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the future for careers-work professionalism?
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14 February 2011
The Career-learning Café
this blog summarises a fully-referenced article
I believe careers-work professionalism is at a cross-roads. It seems to me that how it moves on now will have critical consequences. They will be for the public face of what we do, the partnerships we forge, the stakeholders whose interest we serve, the research we engage, and the methods and materials we go on to develop. Maybe as important as any of these consequences, it could attract a different kind of independent funding. But no work can be better than the people who do it. And, for me, the most important consequence of how we move on now will be for the people we attract and retain as members of our professions.
Careers work is a helping profession. Its professionalism is a personal commitment - individual careers workers reaching for the best they can do, by the people who depend on their integrity. But professionalism is also an institutional responsibility - needing the organisational policies and arrangements which engage with that kind of integrity. Without institutional professionalism individuals are too-little supported and too-much exposed. Without the energy and ability of individual professionalism institutional policies are futile.
But the institutions which employ careers workers are themselves exposed and overstretched. And a profession needs constantly to update its abilities - into useful, coherent and credible forms. Information overload means that individually-managed case-by-case eclecticism can’t cope.
Few of the institutions that engage careers workers are in any position to take on what needs to be done. In cash-strapped and politically-exposed positions, only the bravest will try. Individual professionalism needs institutional support from elsewhere.
A report from the career profession task force urges the case for stronger careers-work professionalism. It has led to the setting up of the careers work alliance - a gathering of professional associations - to carry this work forward. The alliance is among the organisations which can develop the kind of institutional professionalism we now need.
Professional associations naturally push for their members - seeking acknowledgement, status and support. But our associations are fragmented. We need coherent and transferable ideas. Constantly-updating bases for action into useful shape calls for carefully thought-through circumspection. The resulting good ideas will prove mightier than any foreseeable budget.
But all ideas, however good, are contested. Differently-constituted groups favour differently-argued responses, to differently-conceived situations. We need a big-enough space for working on that.
The so called ‘big society’ is a re-working of a better-established, and more sustainable, social fact - civil society. The organisations of civil society, which include education, operate where commercial and political interventions can’t - or won’t - reach. The alliance is positioned to become a critical part of civil society - visible, in touch, independent... a social movement.
We are not alone in this - in changing global and local conditions all professions are confronted with new issues:
> on credibility - are we widely recognised as necessary, approachable, accessible, relevant - and, therefore, trusted?
> on expertise - are we sufficiently equipped in the disciplines that offer the most useful account of what people do?
> on connectedness - are we in touch with the partners and stakeholders who can authentically speak for these realities?
> on independence - are we as free of arbitrary influence as our claims to impartiality assert?
It means being open to the prospect of a future which will not correspond with our past. It starts where the task force finishes - and it moves on.
I take this to be a pragmatic project. We can know that it is working when people seek us out - life-long and life-wide - inside our institutions, in their neighbourhoods, and on our websites. The test is not that we have more to say them, it is that they have more to tell us.
Right now, I see the alliance - which is about to be re-named - as our best hope for activating that movement
get the fully-referenced article