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propositions in search of professionalism - part four

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
20 October 2011

this is part four of a five-part keynote presentation to the 2011 annual conference of the ICG
the series starts at

a pdf version of the entire five-part text...

4.  sharpening the image - developing a narrative of what we do

The proposition is that careers work is in danger of being marginalised in its own field.  Agents who offer short-cut answers to urgent questions will attract plenty of clients.  Careers work is talking about a more demanding task - both for ourselves, and for our clients and students.  We can work with bigger, and more challenging, ideas.

the ‘race’ is only part of the ‘journey’:  Here’s a challenge: ‘career’ is not a thing, like a slice of chocolate-fudge cake; it’s an abstraction, like marriage.  Abstractions are harder to define in a way that everybody accepts.  Metaphors can help, by appealing to visual imagery.  And ‘career’ is already a metaphor - actually, it’s two metaphors.  In its origins the word spoke sometimes of ‘a race’, sometimes of ‘a journey’.  It’s not so hard to visualise either. 

But try this: can you see a person interrupting a race to take part in a journey?  Probably not.  So try visualising a person interrupting a journey to take part in a race.  If that’s easier, it makes journeying the bigger idea, and the bigger can contain the smaller.  It means we can say that the ‘race’ is only part of the ‘journey’.  A journey can be life-wide and life-long.  It is not surprising, then, to find that students are more interested in the race.  But there are indications that educators are at least as likely to see learning as a journey.  Journeying is the stronger image for conveying the causes of career.  And, if we are to avoid being marginalised, we need to do more with it.

a person, encountering others, in a sequence:  What we do with the imagery needs to connect with what people do with it.  It means facing up to distinctions - between ‘career development’, ‘careers work’ and ‘career management’.  Career development is our facts-and-factors expertise.  Careers work is what we do to help students and clients with what expertise shows.  Career management is what they do about it - with or without our help.  We need, then, to find the careers-work activities which connect career-development expertise to career-management experience.

Experience is best set down as a narrative - in a story the images are of a person, encountering others, in a sequence.  People are not short of career-management narratives - communicated in peer-group and face-book gossip, recounting both direct and on-line experience.  Exchanging those stories is a place to start.  And we have plenty of narrative-based careers-work activities to engage it - ranging from constructivism to narrative-based websites.

re-balancing face-to-face and stage-by-stage learning:  Inviting people to exchange their stories is a place to start.  But it is only a place to start, because narratives are anecdotes - they are not expertise.  No story can speak for everybody, each is one-person’s experience.  So narrative is not a well-sampled diagnosis, it is a living impression.  It is not labour-market information, it is labour-market experience.  And there are aspects of career management that only narrative can recount: stories can show different points-of-view, things going well and going badly, attributions of meaning, turning-points, the consequences for me and others, and change-of-mind.  Such a well-rounded narrative has an authenticity and a spontaneity which facts-and-factors can’t convey.  It is why a well-rounded narrative draws people in.

But narrative is not quick-and-easy work - the useful recounting of, and reflection on, experience needs interactive stage-by-stage learning.  So how do we work with people on linking the story of their experience to the story of our expertise?  At our best, our story is  engaging, provocative and dynamic.  But making the connection means re-balancing face-to-face and stage-by-stage learning - guidance works with a face-to-face agenda, curriculum is a stage-by-stage progression. 

Practical questions call for a re-thinking of the partnership between guidance and curriculum...

‘in how many ways is career management a life-wide life-long journey?’
‘how do we use narrative to connect our expertise to that experience?’
‘what does that mean for re-balancing face-to-face and progressive learning?’

part five of the presentation is at

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