Freeing up or letting up? The provision of careers education and guidance in schools.

My colleague Jo Hutchinson and I have published a short piece in Centrelink (a termly e-magazine produced by the Centre for Education and Industry). The article discusses recent changes in careers work in schools.

Read the article.


2 Broke Girl$: A Career Development Fable


I’m a big fan of sit coms and, as with everything else in my life, I spend a considerable amount of time scrutinising them for any relevance to career development. Thankfully Channel 4’s latest US import is delivering all of the career development based kicks that I could possibly hope to crowbar into a blog post.

2 Broke Girl$ is the story of Max, a working class waitress in a down-at-heel New York diner. Max lacks aspiration and hides her vulnerability behind a string of slacker one-liners (which is a rather convenient personality trope for the heroine of a sit com). However, Max’s sassy fatalism masks her talent as a baker of cup cakes (a hitherto under-reported labour market niche – or so 2 Broke Girl$ would have you believe).

Thankfully for Max, Caroline walks into her world. She is a socialite who has fallen on hard times. As befits her class she has vast amounts of self-belief and a strong sense of entitlement. She lacks Max’s talent, but has the education and efficacy to be able to help Max to realise her potential. She also has a degree in business (which for the purpose of the show seems to have consisted of learning a mix of motivational techniques, marketing gimmicks and business planning tools) and most importantly of all she has a heart of gold.

The Girl$ are therefore bound together and both propelled into seeking career advancement for the first time. Meeting Caroline helps Max to get over her self-defeating lack of aspiration and mobilise around the concrete goal of setting up a business. While Caroline’s fall from privilege and subsequent connection with Max’ cup-cake talent enables her to find a purpose and to gain a level of earned self-respect that has previously eluded her.

Max’s narrative provides the focus for the show while Caroline provides a mix of information, advice, guidance and mentoring to drive her protégée towards success. Caroline regularly employs guidance/coaching techniques to push Max forward and mixes pragmatic advice (how to market, how to engage with a client etc.) with deeper guidance that seeks to build Max’s self-esteem and self-efficacy. I’m only half way through the first season and it is clear that although Max has made little progress in her rags to riches tale, she is clearly on the right track. The key message of the show (and this may come as a surprise to the shows authors) is that a career development/mentoring intervention can be hugely powerful and that it has benefits for both mentor and mentee.

So what is good about this show? Well, it is good knock about fun, but as a text for thinking about career development it makes the following points effectively.

  • Self-efficacy is strongly related to social class, but talent is not.
  • Class also determines the social reality within which you operate and defines the networks and opportunities that you have access to.
  • Financial literacy and access to capital are essential to career development in general and entrepreneurship in particular.
  • A career development/mentoring intervention can move people out of existing patterns of behaviour and help them to find new ways of being.
  • Work enables people’s standard of living. Max’s ability to keep a roof over her head is enabled by her employability and work ethic. Compare this to Friends where nobody has any money worries despite the fact that four of the characters spend considerable periods at the bottom of the labour market.

So what is bad/difficult to believe about it?

  • The social structure is portrayed as fixed and unchangeable. While Max might find a way out through her cup cakes, the division between rich and poor isn’t going to change and nor does anyone say it should. This might be realistic, but a bit of critical edge might make the whole thing a bit more interesting (as long as we don’t end up in Wolfie Smith territory).
  • Poverty is essentially portrayed as a series of set ups for gags. The fact that being poor might actually be difficult or depressing is pretty much glossed over for our feisty heroines.
  • The show has a tendency to rely on lazy racial stereotypes for easy laughs.
  • The employment dynamics within the diner are not realistic, with the Girl$ boss simply serving as a foil for gags, rather than imposing any kind of authority.
  • Max is able to constantly indulge in wish fulfilment sarcasm and backchat without any danger of losing her job or being reprimanded.
  • Caroline is an innocent who despite some distaste for the trappings of poverty (and who can blame her) never judges or looks down on the working class people she interacts with.
  • They have a horse in their back yard.

However, these kinds of criticisms are hardly fair. It is like asking Are You Being  Served to stand as a treatise on 1970s retail capitalism.

So I’m certainly going to be trying to work 2 Broke Girl$ into the next career development session I give. I dare you to do the same.

Non-Religious Identities in Policy and Practice

I went to a very interesting event a couple of months ago about non-religious identies. Thankfully if you are interested in this sort of thing the whole day has been produced as a series of podcasts. It is well worth having a listen to some of these. I was at the event presenting our Religion and Belief in Higher Education project and you can hear what I had to say about this as well – My contribution to the day (you can also have a look at what I blogged the night before the event)

I’d really commend the organisers of the day for pulling together such a high quality output from the day. It would be great if this became the norm for all academic presentations.