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Chris Targett
19 April 2016

As Careers Management Professionals and Educationalists working together, we are the bastions of truth. We are there to ensure that students are aware of all of their options, from School Leaver Schemes through to Sixth Form, Further Education, Higher Education and Apprenticeships, as well as entrepreneurial activities. We show them the theoretical paths they can take; which options may lead to which areas of work and the lifestyles they can aspire to beyond this.

What we also seek to do is show students how malleable and changeable the careers landscape is. In this way, when contemplating their potential paths they can see which ones are on a broad thoroughfare and which (metaphorically speaking) are limited, narrow or close to a cliff edge. In this way our students are informed of the potential risks, can prepare for them and own them. For example, if they know that a particular path is going to be risky they pack the proverbial parachute or safety harness, unless they (as some people do) prefer such journeys without the safety net, which remains their choice. 

Knowing and being informed about the careers landscape is important, as without this individuals cannot prepare for the potential pit falls practically and psychologically. However, being given an inaccurate map of the landscape is more of a hinder than help as potentially it is highly damaging and could lead individuals down the wrong path.

Yet within the mass media some quite contradictory maps of the UK careers landscape are provided. Consider these two contradictory statements from the UK Government, both published in 2014: “Creative Industries worth £8million an hour to UK economy” and “Arts subjects limit career choices”. Both statements are backed up with labour market statistics and from a seemingly trustworthy source. How can a student make an informed choice, and how can their parents or carers help assist them in this, when faced with a metaphorical map which curls itself in knots?

To ensure that students are informed we must help them, and those looking after them, to learn the difference between propaganda and fact. We need to support students so they are able to read between the lines and can access objective labour market information (LMI) to build an informed picture of the actual labour market, as opposed to an imaginary one built through misinformation.

We must also assist students in understanding how narratives of potential career pathways and possible barriers add meaning to the LMI and how these can be used by various agencies, to steer or lead their thinking. Learning to compare one careers narrative with another is useful in making an informed choice, for example, imagine you are going for a walk in the woods and you ask two friends what they think of your potential route; their personal opinion or bias will dictate how they interpret the path ahead for you. If they have an ulterior motive this may affect what they advise you if it suits their purpose or agenda.

If we take the latter of the two earlier quotes, further details can be found in a longer interview between Nicky Morgan and Sir John Sorrell, Chair of the Creative Industries Federation, and John Kampfner, CEO. In the dialogue more detail and facts are unpicked which round out the headline statements and the articles which appeared with them. It is so important for students to dig deeper to gain a more insightful understanding.

It is this interpretation of the careers landscape, through narratives combined with LMI data, which we must remain objective about and assist our clients with learning how to research. We must provide access to a variety of useful, unbiased and comprehensive sources of LMI which they can use as a sounding board to compare information they may find from other more biased sources. We must also provide students with a balanced narrative in our own careers conversations with them. Otherwise there is the risk that we will not be equipping our students with the necessary tools to be able to make an informed decision beyond their immediate option choices in Years 8 or 9, 11 and Post 18.   

This article was originally published on the CXK blog, Friday 15th April 2016

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