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Chris Targett
8 October 2016

We have previously discussed in this blog the importance of Careers Guidance Professionals being independent of agenda when working with clients and, when their practice does contain an agenda, to declare this. This is important whether the agenda is, for example, promoting Apprenticeships through awareness raising group sessions or challenging clients to consider their options more widely so they don’t miss any opportunities.

What we haven’t considered is how freedom from agenda is important when discussing values and beliefs. In the broadest sense professional advisers know not to impose their beliefs on others, whether religious or otherwise, and to respect the beliefs and value systems of their clients. We seldom consider however, the implicit and explicit messages of what we consider success to be (and by contrast failure) which are projected in our places of work and culture. How do we explore and communicate these ideas with our clients? For those working in schools, we are very much aware of the Raising the Participation Age (RPA) and the explicit messages offered through this regarding what “success” is seen to be and what a “good” choice is seen as by the government; that is staying in education or training until 18. Few of us would argue with the merits of this but it doesn’t, however, provide us with room to explore the positives offered by other choices which don’t fit RPA, but which could be considered constructive pathways. For example, the students who wish to work with their parents or carers in a family business but not follow any formal training; technically this doesn’t fit the RPA requirements but does provide a student with a positive activity that can help them develop their careers.

Implicit messages of what ‘success’ is and isn’t can be interpreted via the time a school may dedicate to a specific option. Generally this is with good intention by the school, to prepare students for their next steps. In particular, we have seen this in the time that is often given to applying to University and UCAS sessions for sixth formers, often at the detriment of time given to support applications to other choices such as School Leaver Schemes and Apprenticeships.

We know that exploring all options is an important task, not just as a one off activity but drip fed over many years. If as a community we only focus on a few choices, it reduces the chances of students assimilating into their understanding the wider range of options available. Working with Year 8s and 9s in several schools this spring; very few of them could articulate a life journey which included Apprenticeships but nearly all knew about University (even among children who came from families whose parents hadn’t been to university). Perhaps we need to do more to address the wider picture and hidden (non-verbal) messages we project?

When completing guidance activities with clients, advisers must be careful of colluding with the implicit but well intentioned messages presented in school and in society. Many of us are brought up on a diet of lifestyle images and ideology presented through mass marketing on television, radio, print and on the internet, as well as through dramas and films. A theme running through the images which we digest is, that if we aspire to more money, we can have this car, house, gadget or lifestyle and therefore be happier. The implicit message is that to get more money we will need a “better” job, to get a better job we will need a “better” education. Our shared concept of “career” and in turn “Careers Guidance” can become the label by association attached to this singular viewpoint of success.

Yet what of other views of success which don’t fit with this capitalist model where we are expected to work a “thirty-eight hours” a week or more? What of other ideas of “career” which take our students on a different journey and which are equally valid ways to be? The renowned academic Gideon Arulmani has started to explore the idea of what Career might mean in different cultures. I wonder what it might mean in our own…

The season worker, working the ski-season, travelling between countries as a nomadic extreme sport enthusiast.
A volunteer helping the homeless at a soup kitchen, living in a small flat whilst pursing a part time job to pay for essentials whilst their meaning is found in the former.
The individual who decides to live off grid and grow their own food whilst perhaps having a smaller job on the side to bring in money for essentials.
The family whose care givers decide to follow part time work, with both having time at home with the children and time at work.
An individual who decides to live a minimalist lifestyle, not out of need but choice… therefore needing less money.
All of these are just some alternative examples of success, offering other choices and values to that promoted through our “mainstream” culture. It is important that we don’t let the implicit messages sent out by society and institutions, whether commercial, educational or governmental, stand in the way of helping students discuss other ways to live or other paths they could follow. If we do we are in danger of hampering the exploration by clients of what might be possible for them and in doing so, risk making too many assumptions of what they consider ‘success’ to be.

Let’s show them all the choices, not just the physical ones and where these might lead in life (such as University, Apprenticeships and School Leaver Schemes) but, also the choices open to them in terms of how they might wish to live in the future. We can help them explore what these mean for them, the pros and the cons (for now and for later in life) before letting them make up their own minds. If we don’t have these discussions how are clients able to begin to understand how (for example), an Apprenticeship may make him or her successful? How can we equally be sure, that students know how a University led path will either? I see many students who say they wish to go to University to “get a good job” but, when asked to do so, can’t tell me how University might get them the “good job” or what this actually means for them in terms of success.

Let’s not assume or collude with the populist message that every individual is aiming for the £30,000+ graduate job, near a major city, with the car, mortgage, partner, children plus two holidays a year. Let’s recall that the first part of good decision making is self-awareness and understanding one’s own values and what one is looking for. This should come before exploring the opportunities that are out there and where these fit within our own values. Let us start by asking students not only what they wish to do and why, but what they see a successful future as.

Written by: Chris Targett

This article was first published on the CXK Blog on Wednesday 13th July 2016

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