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the future for careers-work professionalism?

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Bill Law
14 February 2011

Bill Law
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

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Fiona Christie
2:02pm 15 April 2011


Hi Bill,

More an observation than a comment.

Very glad to see your post on this subject. I recently stumbled on this Careers Profession Cloudworks as directed to by Tristram Hooley. I work in HE having worked in secondary and further education too. I am glad to see someone writing on this. I had a rant on Tristram's blog quite recently on this subject.

The massive cull in Connexions and the lack of clarity re the All Age Careers profession has left me bemused and bewildered.

I wonder if I am missing something but our profession seems to be taking this lying down.

I think many careers practitioners in HE would like to  contribute to the debate. Maybe I have been going round with my eyes shut but I don't think people on the ground have heard of the Careers Profession taskforce and the careers work alliance.




Bill Law
9:40am 17 April 2011

I see what you mean Fiona.  And I don’t think you’re missing anything.  Better to face the way things are (actually, the news on an all-age service is a teeny bit better.

As for careers workers taking things lying down: I sometimes wonder whether there's something that flips people back-and-forth between feeling like victims and heroes.  Like, ‘when I lose it’s unfair... when I win it’s because I’m amazing’ - with nothing in between.

It’s understandable - we see ourselves as people who help, and - suddenly - we seem to be helpless.  

Actually, we’re not.  But a person would need a deep sense of personal meaning and purpose to rise above all this.  It would need to be well-rooted in hearts-and-minds, shared with others, and recognising that some of the mistakes were our own. 

That’s what I argue for in the piece linked to this blog.  Your sense of meaning and purpose will help carry it forward.

I’m just wondering now whether I’m asking too much of the careers profession alliance.  I believe it would be a mistake to try to unify education and guidance professions.  But I do think we can share what makes for contemporary professionalism.  I just don’t see much sign of it - yet.

Does anybody else?

What do you think?


Fiona Christie
5:39pm 22 April 2011

Thanks for your reply Bill, since commenting - I have booked to attend a lecture on the future of careers guidance done by the relevant minister (forgotten his name).. Should be interesting -  is at the University of Derby.

I like the piece you link to though I confess I may not have given it the close attention it deserves. Your point re the credibility of our profession is very relevant especially when there is so much careers knowledge out there and some of what we do aint rocket science. These are certainly worrying times - only just found out that only 14 people on the MMU QCG this year! What is the viability of these programmes especially with the cuts in Connexions - who would really want to do it? The same credibility issues could apply to other professions too - eg.,why need a  counsellor if you have a mate you can talk to. It's all about quality control - what I have seen of some private companies running government "careers service" contracts has not been inspiring (admittedly limited to the Channel 4 Benefit busters series last year).

I have been out of pre-HE work now for 14 years but the whole Connexions cuts has shocked me especially as in Universities we are ploughing some ways careers staff in HE have been able to spread our wings a bit more - get involved in curriculum, writing, research, employer relations. I get the impression focus for Connexions has still been 121 guidance.,

But if I am going to get advice from anyone about anything  I would want to know that they had a licence to practice..The implications that you don't have to be qualified are worrying especially when working with the younger age group.



Bill Law
2:58pm 26 April 2011 (Edited 3:01pm 26 April 2011)


I wonder if we can best deal with our anxiety and frustration by seeking some careers advice from a policy-maker.  Our chance may be coming up in June.

What about...

‘Minister, what advice do you have for a fifty-five year-old, highly qualified careers adviser, who has just got the sack?  Would that be...

...find a job with a another cash-strapped agency?
... set up as a careers coach?
...organise a social enterprise offering guidance services to schools and colleges?
...retrain for work in financial services?
or some well-heeled field where the well-connected are connected?
...or should I wait for policy to catch up with my professional association’s urging?’

It’s probably an unfair question, but I don’t think that should stop us.  It raises issues about careers work in relation to policy, to commerce - and to the big society.

What do you think?  Do we go for any of these?  Or can we think of something better?


It’s a long time I was fifty-five.  And my career is way beyond the point of no return.  I’m just trying to put myself in somebody else’s shoes..

Bill Law
8:12am 28 April 2011

Been getting some traffic on this through one of the linked-in conversations.  There is strong feeling that we help people make sense of career and life possibilities by knowing the labour market.  And we help them create their own story by mapping alternatives and looking at new career stories.  It means we’re working with curiosity and surprising people.  Clients need us to do that - and not to be 'woolly' about it.  It rates a status as chartered professionals.

I agree about clients expecting us to make sense of possibilities for life and career.  And part of that would be to signpost where they can find information among our data-bases and on-line.  There will be some people starting from scratch - they haven't even looked at any job-ads.  

But the reality is that a good many are already finding out about work opportunities - many from on-line sources.  And they are beginning to shape the meaning for themselves.  

In both cases the most demanding part of our role is to help them in sorting out what they've found, checking it out, and working out what they can usefully do about it.  

They might need us to help find information.  But they need us more in this scrutinising process.  Working with that kind of learning is one of the most highly professional roles there is.  lt belongs to that characterisation of our role as working with curiosity and surprising people.  It rates chartered status.

I've worked this argument through with regard to the uses of on-line information.

Dr Deirdre Hughes
8:10am 19 May 2011

Fiona and Bill

I'm very conscious that many individuals do not really know much about the development work of the Careers Profession Alliance, mainly because the Executive Group of representatives from the six careers professional associations (ACEG, ACPI, AGCAS, IAG, NAEGA & NICSA) have been working hard behind the scenes to develop a potential 'road map' to provide a clear route for the careers profession to move towards achieving Chartered Status in 3-5 years time. The road map is now prepared and the recommended destination is clear.

The Boards and Councils of the professional associations have been tasked by the CPA Chair, Ruth Spellman, to make a crucial decision by 20th June 2011 that will involve formally consulting with over 7,700 members on key questions to determine how far and how fast we move forward.

This is a croos roads moment for the profession - we can look back and long for the past or take a huge leap forward into a new future for the careers profession speaking with 'One Voice -Making an Impact'.


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