A week or so in Canada


So I’ve been in Canada for the last week or so. I had all these plans to write a daily blog post but events have conspired against me. So I thought I’d spend my last couple of hours here dumping everything down into a few posts that I’ll throw onto the blog over the next couple of days.


The experience of talking to a range of Canadian academics and practitioners about career development has been a fascinating one and I hope that I can come back here again to do some proper study.


In general the careers sector in Canada seems to be much stronger than it is in the UK at the moment. Lots of the practice that I heard about seemed to involve longer interventions than we would typically find in the UK. There also seems to be a willingness to bind careers advice together with training and other types of intervention in a way that I find very appealing.

I didn’t see enough to be able to really argue that there are models that would be usable for the UK here, but I did see enough to feel that we should really investigate a bit further to get a sense of what is possible with a careers sector with a reasonable level of funding.


Mad Men


I’m sitting alone in a hotel room. I’ve been dragging a suitcase round Canada on “business” for the last week and a half. While I’m away I speak to my children down the phone, I drink and eat in ways that are not entirely healthy and I work. Depending on how you define work, I work almost all the time and what is more, most of the time I love it. It offers me a creative outlet that I can’t find in any of my fallow hobbies or interests.


So, what makes a man like me enjoy the TV show Mad Men? I’ve just invested a couple of hours finishing off season 4 which means that I’ve now watched most of what is available of the series. I love TV and I find it easy to get hooked into something that has got a reasonable amount of quality to it – but Mad Men is different. It has entertained me and engaged me intellectually – lots of TV does that, but it has also spoken to the heart of my work and of my life.


For those that are not familiar with the show it concerns an advertising firm in 1960s New York. The slowly unfolding plot follows the ups and downs, the lives and loves and the work of the various owners and employees of the firm. So far, so standard. The programme is well made and well written, it is full of beautiful people and slow burning intrigue, but again this is pretty standard. What makes it particularly compelling for me is the way that is explores the nature of work and in particular the nature of work/life balance.


Lots of TV is set in a workplace. Cop shows, hospital dramas, political thrillers etc etc. All of these genres revolve around work. However, Mad Men is fundamentally about work. The workplace does not just provide a backdrop for the action, it is the action. Whole episodes revolve around whether Don should get up and go in to the office in the middle of the night to finish off an idea that he is working on or whether he should run to one of his dark haired mistresses or a bottle of whisky in the hope that either of these will offer some respite from his work/life imbalance. Similarly the gender politics in the office do not just boil down to unpleasant sexual harassment (although there is plenty of that) but rather the show and its characters reflect constantly on the nature of the compromises that they are making and whether they are worth it. Career, ambition, backstabbing and solidarity all intertwine to build a picture of an office that is satirical but recognisable.


I started this by relating my own little sob story in the hope that it would cast me into the glamorous frame of Mad Men. People with knowledge of the show might think that I’m getting ideas about my station here. I’m not good looking enough to be Donald Draper, nor do I have his attention to sartorial detail. On the plus side I’m also not as personally conflicted or morally compromised as him. But, Donald’s essential dilemma of how can he square work, family and still keep a little bit left over to be him is a dilemma that I do recognise. We all attempt to find a way to reconcile these ultimately irreconcilable elements, that’s what life is about.


Pulling back to the usual subject of this blog I can’t help but feel that if careers work is really about anything it should be about this dilemma. How can an individual find their own pathway through work, family, interests, learning and life? How can they maintain their own personal integrity at the same time as compromising with the requirements of employers and the people you inter-relate with and rely upon? How can you make this journey creatively fulfilling (which Don has managed) and personally rewarding (which Don has failed to do)? How in other words can we live our life so that we can be happy without being either selfish or stagnant?


My feeling is that watching Mad Men can help us to think about these issues. It shows us our work/life dilemma in a way that is both stark and dark. Hopefully it shows us something that we can learn from rather than repeat.


Alternatively you can watch it for some nice frocks and sharp suits. The choice is yours…


#cannexus11 presentation on technology and career support in the UK

Here is my first attempt at my presentation for #cannexus11 – I’ve left it to the last minute, but as ever any comments on it would be appreciated.

