Earlier this week I went to an excellent ESRC event on the use of technology in careers work. There were some very interesting presentations by Cathy Howieson, Raimo Vuorinen, Jenny Bimrose and others. At some point I might try and blog about some of the papers that were given, but I thought that I’d write a quick post to try and nail a myth that is developing in the careers sector and which I heard rehearsed more than once during that day.
The story is that the government believe that the role that was previously played by careers workers can now be played by technology. The rhetoric is therefore of “face-to-face guidance being replaced with a website”. I’ve written in the past about how unhelpful I think this kind of polarising rhetoric can be. The question shouldn’t be careers worker or web but rather how can careers workers best use the web.
If we accept the governments’ analysis of public finances (and I don’t but the policy will stand regardless of what I think) we are probably going to have to recognise that we are likely to see a decline in the amount of resource that is being allocated to careers work and other public services. In this situation I think that it is right for the government, the sector and the end users to ask seriously whether there are any increases in efficiency that can be found and whether online service provision might be part of that.
Furthermore, I think that there are lots of good reasons for moving more careers work online. The chance to utilise the functionality offered by online spaces, to harness online networks and to open up careers services to a much broader range of people (especially those in work who can’t easily get to a Next Step office) seems to be hugely valuable to me.
So my problem is not with the idea of online careers work, nor with the idea that it is possible to have a greater impact using online delivery nor with the idea that there should be some re-balancing between face-to-face and online provision. My problem is actually with the government’s decision to cut the resourcing for careers services in general. This cut in resourcing has definitely resulted in a massive decrease in funding for face-to-face. What it has absolutely not resulted in is an increase in funding for online, publically funded careers provision. At best this has got no worse, but the level of funding invested in this channel was very limited to being with. I hope that the new National Careers Service online offer is better than what went before, but there is no sense that the new site is being given anything like the kinds of funding that has been taken away from face-to-face provision.
It may be that the government’s policy is that it would like the private sector to fill this online career support space. We addressed this in our paper Enhancing Choice and argued that to some extent this was happening, but that government still had some crucial roles to play in helping to stimulate and regulate this market in online career support and also an important role in compensating for its failures. However at the moment the government is neither investing in online provision of careers services, nor is it making policy with the aim of ensuring that this need is met in other ways.
In other words if you strip away the thin rhetoric there is no plan to replace face-to-face careers work with online careers work. There is no policy or strategy in this area at all. What we have is a decision to cut service being masked with a vague sense that the internet will sort it all out. The careers sector should be honing in on this lack of policy and on the vicious cuts that have been made. At the moment this is a fight about money and politics, it isn’t a fight about the appropriate delivery mode for careers services.