WAY IS FORWARD?
finding new starting points for learning
There are no guarantees that careers
work is wholly or always a good thing. It does some things well, some
of what it does is less useful. At times, aspects of the work need to
be discarded, and new directions found. Its why our work needs its
Twas ever so; but, Bill argues, this time is different: todays
turning point is suggested more by cultural than economic indicators.
They have to do with attitudes to authority. The information-supply professions
and that includes us - are increasingly distrusted. Information
is power; and a new kind of struggle is going on.
Appreciating the changing cultural landscape that our learners inhabit
taking a peek outside our own wagon.
We wont want to applaud everything we find. But the way in which
people approach life's issues is
changing - especially
when it comes to who and what can be trusted. And when that starting-point
for learning changes, it must make a difference to how we try to help.
We have strayed off-course and lost momentum. And a better way is? (1)
more of a steer towards real-time and useful learning; (2) sharing maps
and compasses with people on a closely-parallel route; and (3) welcoming
on board other-than-professional help - like mentors.
Bumpy ride? Well, its a course which has not had a whole lot of
recent support from inside our wagon. There is going to be so to
speak some discussion.
the land of the neo-cons
groundwork which has shaped much of our recent work was laid down in another
time. It steered us towards privatisation, market forces and performance
indicators. All were in the service of individual decision-making. And
all were power-managed in pursuit of national competitiveness. With strong
business support, a policy discourse supplanted a professional vocabulary
with a more business-like one. Its terms evoked the concepts with which
we felt we most needed to get to grips.
concepts for careers work 1995
of us would still tick some of it. Though, its not the ticking thats
important its the thinking: not just what is important?",
And the neo-con list has its attractions: it is optimistic, at times evangelical
(the words vision and mission also cropped up
a lot). This was a marriage between business and belief. They called themselves
'neo-liberals'; a later generation are called 'neo-conservatives'. They
gave us the terms in which we learned to speak of ourselves. Its vocabulary
was an inventory of the structure and an explanation of the dynamics of
our work - for more than a decade.
Some will still tick a lot of it. Ask around.
of that vocabulary is still useful: careers work should be accountable
to the people, families and communities it serves. And some of the professional
vocabulary it supplanted was fair game: we spoke of unconditional
positive regard, and idiographic phenomenology, and
anticipatory socialisation. (Actually, I made-up one of these.
Those of a certain age will know which.) But this neo-con success was
not (as theologically suggested at the time) the end of history.
We moved on. And nobody with any grasp of todays realities seeks
a way back.
But moving on brings new hopes and fears into focus. Youll notice
those changing preoccupations as much in media headlines as in economics
texts, policy docs or even in our professional literature. People find
much of what they believe and trust expressed in the media buzz. Red-top-headlines,
product-jingles, political-slogans and soap-opera-plots compact acute
observations of what people most value - and most deride.
interest in media buzz may be different; but we need also to be able to
work with those feelings - in the way we ask questions, reflect replies
and understand how to help.
a buzz of contemporary culture
is any of it affecting career development?
/ ...beggars... /
/ ...binge... /
/ ...citizens... /
/ ...crime... /
/ ...Europe... / ...family...
/ ...global... /
/ ...health... /
/ ...migrants... /
/ ...'ordinary'... /
/ ...pension... / ...pollute... /
/ ...royalty... / ...schools-&-hospitals...
/ ...science... /
/ ...'tough'... / ... third-world...
/ ...US... / ...victim...
of this has been inherited from the neo-cons, but a lot is new. And more
is emerging all the time. Transient? Often. Dynamic? Always. Thats
why smart media people are interested. So why would it be surprising to
find that you can link it to the way your learners think about working
life? And to why they dont?
You could get their version of this from your learners. Ask them to cut-and-paste
a better version for you. And to say why its better.
And would it matter whether that was part of citizenship, media-studies
or careers? Those differences are more important to teachers than they
are to learners. More important is getting to know them a bit better -
part of our listening. And, if talk like this speaks of career at least
as well as talk of skills and interests, then
we could all be at new starting point for enabling self-awareness.
new starting points for
Cultural change is always encountered first as a muddled and disjointed
rumble. But there is one unmistakable seismic shift. It reveals a growing
disdain for conventional authority. People are less-and-less likely to
look to politicians, journalists, and other élites to show them
whats going on - or to suggest what they might do about it. Scientists
are suspect. Teachers must compete for attention with advertising. The
helping professions are getting a bad press.
of what people most trust they find informally on the grape-vine, through
mobiles and on web-sites. And they use these same gateways to organise
what they do about what they find. It means learning to pick their own
way through the spin and the spam. So they increasingly see themselves,
with their mates, as their own arbiters of truth.
This is all in the area of what we professionals call social-and-emotional
influences. We do right to pay attention. And to do so is to notice that
trust has become a pervasive issue. Suspicion is an increasingly prevalent
starting point for learning. That kind of change requires that we change.
The end of deference is not bad news; it is a sign of a growing-up culture.
But there is a downside. Arbitrary defiance is no more useful to learners
than servile deference. And, soft-and-cuddly as it can be, the social-and-emotional
can also deceive: prejudice postures as fact; indifference gets camouflaged
as tolerance; its my choice defends the indefensible.
Enabling learners to get their own grip on such damaging processes of
learning is where we helping professionals can help most of all.
Distrust is most intense among those low in the pecking-order. Their doubts
spring from a sense that we cant really offer them much that is
worth having. It makes them averse to our kind of learning. We know less
than we need to know about the roots of such aversion. But there is this:
learning itself becomes part of the problem when learners cannot see what
they can usefully do about it. There is good reason to suppose that this
bad reaction to futile learning is genetically built into the way we are.