Essentially I’m trying to explore what possibilities technology offers for careers support during a critical time like the present. My feeling is the development of the all-age service in England offers a huge opportunity to rethink the paradigms on which career support has been based.

My fear is that this opportunity will be missed and we’ll end up with essentially what we’ve already got, but a lot/a bit less of it.  


Guest post: Inter-disciplinarity and Cultural Perspectives in Career Guidance : Some reflections from the Jiva Conference 2010

This post was written by Anita Ratnam of Samvada. I met Anita at the JIVA conference and was really interested in some of her take on the political context of the development of career guidance. I wrote a post that discussed this and she sent me the following, which was her take on the conference. Sorry that it has taken me so long to put this important piece up on the blog. 

My reflections on the Conference were triggered by a comment at the end of a scientific paper session at the Jiva Conference 2010. The comment that a member of the audience made was “ there’s something going on at this conference,…. the Indians are saying something different… “    Till then the conference was for me an  explosion   of  faces and voices from all over the world with  several strands of  thought and approaches to  career guidance ( CG)  that did not seem to always fit together with any coherence .Yet, that spontaneous  remark  brought a lot of my scattered impressions together and I  decided to explore  whether  the Indians had indeed said anything different.

Like all the other delegates, I too could not  attend  all  presentations  as  they were conducted   in  parallel sessions. To understand the conference in its entirety   I therefore went back t o the lovely “book of abstracts” to examine  if Indians had really anything   specific or   significant to say. Till then, I was  a trifle disappointed with the quality of presentations  from Indian delegates and  was  concerned about the lack of rigour, structure and ability  to analyse deeply data that  was being presented.  Anyway, I  kept these thoughts aside for a while and attempted to look at the terrain  that  had been covered in presentations from India.

Culling out from the book of abstracts, what I have found among Indian presenters is  a focus on   social structure and   culture.  What I found  was that in most of the Indian presentations, the role of family      ( Bijal Bhatt , Maxim Periera) role of  community , (Anuradha Bakshi et al) of custom &   traditions  (manjuri Bull & Wantina Kharknor, Chakradhar Buddha, Singje marak, Sairabell Kurbah) of philosophy     ( Shilpa Pandit)  and values ( Devika V.R. and Girishwar Mishra) )  of  social location in terms of  gender    ( Radha Parikh)  of class  (Gideon and Kamini Rege)  of caste & occupation (Anita Ratnam),  of disability   ( Sonali nag et al) and of   the rural urban divide ( karthin kalayanraman) were highlighted . The individual,  was presented as  being  constructed  through these structural and cultural identities and  the presenters seemed to  be  underlining the fact that CG  in India  needs to  evolve  within  this framework.

In addition the , the keynote  session by Anita Ratnam et al. raised  further political questions about  CG by  focusing on work& meaning in the context of alienation,  knowledge as site of domination, the  dialectic  between art, craft and design, the dilemmas  thrown up by the  interface  between  tradition & modernity  and the uneasy alliances between the  industrial revolution, feudalism and  capitalism. The need for CG to address politics of knowledge,  the social inclusion and economic mobility  of excluded and marginalized communities, the ecological sustainability of production systems and the tyranny of globalization were underscored.

A cursory glance at  abstracts of  presentations from other “developing “countries also revealed a somewhat similar trend. For instance, presenters form Latin American countries like Venezuela and Argentina  attempted to highlight social capital and civic consciousness (Grisel Vallejo & Olga Oliveros), Latin American culture and History ( Lillian Castellanos), conscience , values , social environment and  collective consciousness in Career Guidance ( Marina Martinez), architectural models Vs organic models  for harmony( Omaira Lessire). On the other hand,   speakers from South Africa   ( Renette Du Toit, Patricia Felderman), drew our attention to issues of race and class. There was little here about  black cultures and more about   the structural  economic, social and educational exclusions that  black youth are facing in post Apartheid South Africa.

