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reforming careers-work partnerships

the future for careers work - how mainstream educators help - why student fulfillment is key

Cloud created by:

Bill Law
21 November 2014


Bill Law
the career-learning café

Critical issues are being raised for how people are enabled to manage their careers.  Some of the most influential voices speak for the Network for Innovation in Careers Guidance and Counselling in Europe (NICE).  How the issues are resolved will affect how your students are placed for claiming their rightful place in their societies.  No mainstream educator can afford to ignore this.

These are critical times: global commerce is strengthening; politicians are besieged; neighbours become strangers to each other; growth has reached the limits of planetary safety; work-life is riven by opposing interests.  Careers work inhabits a changing world, posing make-or-break issues for both careers work and education.

The issues are set out in a NICE Summit held in Canterbury Christchurch University (NICE, 2014).  Its forecasts are not downbeat: they list the strength, coverage and international membership of a movement focused on career guidance and counselling.  NICE speaks of citizens, educators and employer as its stakeholders.  An organisation's stakeholders are people whose lives are affected by what the organisation does.  I'm arguing for a strengthening in the stakeholder position of mainstream educators ready to work on career-management thinking with their students, their families and their communities.

Viable partnerships rely on each understanding what the other can do.  A couple of the summit's opening keynotes help.  The first sets out a well-documented case for breadth of thinking on 'the story behind work'.  The second autobiographically recounts events that shape a professional's informed understanding of career.  They both call for wider and deeper career-management thinking.

I'm using the terms 'careers-work' and 'career-management'.  The terms 'guidance', 'counselling', 'careers education' and 'guidance' may be more familiar.  But they are unreliable: they overlap, shift in definition and are overtaken by new terms - such as 'career coaching'.  The field needs more reliable, inclusive and flexible terms:

  • careers-work is what professionals and others do to enable students and clients for what they need to do about working-life
  • career-management is the sense and use that students and clients are able to find in what careers work does

We cannot assume that what a career manager does will recognisably play out as careers work suggests.  Different people facing the same facts attribute to them different meanings.  And the argument here is that testable facts can inform, but it's experienced meaning that gives action its dynamic.  

So what meaning do NICE careers workers bring to NICE facts?  A full-sized lecture theatre is filled with people ready with probing questions.  This blog takes a close look at the answers.

It poses five questions...

  1. what can guidance claim?

  2. what roles does it consider?

  3. how does background culture figure?

  4. what thinking most influences its action?

  5. what future possibilities does any of this open up?



NICE is a network organisation.  It argues for Europe-wide competencies for guidance professionals.  They are to be measurable, based on academic training, and drawing on inter-disciplinary thinking.  That thinking is claimed to be distinct, unique and research-based.  All are argued to be requirements for the protection of student well-being.  The aim is, then, to link research, theory, practice and policy into a unified foundation for professional effectiveness.

There's room for a deeper and wider conversation - questions for an alert educator to pose...

  • is it possible for careers-work thinking to be absolutely distinct? - Isn't much of it imported from economics, psychology and sociology? - and isn't some of that of doubtful validity?
  • isn't it true that labour-market experience is as much a problem as a solution? - what about the need to examine the markets for the way they damage life chances? - don't students need to be enabled to examine, probe and scrutinise them?
  • isn't it true that any commercial commitment to growth breeds both hope and fear? - don't both need an understanding of its historical backstory? - and doesn't the breadth and depth of hope and fear range from the personal to the planetary?
  • surely a full account of research, theory, practice and policy needs students engaged in critical questioning? - and isn't creativity also an unwillingness to settle for the way things are? - is commerce open enough to people's unwillingness to settle for the way labour markets are?
  • don't all stakeholders need to know whose interests are being served? - does careers work know what alert educators learn from students and their family-and-neighbourhood communities? - and what if the volunteers and activists of civil society also claim a stake? 

Answering these questions depends on understandings rooted in the sciences, the humanities and probabilistic mathematics - which are all part of mainstream curriculum.  And they raise issues which students also need to engage.  They push aims beyond learning-for-assessment; they reach for learning which is useful in students' lives - learning-for-living.  I know of no deeper or wider education.

So, what are the possibilities for a careers-work partnership with mainstream education?  I don't think it matters what subjects educators bring to it.  Whatever their discipline, nobody does better what a good teacher can do about finding a point for learning.  And learning for effective career management moves beyond acquiring facts it reaches for future possibilities.  And that means asking probing questions and checking the answers.  And it moves on by figuring out what causes in people's lives bring about what effects.  What in-touch educator wants no part of that?