It is a species thing: we are set up to learn for action.
In learning terms, the avoidance of futility is relevance finding
a point to learning. Following some framework or pursuing some assessment
is not enough of a point in the minds of sceptical learners: targets and
tests are other peoples hoops. Even the claim that this learning
is relevant to career is not a sure-fire answer to the question why?.
There may be prior questions about other life roles partner, parent,
citizen. And other reasons for looking for a point in learning. But, in
all, not finding out what is going on, and not figuring out what I can
do about it, is a dismal experience of learning. A major tenet for finding
new starting points for learning will be not to cause that kind of depression.
In our society now that matter is getting quite urgent.
Claiming impartiality is unlikely to cut much ice. Helping learners to
develop their own crap detectors is more promising. We professionals call
it learning to learn. It equips people to deal with spin,
deception and distrust. And, one of the things that learners learn is
that, when it comes to action that other people have an interest in, there
is not much help that is entirely impartial.
from hippie, to neo-con, to cool
cultural terrain needs new concepts for careers work. So, despite the
fact that the neo-cons never expected to be upstaged, we are finding new
ways of figuring out what to do about careers.
key concepts for careers
Same procedure: dont just tick; think, ask, imagine and create.
This is a less commercial list than its predecessor. It contains more
of a helping professionals vocabulary the kind of things
that advisers, teachers, social workers and youth workers most naturally
speak of. It speaks of learners who are unimpressed by official sources,
and making room for informal ones. They value what is local above what
is distant. They find narrative more engaging than analysis. They favour
feeling as much as rationality. They rank usefulness over qualification.
Loss of deference also breeds blame, resentment and disengagement
even fatalism. There is collateral damage from the gung-ho years - disenchantment
about the past, anxiety in the present, fear for the future. (You're not
But it also reveals another face to that big cultural shift: away from
a preoccupation with how well people perform, and towards a valuing of
motivation. It is less interested in the career question will I
be permitted to do this?, more inclined to wonder why would
I bother?. We can work with that.
The hippie, the neo-con and the cool
often-enough turn out to be the same person, getting on in a changing
landscape. In some ways it is not so great a distance to travel. But two
lists cant show how its phases shade into each other. That needs
a narrative. One version of the story gets its start from some time back
in The Enlightenment. This was before even John Lennon's imagining.
But that song has its roots in an enlightenment challenge to arbitrary
authority. And at that earlier time authority was crown and mitre. But
it was never going to stop there, all élites become suspect. The
cultural shift may be jumbled, but it is not disconnected. Sooner or later
it was bound to reach us.
The issue is power. The neo-cons invited us to put empowering
centre stage, with that power to be realised through skills. But the drive
for employability, flexibility and cooperation is as much about fitting
learners to other peoples requirements as it is about conceding
any real leverage to learners. And they know it.
professionals have known for a long time that people learn for career
from their upbringing and their neighbourhood. And that what they learn
informally can be more influential than what they get from experts. It
has all persuaded careers workers to link into a network which includes,
family, friends and local culture. Voluntary helpers, like mentors, are
important in this strategy. At their best these helpers-other-than-professionals
offer much-needed credibility and accessibility to our work. They also
help learners to look wider: at work-life balance, at work other-than-employment
and at activity other-than-work. A re-emerging term for these kinds of
linking-up is integration.
Another peek outside the wagon might persuade us that we have yet farther
to go. Even policy is picking up on the need. On information advice and
guidance, there is policy support for integrated and coherent services.
On learning-recovery, Connexions rests on an appreciation of how local
and informal networks of voluntary-help reach deeper into peoples
lives. And, on 14-19 education, the Tomlinson Report argues that learners
need a greater sense of the usefulness of learning, and more links between
academic learning and life-relevance.
A map for these new directions for careers work is set out in The
CPI Papers. The general title is what are we going to do about
careers?. The papers refer to contemporary cultural buzz. And they
give a lot of space to social-and-emotional influences. But they also
explain why new concepts for careers work are now needed.
It all starts from a well-known majority-analysis of careers education
and guidance - called DOTS. But it moves on from the majority,
the usual and the obvious. Any move into a new terrain is like that. It
needs leadership. And that means answering the question where now?.
Especially when the answer is not completely obvious to the already-on-board
are in the magazine section of
The Career-learning Café
more on stakeholders for careers work
more on mentoring
more on the
a review of Richard Sennetts The
Corrosion of Character: Personal Consequences of Work in The New Capitalism,
an account of the undermining effects on line workers of current commercial
OTHER USEFUL BOOKS
Youll find an authoritative critique
of current commercial attitudes in J K Galbraiths The Economics
of Innocent Fraud. London, Allen Lane, 2004.
a well-documented argument against the privatisation of the public services
take a look at David Marquands Decline of the Public.
London: Polity, 2004).
For a revealing account of peoples experience of contemporary working
life see Madeleine Buntings Willing Slaves.
London Harper-Collins, 2004>.
Nick Barhams commentary on some of our most wayward young men and
women is optimistic. But you will be challenged by the rejection of conventional
authority in the first-person stories. Find it all in Disconnected:
Why Our Kids Are Turning Their Back on Everything We Thought We Knew.
London: Random House, 2004.
Wheens book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World (London:
Fourth Estate) is a well-informed and engaging reflection on the unravelling
of The Enlightenment in the modern world.
And, though you might not agree with all of it (I dont!) youll
find a stimulating account of more pervasive trends in contemporary attitudes
in Frank Furedis Where Have All the Intellectuals Gone?
London: Continuum, 2004
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