Harvey Krahn

While I was in Alberta I was able to meet up with Harvey Krahn of the University of Alberta. Harvey runs the School – Work Transition Project and particularly specialises in longitudinal research around career and life transitions.

I asked him whether his work had very much to say about the efficacy or otherwise of career development activity in school. In general he felt that it was very difficult to isolate the impact of a very small part of the educational experience on life and career trajectories. Having said that I’d be really interested to have a look at some of the kind of big longitudinal datasets that people like Harvey work on to see what we could pull out of them from the career development perspective.

However, aside from this self-interested line of questioning it was really interesting to talk with Harvey about some of the work that he’s been doing. I often feel that the career development literature isn’t very well connected up to the sociological literatures that look at the issues that career development is concerned with. People like Harvey are doing research that is all about career and the career development world should probably pay more attention to them.

I’ve added a few of Harvey Krahn’s articles to my CiteULike if you are interested in exploring some of his work.  


The parable of the three fishermen


Thanks to Norm Amundson for telling me this story. I think that it sets out the central dilemma in career development fantastically well.

One day three fishermen went down to the river to fish. They had just cast their lines when they saw something in the distance. One of the fishermen lent over to the over and said “I think that is a person down there in the river”. Sure enough a body floated by and the fishermen jumped into the river and pulled it out just in time to save the drowning man.

A minute later another body floated down and then another and then another. The fishermen were desperately trying to pull all of the bodies out and save people, but pretty soon they were tired and there were just too many bodies. “We can only do what we can, keep it up lads” said the first fisherman.

The second fisherman suddenly stopped and said “I can’t do this any more, I’m going up stream.” The other two were horrified, “but you are abandoning all of these people. They will die” said the first. The second fisherman said, “I’m not abandoning them, I’m going up stream to find out who is pushing them in.” And off he went.

This made the third fisherman think even harder. “I’m going as well” he announced. “Where are you going” asked the first as he frantically pulled the drowning from the water. “I’m going further upstream and I’m going to teach them to swim”.

What would you do?

NICEC Meeting on the Blueprint

Tuesday 25 October 2011, 2.00- 5.00pm
Venue: The University of Derby, Kedleston Road site (main campus) Room E702

  • Jackie Sadler, NICEC Fellow
  • Lesley Haughton, NICEC Fellow
  • Tristram Hooley, Head of International Centre for Guidance Studies, and NICEC Fellow

The ‘Blueprint’ is a framework of career development competencies, which can be used by individuals of all ages to help them understand themselves, explore opportunities and manage their careers. The Blueprint originated from a set of guidelines from the US, and was developed in Canada and Australia.

From 2009 to 2011, the Learning and Skills Service (LSIS) has been trialing the Blueprint in England with learners throughout a range of settings, including further education and sixth form colleges, work-based learning, schools and higher education, adult learning and NEET projects. A version of the Blueprint for England was developed earlier in the year, informed by the findings of these trials and the experience of those who have been involved in work in the UK.

The network meeting will give participants the opportunity to:

  • update themselves on the findings from the trial;
  • explore ways in which the Blueprint can support career development within their own context; and
  • consider how the Blueprint can support career development within the new structure and provision.

The International Centre for Guidance Studies has kindly offered to host the meeting at the Kedleston Road campus of the University of Derby
A light lunch will be available from 1.15 pm

Travel by train: Unibus 6 runs between Derby station and the Kedleston Road campus every 10 mins and the journey takes about 20 mins
Travel by car: For details please see www.derby.ac.uk/finding_the_derby_campus.pdf. Public Pay and Display parking is available at the site but people intending to use this facility need to give the University their name and car registration in advance. Email Tristram Hooley at T.Hooley@derby.ac.uk

Contact Lyn Barham 01225 428039 or email lynbarham@gmail.com

Charge of £30 for non-members. NICEC members and Fellows: free of charge

Olds High School


I feel like I’ve been talking about the Albertan school system as a lot. I’ve already posted some general thoughts and then a post about St Josephs, but I learnt a lot so I’m also going to post about another school that I saw while I was there.