It is interesting to  note that speakers form Canada –a coun
try of immigrants- highlighted  the immigrant experience ( Roberta Neault and  Nancy Arthur)  , once again reminding us that there  countries  and regions struggling with  unique issues  related to  migrations.  At the other end of the spectrum, the problems faced  by  UAE locals/ nationals, in a workplace  that is 90% comprised of migrants and expatriates, were  also  described (Debra McDermott & Roberta Neault).

Even more interesting to me  were diaspora voices and the ways in which they combined  perspectives form their native lands as well  from the countries where they are now working.  Drawing on personal and social constructionist approaches (  Arti Kumar) and   beautifully highlighting the  need and relevance of indigenous  models  of career development and vocational psychology (Frederick Leong)  these “hybrid”   thinkers seem to have integrated  two worlds  ( and worldviews?)  with rigour and care.

Lest the reader assume I am  appreciating   only third world voices, let me quickly clarify that the knowledge of career psychology theory,   meticulousness and statistical proficiency in measuring impacts and outcomes of CG models, and  mastery over technological  tools like use of internet for career guidance  that emerged   in presentations   from    countries like  Portugal, Finland, UK were extremely impressive. Yet, the focus on the individual ‘s  personality ( rather than identities) seemed to  dominate  the use of  purely psychometric tools  to assess and analyse career aspirations.

Several speakers have touched on the need for culturally sensitive  CG.  However, there have also been references  to social structure and we  cannot simplistically conclude  that   CG has to evolve differently in different regions taking cognizance only  of cultural specificities.  Are these region s only different in cultural terms or  do  they also have different economic and social histories,  current economic policies and political strategies and  “Paths to progress”, ? Did the presentations from   India not  highlight  the social, economic and political environment of the individual and  the political economy of the labour market?

As a corollary to that question – were the Indans’  presentations focused on culture and structure  -because  the presenters were from India? Or was it more to do it the  professional backgrounds /academic disciplines of the presenters? I began exploring this  and found some interesting facts as to why structural identities had  been identified.  Chakaradhar Budha is a social activist working with youth from indigenous communities, keenly aware of  adivasi culture  as well as of the  multiple  structures of oppression and marginalization  that adivasi  youth face.  Kartik Kayanraman is a doctor by profession but  has closely  observed  changes among youths aspirations in the rural community he serves nuanced by class and  cultural dimensions. Radha Parikh has been both  teacher of Special Education  with Information  Technology, has  handled a Domestic Violence Hotline in Austin and is currently  Convenor of the gender cell at the Institute she works in. Manjuri Bull & Wantina Kharknor are  teachers of History and Commerce who together made a remarkable presentation on the  definition of livelihoods itself . Shilpa Pandit,  has been exploring  Indian culture and philosophy to unravel  the   multiple narratives and identities that compete within individuals, as they struggle to  define self and work  in searching for reconciliation. So, could  one then  conclude  that  their  difference in approach to individuals , is an outcome of their academic/professional disciplines and   rather than their being “from India”?

I  then  looked  at the presentations that focused on such issues even from “developed” countries and was  not surprised to  find that   academic disciplines  were  significant influencers in the approach to CG.  Jolanata Kavale who is studying  philosophical approaches to  Human Development and Education, with an interest in social justice , presented a paper on  balancing personal and social needs,  problematizing  aims, results and definitions of  vocational counselling. The paper on “Educational Transitions: Social class and gender in family dialogues…” is presented by a  multidisciplinary team of Marjatta ( Educational Psychology), Leena Koski ( Sociology) and Hannu Raity ( Psychology). Similarly, Sanna Makheim  who raised very fundamental questions on  politics & objectives of CG is working  in the discipline of  Sociology of Education  to examine  political and socio cultural dimensions of EG.

In other words, irrespective of region, the academic backgrounds of  presenters was a significant factor in their choice of theme and approach to the “individual”. This was further validated by  the few presentations that went beyond specific  regions. Notable here is the paper by Helmut Zelloth on CG in European Union and neighboring Countries where he attempts to compare the demand for CG services in low and middle income countries.  Not surprisingly- his academic  background is in  Philosophy, Psychology, Pedagogy and Geography!