Over the hundred-or-so years of its development careers work has diversified.  From time to time attention shifts on what careers workers do - their roles.  The vocabulary shifts.  Terms like, 'guidance', 'counselling' and 'coaching' are variously associated with the need for 'empathy' 'information' and 'advice'.  Roles can be 'non-directive', 'student-centred', 'infused' or 'integrated' and located in an organisation which is 'public service', 'private enterprise' or 'civil society'.  The pursuit of any of this may be towards 'employability', 'competitiveness', 'fairness', 'happiness', 'well-being' or 'fulfillment'.  

These are not lists of what can be clearly defined, they are features in the comings-and-goings of unfolding narratives.  The sociology of careers work has imported features of such narrative thinking - the term 'role' is taken by sociology from the theatre.  And, in both the theatre and sociology, a role need not be contained by any ready-made script.  In sociology role speaks of an actor positioned for taking on a task arising from a relationship - it speaks of 'being here, getting on with this, together'.  And, although sometimes scripted, a role can also be questioned.  So in careers work we can think of roles as being ready-made and as being newly-made - roles as assigned and achieved.  A changing world needs such critical creativity.

NICE has variously mapped 'types of career professionals' (NICE, 2014, pp. 19-20 and 27-29).  I think this use of 'types' corresponds with what a sociologist calls 'roles'.  The simplest analysis finds three broadly-distinguishable positions... 

  1. advisers have a basic competence - with a 'level-6' grasp of theories and principles
  2. guidance counsellors have 'level-7' competence - able to work with the more complex, uncertain and multifaceted situations
  3. experts have level-8 expertise - in addition to guidance and counselling skills this brings scholarship, integrity, autonomy and inventiveness to the work - it is held by service managers, high-order counsellors and researchers capable of grasping the complexity of the whole field

NICE is right to point to the limitations of careers advisers.  But I doubt that much of that can be attributed to 'level-6' qualifications.  My own experience in education tells me that careers advisers, however able and committed, are limited by institutional mismanagement.  The ways careers advisers are casually enlisted, marginally positioned and poorly resourced has doubly damaging effects.  They limit what the overloaded can do, and they deter other teachers from getting involved. 

The three-fold role analysis is challenged from the summit-conference floor.  A good many participants see the three positions as ordered hierarchically - and they don't like that.  NICE will sort this out.  But NICE can't sort out institutional mismanagement.  And so it's unlikely that mainstream educators are dreaming of becoming careers advisers.  But that does not mean they have nothing to say...

  • educators make week-on-week relationships with students - not just in classrooms but in the yard, during excursions, at sports events - and over several years  
  • every school or college has people that students trust - relationships with professionals and community contacts - ready to work with hopes and fears - about school and about life 
  • somebody in a school and its network knows about families who get disconnected from education - the institution feels unfamiliar, remote, daunting - they need somebody to reach out

Taking account of these roles needs analysis in more than one dimension.  There's a lot to know - where are helpers best located? - how can they be usefully supported in getting on with things? - how does anybody know what help different students and which families need?  The answers are as likely to come from up-close experience as from ready-made expertise - whether educator's or careers-worker's.  And so, although a good many roles are assigned, this kind of work needs role creation - less waiting for an assignment more volunteering for something more.  It works where there's open institutional management.  And the role-achievement of staff, by both careers workers and educators, contributes to the making of that openness.

There's a lot for both sides to learn about why careers work and mainstream education need each other.  Each needs to know what the other can offer.  It requires two-way flexibly, because there's no ready-made way of heeding student- and stakeholder-voice.

It's true that lists and definitions have their attractions.  They offer what looks like clarity and feels like solidity.  But are careers-work roles best understood as features in ready-made structures, or as elements in steerable dynamics?  Should a partnership be dropping a heavy anchor or navigating an energising flow?



Talk of what stakeholders need from careers work, and of the roles careers work develops, and of the institutional support those roles get - such talk will, sooner or later, mention culture.  It comes up in the first NICE group session I attend.  Somebody says that the proposals for reform must not leave out 'the cultural dimension'.  She has quite a point: careers work's own thinking understands culturally-rooted community-interaction to have added a sociological dimension to its psychology-based matching methods.