The town of Olds is a rural centre between Edmonton and Calgary. It is a pretty typical and pretty conservative Albertan small town. One of the staff I talked to summed it up by saying “there are a lot of cowboy hats and belt-buckles here”. These sartorial decisions clearly carry political meaning in Alberta that I’m only able to guess at.


Five or so years ago Olds had a High School building which was situated on the edge of a main highway. The building was crumbling and the school was tired. The Albertan government offered the school some money to renovate the building. The school’s governing body turned this money down and argued that they needed to use this opportunity to do something better and more exciting with education in Olds. They didn’t have a clear plan, but they did know that the way things had always been done wasn’t good enough and that they wanted better.

So Olds High School began a process of reinventing itself from the ground up. Staff went out and saw others schools, they had meetings and, with some leadership from the school principal, gradually formed a new vision of what the school would be. What is more, despite the conservative nature of the town, they formed a pretty radical vision. It would be built alongside the towns college to help foster  a post-secondary atmosphere and to offer access to a greater range of vocational options. It would be organised around four houses (in the Harry Potter tradition) each with their own physical space (a quad) which would help to foster school spirit and a learning community. It would have different kinds of spaces from a traditional high school picking up element both from home to help students feel comfortable in the space and from post-secondary institutions to encourage freedom and maturity. Finally it would offer a self-directed learning programme (one of the quads) in which the pedagogy would be non-traditional and student driven. This self-directed programme is the heart of the schools pedagogy, and while the school believe that it isn’t right for everyone, it does inform the way teaching happens across the school. The Principal told me that he didn’t want teachers sitting students in rows and teaching them in the traditional way.

The school is a pretty impressive place in both physical and pedagogic terms. The whole space feels like an environment for learning and students feel like willing participants rather than caged animals (as they do in some schools I’ve visited elsewhere). The physical design de-institutionalises the place and makes it more like somewhere that the students want to own and want to be. Having said that, the school also police behaviour pretty tightly to ensure that minor infractions and anti-social behaviours aren’t allowed to set a negative tone and allow freedom to be transformed into chaos.

This kinds of environment provides an ideal space for undertaking careers work. The level of student engagement, the availability of vocational options, the philosophy of self-directed learning, the space in the curriculum, all combine with an excellent guidance counsellor/careers teacher in Louan Statchuk to enable the creation of a really powerful programme of career interventions. Louan has built a structured programme of interventions that engage with students in every year that they are in the school. It includes the use of assessment tools like Career Cruising, LMI through ALIS, the building of portfolios describing interests and aspirations, simulations with the Real Game, group and one-to-one interventions, a taught accredited course, work experience and parental involvement. In other words it is a pretty comprehensive “how to” of high school careers work.

What has stood out for me in some of the schools that I’ve visited in Canada is the strong connection that exists between the overall pedagogic environment and the success of the careers education. Careers education seems difficult to do in an isolated way. With other subjects you can shut the doors and create a little island of wonder in your teaching of literature or science or whatever. However, careers is all about opening the doors and making the links with the rest of the world, in schools where this kind of integrative learning experience is possible there is lots of room for careers work to be done well. Olds High School is a shining example of this kind of approach.

Time to lobby the UK government on careers

The UK Careers Sector Strategic Forum has issued a Briefing Note to highlight four key outstanding issues that must be addressed in the Education Bill to ensure young people get the help they need to make informed decisions about subject choices, careers choices, qualification choices, and routes and pathways into further and higher education and into the world of work.

The Forum calls for clarity on:

  • the nature of the careers services young people should receive;
  • how the quality of career guidance provision for young people is to be assured;
  • how breaches in the provision of schools’ new statutory duty will be dealt with;
  • extending the remit and funding of the National Careers Service to cover NEET young people.

I’ve attached a press release and briefing note about the current situation.

Visit to the Careers Centre at the University of Alberta


While I was in Alberta I spent a morning with Joan Schiebelbein (Head of Careers) at the University of Alberta. She runs a very interesting centre which is quietly radical.

