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University: the best route to success?

University: the best route to success?
With recent statistics revealing that one in five graduates are on the dole and that one in three A-Level students cannot get a place at university, is higher education really the best route to success?
Jessica Shelton, 21, works as a freight account manager at RH Freight one of the biggest freight operators in the UK. Jessica, from Bristol, left school at 17 after making the conscious decision to get a job rather than to go down the academic route. Three years later, while many of her friends are struggling to get jobs and worrying about the future, Jessica is earning over 35k a year, driving a company car and excelling in her career. 
Here Jessica talks about her experience of leaving school at 17 and working with RH Freight...
Why did you leave school at 17 and do you have any regrets?
I felt quite pressured to go to sixth form, my school didnt offer any help with regards to starting a career, and staying on at school was considered the done thing. When I asked my teacher for advice on pursuing a career as an alternative to taking my A-levels, she just gave me a funny look!
I knew that university wasnt going to be for me, and as everyone else at sixth form was so intent on going, I did feel like the odd one out. I weighed up my options and felt that there was no real point in studying A Levels that I was never likely to use. I decided that I would be better off leaving school, working hard in a career and proving myself that way.
The only small regret I have is that I was pressured into starting my A levels. I left school after completing my AS exams and I feel in hindsight that it was a wasted year as I never include them on my CV. I think I would have preferred going straight into employment after my GCSEs, but at least  this way I stayed on long enough to be 100% sure that higher education wasnt the best route for me.
Do you think that its easy to get a job at 17?
I think its hard, more so today than it was when I left school. I have some younger friends looking for work now, and unfortunately theres just not that much out there. Personally I was relatively lucky, I targeted business centres in my area and I didnt really struggle to find anything, I always had some sort of work.
Did you know at 17 what you wanted out of a career?
I had no idea whatsoever, initially I even considered joining the army! I spoke to my parents and they just told me to get a job anywhere I could. I wasnt really thinking along the lines of a proper career, I was just focussing on finding somewhere to work. I ended up applying pretty much everywhere I could, from fast food restaurants to supermarkets and offices.
Did you have many jobs before you moved to RH Freight?
Yes, Ive always tried to work. I had several paper rounds when I was young, I also used to do the washing up at a local pub and when I was at sixth form I used to work part time at Tesco. My first job after leaving school was in a customer services role at TNT, a freight parcel carrier. I got that through an agency and it was my first real introduction to the freight industry.
How did you find out about RH Freight?
I was actually head-hunted by RH Freight whilst I was still at TNT. RH Freight was one of their customers and I used to deal with them quite a lot in my original role. They initially employed me in an operations role, so I was charged with making sure everything ran smoothly! It was really exciting for me because obviously it was a great opportunity and it was really flattering to be sought after, especially as I was only 18 at the time.
Whats the best part of your job?
I think its got to be getting to deal with a variety of people on a day to day basis. Ive become a real people person since I started at RH Freight. Ive established some great relationships with our customers and I love talking to them and hearing about their lives. I think some of my customers may know more about me than my family do! I also really love sales. Its not something I ever thought Id go into, but Im so glad I have because I genuinely enjoy it.
Do you consider yourself successful?
I think each person defines success differently. I know that I have achieved a lot compared to other people my age I have a great job which I enjoy and which Im good at. I think others would consider me successful because of this, but I look at other people who have perhaps been working twice as long as me, and I can see myself in their position in the future. I know that there is a lot more that I can achieve and I look forward to working hard to do that.
What are your aspirations for the future?
This is a difficult question to answer as Im very happy with my life right now. If, in the future, I am this content with my job and personal life, I will genuinely consider myself very lucky. I think that I am extremely fortunate to be where I am at the moment and if that carries on, that would be great! 
Does RH Freight offer an internal training programme for roles in sales?
RH Freight offer progressive training programmes after youve started a role in sales. They are keen to support employees, building upon their existing sales techniques and knowledge. I personally have no formal sales training apart from what Ive been given in house, so this has obviously been really beneficial to me.
I was actually quite unique in terms of how I got into sales here. I was head-hunted for an operator position, but when I told my manager that I wanted to be in sales they asked me to prove to them that I could do it. So on top of my usual duties I decided to give selling a go, having had no previous experience. I managed to build up quite a portfolio of customers and I made between two and three thousand pounds profit for RH Freight a month, just on top of my operator role. It all went from there really, and as soon as a vacancy came up on the sales team, they offered me the position.
Do you think that these programmes are important to peoples careers?
Definitely, without guidance you simply wouldnt be able to improve. You need that continuous training to teach you new approaches and methods of selling. In my opinion, no matter what the training is, it will always be useful. For example we get IT training here and even though its not specifically sales related its still helpful.
Whats your opinion on university?
Having not been to university I find it hard to comment, but I do believe that it is beneficial if you want to go into a skilled profession such as medicine or law. For me personally, I dont think that there would have been any point in studying a subject for three years that I probably would never have pursued after I left. I do think that there is a culture at the moment that encourages people to go university purely for the sake of it.
Do you feel youve missed out on the whole university experience?
In some ways I feel Ive missed out, particularly in terms of moving away from home and making uni friends, but at the same time Ive met loads of great people at work who I wouldnt have met if I went to university. If I could change the choices Ive made now, I wouldnt. Im very happy with where I am at the minute, and if Id have gone to university instead, this may not have been the case.
Do you work with many school leavers?
Most of the people here are actually school leavers. I believe there is only one girl in our department with a degree and unfortunately she couldnt get a job in the field she studied so shes working here now. 
Do you think the way you entered your career is the best way to do it?
I fell in to both sales and the freight industry. When I was at school I never thought that I would be where I am now, I was actually told by my careers advisor that I would be best suited to a role in landscape gardening! Sales didnt really come up as an option, and I think it gets overlooked as a career in general, which is a shame really as it can be a great role as long as you have people skills.  This route has worked very well for me, especially as Im so young, but there are so many ways to get into this career, and as long as youre determined and willing to put the work in, theres no reason why you shouldnt succeed.
Would you recommend this (your job/how you got it) to others?
Yes. 100%. I love my job. The transport industry is massive and theres so much opportunity here that people simply arent aware of. The same goes for sales, there is great potential to make a lot of money in it, but its never really discussed at school. I would defiantly recommend my job to anyone, and Im truly passionate about it. I really believe that if youre not sure about going to university then you should just get out in the work place, and as long as you have the right attitude and motivation, you will go far.
Did many of your friends leave school at 17 or did many go to university?
Out of my friendship group, I was the only one who went to sixth form. A couple of people got jobs in call centres, but most of them went to college. It was mainly the friends that I made whilst studying my A Levels who went on to university. The rest, after finishing their college courses, went and got jobs.
Do the ones who went to university have jobs now?
Some of them are still studying, but Id say the majority of those who have finished their courses have managed to get jobs. Their degrees havent necessarily put them at an advantage though, as they are not all working in the fields that they were hoping to go into. Many of them are working in admin or secretarial roles simply because that was all that was available to them.


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