A culture reflects group assumptions.  They convey the way group members tend to agree with each other about the way things are.  Its conversations may bring up something about who or what is worth bothering with.  And there may be talk of what work prospects there are for people like them.  A culture is an assembling of such beliefs, values and expectations.  It's rooted in the shared experience, memories and allegiances of the group - and so it is a social phenomenon (Bourdieu, 1991).  Whether seen by others as 'posh' or 'common', a culture becomes what the group takes to be 'proper', 'cool',  'normal' - or 'for the-likes-of-us'.  Cultures can inspire, encourage and carry people to doing great things.  But, 'posh' or 'common', they can lead bright people into doing something silly, and good people into something bad.  The curriculum has examples.  So does the daily news.  So does the schoolyard.

Cultures are nurtured in both communities and institutions.  That summit group-member is right, culture frames and shapes the way organisations and their communities both understand and misunderstand each other.  Some social theory rejects the possibility of a shared understanding between the one and the other.  But the major premise of reform is that past facts need not predict future possibilities.  Partnership work with cultural influences needs shared understandings between helpers in their institutions and stakeholder in their communities.  It is not that any reformer can assume first-attempt success - misunderstanding is possible, so is a failure to try to understand, but so is creative persistence.  

An analysis of how different nations nurture different cultures is possible.  Might it be true that German careers work is more thorough?  Brit more direct?  American more flexible?  Maybe.  But the evidence is that there is as much cultural variability within nations as between them.  The differences between cultures are local.  In some neighbourhoods a person can notice evidence of different communities while taking a short walk. 

An authoritative source on school-community cooperation sets out a range of what are cultural assumptions (Munn, 1993).  Compiled by educationists, it permits an account of the links between educators and stakeholders - the former in their institutions, the latter in their communities.  The study sets out a base-line platform for cooperation, but it also allows for different starting points for action.  The base line assumes cultural assonance - it sets out what stakeholders will readily agree.  But the study also invites a questioning dissonance - and that allows for reform possibilities that some may not yet have recognised...

  • ... there can be agreement about student and family self interests
  • ... but what about interests in the well-being of other people's children?
  • ... there can be agreement about education in familiar settings
  • ... but what about emerging voluntary and community organisations? 
  • ... there can be agreement about partnership as a well-established process
  • ... but what about the disturbances by minority points-of-view? 
  • ... there can be agreement that 'happiness' is a principal family concern
  • ... but what about the value of competitiveness? or fulfillment? or even resistance?

The Munn base-line looks to the future, and is prescient in recognising that institutions may assign to stakeholders roles as 'customers' rather than 'partners'.  But stakeholders can resist what institutions assign.  It is culture which explains why a programme is welcomed in one community and rejected in another.  Institutionalised careers work can usually come up with an account of any programme it propose.  And that proposal may well come from what a national government expects.  But the evidence (Law, 2013) is that remote expectation is less important than local response.  It is more important to appreciate the sense and use that local people are able make of any proposal...
if any.

And that needs up-close contact, which is in touch with local stakeholder beliefs, values and expectations.  The evidence is sociological; it is that cultures live in 'social enclaves' which are located in neighbourhoods.  Different enclaves cultivate different cultures.  And the evidence shows that it is locally-based networks which are more likely to be understood and acted upon.  That evidence is that city-and-regional institutions of work-life and citizenship forge strong links with stakeholders.

Any partnership between careers-work and education rests on two-way trust.  Educators can count on careers-workers' understanding of local cultures and their allegiances - in up-close contact careers workers engage with the sense that experience makes of working life.  And careers workers can know that educators enable local people to voice that cultural experience and to question it - in stage-by-stage exploration educators enable student recognition of unforeseen possibilities.

Educators are aware that doctrinaire assumptions assign a bad press to cultural studies.  I'm not qualified to say much about that.  But, until you show me better, I'll stand by this.  Students have a right to see beyond their culturally-acquired experiences and memories.  Upbringing is a beginning not an end.  Career management then becomes students settling on what, in upbringing, they will hold onto - but, also, what they will let go.  Then they are ready to say how they shape their beliefs, values and expectations.  It needs rehearsing with families - both now and one day.  Because it is how they, life-long, see how the culture they embrace connects to the institutions they inhabit.  And it equips them to act when there is no connection.  Cultural studies extend the reach of what we call careers work and citizenship.  It opens up the shaping of who gets to do what in society.  I can think of no more important task for educators and their partners.




An influential voice at the NICE Summit calls on medicine as a professional model for the future of careers work.  Can careers work aspire to a status like that of doctors?  There are parallels - both deal in consultations, diagnoses and cures.  But much is changing, and medicine is developing new and far-reaching repertoires for help.

