It was the worms wot won it!

Well whatever you thought about #leadersdebate last night I think that one thing that we can all agree on is that the worms are the real winners in this campaign. Everyone loves the worms and trusts them to be the real kingmakers. This is a pretty new technique on me and is essential designed to pick up peoples immediate emotional response to what politicians are saying. There must be a literature on what this is really measuring and how reliable it is. It is difficult to catch the sample sizes and so on and so difficult to work out whether the approval ratings actually mean anything at all. My main methodological question is whether this is really just measuring that the politicians are talking about something you are interested in. It may be that approval in this sense doesn???t have much relationship to voting intention. However the idea of someone ???winning??? each debate seems to have caught the media and public attention and now seems to be one of the most important aspects of the campaign. Presumably each of the parties spin doctors are now testing to see what words and phrases have an impact on worm performance. If you can measure something you can hack it and render the measurement meaningless.

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My other concern is the way the worms seem to register approval whenever politicians say anything that is reactionary. Tough talking on immigration, crime, school discipline etc seems to make everyone happy. I recognise that my views may not be in the majority but surely there must be people in the worm-driving role who share some of my concern about the constant bellicose sabre-rattling that gets thrown around. The worms don???t seem to register this. Maybe I???m just a freak, but there seem to be lots of people on Twitter making similar points. If I understood the worm methodology better I might understand how this all works.

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So educate me about the world of worms. How does it work? Who invested it and what?? are the critiques?

What makes an entrepreneur?

I???m just undertaking some work on entrepreneurial careers. I???m starting to do some reading around the subject looking at what factors make entrepreneurs. I???ve started to gather stuff together around my citeulike enterprise tag. If anyone has got any useful references for me then point me in the right direction. I???d also be interested to hear anyone???s thoughts on whether entrepreneurs are made or born and what it is that makes an entrepreneur.

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Thanks for any help that you can give me???

A future fair for all

I???ve just looked at the Labour Party Manifesto. Weird picture on the front of the manifesto that I???ve added to this post. It is obviously supposed to evoke the New Jerusalem spirit of the 1945 administration, but it reminded me of the kind of design that you get on egg boxes. Maybe that is just me.

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So what is in the syntactically odd ???A future fair for all???. As ever the word cloud provides a helpful summary. My summary of the introduction goes

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Blah, blah, blah, crisis, economy, growth, jobs, rebuild, protect, reform, hard decisions, fairness, economic recovery, economic future, families, communities

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The introduction is the most waffly of the three that I???ve looked at so far. It says a lot but doesn???t really establish any big ideas. In many ways it pushes a message which essentially says ???look it has been really difficult and we???ve been doing our best, if you re-elect us we???ll carry on doing our best and looking out for ordinary people like YOU???. I think that this is probably a fairly typical incumbent message. But, what is hiding in the detail?

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As with the other manifestos there is lots of stuff about the economy which others will have more to say about than me. However it is noticeable how downbeat it all is with a strong focus on tough choices and cuts. Another general point that I noticed is the way that the manifesto brackets together ???Crime and immigration???. Surely this is an unnecessary and meaningless association. Whoever decided that this was a good idea?

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So how does this ???prudence??? play out in the areas that are of interest to this blog.

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Education/Schools

  • More money for SureStart and pre-school education and child care
  • Every young person guaranteed education or training until 18 and 75% going onto HE or a vocational equivalent (it would be really helpful if manifesto writers could include the current percentage ??? 75% is great if it is currently 50% but not so great if it is currently 76%).
  • Like the other parties they love the Teach First scheme. (Can someone point me to a critique of this ??? I???m sure that there must be one out there)
  • Lots of stuff about devolution of power ??? but this is set within a context of the state regulating almost everything that moves. Mike Baker???s recent Guardian article looks at this in more detail.
  • Some stuff about bringing together academic and vocational education programmes ??? but short on specifics
  • There is also some stuff about using extra-curricular activities as a way to get kids off the streets and force them to do something more improving. E.g.

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Cadet forces will move increasingly into state schools and we will expand spare time activities for young people, doubling those available ??? including sport ??? on Friday and Saturday nights, with neighbourhood police teams closely involved in areas where youth crime is highest.

I can???t be alone in finding the social control tone of this kind of stuff a bit un-nerving.

