Our world of realpolitik?
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25 March 2017
Careers work is intensely political. It shifts depending on your viewpoint and where you stand. There is the Government who fund work with adults by setting targets for advisers. This in turn incentivises support that leads to returning to work, education or training. There are schools and colleges, some of whom see careers work as a means to reduce the number of students falling NEET (not in education, employment or training) after Years 11, 12 and 13. Finally, we have advisers who look to work through a client centred approach in a non-directive manner. How do we navigate such turbulent waters, where so many different stakeholders have their own valid needs from the work? Is it possible for the 21st Century Careers Management Professional to be everything to everybody?
Firstly, let’s look at the assumptions we make when we discuss careers work; we often assume that it is a uniform activity, split into four easily understood parts of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (CEIAG). Yet this can be misunderstood, depending on who is delivering and what ideological position they subscribe to. I have written previously in the CXK Blog with regards the importance of identifying the position[i] from which we practice as careers professionals and declaring this to the clients we work with, in line with our professional ethics[ii]. However, this assumes the careers work in question is being delivered from a client centred viewpoint. Just because we as Career Management Professionals subscribe to this approach, it does not mean it is the only one.
Careers work can and does exist as a directive approach, where telling a client what to do is seen as a valid approach and strategy. This ideology sits in contrast to that delivered by professionals who are members of the Careers Development Institute (CDI). Unaffiliated advisers & coaches, employers, some teachers and trainers, may deliver CEIAG in this way, inadvertently or deliberately. Messages which we may provide as professionals, working from an ethical base regarding decision making, may come up against individual and culturally significant different approaches. This is nothing new and isn’t necessarily wrong, for example Gideon Arulmani reminds us to consider the wider cultural context in which we deliver our work[iii]. Indeed, he asks us to see the idea of a “career” as a constructed concept; one that not everyone subscribes to in the same way and which may differ from person to person depending on the context or culture in which they have developed their understanding of what a career may be. As a concept, the idea of who can have a career, what sort of career is possible and what it is, has shifted over time. Historically, careers were split into “jobs for girls” and “jobs for boys”; something we are now diametrically opposed to as a profession.
We know that “having a career” is one solution in making sense of and leading a meaningful journey through life. To assume that it is the only way though is once more an assumption we can make in error. Some people approach the world of work as a way to build a career but for others it is just a means to an end; others will seek alternative answers to life through family, travel, religion or even crime. Many careers professionals now see discussions about career as moving beyond the world of work, to encompass discussions about wider choices and how we live our lives in a changing future[iv].
However, this approach to careers work is in stark contrast to the view of “career” by many (but not all) of the other stakeholders listed previously. What do these differing concepts of career and life mean for us as professionals working with others? It means we must make a decision as professionals, do we impose our view on clients as to how they discuss their career decisions or do we take our lead from them and help them to discuss what is important to them? To assume that all clients are looking for a career, or to persuade them that meaning can only be found through building one, is for us to work within “our construct” of what a career is and what is important and not theirs.
However, the danger of attempting to work within the client’s context alone is that when clients meet with us they sometimes try and tell us things, or behave in ways in which they think we wish to hear or see. Inadvertently, they make the assumptions about what careers work and CEIAG is about. So, what can we do to break this cycle of assumption, to enable us to get to the truth of what our clients are really wanting or seeking, as our belief is to work in a client centred way?
As a starting point, we need to allow them to feel safe and understand that any position in terms of what they want from life is acceptable. We will not judge them or try and persuade or trick them into living alternative lives. We must provide them with a space to show them what is possible, as they may not have an idea of how they wish to live their lives yet and/or, the different life paths which are possible.
In school, this can be delivered through introductory assemblies or small group works as well as careful introductions at the start of one to one guidance sessions. It can also be facilitated through activities which move clients outside of their comfort zone, for example, through the use of verbal or pictorial vignettes taken from their collective to provide, “distance from … personal opinions and hence provide an opportunity to move beyond socially acceptable responses and discussions[v]” as explored by Gideon Arulmani in his work. Creating distance from “acceptable responses” is also utilised as an active principle within Lego Therapy, developed for Careers Work by CXK in 2015 and presented at the National Career Guidance Show as part of a seminar in 2016. Through this careful setting of the context in which we have discussions, we have a much greater chance of building trust and finding out what is really important for our clients.
At times, our wishes to be client centred can be in contrast to the agendas of others who hold a different view on the purpose of “careers work”. How can we respond? We either shift our ethical and ideological positions, going back on our beliefs that clients have a right to make their own choices without being directed or “sold an idea”, or stick to our guns. If the former, we lose faith with our profession and if the latter we need to recognise that “sticking our heels in” isn’t the only option or way to solve the issue. We can continue to communicate and discuss with other stakeholders why we work the way we do, to help others understand our approaches with the long term hope that positions will change.
However, there are times when this isn’t possible, where funding and payments by results is focussed on outcomes or restricted by time. What happens then, in terms of social justice and the right to a non-agenda led space for clients to make decisions? When those who can afford professional careers guidance as a non-agenda led activity is contrasted with those who can only receive guidance restricted in possibility by additional criteria (such as outcomes), or lack of time to deliver an equitable service. As professionals, we find ourselves working in these contexts and challenges, how we handle them is key for ourselves as professionals, our organisations and the clients we support.
For our clients, we must disclose if we are compromised in what we can deliver, whether this is by time or outcomes; our professional ethics say we must be transparent and so we should be so. In the longer term, whether we believe as organisations in fighting for social justice, depends upon our individual viewpoints, priorities and agency. We must decide whether we collectively strive for a longer term access to a more equitable provision for our clients or do we deliver professional guidance services as a product for whom only those who can afford it can access the service unrestricted?
Whichever we decide, we have made a political choice. Whether it is to continue to work within the status-quo or reimagine what is possible and to fight for a more equitable future. Alternatively, do we shift to a middle ground where careers professionals deliver “pro-bono” careers guidance alongside paid for services? To make no decision and to take no action, is still a decision.
My personal view is to continue to lobby for a Universal Service which is unfettered and uncluttered by the agendas of others so we can, with our clients, explore all of the possibilities life has to offer. Careers Guidance sits as an umbrella covering a wider spectrum than just opportunities related to work. Careers Guidance considers all that is possible when we consider the idea of “career”; not just as a way to explore work or find work, or as a way to provide greater security for our families, or as a tool for social mobility or materialistic growth, but also as a way to provide growth and meaning through other means, such as volunteering, travel, exploration, our hobbies and wider life choices.
Careers Guidance sits within, and next to, Life Coaches, Counsellors, Social Workers, Job Coaches, Teachers, and Religious Guides. Let’s keep it free from artificial constraint. Our role as advisers is to draw upon and then share all the relevant possibilities life has to offer with our clients, according to their needs, and with room for exploration of the implications of each choice, for each individual. It is not just the exploration of those possibilities we may find ourselves funded to target.
We must be vigilant, as our future as a profession is ours to fight for, or to sleep-walk into.
[i] https://www.cxk.org/the-cxk-blog/agendas-matter, November 2015
[ii] http://www.thecdi.net/write/227_BP260-X8513-Code_of_Ethics-A4-digital.pdf, accessed January 2017 – points 9 and 11
[iii] http://iaclp.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/7_Arulmani_IJCLP_11.238191128.pdf, April 2012
[iv] http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/07/world-without-work/395294/ July/August 2015
[v] http://iaclp.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/7_Arulmani_IJCLP_11.238191128.pdf, April 2012
Written by: Chris Targett
This article first published on the CXK Blog on Monday 20th March 2017