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careers work on the net - the future?

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
27 May 2011

Bill Law

Big news: Twitter has provoked deep thinking - and in packages of no more than 140 characters.  It’s socially layered thinking,  because personal rights-to-privacy conflict with public rights-to-know.  It’s commercially layered, because there’s money to be made.  It’s culturally layered,  because we could do with restraining influences on some of our celebrities.  It’s politically layered, because there are votes to be counted.  And it’s legally layered, because judges are there to defend legitimate interests.

It’s also educationally layered, because few professionals are more deeply embroiled in all this than careers workers.  The turmoil forces to the surface issues for the value of what our students and clients  disclose.  And for the credibility of what other people claim.  The internet is said to manifest ‘the wisdom of crowds’.  But that is an aggregated phenomenon.  The mix actually contains a lot of posturing self-interest, some faceless malice, and more than a smattering of opinionated pig-ignorance. 

So, how did we get here?

the journey
The trouble is that the net doesn’t work at all without disclosure.  But before we engage with it we need to know who is out there.  And, before we commit to anything we need to know what they are looking for - and why.  The word is ‘trust’ - and the question is ‘how would we know who to trust?’.  Nobody is closer to that question than careers workers.

The question is getting urgent in interactive social networks, and in experience-based narrative sites.  We think of them as for personal use - but  once on-line it’s no longer just you.  But this is not an argument for run-and-hide caution; it is an argument for managing risk.  And, for that, both we and the people we set out to help, need to know where we are?

The internet is not static.  It started as a kind of continuously self-updating resource centre.  It became a minute-to-minute newsreel, where anyone can be the photo-journalist.  It has become a spring-board for assertive action.  From desk-top reading to street-level leading - in two decades.  And that was only web 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0.   Watch out for 4.0 ...and later.

It is also a journey from trust in solid expertise to trust in interactive experience.  The evidence is that people make rather less use of expert careers-work sites than they do of social-networking sites - such as 'Linked-in’.  That accords with what we know about a society which - across the board - is becoming less deferential.  No claim to know goes unchallenged.  And so there is a growing range of narrative sites - such as ‘Talking Jobs’ - where people find out about work from accounts of direct-and-personal experience.

Careers work has its enthusiasts for all this.  True believers characterise its users as...

  • natives - as if the net is wholly natural and wholesome;
  • liberated - as if it opens gates and dismisses guards;
  • empowered - as if it fires people up to be ready to go.

Not everybody is persuaded.  So there are negative images for the sceptics...

  • luddites - as if selfishly protecting their own interests;
  • out-of-date - as if a calendar were an index of credibility;
  • audience - as if passively trapped in front of a mere movie.

Neither set of metaphors fits the facts.  Both enthusiasts and sceptics deserve a hearing.  And both can get over-excited.  Careers work could do with some of the breath-holding, heart-pumping, sleep-invading excitement which move people to ‘the next level’ on-line.   

But it could also do with more of the question-posing, thought-provoking, tear-inducing, person-connecting experience that a good movie calls up.  Decent movies live on a deeper level in life. 

But, all said and done, I find on-line learning working with too-limited a gamut of experience.  It offers too few points of contact with the virtualities it promotes.  It makes even fewer with the realities it mimics. 

We need new metaphors. 

new images
A recent article develops two metaphors for on-line careers-work.  They do not image what the net is like - we’ve probably got more than we need on that.  Instead, they image what careers workers do on the net.  There are two images: we can try to ‘colonise’ the net, or we can seek to ‘inhabit’ it.  Each image calls up its own distinctive range of careers-work activity.

In the past we have tended to colonise the net.  To do that means bringing to it the apparatus that we formerly used off-line.  We have, for example, exported the procedures, databases, and diagnostics that we use in our face-to-face interviews and classroom materials.  A purpose would be to extend the accessibility of what we do, by moving into locations which the internet makes available.  It would be to assume that what we were doing before the net will work well enough on the net.  And it did work on web 1.0; but it won’t work now.

It won’t, because the net has developed its own interactive and experience-based dynamic.  It has changed and we must change with it.  But, in some respects it has stayed the same, and in these respects it is offering us an opportunity to call on what have been, until now, largely untapped professional resources.  And what we do best.  

So what is it that has not changed, and which needs us now?  The net has always been, and remains, a vehicle for communication.  From on-line library to getting organised for action, everything that happens of the net comes as a message - voiced as memories and facts, words and images, meaning and purpose.  Whatever we do we must engage that unchanging position.  But we must now do it in changing interaction with experience.

It is this that suggests the second metaphor.  Instead of colonising with what we do, we can inhabit to understand what our students and clients are doing.   It means following the pathways that they navigate - especially in web 2-3.0 social networking and narrative sites.  It puts us in partnership with users who are familiar with that territory. 

And that changes our role.  It’s no longer part of our work to keep up with what’s going on on-line - students and clients can do that better than we.  But we can engage in a probing reflection on what is said, what is shown and what is done on the net.  Indeed, there are few who can do that better than we.  That sounds to me like an inhabiting partnership rather than a colonising invasion.

So how do we develop our side of that deal?

learning verbs
Partnership means thinking less about what we do, and more about what our students and clients do.  And we have a language for that.  The words are not nouns or adjectives, saying what they are like; they are verbs - learning verbs - saying how they engage with the net.  Careers workers are ready with four generic learning verbs.  These verbs work well on the net  - ‘finding out’, ‘sorting out’, ‘checking out’, and ‘working out’...

  • the net is for finding things out - looking for the ‘who. what, where, when, how and why’ of experience;
  • and what people find there needs sorting out - whether by listing, mapping or narrating - all ways of comparing and ordering things to make a useable meaning;
  • that done, they are in a position to engage in checking out - focusing what is relevant, useful, important to their purposes - and ensuring it is reliable;
  • now they are in a position to get to grips with working out - how things get this way, and what they can do about it.

We all do it.  Sometimes quickly sometimes deliberatively.  Both impulsively and intuitively.  Wherever infused with inner-feeling and however complicated by other people.  There is always some randomness, but the more chaotic the situation the more we need to learn.

The more we do it the more we learn to do it.  But how?  Largely from each other.  In some homes probing questioning like this goes on all the time.  But for many people, maybe most, talk goes no deeper than the ‘who, what, where, when, how and why needed to stay in touch, be accepted, have a laugh, and gossip.  There’s nothing wrong with that - indeed it’s useful.  But it doesn’t resolve career dilemmas, it doesn’t get anybody through selection interviews, and it doesn’t fire-up a person for a wider search for meaning and purpose in life.  That needs a wider gamut of learning verbs - interactively interrogating experience.

careers workers on the net
Our students and clients can learn that from us.  It’s what we do.  They learn from the questions we ask in engaging them in reflection on their experience.  The questions we ask them become the questions they learn to ask.  That modeling becomes their basis for how they learn to be a witness to their own lives.  We should remind them of that - give feedback on how they are learning, talk with them about its importance.  Ad we should cue them to go on questioning into the future - not just now for this, but life-long for anything.  Modeling, feedback and expectation are among the most compelling teachers.  And the net has nothing more experience-based, or more interactive.

We can all - them and us - learn to do this: it’s a species thing.  We have evolved brains which have any number of pathways to finding what is going on and knowing what to do about it.  It generates ready-for-anything learning  - our finger-hold on survival.  On the savannah, on the street, and on the net.

So be grateful for Twitter.  It has located you where you can help most.  Because, if anybody is in a position to enable a person to probe anything, it needn’t be a celebrity, or a politician, or a business person, or a judge.  Probability is against all four.

But it might well be you.

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