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  • Everyone will have to stay in education and training until 18 and the range of apprenticeships will be increased.
  • They also promise more regulation of FE with a ???traffic light??? system to tell young people if the course is any good.

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Careers and skills

There is a promise that careers advice for young people will be ???overhauled??? in ways that are clearly intended to build on the Milburn review. However it is pretty short on the detail of what this overhaul will mean.

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There is also a commitment to develop the idea of Skills Accounts to support individual access to training. Details are scant in the manifest, but I???m sure that there is plenty written on this elsewhere.

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Higher Education

No new ideas here really. Some more stuff on widening participation and outreach but essentially it is just more of the same. There is also some talk about government focusing of funding towards STEM and priority areas.

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Education and science funding is seen as something which is given with an expectation of direct return on investment. There is also a call to make education a more effective ???export business???.

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Social enterprise and mutualism

There is quiet a bit in the manifesto (and in the Co
nservative and Lib Dem manifestos) about the role of social enterprises, mutuals and co-operatives. These seem to be seen as a universally good thing. However all parties are pretty short on ideas about how they are going to get this sector to grow.

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All in all there are few surprises in the Labour Party manifesto. They are promising to build on the things that they???ve been doing. This means that social inclusion and fairness get a high priority, but so do targets, regulations and state intervention. There is also a tone of social conservatism that underpins many of the Party???s responses to issues like the behaviour of young people. They are really staking their claim to govern on their supposed competence and understanding of the economy.

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You pays your money, you takes your choice


A_future_fair_for_all
Labour-word-cloud

Seminar at iCeGS

I???m very excited about the first of our new seminar series on the 5th May. iCeGS at Derby is co-organising a seminar series with Nottingham Trent University focusing on career and career guidance. I???m hoping that we can persuade other career related HE departments to join in and help us to develop a travelling seminar series that works its way around the Midlands. At the first one we are very privileged to have Helen Colley (Manchester Metropolitan University) talking about ???The impact of 14-19 reforms on the career guidance profession in England???. I???ve seen her give a version of this paper before and it was fantastic. I???ll also be doing a bit on technology in career guidance. The seminar is free and open to all so we???d really appreciate it if some of the readers of this blog were able to come along.

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You can book on the iCeGS website.

Cleggmania

Lib-dem-word-cloud

Are you gripped by Cleggmania? It is apparently sweeping the country following #leadersdebate. For me he failed to deliver the knock out punch and came across as just a slightly less petty version of the other two. However the media has decreed that he WON and so the Lib Dems are riding high. In this post I???m going to have a special Adventures in Career Development look at the Lib Dem manifesto.

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First, the good news, at 57 pages it comes in under half the length of the Conservative Manifesto. The attached tag cloud shows the sort of words they love.

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The Lib Dems offer four headlines:

  • Fair taxes that put money back in your pocket
  • A fair chance for every child
  • A fair future creating jobs by making Britain greener
  • A fair deal by cleaning up politics

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So fair so good as they say in Lib Dem HQ.

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As I???m now on my second manifesto I???m starting to realise that the introduction is a pretty key bit. It sets the tone for the whole thing and while it is necessarily vague it gives you a sense about how the parties want to see themselves. The Lib Dem one goes a bit like this???.

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Blah, blah, blah, fairer, greener, stronger, more united, systematic failures, fair, fair, fairness, change Britain for the better, reduce the deficit, reinvigorate democracy

Sounds pretty great doesn???t it?

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The manifesto then moves on to a rather gloomy bit about cutting public spending. However even here there is some good progressive stuff about reforming prisons, organising public sector pay rises so that they benefit the poor the most, no to trident replacements and introducing a banking levy. There is also some worrying stuff about ???sustainable pensions??? which I assume means that they are going to make me work until I???m 98.

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They then go on to talk about creating jobs through Green Keynesianism ??? again lots of good stuff. I???m skipping over the economic stuff as others will have more to say about it than me. So what about the issues that matter to me?

