When the lines get drawn

We’re used to things being subtle and inbetween. When I write academic stuff I’m usually at pains to point out that there is more than one possible explanation and that there are probably a range of different factors that explain what is happening. So I don’t generally claim that careers work causes people to have good careers, I generally talk about how it might contribute, but recognise that there are other factors and so on. In other words I’m happy with recognising complexity and trying to negotiate it as best as possible.

However, this willingness to understand and work with complexity shouldn’t be understood as having no moral or political compass. If there aren’t absolutely categories of right and wrong it still seems to me that there are things that are righter and wronger. Generally we all slip around between these, but hopefully we all try and move towards the righter things as much as possible. For me being righter is about thinking about others, about doing what is best for our long term interests, about social justice, environmental sustainability and so on. I can’t hope to be perfect, but I can hope to try and make things better. Within the constraints of my life I try and pursue this aim through work, play, family life and citizenship. I often fail, but I at least understand when I’m failing.

Today is a day when the difference between right and wrong is drawn pretty starkly. The whole public sector is (at least potentially) out on strike. We are striking because the government is trying to take our wages away from us in the form of our pensions. I don’t fancy spending my old age in poverty, especially when the existence of a good pension has been a contributing factor to me remaining in the public sector. However underneath this main concern there are also a series of shadow concerns that underpin the strike. We are also striking because the government is attacking the public sector, and through it the idea of public service, more generally. We are also striking because we see the economy being mismanaged and fear that we are about to plunge into deeper recessions. And we are also striking because the government seems intent on leaving the poor and particularly the young poor out of the mainstream of society and storing up the likelihood of future social unrest.

I wasn’t particularly concerned when the government got elected. I didn’t feel that the Conservative Party offered anything significantly different from Labour. I probably felt that the Liberals were slightly more to my taste than the other two – but I didn’t actually vote for any of them and voted instead for the Green Party. I still feel that the mainstream parties are very similar and I honestly find it difficult to believe that Labour would have handled the current situation very differently from the current government. Having said that I think that there would have been some differences e.g. I don’t think that they would have got rid of Connexions in the same way.

So my feelings are not party political, rather they are a reaction to a political orthodoxy that leaves government with very little room for maneuver and very little reason to exist other than to serve the interests of those at the top of the social pile. However, it is worth reviewing what they have done to me personally to help to explain why I am on strike. Since they were elected the government have overseen the continuation of the recession, they have reworked the business model of the higher education sector in which I work without any real confidence about the implications of this reworking, they have closed down the careers sector that I work with and research, and they have presided over a period of rioting which impacted on the city in which I live. Furthermore they have told me that my pension has got to be slashed and my wages controlled.  I think that I’ve got the right to be disappointed.

So here we are on strike. I don’t like it, it is stressful and exposing, but I take the action because it is the right thing to do. It is the best way to send a message that ordinary people across the country are hurting and that we aren’t willing to just keep taking it. It is about personal interest, but it is also about the best interests of the sector I work in and the public sector as a whole. Ultimately it is about what I believe is best for the country.

So if you aren’t taking strike action today I’d ask you to think about why. If it is because you believe that unions are the enemy within and that you don’t believe that any civil organisation should challenge the government then I understand your position even if I don’t agree with it. If it is because you think the government is doing a good job then I don’t really understand your position, but I get why you aren’t on strike. But, if it is because you are “too busy” or “can’t be bothered” or are “too scared” or worst of all because you believe that it doesn’t apply to you or you are “too important” then shame on you. This is a difficult time and it only works if people stand up and play a role in the civic conversation. Today’s strike is evidence of pluralist democracy in action and in a difficult economic time like this we desperately need people to be willing to take on a civic role and contribute to the making of a better, or at least not worse, society. I think that today’s strike makes a positive contribution to this conversation and I applaud all of the people who have taken this action.

I can’t promise you that I have right on my side but I am sure that at this point, when the line has been drawn, that I’m on the right side of it. Are you?


Blueprint for Career (produced by LSIS for England)

I’ve been involved in a project with the Learning and Skills Improvement Service to create a Blueprint for Careers for England.

The project started with the Australian and Canadian blueprints and trialled them with a variety of learning providers. The Blueprint was then rewritten based on the feedback.

The new Blueprint for Careers is now available.

Further details about the background to the project are available at http://www.excellencegateway.org.uk/page.aspx?o=315924.

The project is ongoing so stay tuned for further developments.

Careers work in the blogosphere

Every couple of years the Institute for Career Guidance (ICG) produces an excellent volume called Constructing the Future. This contains a series of research based articles examining career guidance issues in a way that is accessible to the practitioner.


The full publication is available to buy on the ICG website for a very reasonable £18.50 + P&P. This issue focuses on issues of equality and diversity.

Nestling in the middle of the publication is my chapter entitled “Careers work in the blogosphere: Can careers blogging widen access to career support”. The ICG have very kindly given me permission to upload the article here – so here it is.


Just like starting over: The future of careers work in schools

I’m giving a presentation in Kent next week to school leaders and a variety of other key stakeholders. I’ve been asked to summarise the policy environment and to try and spy a path forward. The following prezi is my thinking on the subject so far. As ever all comments welcome.


Access to online tools in schools

I’m often contacted by people who tell me that they are interested in using some of the social media stuff that I talk about but their school won’t let them.

Personally I think that this policy is mad. This excellent article by Tom Barrett explains why.

Blocked for me, open for you

Even more useful Tom has set up a spreadsheet detailing the access policies of various different local authorities. If anyone who reads this is based in a school it would be great if you could take a few minutes and fill it in. It would be really useful to have a detailed picture of local authority internet politicies.

