A lot of our pupils at Seaford College display a strong entrepreneurial spirit and not every student here feels they have to go to university to follow their chosen career. One example is sixth former Lucas Streeter, who will be embarking on a career in the City in the autumn. We spoke to him about his plans for the future.
Tell us about your work experience in the City.
I talked things over with my parents and they mentioned a close family friend who worked in an oil brokerage and then at Citigroup. He arranged the work experience for me – one day at Citi and then two days at the oil brokerage.
Until you’ve actually gone into an environment like that, it’s really hard to understand what the atmosphere and lifestyle are really like.
I had to do research myself – it isn’t all laid out beforehand. I went there to see how the business operates, how people interact. It was really insightful, taught me things you can’t know until you go there. It strengthened the appeal for me.
You’ve done an extra year at Seaford…
I was planning to do my A and AS Levels over two years and then go straight to uni. Doing an extra year has given me a chance to step back and evaluate what I want to do. The extra time allowed me to rethink – I wasn’t sure that I wanted to spend three more years in further education. It’s not for me. I prefer the idea of getting into the workplace – it seems more productive. I spoke with people at Citi who did almost an apprenticeship to get their foot in the door.
It wasn’t a commonplace choice among my peers when I took the decision, but it seems to be growing on people. A lot of it is down to exposure – if you’re only exposed to people who went to uni, then that’s the only option you’ll consider.
There’s sort of been a word-of-mouth effect, the idea slowly seems to be becoming more popular, especially if you look at the living costs – food, travel, rent etc. It also depends on what you want to do. If you want to be a doctor or a vet, for example, you almost have to do a degree, but if you’re not doing a specific degree, it’s less essential.
I’m probably going to wait for my confirmed results before making my next move. I’ve talked to a lot of people already, but after I get my results I’ll be sending a lot of emails, trying to exploit my contacts.
Some companies do have apprenticeship schemes but lots don’t, so therefore it’s a question of arranging something personal, some form of mentoring. I think I’ll end up in an oil brokerage or an insurance brokerage.
How has the school supported you since you made your decision to go straight into the workplace?
A large majority of the pupils here go through UCAS but there have always been a number of students who haven’t wanted to go to uni. The teachers here are as accommodating as possible. There’s a shift in focus away from doing your UCAS statement towards looking at your CV and employability with your personal tutor.
Mr Pitteway has helped with guidance, because he’s in charge of graduate schemes, apprenticeships and arranging for guest speakers to visit the school, as well as being a business studies teacher – it’s all useful.
A few pupils here are thinking of doing a gap year and then considering going in to the workplace. There are a lot of people working in the City who started young and did an apprenticeship or a different career, a lot who were in the Army, some who were manual labourers.
It depends on the role. For example, if it’s an analytical role, working more on the theoretical side, they want people with a degree. But on the brokerage side, it’s more about personal relations, so they don’t tend to look at your degree or what school you went to – above all you need good interpersonal skills.
I learnt networking from my dad, who’s always been keen to introduce me to people. He’s always taken me to corporate events that not a lot of kids go to. I got used to introductions at a young age.
Another thing I learnt from my dad is that he always finds a way of relating to people, such as sport. Find something that they can relate to, a way to get on with them, don’t just go into it business-headed. There’s a social aspect as well, which builds stronger relationships. It’s a good skill to have.
What feedback did you receive?
People gave me guidance about how they had worked their way up. There was plenty of feedback about what I should be doing, including qualifications that you can take once you’ve joined a company. That was really useful because I didn’t know about them beforehand. It’s good to start these qualifications early because they can take two years to complete if you’re doing them part-time.
I’ve had email correspondence since as well. It’s all helped. It isn’t just about paper qualifications, but how you work with people. They said I was professional. We talked about confidence – I wasn’t shy about asking questions and they liked that.
How did the school help with the work experience?
The work experience involved me taking four days off and the school was fine with it, as it wasn’t too close to anything significant and I was on top of my work anyway. I had to explain what I was doing, obviously. In the same the way the school wouldn’t stop pupils going to university interviews, they won’t stop pupils getting work experience. It’s a similar thing, just a different pathway.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to start in September/October, then maybe stay for three years, use the time I would have been at uni to get to a graduate level. I plan to live at home and commute at first, and then look at moving up later. After three years, it will depend on what the company offers me, whether there’s much headroom there.
It will all be paid, roughly £19k-£23k at the start. I have no problems with that as I have no experience at the moment. The progression I’ve looked at is that in three years I’ll be earning the same as a graduate anyway, plus I’ll have no living costs, so I can build up a surplus, whereas a graduate is likely to be going in with debts of at least £27k. To me that seems like starting a 100m race with a sack of rocks on your back.
It’s tough to evaluate: does the cost of a degree justify the benefits? As a first-time buyer trying to raise a deposit, especially if you’re doing a degree for the sake of doing a degree, it’s a very expensive business. For a lot of people uni works, but some people also like the idea of going to uni rather than necessarily thinking through how useful a degree will be to them.
I think a lot of people just assume everyone is doing the same thing and it’s just part of life that you have student loans to pay back. People also forget about living expenses. They just see £9k fees and think, ‘That’s not bad.’
Have you always been someone who doesn’t necessarily follow the crowd?
I don’t think I’ve been swayed by the herd. I mean, there isn’t really a herd at Seaford, because everyone here’s quite individual, but I’ve never been put off something because no one else has tried it. I’m not really fussed about perceptions, it’s about whether I like something.
What if your plan doesn’t work out?
I’m still young, so I have a lot of bounce-backability. That’s one reason why I wanted to do it – I don’t really worry, because it’s all part of the experience. Regardless of how it goes, the experience will be useful.
Do you have any advice for other pupils who are considering taking the same path as you?
Tell your parents about your plans, because they know a lot more that you think. You forget how big families’ social circles are. Do something you’re interested in, start talking to people, let them know what you’re thinking of doing. Even talk to friends, because you never know who has contacts in which area.
Also, make it clear that you have a good work ethic because obviously you have to make up for your lack of a degree somehow. You can’t just go in and expect to get it all, you have to expect to work for it.
My dad says he enjoyed 80% of his job and that was enough. He provides good guidance – lots of the situations I find myself in, he’s been there, even if it was some time ago. Because he didn’t come from a privileged background, I’ve always been aware that I’m fortunate to be at Seaford, so I try not to take things for granted or complain about my life. Growing up, I was taught about the value of money and my dad has always been open with me about his finances, so maybe that’s why I’ve always been interested in how money and stock markets work.