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HE

  • Respect the autonomy of the science budget
  • Keep politicians out of the allocation of research funding
  • Require research to be publicly accessible
  • Get rid of the focus on narrow impact factors
  • Scrap tuition fees
  • Create a single FE&HE funding agency
  • Fund more foundation degrees

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Work

  • Increase the right to request flexible working
  • Introduce name blind job application to prevent race and sex discrimination

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Schools

  • Invest more money
  • Increase school based teacher training and Teach First schemes
  • Introduce an independent standards agency
  • Reduce the amount of national curriculum requirements and reduce testing
  • Enable a better mix of academic and vocational qualifications through a general diploma qualification
  • Create less ???rigid??? teachers pay

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The above is what the Lib Dems are promising in their manifesto. Unless I???m reading a shortened version there is no mention of skills, FE, careers or welfare to work schemes. I thought that this was a bit of an odd omission so I went rooting around on the Lib Dem website but I couldn???t really find anything else that gave any real detail.

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In summary, I like what I see from the Lib Dems. There is a lot of evidence that they are seriously proposing a moderate but progressive platform based on ideas about social justice and progressive liberalism. However there are also a lot of gaps here and gaps make me nervous.

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All in all this isn???t anything revolutionary and it probably promises more continuity than change. But there are some good progressive policies here alongside some more standard stuff. Let???s hope that they remember the good stuff when they are negotiating their entry into a hung government.

Understanding and using narrative in career guidance

Narrative is every where in the career guidance world these days. Everyone is talking about it because it seems to offer an alternative to the absolutes of the traditional matching approach. It just doesn???t seem feasible to see what we are doing in career guidance as being about pulling together people???s aptitudes and abilities with the labour market opportunities. Human beings and the world they inhabit seem much more complex than that and lots of contemporary theory tries to recognise this complexity and subjectivity. We can???t match because we are too complicated but we can link different things together using stories and narratives.

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I???ve been lucky enough to attend a couple of meetings either side of the weekend that have really helped me to think about the relationship between career and narrative. On Friday I went to a meeting with Bill Law where we talked about Storyboarding which is a technique that Bill has developed to encourage people to think in narrative/cinematic terms about their life. I then saw Phil McCash run an activity at today???s iCeGS associates meeting that asked us to think about careers stories in terms of the way their narratives were constructed (their genres). This was all very interesting stuff and got me thinking about what we mean by narrative and this in turn threw up some literary theory from the dark corners of my mind.

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Phil???s activity encourage us to examine three different careers stories and to identify the generic features of each. How has this narrative been put together, what genre has it drawn on and how has this determined its nature and message. I remembered seeing loads of students who shoved their CVs at me asking ???have I got it right??? as if I could adjudicate on their mastery of the CV writing genre and send them off with a badge announcing that they were now certified CVists. However writing a CV is first and foremost a kind of writing and secondly a kind of communication. A CV is never finished, it is always contingent on who is telling it and who is listening. It is a narrative, but it is a kind of narrative that has to have an audience. In other words a CV is a social act and my sense is that narrative is always a social act.

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Saussure argued that language was made up of two bits. Firstly you have langue which is a system of language that is internalised by a speech community. Secondly you have parole which are individual utterances of speech. Parole makes no sense without the underlying langue. Individual speech works within this system and people understand it as long as it continues to utilise the barely noticed rules of the langue. Genre works in a similar way to provide us with rules for particular utterances or instances of narrative. It sets up rules that tell us what to expect and we struggle to understand a narrative if it does not fit into some kind of genre.

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When we write a narrative (like a CV) most of the meaning is carried by the genre. The genre sets down both what we can include (e.g. factual information, dates) and the techniques that are used to read it (skimming, looking for particular information in particular places). If you push at the genre a bit you might be able to stand out from the crowd, but if you smash the genre your writing becomes very difficult for people to understand. The school of literary criticism known as Russian Formalism argued that this process of genre smashing (what they called defamiliarisation) is the essence of literature or art. By making things strange you enable people, they argued, to see the world in a different way.

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For individuals seeking to move their way through recruitment processes by telling their career story through a CV the idea of creating a new art form is probably pretty unappealing. Being able to understand and internalise the genre and then work within it is the essence of what is being looked for. Techniques which help people to examine the features of the genre and get good at reproducing are therefore very helpful.

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However, when we move away from recruitment and think more widely about how narrative can help people to think about their lives and careers it may be that some genre busting approaches might be genuinely illuminating. The ability to move outside and between genres and to think about how the process of genre shapes and determines the nature of individuals narrative is likely to be a pretty useful approach in helping people to explore their own career stories and aspirations. In this respect their may be quite a bit of stuff that could be usefully drawn from literary theory and other approaches to the analysis of narrative and repurposed for use in the career field.