A strategic use of career informants in careers education

I’ve had a good idea – doesn’t happen often – but here we go.

 

This is an idea for a career education intervention. I’m going to talk about how it would work in an HE context, because that is what I know best, but I think that it could work with almost any group of career learners.

 

The idea is to train up a group of students to act as career informants who can catalyse career conversations amongst their wider peer group. There are a number of important contexts for this idea.

  • Most people never use a professional careers advisor.
  • Most people turn to a peer or similar “amateur” when they want to find out information about their career.
  • Learning tends to cascade down through groups of learners and be reinforced by interactions within a peer community.
  • We are facing considerable pressure from government to “do more for less”.
  • Without any doubt I’ve always learnt the most when I’ve had to teach others.

 

So how does this idea work?

 

A hypothetical programme might go something like this. You recruit 100 students for an employability award. The students are engaged by being promised that they will enhance their employability and their understanding of career. Ideally you will offer them some kind of certification for the learning that they are doing. This will help to engage them and to incentivise their participation over the long term.

 

The 100 students are going to be transformed into your career informants. They will start in this role by receiving some training about career. Ideally you’d have two or three days with them – but if you can only get one you have to work with what you can get. In this training intervention you provide them with some basic tools for having career conversations with their peers. Typically this might include the following:

  • An overview of what services are available and some reflection on when it is good to refer to professional career services.
  • Some basic career theory – what is career and how do different models suggest you should go about developing it?
  • Some relevant LMI e.g. resources explaining where graduates go, introduction to some websites where it is possible to find out information about salary, recruitment numbers etc
  • Some techniques for having career conversations (listening, probing, asking open questions etc) and some practice at doing this with other members of the career informants group.

 

The 100 career informants are then charged with going out and having career conversations with 10 of their peers. They have to engage them in a conversation and record the fact that they have done so and any possible outcome. This might look something like this:

 

12/12/2010 – Spoke to Fred about his career. He admitted that he had no idea about what he was going to do and that he was in a bit of a paralysed state about it all. I encouraged him to talk and provided him with a copy of ‘What do graduates do?’ He decided to go an see the careers service following our conversation.

 

Once the career informants have had 10 career conversations they should have an opportunity to reflect on what they have learnt and consider how it changes their own career aspirations. Has the process of engaging in career conversations changed the way that they think? Has hearing about the aspirations of others opened them up to any new ideas? This could be an essay, a presentation, a video or a blog – whatever you think would engage the students and satisfy whatever accreditation framework you are using.

 

One of the reasons why this idea should be easy to sell is its “more for less” quality. For an investment in the career development of 100 people you actually get benefits for 1100. In fact I think that if you could pull it off you would actually get even wider benefits. A big aspect of what I’m proposing is built on social marketing ideas. If we could move 1100 people within a particular context to start talking about their career we would have a good chance at setting the conversational agenda for that context. We could be making careers the water cooler topic of choice.

 

So what do you think? I’ll just briefly answer the most obvious downsides to try and speed up the discussion.

 

  1. Does this idea undermine the idea of professional careers advice? No, but it does recognise and work with the limitations of professional interventions by finding a technique to reach out to those who would not self-refer. I’d anticipate that demand on professional careers services would i
    ncrease as a result of this intervention. I’d also anticipate that it would enhance understanding amongst the general student population of what the unique value of a careers adviser was.
  2. Does this idea run the risk that people will be given bad advice? Yes, probably. However one of the aspects of the training needs to be to encourage career informants to understand the limits of their knowledge and to encourage the people they talk to think more widely. People will always talk to each other about their career, what this project does is help to connect these general and often uninformed conversations up to professional career support and good quality information.
  3. Does this give the government the idea that careers advice can be done by anyone and allow it to cut resources. Who knows? I’m not convinced that cuts are being made because of a sober assessment of service delivery models and impact. However, as I’ve already suggested this model has a substantial place for careers professionals. They can train the career informants, support them, provide a service that they can refer to and assess their reflection. This probably requires careers advisers to expand their repertoires, but it certainly does not seek to replace them with unmediated peer learning. 
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