I spent the tail end of last week at the Institute of Careers Guidance conference in Blackpool. The ICG is an interesting organisation which is trying to provide a voice for the fragmented world that is career guidance. Guidance professionals are scattered through a large number of organisations (Connexions, nextstep, schools, FE, universities etc) and correspondingly they are represented by a wide range of professional bodies (AGCAS, NAEGA etc). The ICG is probably the most influential of these bodies and can make a genuine claim to speak for the whole world of guidance rather than just a section of it. Correspondingly it is influential and was able to attract David Willets MP and Gordon Marsden MP to its conference.
This was my first ICG conference and I very much enjoyed it and learnt a huge amount. My feeling was that there were three main themes that underpinned the conference and I thought I’d use the rest of this blog to speculate on these a little.
Firstly there were discussions around practioner issues. How do we engage with clients with faith? How can Connexions’ advisers engage with schools? What should we advise clients about doing a foundations degree? etc etc. These aspects of the conference were much like other practioner conferences that I’ve attended. Some sessions were excellent, others less so, but all clearly chimed into the actual concerns of careers workers.
The second stand of the conference was based around speculation and star gazing on what the future policy environment would be. The presence of David Willets fuelled the “what will the Tories do” guessing games that everyone is playing at the moment. Willets was extremely convincing, demonstrating a strong understanding of guidance and keying into the messages that his audience wanted to hear (yes to independence, yest to an all age guidance service and so on). He also made some interesting comments about the granularity of online labour market data that warmed the heart of my inner geek. However it was clear that Willets and the Tories were likely to end up stretching the same (or less) resource across a wider range of functions. It was also clear that they were proposing some pretty extensive reorganisaton and reconfiguration of the sector and I’ve got some doubts as to whether this is really what the sector needs. Nonetheless time will undoubtedly tell and it is very possible that what happens ultimately bears scant resemblance to the policy discussion that is currently going on.
The final strand that stretched across the ICG conference was around the professionalisation of the guidance profession. The way in which guidance professional are trained is a remarkably contentious issue. Some have a level 4 NVQ while others have a postgraduate certificate which is very like the PGCE that teachers undertake. Different factions have different opinions about the relative merits of these different qualifications. The situation is further complicated by the fact that there are a large range of people (like myself) who are swimming in these waters unencumbered by any relevant qualification but who have a wide range of relevant experience.
So what to do? The ICG is in a bind. On the one hand it would like to campaign for guidance to be a graduate or even postgraduate profession. On the other hand it would like to be open, drawing in those with NVQ4 and engaging them in its professional development activity without suggesting that they are in any way lesser members of the profession because they don’t have a degree. Furthermore the ICG would like to engage those who have come into the careers world through other routes (teachers, learning technologists, HR specialists, researchers and coaches). It would like to do this grow the size and expertise of the organisation and to retain its leadership of the sector. However, it needs to tread carefully so that it doesn’t accidentally put out the message that anyone can do guidance and that qualifications aren’t important.
It seems reasonable to me to argue that the high level and mixed bag of skills that go into creating a careers profession are likely to be brought about by some kind of training and that that training probably needs to be at a graduate level. Which is not to say that some of the role couldn’t be delivered with less training, but rather that high level engagement with people’s decision making requires understand of psychology, sociology, education and the labour market at a level that would fit into a degree type of qualification relatively well. Whether this ultimately delivers a two tier profession is an interesting question that I think the ICG will need to explore further. And none of this has answered the question of what you do about all of the untrained interlopers. Do you close them out, find a way to co-exist or require everyone to accredit their skills through the professional body?
How all of this pans out will depend in part on how the ICG and other organisations play it. It will also depend on how the government see the role the guidance profession and whether it is something that is supported and developed (or not). So where next for professionalisation of guidance? And where next for the ICG in formulating and delivering on its vision around these issues? Deirdre Hughes (my predecessor at iCeGS) made a strong start on this with the launch of the CREATE campaign. It will be interesting to see where this goes next.