School’s over – now what?

School is finished and you have qualifications under your belt. But what happens next? Students are weighing up future life choices for themselves earlier and more often


Thirty per cent of students still don’t know what they want to do once they finish school, according to the 2017 Student Barometer by research institute trendence. That’s an increase of 10% on the previous year. Around 20,000 students who were close to finishing school from all over Germany in years 8 to 13 took part in the anonymous survey, which focused on their professional goals, their hopes and dreams, and what they expected and required of training institutions and universities.

This uncertainty is partly due to the opacity of the world of work, which at the same time is becoming increasingly diverse. It offers more challenges and more opportunities, but it’s also a more difficult environment in which to find one’s bearings. The aim of the first ‘Brave New World’ student conference in Berlin is to give students an overview of what is on offer, including the start-up scene.

The words #BraveNewWorld are written in neon green on the tarmac in front of the Siemens building on Rohrdamm. Theo is in year 12 at the Phorms Campus Berlin Mitte and joins 80 of his fellow students in the foyer and the impressive mosaic hall. The future school leavers then make their way to a large conference hall where they eagerly await the first presentation.

‘Brave New World’ is organised by the creators of ‘Startupnight’, an initiative launched by Deutsche Telekom five years ago. It consists of a conglomerate of major German companies, such as Deutsche Bank, Siemens, VW and e.on, who support the start-up scene in Berlin. The various presentations and workshops on offer at ‘Brave New World’ all aim at giving students a closer look at the wide range of new careers on offer.

Start-up founder Nikita Fahrenholz takes the stage to kick off proceedings. The 32-year-old is renowned as the founder of Berlin companies ‘Lieferheld’ and ‘Book a Tiger’, and is one of Germany’s most successful start-up entrepreneurs. ‘What it means to found a company’ is the subject of his short presentation. But rather than singing the praises of the start-up world and founding your own company, the entrepreneur stands in front of the words ‘Don’t do it’ in huge black letters. A little daunting, which is precisely Fahrenholz’s intention. ‘Founding a company isn’t always positive. There are real drawbacks and you are always hoping that you’re going to make it,’ he says, showing photos of an earlier conference hall – the toilet. With its modest proportions, his first office didn’t have space for a quieter corner. The soon-to-be high school graduates are smirking as they listen to him, and his lively presentation leaves them with a clear message – founding a start-up isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun.

‘I thought it was great how blunt he was about it. I’m thinking about starting my own company one day,’ says Theo. Next, he wants to attend a presentation on venture capital – or VC for short. VC is the name for an investment in a new company which comes with high risk. ‘I think the issue of “investment”and everything to do with finance is really exciting. I also think that traditional ways of saving, such as savings or current accounts, won’t last,’ says Theo. The fact that some careers will die out, and that some have already disappeared, is not lost on the 17-year-old or the conference organisers.

‘Corporates and new companies need young talents as well, which is why we take this opportunity to show them everything there is on offer right now,’ says Stefanie Schlappa, co-founder of ‘Brave New World’. The conference made its début in 2017 and is mainly geared towards students in year 10 and above.


But some young visitors already know exactly what they want to be. Like Josie, who is in her final year at the Phorms Campus Berlin Mitte. The 18-year-old is certain that she will become a high school English teacher. The number of students in Germany currently stands at 2.8 million – the highest figure to date. Many people choose to study because a university-level qualification can open up numerous career opportunities and instil key professional skills, such as independent problem solving and critical thinking. Eight good reasons to study can be found on page 16. But if you already know what subject area you want to pursue, turn to page 17 for more information on the application process. The Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich offers great tips for prospective applicants.

Although Josie already knows exactly what she wants to do, she has learned some lessons for the future at the ‘Brave New World’ conference: ‘I picked up a few things, particularly around communication.’


Melina in year 11 also enjoyed the workshops, although she is aiming to study for a more traditional career: ‘Either a doctor through the army, or transport with a focus on aerospace technology, preferably at TU Berlin.’ Melina likes the Pitch Doctor’s presentation best so far. The term ‘pitch’ comes from the advertising industry. During a pitch, agencies compete with each other in front of a potential client, trying to win over customers and snap up contracts. In the start-up scene, this is an opportunity for founders to present their business ideas to investors as quickly as possible and to get them on board.

‘I love debating and discussion and it was great to see the effect words can have and what you can do to really get your voice heard or have an influence,’ says Melina.

‘You see things from a new perspective’

As Theo takes his place for the venture capital presentation, classmate Elliot is attending the creative workshop ‘Design Thinking’. 

Attendees are given three minutes to design their dream wallet. The students let loose with pencils and erasers on a large piece of paper. Some design their own lavishly filled dream wallet. Others see problems in their own wallets that they are now able to fix with their sketches. Later, the students get together in pairs, interview each other and try to design their ideal wallet. The main idea of the workshop is to develop a product for a customer, to give free reign to creativity and to examine the other student’s wishes.


‘You see things from a new perspective,’ says Elliot, looking at the dream product conjured by the girl beside him. The 17-year-old is in year 12 at the Phorms Campus Berlin Mitte. He would like to study photography one day, but not before a little time out. ‘I want to earn money and save up to go travelling,’ he says. In fact, taking time out after leaving school, also known as a gap year, doesn’t just give high school graduates a chance to relax. It also helps them plan their careers. According to the 2017 Student Barometer, 42% of students surveyed were planning to take time out after school, just like Elliot. Many spend their gap year doing useful things like volunteering or internships. Turn to page 22 for more tips and options.

Having the courage to take a gap year can also indicate to future employers that students have really thought about their future careers. They can also gain new skills and experience which might reveal what it is they most want to do.

But not everyone is like Josie, Melina or Elliot, pursuing the dream of study. Others prefer to train, or might even have an extraordinary career in sight already. Just like René Hoffmann, Germany’s only qualified LEGO model builder, and Janine Wildhage, a Berlin violin maker. On page 19, the two describe their unusual careers and how they came about. Janine Wildhage trained to become a violin maker. More and more young people are choosing the training option. This is something Meike Al-Habash, head of the training advice department of the Berlin Chamber of Industry and Commerce, knows all about. In an interview on page 20, she tells you everything you need to know about training and reveals a new training profession that should be available from 2018.

No matter whether students decide to study, train or take a gap year after school, they shouldn’t fear change. Finding your own way takes time. Missteps and detours are all part of development and individual growth. Turn to page 15 for information on how to counter the fear of new beginnings.

By the end of the day, Elliot, Josie, Melina have gathered plenty of new ideas about future careers and the start-up scene. Schools are offering more and more career events. Demand is growing, with around 44% of students looking for more help from their schools when it comes to choosing a career, although two thirds of schools already offer numerous career events. ‘As a school, we definitely want to prepare students for the new world and new careers. The problem is that in the school itself I am limited in how much of these new careers I can show, and everything that goes with them,’ says Marc Vehlow, Head of School at the Phorms Campus Berlin Mitte. Which makes cooperation between schools and events like ‘Brave New World’ all the more important.

However, it should be noted that students aren’t completely uncertain, with 70.8% of those surveyed by trendence reporting a positive view of their future careers. And perhaps some of them were inspired by the ‘Brave New World’ conference and now know what they want to do after school. To prepare the next generation for the future and its new career options, the student version of the ‘Startupnight’ will take place again next year.

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