Part of the trend rests on a well established understanding that prevention is better than cure.  And, now, the accessibility of on-line diagnosis is changing the GP conversation.  There is also some market manipulation by pharmaceuticals, which can distort doctor-patients relations.  But medicine is a resilient profession, and it's finding ways of dealing constructively with change.  

The trend makes status less of a concern than credibility.  And the most adaptive and useful responses to people's needs are not prescriptions but explanations.  When compared with treatment, health professionals are recognising the greater usefulness of education.

Why would careers workers imagine that that they are exceptions to such trends?  The underlying changes have invaded careers work as much as they have invaded any profession.  The trends assemble into an economic, technological and cultural backstory.  And that narrative is changing attitudes to all professions - from the media to the clerical. 

But we can't rely on the backstory getting the air-time that it deserves - and the electorate needs.  It is curtailed by time-limited broadcasting, flabby news management and camouflaged priorities.  There is also a careers-work backstory for NICE to develop.  It manifests the background ways in which economics, technology and culture are framing and shaping the possibilities for future careers work. 

As every historian knows finding and narrating what goes on has never been easy.  And the modern apparatus of economics, technology and culture can be used to massage any backstory into a preferred but misleading account.  We must hope that neither careers work nor educators are among the culprits.  But well-funded and skillfully-managed outfits can re-write, and even eliminate, any backstory that damages their interests.  Educators and their students can find examples on a daily basis in news bulletins. 

The use of such techniques is unfairly damaging the credibility of public-sector careers workers.  Examples appear as unwarranted enthusiasm for private-sector provision and belief in business people as the most effective sources for careers work in schools.  

A person might well be able to hunch what interests are most served by such claims.  But why should a person have to probe so hard to find and decisively verify the backstory?  And, even if a person had the time and made the find, what hope is there in trying to influence hidden interests with rational argument? - the careers-work leadership has tried it to destruction.  

None of this argues for backing away.  Hiding realities is anti-educational.  And is such camouflaged maneuvering impenetrable?  We know that independently-minded students learn how to probe distorted backstories.  We know that medicos are quick learners.  Can we find careers workers and educators who can deal with this?  Are they NICE? 




The NICE position is that professional credibility comes from a valid research base.  At its best research finds what's going on, shows how it gets this way, and identifies what causes bring about what effects.  These are the facts belonging to the descriptions, explanations, and anticipations which make effective careers-work possible.   

But research outfits are juggling in an increasingly politicised arena.  What politicos seek from research, and the action they take in response, may well demonstrably overlook what is known about how people actually live their lives.  I've sat in careers-work research meetings considering invitations to tender for research whose findings are specified in the invitation - 'we want evidence to show that...'.  In such a climate winning contracts and reporting results can be opportunistic, or arbitrary or inventive - or all three.  That research can obscure more that it illuminates.  The obfuscation can be deliberate.

Economics is a noticeable example.  It is a core concern of careers work because it researches the labour-market information which underpins careers work.  But what if there were evidence of economists deliberately massaging their findings in order to camouflage the political or commercial interests they see themselves as serving?  What would that do to credibility?

So this can't be what NICE is signing up to.  Its refusal to do so finds support among professional groups now arguing for practitioner control of research.  They see angling academics as distorting any conversation between policy, profession and research.  Careers work and education need research which informs useful action.  And that needs researchers who are in ground-level contact with career-management experience, and who are able to formulate proposals that are recognisably practical.  Some education professionals are calling for a tightening of the links between research and development.  The call speaks of research-and-development in one breath. 

It needs research-savvy practitioners.  I doubt that careers work needs much of the number-crunching for epidemiological 'big data’ favoured by politicians.  Where causes and effects work out differently in different locations it is ethnographies that promise to be useful.  Ethnography is open to all the variability and variation of up-close-and-immediate experience.  Educators and careers workers have proven themselves capable of producing such exact accounts.  They have a precise kind of validity.  

But no research has any practical validity until it is tested in use.  That test is called 'catalytic validity' (Cohen and others, 2000).  It asks whether what the findings anticipate in theory correspond with what happens in reality.  Practicality needs that kind of research.  It is information which can be grasped, probed and made to work by professionals in conversation with their stakeholders. 

There are neglected issues here.  They are for how research findings are worded, packaged and made available.  Managed well catalytic validity can open up partnerships' r&d conversations.  It brings professionals and their stakeholders into shared conversations concerning what's going on, how it gets this way, and what anybody can do about it.  It makes research community property. 



