Career development and the internet

I’ve been trying to write something about the internet and career development. This is what I’ve come up with so far. I’m hoping that this is going to be the basis of a paper that I submit to the NICEC journal so I’d appreciate any thoughts in the meantime.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the role of the internet in career development. However, I’ve been frustrated by the way in which that discussion tends to become polarised and also by the way in which it is often conceptually loose. Different concepts over-lap and are then talked about as if they are the same thing. So what I want to try and do in this post is to try and frame discussion about career development and the internet a little more clearly.

Career development describes two things. Firstly it describes a process that individuals are undergoing with varying degrees of consciousness, purposefulness and help and support. We are all developing our careers merely by living and moving from one thing to the next. As we move through life doors open and close whether we recognise them or not. At 37 I am now too old to be a professional gymnast – the door has closed despite me never having considered walking through it.

Our first question is therefore concerned with how the internet and associated technologies have reframed the way in which individuals develop their careers. Do people approach and pursue their careers in a different way in the internet age, from how they did before then?

Secondly career development describes the process of actively intervening in the careers of individuals. Consequently this raises further questions about how the internet shapes both the content of career development interventions (what do I need to know to pursue my career in the internet age) and the mechanisms by which the intervention is made (how can I get help with my career via the internet).

Elsewhere I have started to refer to the idea that there is a particular set of knowledge, skills and attitudes that are used to pursue a career in the internet age as digital career literacy. Digital career literacy is a learning outcome for all career development programmes regardless of the media through which they are delivered. It is concerned with our ability to use the online environment, to search, to make contacts, to get questions answered and to build our reputation in positive ways. Digital career literacy is already vastly important to an individuals ability to successfully pursue a career, but it is getting ever more important. Careers professionals who are not in the business of developing digital career literacy will soon find that they are not in the business of developing careers at all.

So the internet provides a context for individuals careers and because of this it also provides a subject for career development programme. However, the internet also provides a powerful channel of communication and consequently provides a mechanism for the delivery of career development interventions themselves. In Careering through the web we argued that this could be through the provision of information (the internet as a massive careers library), automated interactions (the provision of careers assessments and game-like simulated environments) and as a mechanism for human communication. However, within the category of communication the internet also offers a bewildering array of different options for the career development professional.

Online it is possible to communicate with career learners one-to-one (e.g. online career counselling), one-to-many/many-to-one (e.g. through a careers blog or facilitated online learning environment) or many-to-many (e.g. by intervening in broader social media conversations). At the heart of all of these online interactions sits a career professional who needs to understand the psychology of the individual, the operation of the labour market, the technology through which they are communicating and the pedagogy which underpins the intervention that they are providing. In other words, the online environment is likely to require a more competent and sophisticated careers professional than ever before. One who is capable of using the internet to develop their own career, to network with their peers and willing to innovate in their practice across multiple channels.

So in summary when we are talking about the internet and career development we need to be clear as to what we are talking about. The possibilities include:

  • the internet as a context for career development;
  • career development as a way of supporting individuals to use the internet and develop their digital career literacy;
  • the internet as an information resource for career explorers;
  • the provision of career assessments, games and other interactives across the internet; and
  • the use of the internet as a mechanism for careers professionals to deliver careers education and guidance to career explorers.

In fact we need to be talking about all of these – but we need to be clear which one we are talking about as we do so.

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