Are gap years an opportunity to enhance your CV and employability or simply just another way to delay further education for as long as possible?
Whether you want to travel the world to broaden your knowledge of other cultures, seek new skills to grow as a person, or even gain real life work experience in an industry where you hope one day to be employed. All of these can be achieved by taking a gap year, just 12 months outside of conformed education where you have complete control.
Whilst undertaking my A-levels, like many, I thought that university was the only way forward; receiving an offer and then attaining it was the number one priority. It was unbearable to imagine yourself as being the only one left behind. What would you do with all of that time? Well, fortunately I did gain my place at University, only once I got there I realised I no longer wanted it. The course was wrong, the lecturers were wrong, the place was wrong.
In the year leading up to my final exams I supposedly had it altogether, I would begin University in 2012 and graduate in 2016, yet eight weeks after starting I was travelling all the way back home with the car reloaded and with no intention of returning. What on Earth was I going to do now? Whilst I was able to return to my weekend job, I knew that I had to make the most of this year and that’s exactly what I did! With little previous experience, I applied and somehow managed to get a job working as a full time teaching assistant and I have never looked back since.
I worked with a variety of children both in small groups and one to one helping them to develop their numeracy, language and comprehension abilities, particularly in year 6 in preparation for SATs. I was trusted to create my own activities when asked and as a result developed: my understanding of different learning techniques; how best to engage young minds and how a child with special educational needs (SEN) differs, and therefore what systems need to be put in place in order to support them.
From this experience, I have definitely grown in confidence and learnt more about teamwork and leadership, which I can now carry forward with me and demonstrate to employers in the future. In such a competitive job environment, almost all employers are asking, “what experience do you have?” So why not take 12 months to gain some? If you just want to work during your gap year try to do so in a company that will provide you with opportunities to grow and gain an insight into the industry. If you instead want to see the world and its varying cultures, seek opportunities to volunteer whilst you’re there. Not only will it be rewarding, it provides you with a greater sense of purpose for the trip rather than it just being somewhat of an extended holiday. Taking time out also allows you to think more about what course you really want to study, about potential careers and build up the experience that employers value so deeply.
Taking a year out was the best decision I have ever made and, who knows, in four years I could be a qualified teacher.
A lot of you reading this article may have been on gap years. A lot of you may have loved them, and decided that they were the defining experience of your life. But some of you are probably wondering: was it a good choice?
In today’s current market, jobs are becoming increasingly scarce. Companies are, more and more, tightening their belts and refusing to hire the quantities of staff they were willing to previously. In a competitive market where standing out is everything, you might think that half a year in Thailand or Peru would make you stand out from the crowd: but increasingly, you’d be wrong.
The Gap year is no longer an exclusive idea. It’s becoming more accessible thanks to schemes and grants provided by companies, and thanks to the term no longer strictly meaning a year- 4 weeks in the Australian bush alongside 9 months of working in a TESCO is just as valid as a year in Mozambique. And this means that its properties as a CV booster are becoming weaker. Companies now prefer to see that you DID something for that half year- did you help build a school? Assist a nursing home? Why did you backpack across Europe instead of give aid in Africa?
Furthermore, Gap Years aren’t the safest of things. You may recall recently the story of two volunteer English teachers, both 18 and taking a year out before degrees, being attacked with acid in Zanzibar. There is little or no support network for students in a lot of these countries, and though these girls managed to get back to London fairly sharpish, they could have been a heck of a lot more unlucky, as horrifying as their ordeal was.
Of course, you could just spend your gap year working. Plenty of people take their year off simply to get money and experience for University- and that’s fair enough. But the fact of the matter is, Governments shouldn’t be encouraging young people to have to work before education if they believe education is required for work. There has been a big hoo-hah about the need to get back to basics in terms of education, and the push for better core subjects and degree results- and yet the need for experience is still prevalent throughout the job-seekers market, and university life still costs a ridiculous amount for students.
Gap years can be wonderful experiences. But they can come with dangerous side effects, may betray a fallacy within the governments own work policy, and possibly won’t do what they say on the tin.