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
- 2020 Children and Young People’s Workforce Strategy
- Building Brighter Futures: Next Steps for the Children’s Workforce
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.