Meeting with Rob Straby in Kitchener

On Tuesday I rode a Greyhound Bus out to Kitchener to meet with Rob Straby who runs an online training course for career counsellors at Conestoga College . After years of listening to blues records the Greyhound Bus has taken on a mythological status and I might as well have been advised to ride hippogriff to the meeting. However the Greyhound turned out just to be a bus which dropped me in the middle of the largest carpark I’ve ever seen at a bus terminal that turned out to be an enormous air conditioned tent built in the shape of a bus. Sometimes you can’t help noticing that you are in a different country.

Anyway, I quickly linked up with Rob and we headed off to a Williams Fresh Café which Rob assured me was now the location for about 90% of business meetings in Canada. One thing that I have been impressed with since I’ve got here is the wide availability of free high quality wireless in pubs and coffee bars.

So armed with tea and coffee Rob and I got talking and discovered a lot of common ground. Rob’s programme is a career counselling training programme (see more about the programme). What is particularly interesting about it is the fact that it offers initial training and is delivered online and at distance. This combination is something that I’ve been told lots of time by other people is impossible as observed same room practice is essential for initial training. Rob, would clearly disagree with this and his programme has now been training career counsellor s for over a decade. Rob also noted that in his own work as a counsellor he often feels that he works more effectively with people online than off. The point that he is making really is that there should be lots of transferability between the way careers workers use their skills and expertise offline and the way that they could use them online.

Rob’s programme is not about training people to be “online counsellors”, rather it is about developing rounded career practitioners, who have had experience of working both online and offline. I think that it sounds like a fascinating course and I’d be really interested in finding out more about how the pedagogy and assessment of the course works.

Discussion of the innovative nature of Rob’s programme also got us talking about the nature of careers work. I think that we both felt that it was increasingly difficult for careers workers to say that they are not interested in the internet. Given the way in which the internet interfaces with learning, work and people’s social and professional networks, the idea that “technology” could remain as a specialism that some careers workers have doesn’t really seem tenable any more. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a role for some kind of hybrid professional along the lines of the learning technologist, but overall it seems clear to me that effective careers work needs to understand the potential of the internet as an information source, communication tool, brokering interface and cultural world.

Some of this takes me back to the reason that I was originally attracted to the Blueprint for Life/Work Designs. What appealed to me what an approach to careers work that was not dependent on a particular method (ie one to one counselling) but was rather about achieving a particular set of outcomes. Rob also advised me to look at Ann Wilson Shaef’s critiques of therapy practice. (I’ve found this page about her but I’m not sure where to start – so any advice would be appreciated). People may develop their career though working with a careers professional but the development doesn’t necessarily have to come in the therapeutic chair. It may actually be about providing individuals with a learning scaffold through which they can pursue their own development. The moments of epiphany or learning may come in times when the individual is remote from the personal who originally helped them.

If it is possible to resituate careers work in this way as a learning activity which is multi-modal and about helping people to move towards certain kinds of careers and outcomes it become far more possible to evaluate the potential of the internet as a forum for career learning and career interventions. We seek to bring about learning through a range of techniques rather than we seek to engage the individual in a guidance interview. To some extent this is about moving our focus from process to outcomes, but it is also about moving towards a more varied, exciting and subtle set of processes that recognise the different ways that people learn, encounter their careers and respond to interventions from others.

Thanks to Rob for prompting these thoughts. As ever I’ve got more interesting things in my notes than I’ve managed to get into this post. 

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