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Why we should celebrate result-day talent regardless of outcomes

Nikki Davis, Principal & CEO, Leeds College of Building

This year, more than any I can think of in recent times, we should celebrate all A Level, T Level, GCSE, and the hundreds of thousands of vocational results as we welcome the return of formal exams post-pandemic.

Results days can be a positive and life-enhancing event for so many young people, whose futures slot into place as they nervously check results online or open their envelopes. For others, it is a day of disappointment which can be very hard to take.

Whatever a young person’s results, it is worth reminding them that their grades do not define them as people. Just because they got straight 9’s does not mean that life will be a walk in the park. Conversely, not getting the grades expected, doesn’t mean you won’t succeed.

Exam results are simply a point-in-time reference which opens the next stage of education or progression. Unfortunately, every year there are comments about exams being easier than “in my day,” or “I didn’t do brilliantly in my exams, but now I’m a successful business owner.” Neither of these is helpful and young people would do best to disregard them.

Being a young person who undertook GCSEs, A Levels, T Levels or vocational qualifications like BTECs in 2022 was tough and one that not many of us have experienced. Apprentices were particularly hard hit with very little flexibility for most. The disparity in experience and opportunity through the pandemic will no doubt have widened the educational gap between different groups too.

Instead of making withering remarks, we need to celebrate the resilience of these incredible young people. Having overcome the challenges of the pandemic - studying remotely, working hard to close gaps in knowledge, improving social deficits, little or no exam practice yet jumping straight in – there is yet more being thrown at them.

Over the last few weeks, the national media has reported on rail and exam-board strikes planned for results days, along with ominous stories about a lack of university places and an expected drop in grades as things “return to normality” in 2022.

Whatever a young person’s experience and outcome, they should be applauded – not only for their tenacity in returning to education and getting on with their exams but also for how they conducted themselves during the pandemic. If our students at Leeds College of Building were anything to go by, it was with patience, understanding, and humour. They were truly exceptional.

Working in Further Education (FE), I know how many opportunities these young people now have open to them. FE is a wonderful sector and one which – regardless of issues stemming from a perpetual lack of funding despite warm words and three-word slogans - will always be there to support, encourage, and advise on next steps. Whether BTECs, T Levels, A levels, other vocational qualifications, or Apprenticeships, maintaining choice is essential for students.

A rich depth of experience and training is critical for filling many skills gaps in industry today. This is especially true of the construction sector and its suppliers, suffering from a restricted and ageing workforce. Last year, the Construction Skills Network (CSN) predicted the industry would need to recruit an enormous 217,000 new workers by 2025 to meet demand.

At the same time, zero carbon targets, sustainable energies, digital technologies, infrastructure projects, and substantial demand for new build housing mean colleges like ours have a crucial role to play. Working with young talent, we can help boost diversity in the field by promoting the exciting opportunities available for everyone.

Some of the most in-demand jobs are forecast to be in carpentry and joinery, construction management, electrical installation, as well as office-based professionals. It is an exciting time as the sector explores Modern Methods of Construction (MMC), advanced materials, new digital technologies including VR, drones for surveying, sustainable energies, and critical software for more robust products.

At Leeds College of Building, we deliver programmes from Level 1 right through to Degree Apprenticeships. Opportunities are almost limitless, and jobs plentiful and rewarding. It gives our staff such pride to see students progress all the way through to employment, become an employer themselves, or a Chartered professional.

So, this summer, more than praising grades on results days, let’s remind our young people of how far they’ve travelled and what potential they are yet to tap in to… And that’s before they become the designers, surveyors, architects, bricklayers, planners, business owners, and engineers of the future!