Galina Akhmerova: ‘95% of rural school graduates won’t know what to study’

How to make sure a teenager chooses a profession that will become happiness, not punishment?

Galina Akhmerova: ‘95% of rural school graduates won’t know what to study’

Galina Akhmerova, the founder and ideologist of Darwin foundation, deals with teenagers’ career guidance. And she sees that it is necessary to accompany children on this path, pay attention to their hobbies and aptitudes because there is a high probability that they will become the recipe of life success. Galina Akhmerova wrote a column for Realnoe Vremya on what lacks the modern system of teenagers’ career guidance, how to help children to find their path in life and who should be held accountable for this: the country, enterprises or schools.

“There will be nobody to work in the industry in 5-10 years”

Darwin foundation develops the accessibility of today’s education. And teenagers’ career guidance is a huge part of our job. Society already realises the public significance of this problem: when we talk with key employers, we see their concern. We met with top managers from Rostec, Rosatom, RUSAL, RosGeo, and they told us: “We look at the future and understand there will be nobody to work in the industry in 5-10 years.” This relates not only to those sectors where an ordinary worker’s job is physically tough. Skilled jobs in the light industry where one could earn quite good money, for instance, a needlewoman or tailor aren’t popular among modern teenagers.

It is a big systemic problem that covers the interests of both production and teenagers themselves. The system needs to change. We should think about some 30 million young people who have to find their path in life right now — correctly, accordingly their talents and aptitudes, with a sensible approach. Of course, the main focus is on Generation Z: those who were born from 2003 to 2023. The population Z in 2023 will total some 30 million, it is approximately the fifth part of Russia’s population! Among the working population, their share will be from 20 to 30% by 2030. This generation has entered colleges since 2019 and will enter universities from 2021. And we see just the first generation of them. What’s next?

So employees admit that there is a problem, and some of them are ready to join the work with schoolchildren. But they mostly work at the moment: they rebuy staff with salaries, poach them from rival enterprises, set up refreshing courses in the workplace. And they work obviously not to increase the amount of conscious arrival at the sector. Meanwhile, there are instruments to make professions popular, and they evolve together with our society.

We met with top managers from Rostec, Rosatom, RUSAL, RosGeo, and they told us: “We look into the future and understand there will be nobody to work in the industry in 5-10 years.” Photo: Maxim Platonov

There is a link between a hobby and a future profession

According to the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 71% of senior school students are going to enter a university, but teenagers don’t know how to choose “their” profession. While we did such surveys in tens of rural schools of Tatarstan — such lads amounted to 95%. At the same time, there is an interesting fact — the dynamics of admission to universities seriously dropped, while the dynamics of admission to colleges rose. Universities prove this, we talked with representatives of Kazan Federal University, Kazan Aviation Institute, Kazan State Power Engineering University. They are raising the alarm that students with shining eyes do not enter their universities. And a serious detail is hidden here: most lads don’t enter a university to study a career that really matches their interests. Teenagers don’t link what they like to do in life with the choice of their future profession. There are two most popular motivations of the modern-day schoolchild to choose a faculty or university we saw: “My mum told me to send my documents there” and “My Unified State Exam points were enough just for this.” What good career guidance!

A young person does need help to turn his hobby into a profession so that the profession will become truly favourite, not prestigious or reliable according to his parents’ choice. I will put a simple example: I recently went to a rural school in Zelenodolsk District. They have a boy, a TikToker, he has 11,150 followers. And when I asked him what if he studied journalism because he already can write a blog well, he replied: “It is just a hobby, but it is unreliable. And who needs me there? While the Ministry of Emergency Situations has a trajectory I understand, I will always have a slice of bread.” And the number of such cases is big: children consider their hobbies as an unreliable game that won’t bring money and become a real profession. How to change it?

There are different instruments. For instance, I say time and again how important extracurricular classes in the system of teenager career guidance are. Perhaps, this is even more important than meetings with employees at school, at least in our country because children go to extracurricular classes according to their personal interests. However, then they rarely enter corresponding faculties in universities. Are there a lot of children from aviation engineering clubs who learn how to build real planes? A handful. And I think that the only reason is that universities and enterprises don’t cooperate with clubs. While children’s interests should be found by working together, creating a movement of clubs, moreover, not only offline but also online. It is necessary to create a clear link: a children’s club — a related faculty at university or college — enterprise. And then an understandable track for children who show their interest and give hope can be laid: first, he goes to a club, then he is taken under the wing of a university (or let’s say college) and then does what he loves in the workplace.

As for school, I have read about the career guidance experience in the East. In Japanese schools, there is a career guidance subject until reaching year seven. After that, the state agrees with enterprises on internships. And it turns out that by the end of their education children personally try their hand at 50-60 professions. Consequently, they have a very accurate and conscious choice of where to do and a nearly zero outflow from the profession. In our country, according to the official statistics, only 27% of people work by trade. And the next ideology brings to it: I am a school student, I study what I had enough Unified State Exam points for but I went to work in a place I was hired, where I managed to get in. And personal interests aren’t in this chain.

There is an interesting fact — the dynamics of admission to universities seriously dropped, while the dynamics of admission to colleges rose. Photo: Maxim Platonov

To help motivated people but avoid “social Darwinism”

Our experience shows that it is possible to try to meet with children and enterprises gathering them in one place. We talk about professions via practice-oriented classes, certainly considering a child’s hobby.