Surely,  this  suggests that  while cultural specificities are important in CG, equally important is the need  for an interdisciplinary  and structural approach  in evolving and delivering CG services. Merely  reducing  this   to culture  would be a dangerous trap  as both cultural and structural identities  interplay with personality traits in each individual  and any over simplification  here could  be problematic. It also  frees us from the notion of  the “developing” countries as  repositories of culture or tradition and the opacity  or obfuscation that could arise from such a position. More importantly, it would be dangerous to assume that a country like  India has one “culture”  while in reality  the country  has a plurality of cultures  that are in constant interface with each other.

So is there nothing that   binds  CG professionals  across regions/countries? Are  there  universal common themes that ran across presentations form different regions, ie from “developed” and “developing” countries? Yes, the fact that personality traits of individuals needs to be recognized    came across  from  all regions and disciplines. Secondly , concerns about  training required, standards  and competency levels  of the Career Guidance professionals also  emerged across regions(  Bernadette Gigilotti & Naomi Corlett, Kerry Bernes, Michel Turcotte et.al ., Anil kumar, Swathi Menon et al, Gideon et al  and  Julio Gonzalez).  There seems to be a  universal acceptance   that the challenges before the CG professionals  are complex and immense, with some  cross-cutting   issues and  some specific  to  culture/ and location in structure.

To put it more simply, maybe what the Jiva Conference underlined is not   merely that ”Indians are saying something  different”, but that  working as CG  professionals  requires  understanding the  clients social location,  multiple identities as well as  personality.  As identities are discursive and embedded in  structure and political economy, in  cultural  processes  and in philosophical  paradigms,  and as personality traits are complicated by  these, an inter disciplinary approach  to CG is the need of the hour.

Why does the blog go quiet sometimes?

Look I don’t have to justify myself to the hoards of screaming blogfans out there who are demanding yet more poorly spelt rants about various aspects of career and social media. This is my blog and I can play with it when I want and how I want.

Actually, I’m not really sure if anyone reads this stuff so I’m really trying to justify this to myself and also to try and put down somewhere something about the process of blogging and what it is doing to what I laughably call my personality.

Sometimes this blog is incredibly active. I post once or twice a day. At other times it goes for weeks with just the odd filler item (essentially something that someone else has sent me and that I want to make publically available). In general this change doesn’t happen because I haven’t got anything to say. I’ve pretty much always got somethig to say and as a number of the bloggers that I’ve interviewed have mentioned once you start b logging you spend your time walking around noticing anchors that you could hang a blog off of (see my recent Meccano post for an example).

In general I don’t blog because I’m doing something else or more precisely because I’m writing something else. It isn’t so much time, if I have a day that is heavy on dull admin tasks I almost always find time to write something. Big motivations for starting the blog included (1) getting better at writing; (2) getting my name out there; (3) having somewhere to put my ideas that other people could see. In general if I’m not putting stuff up on the blog I’m writing something else that fulfills some or all of these motivations.

Stuff that I write for other places is usually pretty different from the stuff that I write for the blog. When I’m writing for other publications I’m usually more formal, more measured in what I say and in general a bit more dull. My other writing uses academic references, is often co-authored and is probably read by even less people than read this blog. I actually like the discipline of moving backwards and forwards between different styles of writing but I don’t tend to do both in one day.

When I started the blog I decided that I wanted to write something every day. The old adage “a writer, writes” is a good one. If you aren’t doing it, you aren’t getting any better and you also aren’t putting anything out there that might one day get you picked up as a Guardian columnist. So I’ve pretty much tried to stick to this and made sure that I churn some raw thoughts into words on a screen almost every day of my life. Some of them end up on the blog, some of them end up somewhere else.


But, I promise you dear reader, you get all the best bits…


Concerns about funding for careers services

I’m a member of the UK Careers Sector Strategic Forum. As a group we’ve just issued the attached statement which sets out some of our concerns about current proposals to restructure careers services in England. I think that it is well put and I’ll try and post something here as soon as we hear something from the Government.