Discussion in the House of Commons about careers

In recent debate in the House of Commons Labour MP Barry Sheerman said

This is the only party political bit of my speech: the Government seem to have given up on careers information, guidance and advice. They have more or less said, “If you want that sort of thing, it is up to a school or you do it on the internet.” I was on the Skills Commission inquiry into careers information, advice and guidance, and about 17% of young people were using the internet to access such information then—that percentage is probably in the 20s now. All the research shows that the key to getting through the pattern of complex choices is face-to-face guidance from a human being with experience, knowledge and networks.

I recently talked to a head of history in a school, who said, “I have just been asked to look after careers. I have no history of knowing about careers. I’ve had two interviews, which said, ‘Go into that classroom and show us you can teach.’ I know nothing about choosing a career, but I’ve been asked to teach careers.” Careers guidance is an important profession, but we have got rid of the system. If we do not do something about that, we will be in grave danger.

To which Skills Minister, Matthew Hancock replied

The only point of partisan contention was the rather disappointing part about information, advice and guidance. The new duty on schools to provide independent and impartial advice, the age range for which has since been extended, only came into force in September and is now in place. It did not replace a system. The Connexions system was widely regarded as a failure. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that the information, advice and guidance duty on schools is in place. Misrepresenting it, as the hon. Gentleman did—for party political reasons, he said—is unhelpful, because this is an area with broad party political support.

…There is a duty on schools to provide independent and impartial advice. Ofsted is conducting a thematic review of how that is being implemented, which will report in the summer, and I shall look closely at its outcomes.

I’ll leave readers to judge which of these is the most accurate description of the current situation with respect to careers provision in schools.


The Carbon Cycle

carbon cycle


Back in 2006 academic Kate Rawles had the idea to cycle from El Paso to Anchorage (completing 4553 miles along the way) as part of a research expedition to investigate global warming. Funded by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust she went on to publish an account of the trip under the clever title The Carbon Cycle.


This does rather beg the question as to whether she started with the pun and worked back to the project, but that is probably just me and my enthusiasm for punning. Watch this space for my project The Career Ladder in which I investigate the corporate hierarchy by climbing the Shard with a domestic ladder or The Learning Journey in which I investigate the history of education by travelling round the UK on a motorised blackboard mounted on eight roller skates.




What Kate Rawles found on her journey was that people in the US, and to a lesser extent Canada, are frequently very misinformed about climate change. Many have barely heard of it, many have given it very little thought and others are fatalistic or believe that Jesus will save them or that it is simply the will of a (wrathful) God. She discovers that climate change is seen in the US as a contentious political issue rather than a scientific fact. This is pretty different from the UK (remember David Cameron and his huskies?). Of course we have our climate change deniers but the balance of opinion seems to be that it is happening even if it is difficult to decide what to do about it.


Kate speculates about why climate change is so poorly understood in the US. The usual suspects are presented (stand up Fox news, the oil industry and craven politicians). However she also highlights how difficult it is to imagine an alternative to a high consumption lifestyle when you are surrounded by the vast distances and urban sprawl of the US (to say nothing of the TV fuelled celebrity culture or Americans fondness for throwing huge quantities of red meat on a propane fuelled BBQ. America and energy consumption are wrapped tightly around each other and it is difficult to think about how to separate the two.


Amongst those Americans who do accept the idea of climate change she encounters a strong reliance on the idea of the techno fix. Essentially people believe that given enough support science will be able to increase fuel efficiency and sustainability to the point where a version of the current American lifestyle will cease to be a danger to the planet. This is appealing, and there is at least some value in the investigation of fuel efficiency and alternative technologies, but as Kate demonstrates in her postscript to the book it is very unlikely that the techno fix will be able to address the magnitude of the problem.


So through the book Kate moves her position from an early reliance on mass behaviour change to a sort of three pronged approach.

  1. People need to live differently and to challenge the culture and practices of high consumption lifestyles
  2. We need to fund research and development into the techno fix to increase fuel efficiency and sustainability.
  3. We need a new type of politics which is serious about addressing environmental problems and supporting people to live more sustainable lives.

The problem is that (3) really holds a lot of the key to (1) and (2). Without systemic change there is a danger that (1) and (2) at best skirt round the edges of the problem and at worst appear to be a solution that makes (3) unnecessary. Unfortunately Kate is a little short on ideas about how we convince people to stop driving their Hummers out for a spot of Heli-skiing before heading back into their air-conditioned houses, heated pools and propane BBQs. She does however point out that while people are very attached to high consumption lifestyles it doesn’t necessarily make them happy.


What Kate doesn’t really discuss is how all of these ideas connect up to the ordinary ways in which people live their lives. She talks about lifestyle change but doesn’t really explore how that follows through into daily life, learning and work choices. I think that there is some really important work to be done here. The intersection between career  as a personal narrative through life (see regular readers I got it in in the end – there is always a way!) and the grand narrative of climate change seems to me crucial in addressing many of the issues that Kate raises.


In the meantime I desperately need to think up an excuse to ride my bike a long way for a reason that makes sense both to my passions and to my employer.


The Carbon Cycle is an inspiring read and is well worth taking with you next time you go Hummer shopping.

Call for papers for the NICEC journal: “Round ‘ere” Career, community, place and locality

I am guest editing a special edition of the NICEC journal.

The October 2013 issue of the NICEC Journal will focus on the relationship between career and career development and community, place and locality.

Career emerges in the context of where individuals live, learn and work and where they are prepared to travel and migrate to. Furthermore individuals’ own identities are also bound up with the places and spaces that they inhabit and the communities that they are part of or associated with. Career guidance and associated interventions are frequently in the position of helping individuals to sort through these complex inter-relationships and provide a framework within which people can think about what they want to hold onto and what they need to let go of as they pursue their lives and careers.

This issue of the NICEC journal will focus on community, place and locality. Papers might discuss:

•    The role of local labour markets
•    Migration and career
•    Travelling to work
•    Tensions between community and social mobility
•    How the guidance process engages with notions of place and community
•    Career identity, community, place and locality
•    Career development for international students and migrant workers
•    International careers
•    Dual career development and migration
•    And other related topics.
Enquiries and proposals for inclusion should be made by email to Tristram Hooley (Guest Editor of this issue) at t.hooley@derby.ac.uk by the end of February.

Deadline for first full draft 30th April.