As a sixth form student, I wasn’t entirely sure ‘what I wanted to do when I grew up’. I always liked English and History, enjoyed writing, and had a fleeting notion about being a journalist. I probably should’ve pursued it too as copywriting is one element of my marketing work that I still really enjoy, but this isn’t about me – it’s about Harry. And who is Harry you may ask.

Harry is a sixth form student from Banbridge who I met last month through my work as a YENI mentor (that’s Young Enterprise NI if you’re not familiar with YENI). I was tasked with giving him some work experience and advice on developing his career and during my time with him, I decided to interview him to learn a bit more about him. In this article, I’ll share the interview with you and how it got me thinking about the changes in our education system and the work aspirations of young people like Harry.

1. Who are you & what are you studying?

I am Harry McDowell and I’m from Banbridge. I’m a 17-year-old student at St Patricks College Banbridge. I study media and double ICT and have 10 GCSEs.

2. What are your hobbies?

I enjoy horse riding and have been doing it since I was 5. I like working in the yard with the horses, farming livestock and working with machinery but I also like video editing and graphic design.

3. What are your future study & career plans?

I plan to do the CAFRE (College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise) Diploma in Agriculture/Land management after I finish school. It’s a 1-year course. Then I would like to open my own horse yard to train horses and stable other people’s horses.  I would also like to build my own farm and keep livestock.

4. How will you make use of your digital media skills in your equine/agri-business?

I’ll make videos and graphics to promote my own business and help others to promote theirs too as an extra way to make money. I’ll create content about the farm and horses by making videos and images to show the animals and what I do in the business. I’ll publish the videos on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.


5. What websites do you go to for creative ideas and who do you know who does video content well?

I use YouTube for ideas when making videos, as I look at what others have made and take points and ideas from them. I know Stuart of Stuart Dubois Photography and he does high quality videos that I like to watch.

6. What video tips would you give to someone who has never created a video before?

I would recommend that they have a go. I would also tell them to never be scared to make mistakes and also, if they are happy with what they make don’t let anybody change their content.

7. How important do you think video content is for marketing a business?

I believe video is very important in a business as it allows the business to show the customers what the business does and how they do it. I also believe it’s good as it helps the business to promote itself to a larger audience.

The Changing Aspirations of Young People

Two things struck me about Harry’s plans as I interviewed him:

1. At age 17 he knows with some degree of certainty what he wants to do

2. His desire to be his own boss.

Whilst all children get asked what they want to be when they grow up and many talk about being doctors, nurses, pilots, fire men, zoo keepers or other interesting alternatives, how many actually go on to do those roles? Undoubtedly some, but many go through their teens, university years, perhaps graduate and still don’t have a clear idea of what they want to do, and others change careers many times in life in an attempt to find a job they love and get a sense of fulfilment from. 

I was probably a few years older than Harry, around 19 and in my 2nd year at uni when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in marketing, but it wasn’t until I was 32 that I became self-employed. Even then, it wasn’t something I’d planned.  It was also later in my life that I was educated on the concept of ‘doing a job you love and never having to work a day in your life’. Now whilst there is some truth in this statement, I have to add a caveat – it’s not quite the full picture when it comes to self-employment for most people, not for the first few years of it anyway until the hard work starts to pay dividends!

Whilst I took a traditional academic route to kick-start my career completing GCSEs, A Levels, a degree and later a postgrad and other professional qualifications, it’s much more common for young males like Harry, who grow up in agricultural communities to develop the love of animals, the great outdoors and the desire to be self-employed when they are quite young. Note that I say males.  I grew up in this environment too and as a farmer’s daughter I donned my wellies and was out working on the farm with my Dad and siblings as soon as I could walk. My first paid job was gathering potatoes for neighbouring farmers, which I started when I was barely out of primary school and continued every summer until I got a shop job in our local SuperValu in Banbridge at age 16. This was the summer after I completed my GCSE’s. But back then girls weren’t typically encouraged to take over the family farm! But these days, its not so unheard of.

Aside from the agricultural sector, over the last 3 years or so, I’ve noticed a decisive shift in how individuals view their careers and what they want out of life. With an academic background and over 10 years of working my way up the career ladder in the marketing departments of large companies and smaller marketing agencies I then became a self-employed marketing consultant. But now, I see a lot more young people like Harry and others in their early to mid-20’s following the trend. I’ve no doubt that part of this is down to much better careers advice than there was ‘in my day’, the growth of social media which provides an endless amount of entrepreneurial success stories at our fingertips and the expansion of business networking to include motivational events like the Ted Conference where Ted Talks inspire billions around the world. 

Over the years, the increase in the costs of getting a degree has also left graduates with excessive amounts of student debt. This combined with the fact that an individual with practical experience can hit the ground running in the workplace more quickly than a graduate with no experience has also fuelled the debate about whether it is worthwhile to send your children to uni at all these days.  I’ve always been an advocate of putting in the work to get the qualifications and building up your practical experience alongside this. The combination of qualifications and experience is surely the safest bet if you are an employer who is hiring someone for your team, or selecting a sub-contractor for a project, is it not?

But I often wonder how the worlds of education and work will look in 5 or 10 years’ time. Will the percentage of school students progressing to university education take a significant nosedive? Will more secondary school students skip the university education and ‘climbing the ladder’ phases and head straight for self-employment as Harry intends to? And what are the pros and cons of such scenarios – will this develop a stronger or weaker economy or will the missing link in terms of the knowledge gained in these middle stages cause greater challenges for businesses in the long-run? I guess there is no easy answer as no one shoe will fit all!

Please share your experiences and thoughts on changes in education, work, self-employment, the impact of digital media and any other factors in the mix you see as relevant.  It’d be great to hear others perspectives on this.

Denise Cowan is a Digital Marketing Consultant based in Northern Ireland, specialising in digital strategy, marketing campaign development, content marketing and copywriting.  Email  if you’d like to discuss anything you’ve read in more detail.  Also connect on LinkedIn, Facebook , Twitter,or visit