct - for example, if a potential employer withdraws a job offer because of your disability. It’s also important to note that this extends to discrimination due to your caring responsibilities in relation to somebody who has a disability, for example if you’re refused a job because you’d be likely to take time off to care for a disabled relative

  • indirect - this is when rules or criteria applied to everyone have the effect of disadvantaging you because of your disability. For example, if you needed a different break schedule because of your disability and your employer won’t accommodate this

  • discrimination arising from disability - this is discrimination in relation to something arising from your disability. For example, if you have an assistance dog and this means you are treated unfavourably

  • failure to make reasonable adjustments - or example, if your disability means you need a slightly reduced workload, and an employer refuses. It’s important to note that the employer can justify this in some cases where the business cannot accommodate it, such as if you ask them to reduce the workload significantly

  • harassment - for example, inappropriate comments and jokes about your disability

  • victimisation - this is where you’re treated unfairly as a result of a discrimination or harassment complaint

In some situations, an employer will be permitted to engage in indirect disability discrimination when such is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (eg protecting the health and safety of others). For example, if you were to apply for a role as a lifeguard but you have a disability that means you are unable to swim to rescue people from water, an employer could exclude you from this role based on a rule that all life guards must be able to rescue swimmers in need. 

Employers also have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate your work or your application for a position. These are changes to environments, processes, or similar that reduce a disadvantage somebody experiences due to a disability. They generally must be made following a request when doing so is reasonable in the circumstances.

For more information, read Equal opportunities and discrimination and Disability and reasonable adjustments.   

Find the right career for you

Remember, just because you choose one path now doesn’t mean that you can’t change later down the line – it’s never too late to do something new. However, carefully considering your options when you leave school can set you up for an enjoyable entry to the world of work or further education.

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