Bill Law and Rachel Mulvey yesterday evening kicked off the NICEC/CRAC debate entitled, Past its Sell-By Date? Career guidance for the 21st Century. People spoke with passion about the good that can be done – whether for fourteen year-olds, undergraduates or employed adults – but the broad consensus was that career guidance may not be dead but the sell-by sticker now needs a use-by date.
Few people have ever taken a truly detached, scientific view of their “education, training and labour market ” options and chosen the career with “the greatest net utility” (Bennett et al, 1992) but, in an era of widespread social media and serial short-term employment, the pragmatic rationality and careership theory of Hodkinson et al (2008) takes on greater significance. Yet, does even this theory go far enough to explain what is needed today? Our social selves are no longer bound by the place in which we live or a bricks-and-mortar campus. We have widely dispersed and diversely skilled online networks on which we can call for ideas and expertise. We can work online and carry on multiple simultaneous ‘careers’. Even if in regular employment in an organisation with a hierarchy, there is awareness both that the security can disappear (look what happened to all those financiers or car makers) and that the terms of what remains can change (reduced benefits, rising pension ages).
Throughout last night’s debate, four points kept nagging at me:
- I would never call myself a careers guidance professional and yet I and many like me frequently pass on knowledge through LinkedIn to those who are independently seeking next steps in their career-related education.
- There is an inherent conflict (felt by several in the debate) between the short-term funding of publicly-funded career advice and the long-term socio-economic needs of individuals. This need not be the case.
- The UK seems to me to do pragmatic rationality rather too well. Where are the running footsteps and the breathless enquiry from a 20 year-old about how to set up a school for journalists? Why are the UK funds for study in Europe so little used? Where is the celebration of those with serial careers and life experience?
- The health of our social capital in a rapidly changing global environment lies less in advising someone on the route to a specific job and more in developing a range of skills for a variety of circumstances. That requires fostering of curiosity, encouragement of aspiration, support in entering the unknown.
So, existing career guidance may well be past its sell-by date but careers development has never been more necessary. The responsibility for that lies primarily with individuals but they need mentoring, facilitation services and an aspirational politico-social environment focused not on targets but on supporting individual growth for net collective benefit.