We started as I often do with a discussion of the history of the service. Joan explained how the service has been in existence for 25 years but that for its first six years it operated alongside a university based but federally funded Canada Employment Centre. In 1992 the federal government decided to refocus its employment service and pulled out of post-secondary provision. At this point the university careers service had to expand to fill the vacuum that was left. The centre has a strong tradition of working with employers and has been able to leverage this relationship both in a financial sense and as a source of opportunities for students.

Joan took me through the services that the centre provides. What struck me was the relatively limited role that existed for conventional professionalised career counselling and the much stronger focus on peer-led and social learning opportunities. The centre trains students to do a lot of the one-to-one guidance and many of the other student facing functions. This offers a massive learning opportunity for those who are delivering the services, but also enable the centre to scale up its activities.

The centre’s staff are mainly involved in creating a series of career learning opportunities (mentoring, experiential learning, networking etc.). The approach is designed to help student to leverage and develop their networks and to give them the skills to manage their careers. In other words they are committed to a process of careers education rather than to a support/counselling model. The logical next step for the centre is to move into curriculum based work within the academic curriculum, but so far this has been challenging to pull off.

All in all this was a really impressive centre which has designed its service blend in a way that seems particularly fit for purpose for an era of mass higher education and non-linear career development.

The ideology of Career Development in Canada

Since I’ve been here I’ve been trying to work out what practitioners (and others) really think – what set of  beliefs sit under the concept of career development in Canada. In this post I’m going to try and summarise what I’ve found. The careers sector in Canada is highly complex and so it is important to recognise that the ideological positioners that are adopted are reframed within different contexts. What makes sense in a school doesn’t necessarily work in an employment centre or a university. So with these caveats in mind I’ll try and give my take on the various conceptions of career development that I’ve come across in Canada.

The first position that I’ve encountered is what I’d describe as the traditional view. The people who subscribe to this position are mainly practitioners and have largely been trained as counsellors and then specialised in career. For them the role is essentially a helping one. The idea is to support individuals as they make their way through their lives and careers. Their expertise is rooted in their ability to engage people in a process of self-discovery. This is often discussed in terms of getting people to “go deeper”. Career self-efficacy is seen as intrinsically linked to broader psychological health and the trick is to help people to address deeper issues that are blocking their general life progress. On to this set of counselling skills the traditionalists add their expertise in understanding the labour market and the nature of the transition process it drives. The traditionalists are also knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the use of tests which they use to assess their clients and to develop individualised programmes of action.

I’ve labelled the second position as the paradigm changers. They describe their practice in conscious opposition to those in the traditional group. This group are less likely to have trained as counsellors and frequently hold positions on the edge of the sector or within particularly innovative pockets within it. They tend to emphasise learning and skill development as their central approach to careers work. They frequently challenge the central tenets of the traditionalists approach, asking questions such as: What is the point of tests? Are one-to-one approaches really useful? Is it important to talk about recruitment processes? Should we be doing more in groups/online/in organisations and so on? They frequently cite ideas around planned happenstance, chaos, complexity and systems theory and draw in ideas from outside of the traditional careers world. Many members of this group struggled to identify with the mainstream traditionalists and talked about “rebuilding from scratch” and backing away from existing sector networks, conferences and communities.

Finally there is a group who I would describe as the diplomats. This group is typically playing a leadership role in the sector. Many of them have a strong background and personal history in the sector and have moved from practitioner roles towards training, management or thought leadership. This group live in the pragmatic world of policy and practice development. They seek to move people along gradually and to reform rather than call for revolution. When pushed this group will often articulate many of the same perspectives as the paradigm changers: the idea  of moving careers work towards a learning paradigm; questioning test and tell approaches; and looking at new venues and forums for the work.  However these changes sit within the context of the current policy, practice and workforce. The diplomats defend current practices while they seek to expand and develop them. This group is particularly committed to the interlinked projects of training, professionalization and evidence-based practice. In other words they seek to defend the existing profession, demonstrate its value and to gradually develop its potential. Members of the group have strong opinions on particular approaches and ideas, but they seek a more strategic positioning and are willing to compromise on these issues.

So that is my attempt to make sense of the ideological diversity that I’ve encountered. Does this make any kind of sense to people within the Canadian career development field?