University, apprenticeship or straight into a job? Our Step Up Expo helps you decide...

Art attack: an arts student hones her skills at Solent University, which is exhibiting at Step Up 2024
Art attack: an arts student hones her skills at Solent University, which is exhibiting at Step Up 2024

Julie Henry reveals why next week’s education and careers show is a must-visit for teens and parents alike

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It sounds like a simple enough question — and it’s one that we all remember well from primary school — but working out the answer today is harder than it has ever been. There are now countless vocational and academic courses and an even wider range of potential occupations to consider, all part of an education and careers landscape that is hugely complex.

As a parent or teenager, it can be incredibly daunting, but help is at hand in the form of the Evening Standard’s Step Up Expo, which takes place at London Olympia next week. A unique mix of more than 70 leading schools, colleges, universities, apprenticeships, employers and training providers brought together under one roof, there is no better place to gain some insight into which pathway is right for you.

In the Education Zone, teachers, tutors and specialists in university admissions, including Dr Samina Khan, director for undergraduate admissions at Oxford, will take the anxiety out of thinking about your future. In the Careers and Training Zone, recruiters from global brands, such as KPMG, Unilever and building giant Mace, will help you explore all the opportunities on offer.

Sessions with leading support organisations in the Life Skills Zone, will support your teenager with revision, finance and wellbeing advice.

More than 35 inspirational talks and workshops include “From Saturday job to the boardroom”, “How do you decide what to study at Uni?”, and “Working your way up after GCSE failure” with Army Staff Sergeant Sohail Ashraf MBE. Hear from Professor Charles Stafford, pro vice-chancellor at the LSE about his journey from drifting at age 18 to top academic.

By inspiring, motivating and providing practical next steps, the Step Up Expo could change your teenager’s life. Not convinced yet? Here are six more reasons to visit:

1 Because the creative industries are booming —and you can be part of them

The Step Up Expo hosts the creative arts show FORMA, showcasing world-leading courses in fashion, fine art, graphic communication, digital arts, gaming design, ceramics, curation, architecture, interior design, performance, journalism, film, textiles and TV. Bring your portfolio and get expert feedback from experienced tutors from Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design, University of the Creative Arts, University of West London, Reading University, University of the Arts London (UAL), and many more.

A fashion communication course at Condé Nast College put Natalie Smicerova on track to a career as a creative designer. “There were so many opportunities to network,” she says, “I even secured an internship at Vogue.”

Keynote speakers Jo Evans, careers manager at Adele’s alma mater, the Brit School, and Alex Schady, director of fine art at Central St Martins, will give creative hopefuls the inside track. And if hip hop is your thing, come and meet staff from Academy Breakin Convention, London’s new theatre school at Sadler’s Wells East.

2 Because we can help you navigate the financial side

Want to go to university but worried you can’t afford it? Clueless about how much it costs to live away from home or how much apprentices get paid? Our financial literacy zone will give you the answers.

Play Money Olympics on a large scale interactive game designed by financial education charity Mybnk.

“Financial literacy is more than just numbers,” said Sarah Moody, chief corporate affairs and sustainability officer at investment company Abrdn, a Mybnk partner. “It’s about providing people with the knowledge of how to budget, save and invest for the future. Our partnership with MyBnk is helping to bridge the gap, we want to empower a financially savvy generation ready to navigate the complexities of living and working for longer in a more complex, changing world.”

3 Because 7,000 visitors can’t be wrong

Thousands of teenagers, parents and school careers staff visited Step Up last year. For one 15-year-old who attended, the Expo calmed her feelings of being “overwhelmed about decisions that feel monumental”.

“It was really helpful to have so many people to talk to who have real-life experience of the different paths I am thinking about,” says the teenager.

Teenagers at the 2023 Expo
Teenagers at the 2023 Expo

Just like last year’s event, Step Up 2024 has unparalleled depth and breadth, with an array of education, skills, employers and support organisations exhibiting and a full timetable of inspirational talks. On hand to give advice whatever issue you might be facing is The Mix, the UK’s leading digital charity for young people.

“The Mix’s mission is to empower every young person to make informed choices,“ said Gavin Sharp, head of fundraising: “We’ll connect young people to experts and their peers to talk about everything from money to mental health, jobs and careers to relationships, and more.”

4 Because getting to your first-choice university is more competitive than ever

Our university advice zone will give you top tips on how to stand out. Do you need to pep up your personal statement? Which university or college is best for your subject? Do you qualify for a lower offer? Advisers from the Sutton Trust, the Brilliant Club and IntoUniversity, offer first rate advice and support, while speakers reveal the inside track on Oxbridge and admissions to medicine. “Receiving the right level of support, information and guidance is so crucial,” says IntoUniversity founder and chief executive Dr Rachel Carr, OBE. “For some young people, this is about knowing the types of courses available and how they link to potential careers. Others require specific support to get the grades or to work on their Ucas application. These young people have so much potential, and the right level of support can be life-changing.”

5 Because leading employers are waiting to help you start your career straight from school

“With 4,900 stores in nine countries, you’ve hopefully already shopped with us — now there’s a chance to join the team,” says Deborah Dolce, group director at TJX Europe, parent company of TK Maxx, one of a host of companies to showcase their apprenticeships at Step Up. “We offer some of the most exciting and inspiring early-career opportunities imaginable.”

From British Airways, Unilever and the Royal Opera House to TfL, the RAF and KPMG, make connections at Step Up with some of the biggest brands in the world and discover how to get on the ladder of success. “The truth is that apprenticeships are just as viable an option as more traditional routes, like graduate programmes,” says Karl Edge, chief people officer at KPMG UK. “Our apprenticeship programmes provide an excellent training ground for a career with KPMG.”

Work it: incomparable advice on everything from fashion to finance is under one roof
Work it: incomparable advice on everything from fashion to finance is under one roof

6 Because two hours at the Expo could change your teenager’s life

You want to ensure the best possible future for your teenager, whatever their personal circumstances. The transition from school to further or higher education or employment is a difficult one, even more so for young people with SEND or who may face other challenges. Friday afternoon at Step Up, from 1.30 to 3.30pm, is the perfect time for young people with special needs, neurodivergence and disabilities, and their parents/carers, to get the most out of the Expo.

Talk directly to colleges, universities, businesses, and charities about how your child can access a range of opportunities. “About 23 per cent of our students declare a disability, the most common being anxiety, depression, ADHD and dyslexia,” said Hannah Abrahams, head of student wellbeing services at Birkbeck, University of London, one of Step Up’s exhibitors. “We work hard to ensure all our students can access the support they need to do their best in their studies.”

With talks on working your way up after disappointing GCSE, to how universities and employers cater for candidates with additional needs, Step Up will help you to support your child to make the best possible choices to suit their needs.

Join us at the Evening Standard’s Step Up Expo on June 28-29, 2024, at London Olympia. For more information and free tickets, visit