How to turn a hobby into a profession to make the profession favourite? This is real, but a young person should be shown it. Because even he doesn’t have enough Unified State Exam points for a related faculty in a suitable university but has a desire to follow this field, there is a solution. Some companies look for him, wait and will help either with employer-sponsored education or internships. Our experience says that enterprises are ready to introduce such mechanisms and introduce them. Nevertheless, there is an imbalance towards employer-sponsored education: companies pick staff from the most talented people, work with schoolchildren with the help of Olympiads and contests. Though it would be ideal to provide senior students with internships (remember the Japanese experience) because teenagers want to test themselves, feel a profession, see what it is like in general.

But just a few enterprises offer such an opportunity in Russia at the moment. As for grants for employer-sponsored education, only the best at certain subjects (take the same Olympiads) get them anyway. However, in fact, children perhaps should be chosen not only regarding main knowledge within the school programme but also consider the interest in a sphere, a desire to learn and soft skills. Don’t sift only the most talented lads through Olympiads and Unified State Exams, I call this social Darwinism. Because an enterprise needs not only geniuses but also keen workers who love their work very much. And they need to be found somewhere. Enterprises should also geographically expand the circle of their grant holders. For instance, if a plant is based in Yelabuga, it talks with schoolchildren only from its region: contests, Olympiads, related camps and classes are organised only on this territory. What if there is a girl from Mari El who is interested in all this more and could become the star of the enterprise. Where is she and where is Yelabuga?

Here digital tools come in handy. For instance, thanks to ROUND! digital platform, we help connect children from different locations with enterprises that could be interested in them. And then they work with teenagers via contests, grants, specialised camps. Now large corporations bring up their future staff from years 9 and 10, while some start even earlier. Some top managers speak about the age of 10-11 because later teenagers are seized by bloggers, TikTokers and it is hard to inculcate love into simple spheres and professions into them. They choose 8-10 people a year, while they need thousands! And digital tools are the only way to expand this process.

It would be ideal to provide senior students with internships. Photo:

To unite efforts

To solve all problems of modern career guidance in school students, it is necessary to treat the issue holistically: representatives of different spheres should work as a team. Now there is no structure that could unite it all, everybody works locally and far from the parties interested in the process. For instance, from a perspective of the state agenda, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, Employment Centres are responsible for career guidance here. So, it is surprising that if they used to be allocated 300 rubles a year for a schoolchild’s career guidance, now they are given 30. Is this much for career guidance? In fact, the Centres simply offer compulsory tests in which children should fill in questionnaires. They don’t have career guides. They perform a very narrow task with the instruments they have, and they cannot be blamed for this.

But the Education Office doesn’t have an official task of offering correct career guidance, their task is to give knowledge and prepare teenagers for Unified State Exams to hand them over to universities. Universities’ task is to release students, admit freshmen, provide education, in general they don’t care about career guidance. And enterprises’ task is to fill the gaps in staff. There are clubs too: they are equally distributed between different agencies because if they are in cultural centres, they are supervised by the Ministry of Culture, if it is a sports school, the Ministry of Sport chairs it, if it is a school club, the Ministry of Education rules it. In Tatarstan, there is the Ministry of Youth Affairs with its teenage centres and clubs. In a word, there is a variety of ways to reach out to children for career guidance, but there are deep digs, gaps between all participants in the process, at every transition point of a person between them. They do their best in their areas of responsibility, but there is a need for a link that would connect the whole process.

This is why it is no surprise that enterprises shrug their shoulders and say they have a deficit of staff here and now, that they even fear to think what will happen later. In the end, companies have to create educational centres and do this job themselves, from scratch or go to a school and pick the staff with the help of sectoral Olympiads and employer-sponsored education in universities. But these are local measures. And unless there is an uninterrupted connection between all the participants and interested sides of the process, everything will remain disconnected and sporadic.

There are several benefactors of a conscious choice of the profession. First of all, it is the person himself and the enterprise. Photo: Maxim Platonov

Qui Prodest? Who wins?

I think that private and public partnership that includes enterprises, public agencies, schools, universities and private career guidance companies that are starting to appear in Russia too should work well in this case. There are several benefactors of a conscious choice of the profession. First of all, it is the person himself and the enterprise. And it is hard and not correct to shift this problem to the country. This is why I think we should work in cooperation. If we have a look at the world’s experience, they use a combination. A lot of countries have a combination of private employment centres and companies organising internships.

Economically, a person who consciously chose a profession will work with great dedication because he will do what he loves, what he really likes. His productivity will be higher, the creative potential in the profession will open up and he won’t leave the enterprise. And this, by the way, is good not only for the person himself but also for the company because it is three times more expensive to find and integrate a person into the enterprise’s personnel than to keep him. This is why Russia’s leading enterprises are now investing in the search for their future staff, their training, take teenagers under their wing.

And I am pleased to see that such an approach — investing in the future, what will bring a long-term effect — is now taken by many moguls of the Russian industry. They simply need help with it, both companies and teenagers, while all interested sides should unite effort for this purpose.

Galina Akhmerova