The NICE conference is part of an on-going on-line consultation on competency standards (Katsarov, 2014).  Its argument is that careers work needs to provide accounts of qualification so that politicos can understand what policy is being asked to support.  The NICE versions of qualifications for careers work list levels of quantifiable competencies.  There are other versions. 

A host at the university's welcoming of NICE is the Dean of Education.  He remarks that education is more than imparting measureable competencies.  He refers to the unquantifiable attitudes which, in any worthwhile learning programme, foster the development of 'creativity' and 'critical thinking'.  The two phrases have long-since been linked together as key elements for qualifying as an educator.  Anna Craft is the trail blazer (Wegeraf, 2014).

Creativity is more than innovation - 'what's new?' need not be such a big deal.  Creativity's bigger deal makes a difference to how things are - a cause with a bigger effect.  It has been said  (Hyde, 1983) to offer a gift and promise a surprise.  And that is a disturbance provoking a special kind of excitement.  The effect ranges from remapping the solar system to getting more suck from vacuum cleaners.  Both change lives, each in its own way.

And then there is critical thinking, which also makes a difference.  But it's more deliberative - a learning process driven by interrogating, probing and scrutinising what's going on.  It asks awkward questions.  And, when it would be a bad mistake to allow the past to predict the future, that counts for a lot.  But it also means that it comes across as disturbing how things are, and that causes discomfort.

Both creativity and critical thinking are an unwillingness to settle for how things are.  People may be grateful for the gift, but they won't thank you for being taken out of their comfort zone.  And either may be more welcomed by reformers than by the defenders.  But, in their different ways, both are necessary responses to change - and when mere innovation won't do.

If he needs it the Dean will find support in the case for authentic learning.  This is not compliance with ready-made lists or measurable competencies.  Indeed, it sees that as a form of institutional control.  Authentic learning lifts candidates above trying to look good enough to comfortably and safely secure an award.  Comfort and safety do not work for creativity, they work as marketing ploys.  Mere novelty can figure, and that might attract some students and educators.  But the movement for authentic learning argues that comfortable and safe breeds dependency, infantilises candidates and undermines any useful understanding of how things are. 

Significant learning takes risks, it does not play safe; it excites, it does not calm; it works through discomfort, it does not evade.  A meta-analysis of career learning tracks what this means for careers work.  More recent neurological evidence speaks of how learning thrives (podcast).  The researcher (Karmiloff-Smith, 1992) shows that useful learning needs unfamiliar, surprising and disturbing experiences - so that learners don't switch off, or doze off.  And, against the conventional grain, she especially recommends all of this wake-up stuff for watching tv.

The qualifications indicated by such thinking record evidence of ready-for-change independence-of-mind.  Playing safe and comfortable would be the most dangerous thing that any learning partnership could do. 

It's true that a person wanting to look good and avoid risk would not immediately be bowled over by what that qualification invites.  We are on a journey here, and so an institution's need for reform, fired-up by creativity, informed by critical thinking and leading to authentic learning may not get its first nod before Friday.  But the need for all this will become more compelling as change gathers momentum.  And it will.



Future possibilities for careers work and education must deal with commercial and political interests in careers work.  The most influential of them work on a global scale.  The backstory is not good news; the politicisation of helping agencies has never resulted in reliable support.  And, now, careers work is being overtaken by a global career-coaching industry, while education is faced by attempts at curriculum capture by commercial interests.  The trends put public-sector careers work and education under existential threat.

It's difficult to know how to promote careers work in these conditions.  An example not to follow is set out in an account of careers work's success.  It likens being an instrument of government policy as living in a 'golden age'.  But that golden memory is not entirely happy.  At the time commercial pressure on government is strong; social fragmentation is accelerating; and education is under arbitrary inspectorial attack.  And yet the careers-work response (pp.1-4) shows no interest in mainstream curriculum; has little to say about learning processes; and worries that measures to integrate the excluded will dilute careers-work professionalism.  This promotion of a golden age is neither miserably failing nor impressively successful.

Promotion - in advertising, marketing and canvassing - urges success in the past, promise in the present, and trust in the future.  There's room for doubt about whether all that jam-tomorrow positivity works.  It might impress people who've never had the time, opportunity or inclination to think otherwise.  But the evidence is that dedicated positivity ioses opportunities to improve - there is more to gain from diagnosing failure than from promoting success.  

It might be argued that the promotion is for outsiders and the bad news for insiders.  But surely we've been talking about bringing outsiders in?  And lifting the lid is a lot more interesting than banging the drum. 

