Developing the children’s workforce

The relationship between workforce development and career development is a pretty fine one. Workforce development is essentially an organisation process which aims to transform the culture and human capital of a particular workforce – but this social and organisational process inevitably has personal/individual consequences for the members of the workforce. Conversely career development is usually conceived as essentially an individual process, but one which has social and organisational benefits.

While I was at Vitae the work that I was involved in on the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers was a good example of something that was simultaneously about career and workforce development. The Concordat is designed to provide a better environment for individual career development, but it is also about developing the capacity of the research workforce. There are clearly some tensions here – what may be best for you is not always best for your immediate employer – but by and large we can find common cause between the two agendas. What is more as career professionals the world of organisational/workforce development also offers us some powerful allies and the opportunity to intervene on a more structural level in the processes that influence individual’s careers.

 I’m currently in the process of trying to get my head around some of the policy initiatives that have been taking place within the children’s workforce. The term “the children’s workforce” for the uninitiated refers to all of those professionals who work primarily with children e.g. youth workers, Connexions advisers, social workers, teachers etc etc. The literature suggests that there are something like 2.7 million people employed in this sector, although the fact that it is spread across a wide range of employers (public, private and third sector) and encompasses a wide range of occupations makes it difficult to be exact. There is a strong government initiative (driven to some extent by the Children’s Workforce Development Council) to develop the human capital and organisational structures of the children’s workforce. In some ways this initiative reminds me of the Concordat and similar HE moves, but it is actually far bigger, more complex and ultimately far more ambitious. I’m really writing this blog post to try and help me make sense of some of what I’ve read recently – so please shout if you think that I’ve got it wrong.

Some of the key documents that I’ve identified are

What these documents argue is that the children’s workforce is facing a number of key issues around workforce development. These focus on things like the development of leadership capacity, building more logical career pathways through the sector, developing skills in partnership and cross-expertise working and building the level of qualification and knowledge within the sector. Another interesting idea that informs workforce development in the children’s workforce is the idea that strong professional identities have a positive impact on the quality of services. So teachers perceive themselves to be engaged in a lifelong profession and their professional identity goes beyond their immediate work context. This kind of professional identity is weaker in other areas (e.g. youth work) and these strategies suggest ways to strengthen it, largely through up skilling, developing the proportion of qualified practioners and by creating more transparent career progression.

The government argues that this workforce is key to the social fabric and is correspondingly investing large amounts of money in its development. Careers workers clearly have something to offer to this kind of initiative. The children’s workforce is so complex that people are likely to need some IAG type support in order to maximise their ability to navigate through it. While the current workforce development agenda asks us to consider the children’s workforce as a single workforce there are likely to continue to be high levels of diversity within it in terms of qualification, pay, conditions, employers etc. Government policy does not attempt to homogenise this workforce, but rather to make it connect better and to enable cross agency etc working to flourish. An important element of this is to develop a common core of skills and knowledge, but an equally important element must be to create dynamic careers within the sector that act as ways to transfer knowledge, skills and contacts from one section of the workforce to another.

Ultimately I feel that careers professionals have a lot to offer in the area of workforce development. All too often we are focused on the issue of transition (school to work, job to job) between institutions rather than transition within institutions (dealing with change, managing advancement). We should be assertive in arguing that this is also a legitimate place for us to be active in supporting career learning.


  1. HiI think you’re right that careers advice professionals have something to add to this debate, but we do need to expand our horizons beyond just thinking about ‘transition between’ and start to engage more with ‘transition within’. This latter is often seen as the province of coaches, trainers and HR professionals. However, having been involved in more continuing professional development activities through our consultancy work, it has become clear that I am using the same skills and dealing with the same concepts as I do in my careers advice work – I’m just using a slightly different vocabulary.Your discussion of the accumulation and transfer of knowledge within the workforce brought to mind the idea of careers as a repository of knowledge as proposed by <a href="">Allan Bird (1996)</a>.David

  2. Thanks for the link to Allan Bird. The book looks interesting – I’ve ordered on Amazon.I think that you are absolutely right – the skills involved in careers advice that focus on transition between are very similar to those that focus on transition within. What is more most people pursue most of their career within an employment context. They generally have very limited options to engage with formal careers advice in this setting and take their IAG from managers, HR etc etc. We don’t necessarily need to be attempting to colonise this space to have something to offer to it. There is a value on trying to build more dialogue between careers advisers and related professionals such as HR.

  3. Given the current employment environment, community colleges and other post-secondary institutions are being called upon to play an even greater role in helping young adults gain the skills needed to qualify for work. A new report from Workforce Strategy Center (WSC) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation titled ???Employers, Low-Income Young Adults and Postsecondary Credentials,??? highlights programs in 14 communities that are successfully addressing the challenge of providing disadvantaged young adults with the technical and postsecondary education that may qualify them for skilled positions. For the full report visit

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s