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by Sally Sparrow

University isn’t for everyone. In fact, even sixth form college isn’t for everyone. You could, for instance, be ready to leave the world of education behind once you’ve completed your GCSEs, opting instead to go straight into the world of work.

While in the past school leavers might have been expected to go into a wide range of unskilled professions, these days there are a wide range of options open to you if you’re though with full-time education at 16.

From setting up your own business through to learning a trade, the world is your oyster, Indeed, many school leavers soon find themselves with more responsibilities – and higher salaries –than graduates by the time they reach the age of 21, plus of course, you won’t be burdened with tens of thousands of pounds worth of student debt to pay off.

So, if you’re thinking of leaving school and going straight into working life – or if you know someone who is – here are just a few options open to you:


So long as you’re over the age of 16 and no longer in full-time education, you can apply for an apprenticeship. These allow you to gain job-specific skills, working alongside experienced staff while also earning a wage.

Apprenticeships are available in a wide range of professions, from hairdressing and building right through to IT and tailoring. As well as giving you valuable on-the-job experience, an apprenticeship can also lead to qualifications such as NVQs, HNDs, BTECs and even Foundation Degrees, again all without you having to take out student loans and so get into debt.

For more information on the government’s Apprenticeships scheme, visit the official website Here.


There is no shortage of examples of successful business men and women who left school at the age of 16 with few, or no, qualifications.

Among those showing that a lack of further education is no barrier to making it in the world of business are Lord Alan Sugar and Sir Richard Branson, though many more, smaller-scale, less high-profile entrepreneurs also show that a good idea, a strong desire to succeed and a bit of luck are just as important as A-levels of a degree in the modern world.

If you feel you have an idea that could make you money, the British Library’s Business and Intellectual Property Centre ( provides guidance for entrepreneurs and small start-up businesses.

Specialist Careers

Despite what many people think, some of most-interesting – and best-paid –careers are open to candidates without a university education.

Of course, for the most part, you’ll need to have a good academic track record, with excellent results at GCSE-level essential if you’re to stand out from the crowd and persuade an employer to hire you in place of a graduate.

Some of the top careers still open to you if you leave full-time education at the age of 16 include:

  • Air traffic controller

While you will have to wait until the age of 18 to apply, you may be able to train as an air traffic controller with a clutch of excellent GCSEs and an advanced GNVQ. Be warned, however, the selection process is brutal and highly-competitive, which is hardly surprising given that the job can pay around £80,000 a year and comes with a high degree of responsibility and job satisfaction.

  • Police officer

Again, you’ll have to wait until you’re 16, but a lack of A-levels of degree should be no issue if you’re keen to serve as a police officer. Prospective officers will, however, need to pass a rigorous recruitment process and be required to undertake two years full-time training before being a fully fledged policeman or woman earning a salary of around £25,000 a year.

  • Firefighter

As with the police force, the fire brigade welcomes new recruits over the age of 18 regardless of a lack of further education. You will, however, need to pass tests assessing your fitness levels as well as your numeracy and literacy levels.

  • Computer programmer

So long as you’re a programming whizz, tech companies won’t really care whether or not you carried on in full-time education past the age of 16. In fact, many of the brightest programmers in the world spent their teenage years honing their coding skills rather than doing their homework.

Armed Forces

All three branches of the UK Armed Forces (the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force) welcome school leavers over the age of 16, though you need to be 18 to serve in frontline combat units.

According to the RAF, “you don’t need any academic qualifications to join, but you’ll have to be fit and determined”, with a strict selection process in place to ensure you’ve got what it takes.

The Armed Forces could be a good option if you’re keen to carry on learning – for example learning a specialist trade – but feel that an academic education isn’t for you.

Learn more about careers in the Armed Forces by visiting the websites here:

  • The Army
  • Navy
  • RAF Jobs.

Family and Friends

Everyone knows someone who works, ask people if they have any jobs going at there work – make sure you know what they do and show some interest first though.

There are plenty of small family businesses in the UK, if you have the option to go and work, get experience of work, with any member of your family then its worth some serious consideration.

Options for All

The reality is that most of us will do some shop work and some stage, and that supermarkets and the retail trade employ over 2.77 million of us in the UK.

There are options from check out staff, floor sales staff to packing to junior office positions available at most retailers and these jobs are advertised locally instore or online.

Voluntary work, always looks good on your CV, it shows you are willing to help and work for sometimes no pay. It can be a means to meeting new people with similar interests, for example if you and work for WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) you may find someone with similar interests and passions as yourself, this type of work can lead to international adventures too.

Factory Work, this could be in a shift pattern, that rotates each week covering all 24 hours of he day, the benefit of this is that it generally is better paid than normal 9-5 hours and that work is easier to come by as often it can be challenging doing repetitive work and its tough working shifts. There are lots of recruitment agencies that always need people to work and cover peoples shifts, often at short notice.

Always Remember

Whatever you decide to do, its never too late to decide upon a career that may require training or further qualifications – everyone needs to train from the local hairdresser to the solicitor, so never completely disregard your educational options when considering your future work prospects.

Our findings are best summarised as:

1. Further education isn’t for everybody. In fact, many people choose to leave full-time education at the age of 16 and decide to go straight into the world of work.

2. As a school leaver, there are a number of options open to you, even if you don’t have any formal qualifications at all.

3. Apprenticeships allow you to gain job-specific skills, working alongside experienced staff while also earning a wage. They are available in a wide number of areas.

4. An apprenticeship can also lead to qualifications such as NVQs, HNDs, BTECs and even Foundation Degrees

5. If you’ve got a business plan, leaving school at 16 should be no barrier to becoming a successful entrepreneur, as Lord Alan Sugar can testify.

6. A number of specialist careers also welcome school leavers, among them air traffic control jobs, the police and the fire service.

7. The Armed Forces are a popular destination for many school leavers. The Army, the RAF and the Navy all offer opportunities for 16-year-olds with few or no qualifications.

8. Think who you can ask, friends or family.

9. There are always choices, some you may not like, and some are obvious!

Further Reading

The Big Choice website specialises in advertising jobs for students, school leavers and graduates. see for full details.

Should you wish to speak to your local Job Centre about your options, a job or have a general conversation in private then we have full details, address, map and contact numbers.

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