There is no shortage of evidence on the usefulness of bad-news shock.  And the reflective wing of the business world has developed various formats for such 'checking and testing'.  It acknowledges the inter-dependence of failure and progress.  Critically understanding why the breakdown broke down tells a professional more about how the system and its programmes work; cheering from the rooftops tells the provider nothing.  

That's for the provider, but self-congratulatory applause holds back user learning by smothering critical voices.  Is that what happens in this NICE group session on innovation?  A chair-person opens it by listing NICE achievements.  But, on closing, the chair's 'summary' pretty-well ignores the group's probing for how to make headway.  Instead it repeats the up-beat listing already made.  The smothering suffocates when the chair thanks the group for its positive thinking. 

Education is not exempt.  A Times Education Supplement ad (TES, 2014) features two agencies close to government - Pearsons Education publishing and the Confederation of British Industry.  In an upbeat opening session business people identify the value of curriculum to commerce.  But a downbeat follow-on has many educators countering by pointing to the risks to student well-being.  So how is it that the chair feels able to claim inspiration from the resulting consensus?  Could it be that promotion needs ready-made applause for ready-made intentions?

From selfies to corporate videos self-promotion is rampant.  But the reality is that there is more hope in facing bad news than in faking good.  Stepping out of the self-promotional trend may seem like too much of a risk.  But Gert Biesta (2014) is prominent among the many cited here who show that that facing risk is the immeasurable foundation of all worthwhile learning.  Neither careers-work nor education can afford to be distracted by strategies that won't work.  And there's little to gain by patting each other on the back.



Careers work and education share a concern for people's chances in life.  The imagery is compelling when it portrays elbowing for an 'inside track' to 'get ahead' by 'overtaking' the 'competition' and being a 'winner'.  Such wants are liable to be manipulated by self-serving interests.  Students and their educators need to recognise that - whether from politics, commerce, culture, or professions. 

The apparatus of manipulation captures how people think and talk about their concerns.  Its imagery erects a boundary around how people see things.  A philosophical collation of decades of research into this kind of control has coined the term 'intellectual black hole' (Law, 2011).  At the extreme it sweeps people into wanting what is contrary to their needs.  Where 'what I want' is mistaken for 'what I need' then education is failing.

The retort is to demand 'says who!' - who has any right to tell anybody what they need.  Getting control means capturing what people sense is worth saying - the language.  So should we worry when an interested group pushes terms like 'guidance' and 'career'?  We should if it holds back the dynamics of how meanings change as events unfold.  And we should worry when the powerful forbid the use of terms like 'guidance' and 'career'.  Up-front definitions are at least transparent.  But informal reports of elimination are hard to verify - unless you know more than I do.

All such capture pushes unwanted language and probing questions out of reach.  The unwary are not bothered.  The encircled space can feel safe, and the talk can feel free.  Both feelings are deceptive - language, thinking and action have been curtailed.  People have been deceived.  There is nothing more anti-educational.

And neither is there is anything unfamiliar about this.  It features in cleverly constructed press-releases, news separated from its backstory, superficial interviewing, and the terms inserted into commissions-of-enquiry.  It's also the scenario for a fair few dystopias - where debate is curtailed, history is re-written, language is manipulated, doubt is punished, questioning ignored.  And possibilities fall out of sight.  

All of this is relevant to any outfit which might be a target for capture, or be an inadvertent perpetrator, or be both.  The range of outfits which look to the future of careers work include some that lean toward reform, and others toward the promotion of success.  Some show controlling tendencies. 

For example, a resource kit for life-long guidance (ELGPN, 2012) takes a reforming position on enabling career management for a changing labour market.  Elsewhere a 'beacon for guidance' (Hyde, 2014) relies on the celebration of past success.  Alongside both is a generalised claim to advance ambitions in an opportunistic attempt to attract favourable government attention.  From what we know we can expect signs of control to curtail research.  And so it proves.  The claim to be advancing ambition by-passes earlier work examining careers work's failures on aspiration.

Education is no more immune to attempted capture than careers work.  A much-canvassed attempt (Christodoulou, 2014) re-defines and dismisses the underpinning for progressive education.  This circling of the semantic wagons pushes 'mythical beliefs' out of sight.  But, as independent minds step outside the controlling circle its defences crumble...


  • 1: the claim is that education should be fact based...
  • but aren't all facts selected and none of them value free?


  • 2: the claim is that education should be teacher led...
  • but who then listens to the sense that students make of learning? 


