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questions for learning and work - and three-scene storyboarding

how the uses of narrative open mutually-comprehending partnerships between education and working life

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
20 July 2012

Bill Law
The Career-learning Café

What’s the relationship between learning and work?  Does the one...

                                                           determine the other?... inform the other?...
                                                              ignore the other?... distort the other?...

Or what?:  'work' and 'learning' are two massively abstract nouns, offering plenty of room for argument about the terms in which we make them concrete. 

professionalism, partnerships and conflicts of interest

Programmes like Sure-start and Every Child Matters build from an appreciation of personal, family and community needs.  They are commonly thought of as best located in the public sector.  Whereas current UK policies look for private-sector ways of meeting the demands of commerce, competitiveness and employers.  Some argue for a tighter fit between learning and work.  Some go further, proposing that commerce-based human resources and education-based careers work can be one profession.

Headlines reflect the depth of feeling about such issues.  On the one hand is shock at the commercial exploitation of workers, the fraudulent use of public resources and the distortions caused by market competitiveness.  On the other are impassioned complaints that a publicly-funded but out-of-touch education system fails to bring people to any readiness for work in a competitive global marketplace. 

So here’s a question...

                                                       who sets the agenda for learning and work?

It’s about how careers are best managed.  And both careers-work and human-resource professionals feature.  Careers work can readily be seen as feeding into a process which human resources extends.  And Philip Brown and Anthony Hesketh (2004) show how the unifiers may have a point; there is overlap between the two activities: in training for comparable qualifications; in comfortably frequenting the same associations and conferences; and in how much of the theory of the one is also the theory of the other.  Also, they are bound together by the same recurring question...

                                                     when it comes to work-life, who gets to do what?

The professionalism of careers work has, for much if its life, been developed to match and shape people for working life.  But juxtaposing Sure-start and the competitiveness agenda illustrates a wider range of underlying political, philosophical and cultural thinking which it could take on board.  That greater complexity demands supplementary questions - such as...

                                                         who controls the career-management agenda?
                                                                           acting in whose interest?
                                                       how much do the rest of us get to know about it

Such an interrogation is part of a due process for scrutinising justice in the system.  It calls on many voices: students and clients thinking about their futures; families and acquaintances maximising their own people’s life chances, professionals asserting their own necessity, employers recruiting the best people they can find.  There is conflict-of-interest, privilege and injustice here.  And, as Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket (2009) show, no civilised society can afford to evade any of it.

work, learning and the uses of narrative

But there are also the makings of a deeper partnership: careers-work and human-resource people share a time-line.  Careers work sets in motion a process which is continued by human-resource-development.  The former front-loads into the latter.  A diagram can follow that time-line through its learning-and-understanding and selection-and-recruitment phases.

The process is by stages - of hours, days or months.  But the diagram has a second dimension.  Sometimes it touches on concerns for quality-of-life concerning the family, community and other aspects of well-being.  Sometimes it is concerned for this individual showing-up in good shape for recruitment or selection.  In parallel with Sure-start and competitive thinking, these are different understandings of career-management concerns.  And they can be in conflict.

Three-scene storyboarding is designed to set down those concerns and any of its conflicts.  The format and process poses a series of ‘who?’, ‘what?’, ‘where?’, ‘how?’, ‘when?’ and ‘why?’ questions.  It is a narrative technique, using words-and-graphics to enable people to learn from the past in anticipation of the future.  There’s no need to go into detail here - an account of storyboarding will tell you more.  But telling any story can show how, over time, an episode moves a person through such concerns.  Users are encouraged to interrogate their own stories - they learn to probe for justice.  Sometimes that means seeking for possibilities, it could be along the lines...

                                                          how will I know when I’ve found what I need?
                                                           why does that have special meaning to me?
                                                  what would it mean for anybody else important to me?

Sometimes it is looking for competitive advantage...

                                                                    how do I give myself an edge?
                                                                      what is demanded of me?
                                                                         who am I dealing with?

The two-by-two diagram illustrates how a time-lined narrative can be woven between both sets of concerns.

bases for partnership

Both career and human-resource professionals can engage with storyboarding.  Their clients and students can use it as a way of setting out the inter-dependence of quality-of-life and competitive concerns.  It does not work like conventional diagnostic assessment tools, and it does not replace such techniques.  It has a distinctive way of working, which suggests a more fully interactive partnership between careers-work and human-resource professionals. 

The two career-management agendas shade into each other: some careers workers give a lot of attention to recruitment issues, and some firms invest significant resources in staff development.  But different things are going on here - and the differences embed tensions which both sides need to acknowledge...

  • quality-of-life requires disclosure
  • competitiveness means looking good


  • quality-of-life examines the needs of self and other people important to me
  • competitiveness pursues employability for economic productivity


  • quality-of-life is about the meaning attributed to experience by me and mine
  • competitiveness is about meaning and purpose attributed by stockholders, managers and customers

These are overlapping concerns, and there is no necessary conflict between them.  But they are different starting points for thinking about career management.  And, as any person who has considered issues for work-life-balance knows, there can be tensions.  There is no single interest group which can frame the resolution of such issues.  Gill Frigerio, Richard Mendez and Phil McCash (2012) show how work-related learning can be made to connect to the variety of perspectives taken by students.  The resolution belongs to students and clients, and to their families, and to other stakeholders - and not to schools, to employers, or to governments.

Storyboarding can narrate all of this.  It was designed to be used in education settings, but it is being used in the business world.  Whether students and clients are visiting a firm, or already a part of its staff, it is useful for formulating an account of...

  • one’s own experience
  • the experience of other people working in the firm
  • the distinctive voice needed for this person’s recruitment or advancement

Storyboarding needs to be engaged organisation-by-organisation - it calls for local knowledge to inform different implementation in different settings.  But, that said, it can bring...

  • feedback to programme managers setting up learning events
  • an understanding of how people see that working life
  • distinctive appreciations needed by the organisation

These are, then, resources for learning, recruitment and staff development.  There is a need to protect people’s right to privacy.  But it is not beyond the wit of an ethical professionalism to anonymise documents, and to allow for personally-controlled versions of what is disclosed.  The account of storyboarding shows how it can provide quantifiable data as frequencies.

The account also shows how partnerships with and between organisations can be expanded.  It offers hope of enlarged bases for mutual comprehension between all stakeholders in how the ‘who-get-to-do-what’ question is answered.   Educators, employers, managers and workers need not be strangers to each other.  Storyboarding might have got started in education settings, but if it proves able to do no more than what has been described here, that would justify its innovation.   



Philip Brown and Anthony Hesketh (2004).  The Mismanagement of Talent.  London: OUP

Gill Frigerio, Richard Mendez and Phil McCash (2012).  Re-designing Work-related Learning - A Management Studies Placement Module.  University of Warwick: Career Studies Unit

Bill Law (2011).  The Future of Careers Work - Ten Propositions in Search of a Profession.

Bill Law (2012), Three-scene Storyboarding - Learning for Living.

Bill Law (2012).  Philosophies for Careers Work.

Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket (2009).  The Spirit Level - Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better.  London: Allen Lane

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