Web tools in schools – blocked or open

Thanks for your help with this one.


Guest post – Career Happiness – a lot of fussy nonsense when there’s bills to be paid

Neema Pasha sent me this very interesting post on the subject of career happiness. She’s looking for feedback to inform her future enquiries in this area. So, tell her what you think…


When I was asked about writing something for this blog on my doctoral research (I’m doing it at Henley Business School on Career Happiness) I had just left my job in graduate careers work. It felt a bit hard to know what to write. Becoming a job seeker from being a careers adviser put an entirely different perspective on things. For my research I was looking for a link between ‘Career Happiness and Personality/Traits as measured through our ‘Strengths’. This idea had come from working with graduates, and helping them chart their career direction using the basic process of analysis of themselves, the job market and then facilitating them coming to some kind of career decision; applying some traditional methods and sprinkling with a few other recent models such as from a constructivist paradigm; by encouraging the development also of social capital etc.

But once on the job market myself and the experience of job hunting, suddenly I felt the economic pressures outweighed the need to find ‘happiness’ or even the desire to work within my ‘strengths’ when I was looking at my own career plans. I need to pay a mortgage – happiness seemed surreally fantastical to consider. I almost feel guilty in putting it ‘out there’ as a concept. As I got some freelance work in this immediate panic subsided but I was still left wondering. Is career happiness a bit flimsy or even bourgiouse? Or should constructs like security, structure and safety be primarily factored into career choice and decision making – doesnt being secure account for some part of happiness. Or at least; avoid unhappiness. Motivation being driven by economics – is that wrong? Self fulfillment and happiness seemed almost silly.
There is much talk of happiness in the press and media currently. Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and Blair’s ‘Social Inclusion’ and also the happiness projects in France, Nepal and the US all keep this topic on the front page, where it is both derided as filmy and superficial as well as important for national well being. Further development into happiness it is thought will consider tacking depression for example. Research provided by happiness researchers, in particular Martin Seligman suggests that finding happines is very important for societal well being. It can lead to better life expectancy for example. Happy people even catch fewer colds! Happiness it seems can build immunty to infections and stress. So happiness seems a worthwhile pursuit. Seligman says we can get happy by engaging with life in these meaningful ways:

  • Positive emotion –  he says you can get this by creating ‘gratitude journals’ for example – writing down things that went well, and why gives us a postive overview of our life, because inherently we focus on the negative;
  • Engagement –  here he suggests happier people by preferentially use their strengths to perform the tasks;
  • Relationships –   if we make good relationships with co-workers, friends and family we will be happer – married people scorer slightly happier on the happiness surveys;  
  • Meaning – people who enagage in activities tht are ‘pro-social’ that ‘do-good’ will be happier the research suggests;
  • Achievement – the pleasure in achieving our goals accounts for how we can get happy. 

In his website Authentic Happiness, Seligman acknowledges that happiness is an evolving field and much of the research is new and in some ways appears naive. In relation to career happiness his work on Character Strengths and Virtues where he lists a number of key personality strengths that are needed for authentic happiness and argues that no one stregnth is more fundamental than or a precursor to the others. The Strengths angle proposed by Alex Linley at the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology further develops this concept where Linley has developed a ‘Realised Strength’ model which helps people understand not only what their strengths are, but in order to gain career happiness, Linley shows us how to see which are their strengths are are Realised (used well) and Unrealized (under used) as well as look out for signs of Burnout (over used) – thus ensuring we have the balance of strength use, which means better career happiness.

So finding a good strength fit essentially makes us happy.But then much of the work on happiness suggests that we have a happiness ‘set-point’ (see for example the work of Richard Easterlin) that despite what life throws at us we usually return to a habitual level of self happiness and nothing much can deter that (the exception being extreme tragedies and very ill-health) so thie initial panic of being jobless I have might subside and I get back to my old levels of happiness (somehow that seems counter intuitive?). Lyubomirsky suggests that our happiness is largely as a result of our genes and environment:


Lyubomirsky  has even developed an iPhone app to look as part of her ‘How of Happiness’ project. She also undertook some research into career happiness which suggested that we are more likely to be productive when we find career happiness (where career happiness can broadly be defined as success in career as measured not by salary but job satisfaction, enjoyment and fulfilment).

How does this weigh up as a careers adviser working to find a career? Happiness feels only part of the story. Its reminicent of early careers work of ‘matching theory’. Strength matching, realising is good to know – but its not enough. Similar to knowing I have the MBTI profile of ENTJ, I think ok great, but if all the jobs need you to be an ISTP, well then I’ll need to adapt to be a closet ISTP. The stress of being out of work may well be more stressful than adopting a new stregnth or learning a new skill. Being happy in a career to me isn’t just about the job being fulfilling, its also about the commute, the people I’ll work with, the salary, the chances of progressing. These aren’t neccesarily to do with job fit. The experience I feel I’m looking at is more aligned to the work of Arthur where the concept of career happiness is slightly superseded by developing a boundaryless career which has both uncertainty (where is my next job) and also certainty (I know I’m going to be using my skills).
Arther suggests and that individuals will: learn to live without the security derived from any single employer company, to persistently develop their own career competencies, and to contribute to continuing innovation and flexibility both in their own lives and in the economic systems of which they are a part. (Arthur et al., 1999, p.177). Its scarier and oddly more reassuring to put all desires of career happiness aside for now and look for jobs where my primary motive is security (we all go Maslovian at the end of the day). Which makes me think happiness in career is not just about what job makes us happy, ie by utilising our strengths, but happiness is also about security. Which in this economic climate; happiness and security can be at odds with each other.