  • 3. the claim is that education should be traditionally delivered...
  • but what tradition is that and isn't it better for students to examine any inside rather than outside school?


  • 4: the claim is that education should direct students to sources...
  • so where do students usefully learn to find and probe their own sources?


  •  5: the claim is that education should be prescribed by authorities...
  • but are not the authorities too high-up and too far-away to understand any lives but their own?


  • 6: the claim is that education should command attention...
  • but how does anybody stop students learning what they find interesting and worthwhile?


  • 7: the claim is that education must meet targets and deliver outcomes...
  • but when do students learn about who the outcomes most benefit?


Daisy Christodoulou's seven headlines signpost dead ends.  She's right to raise the issues.  They are genuine - anybody with any sustained contact in education has come across head-bangers arguing that all facts are opinions.  But we have more than enough careers workers and teachers who know the difference between a fact (like gravity) and a construct (like daleks).

At any rate, students should be giving teachers a run for their money on the issues.  And that conversation needs to appreciate that students have many ways to learn, and a fair-few needs for learning.  For some it won't be an asked-for 'want'.  For some it will feel uncomfortable - more like anarchy than education.  But it's learning for work-life and citizenship, and poses a crop of questions - the prevailing answers to which shape young lives.   Blandly asking 'how do you feel?' mustn't get in the way of uncomfortably asking 'how do know?' (Williams, 2014). 


So, is there anything here of any use to reforming careers-work partnerships?

  1. on expanding claims - careers work needs to be informed by an inclusive range of stakeholders - their interests extend beyond labour-market concerns - partnerships can realise, support and learn from these wider links
  2. on refining roles - roles need to be acknowledged in both institutional expertise and community experience - sustained conversations are crucial for connecting professional expertise to student, family and community experience
  3. on working with culture - local beliefs, values and expectations influence life chances - careers work is necessary to understanding these cultural influences - learning-for-living needs stage-by-stage work in mainstream curriculum
  4. on developing thinking - credibility is more important than status - it needs reliable research with recognisable applications - and to be accessible to stakeholders - research-and-development can then be brought into community ownership
  5. on realising possibilities - effective and sustainable change needs an account of observable causes and effects - stakeholders and professionals can then work together on how the one brings about the other - questioning failure is more useful than promoting success

Education has a distinctive voice on the possibilities.  The Royal Society of Arts (RSA) is an agency for mainstream education reform.  It has published an educator's account of working life.  

Much of it holds no surprises for experienced careers workers.  But a 'big-data' report (pp.10-15) goes into some detail on the 'hollowing out' of labour markets, both for the recruitment consequences in the mid-range, and for the rewards of top-range self employment.  It welcomes global companies looking to educators to rebalance labour supply.  It doesn't say how welcoming educators might be about being assigned that role.

A similarly unsurprising report (pp.16-24) examines the robustness of the demand for interpersonal, creative and digital abilities.  And it examines some anticipations concerning the future relationship between automation and recruitment.  It also points to how digital technologies may be good news for rich consumers but bad news for less well-off producers.

There are more surprises in a report (pp.21-25) of how people are moving into self-employment.  It explains why this is not just a behavioural adjustment by people desperate for any work.  It is a structural labour-market change, driven by able people seeking congenial settings for the fulfilment of high-level abilities.  But there are issues: capitalising small businesses takes on financial risks.  This is not what educators mean by 'learning is risky'- it has consequences for family and community well-being.  

In the RSA material it is an academic historian (pp.30-35) who gets close to the experience of change in working-life.  It illustrates ways in which people are becoming increasingly curious and critical about 'what's going on'.  Yet work-life has not adjusted to the way in which that hope is becoming expectation.  The author's historical tracking sets out how work connects people to a credible, experimental, conversational and intellectually-engaging experience.  The problem is that labour markets cannot accommodate the demand for work offering that kind of fulfillment.  Indeed, it finds that work-life routines are too often futile, and sometimes traumatic.  

Big data rarely reflect enough of what the RSA reports.  Alert and trusted helpers might.  The historian is most interested in catalysing a congenial conversation.  The less congenial scenarios are of low-paid, zero-hours and benefit-dependent working lives.  That needs a more fully-equipped partnership response. 


