The careers sector has certainly had its fair share of turbulent times. Constantly at the mercy of changing government policy, our industry has to adapt to whatever views and solutions may be in vogue at the time by those who, arguably, know little about it. Whilst few would dispute that the current system (or lack of) isn’t working out, we may question whether there has ever been a time when careers guidance has been ‘done right’. We invited Working Adviser members to share some of their own experiences from being at the receiving end of careers advice, to establish if things have in any way changed for the better over time, or if careers guidance, and the perception of it, is still throwing up the same old problems. So what issues were uncovered in your responses?
1) Unqualified ‘advisers’
“I had careers chat in the late 1970’s with our school librarian, who as far as I am aware had no particular qualifications to undertake this role.”
“I can honestly say that I never saw a qualified careers adviser…”
The majority of respondents revealed that, certainly whilst at school, they received no guidance whatsoever from a qualified professional. Discussions with teachers wearing a ‘careers hat’ appear commonplace whilst some cited a mystery ‘careers person’ of whom no one really understood their background or how they fitted into the school environment. The idea of careers advice being a standalone and respected profession was sadly lacking.
2) Questionable impartiality
“My old school didn’t allow the Careers Service into school as it was trying to build up its 6th Form numbers….”
“We had support with UCAS but… other options were frowned upon.”
Responses from many members show that careers advisers, and external agencies on the whole, were often treated with suspicion and, potentially, as a threat. Non-university options such as school leaver schemes (or the precursor to) and gap years were also discouraged in many cases. Sadly we know that a lot of this still happens today and that the ‘them and us’ attitude towards career professionals continues to be a major blocker to progress.
3) Lack of in-depth guidance
“I remember that there was a teacher who was responsible for “Careers” but it was mainly handing out information leaflets/sheets rather than any in-depth guidance intervention.”
“I said I wanted to study psychology. My teacher said ‘fine’. End of story.”
Many respondents’ stories point to a lack of discussion around ideas and on over reliance on computer programmes alone. Particularly (and understandably) with unqualified ‘advisers’, there appeared to be an unwillingness to challenge ideas, to expand on options or to raise aspirations, and consequently students were left feeling disillusioned as to the benefits of their input.
4) ‘Careers’ as a one-off intervention
“I have no memory of anything resembling careers education. If we chose to see an adviser, and most people didn’t, then there were no other options to learn about the world of work or our choices within it.”
“The (one session of) support that I received was in isolation with nothing before or after it.”
The idea of an embedded and ongoing programme of careers education was not apparent in any of the responses. Those who did meet with an adviser were often instructed to do so that day, with no time for preparation or planning. Nor was there any evidence of proactive employer engagement other than a few examples of mandatory yet largely ineffective work experience programmes.
Of course, this is a small collection of personal experiences over a wide time frame rather than an intensive and extensive survey. What is clear, however, is that professional progress within our industry has been neither rapid nor linear. Those who have been in the profession for a significant number of years will know that there have been times when practice, and the policy around it, has been more effective than at other times, and thankfully there will always be pockets of good practice going on out there, regardless of the politics surrounding it. But it does appear that the industry has not made any significant headway, despite lots of examples of mistakes to learn from. The issues that were occurring 10, 20, 40 years ago are still, largely, the issues that many students will be facing today.
What we do have today, however, is a very robust framework of professional qualifications which are ensuring that qualified advisers are well equipped to understand and challenge the failings of the current system. We understand the value of impartial advice and we know what makes up an effective careers education programme. We know that ‘careers’ is a journey that is not fixed by a one-off meeting and that input from a range of external stakeholders is a necessary feature. But until we are given appropriate opportunity to influence and direct the way CEIAG is implemented then there are likely to be many more years of challenges ahead.
Many thanks to Jacqueline Casson, Lindsay Evans, Leigh Fowkes, Catrina Holmes, Melanie Moorhouse, Hazel Revell, Zoe Smith, Anne Wilson and Colin Woolford for your contributions towards this blog post.
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