I leave it to others to detect any shift in some paradigm.  Some dust has to settle, some issues revisited.  The range of thinking might be something like a copy-and-paste of this scattergram.  Some of its terms crop up again and again in earlier pages... 


academics - backstories - big-data - boundaries - capture - 


career-coaching - career management - careers work - 


chaos - causes-and-effects - citizenship - commerce - 


competition - conversation - creativity - credibility - curriculum - 


 critical-thinking - development - dialogue - discomfort - 


disturbance - efficacy - emotion - employability - facts - failure -


feelings - fulfillment - government - individuals - institutions - 


intuition - language - learning-for-living - limits-to-growth - 


locality - meaning - mistakes - narrative - leadership - 


economics - online learning - partnership - 


personal-constructs - pragmatics - promotion - purpose - 


 questioning - reform - research - risk - social-constructs - 


society - sociology - stakeholders - status - systems - 


transformation - work-life - well-being 


There's a programme-development tool here.  It can engage students, their communities and professionals in a search for agreement and disagreement.  Colour coding can identify....

            black              no better than feel-good?  

            red                 promises progress?  

            amber            deserves to be foregrounded? 

            green             signposts ways forward?

Some of the ideas disturb the relationship between careers work and policy.  But they improve the relationship with stakeholders - and stakeholders elect politicians.  But this is not arguing for severing relationships with politics.  It's arguing for an interactive rather than a dependent relationship.  Interactive is more dignified.

I doubt that there's any one place to start.  And no sane partnership would try swallow all in one gulp.  But, wherever the starting point, it's for educators to fire-up the action.  NICE has mapped what careers work can do.  It's time for mainstream educators to recognise what they bring to the partnership.  

Registering and contributing to this blog would declare that intention - and open the conversation.



Gert Biesta (2014).  The Beautiful Risk of Education in an Age of Measurement.  Bolder CO: Paradigm Publishers. 

Pierre Bourdieu (1991).  Language and Symbolic Power.  Cambridge: Polity Press 

Daisy Christodoulou (2014).  Seven Myths about Education.  London: Routledge

Louis Cohen, Lawrence Manion and Keith Morrison (2000).  Research Methods in Education.  London: Routledge-Falmer

ELGPN (2012).  Life Long Guidance Policy Development - A European Resource Kit. Finland: The European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network

Colin Hyde (2014).  A Beacon for Guidance. Derby: International Centre for Guidance Studies

Annette Karmiloff-Smith (1992).  Beyond Modularity - a Development Perspective on Cognitive Science.  Cambridge MA: The MIT Press 

Bill Law (2013).  'Career management - place, space and social enclaves'.  Journal of the National Institute of Career Education and Counselling, 31, pp.3-8

Stephen Law (2011).  Believing Bullshit - How Not to get Sucked into an Intellectual Black Hole.  New York: Prometheus Books

Lewis Hyde (2006).  The Gift - How the Creative Spirit Transforms the World.  Edinburgh: Canongate

Johannes Katsarov (2014) Public Consultation On European Competence Standards For Career Guidance And Counselling -

Pamela Munn (ed) (1993).  Parents and Schools.  London: Routledge

NICE, (2014).  The NICE European Summit on Developing the Career Workforce for the Future. Canterbury, Canterbury Christchurch University

TES (2014).  'Soft skills won't be so hard to find if we work together'.  London: Times Educational Supplement, 3rd October 2014, following 18

Rupert Wegerif (ed).  (2014) Thinking Skills and Creativity

Wikipedia (2014).  Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - Criticism 

Joanna Williams (2014).  'The happiness delusion'.  Times Higher Education 16/10/14 p30


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Dr Bill Law FRSA
the career-learning café



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paula Breen
11:06am 5 December 2014

Bill you raise very interesting questions, thanks for this cloud post. I would be keen to discuss further with you how one might consider going about exploring working "on realising possibilities " specifically looking at the perspective "questioning failure is more useful than promoting success". Many thanks.

Bill Law
2:25pm 8 December 2014

I think we have grown out of same-for-everybody pre-defined strategies.  And I see no future in just carrying on about what careers work does.  What is going on needs to be understood in a wider context of changing cultures, politics and commerce.  That's why self-criticism is more effective than self-promotion.  It will work out differently in difference communities.  So there can be no ready-made formula.

But I do recognise two principles for action: 

1. cities & their hinterlands are proving better placed to propose developments that local citizens can recognise, engage with & to which they can bring meaningful & relevant suggestions.  Central government is too high up and too far away.

2. Ready-for-anything learning needs mainstream curriculum's ability to provide a sustained process, with time and space for reflection among sharing groups.  That doesn't need the support of all educators, and there are always some. 

What do you think?

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