I’ve known Charlie Ball for years. He actually spoke at what was probably the first event I went to that got me really excited about careers – so he shares at least some of the blame for getting me into this line of work. He is pretty much my go-to graduate labour market data geek (this is a complement from me as I’m happy to call myself a career development policy geek). So I’m always interested in what he’s got to say about all things relating to careers and the labour market.
Charlie wrote an interesting article in today’s Guardian responding to some new research from the Education and Employers Taskforce. The report is an interesting one as it finds that young people’s career aspirations are out of kilter with the labour market opportunities that are out there. Charlie says OK, but <data geek>are they using their SOC codes correctly?</data geek> and <justified skepticism>labour market predictions are always wrong anyway so we’d be wise not to get too hung up about this sort of thing.</justified skepticism> He also makes the important point that there is huge social and political pressure for young people to be aspirational (stand up Michael Gove and your adoration of the Russel Group) and given this it is hardly surprising if career aspirations tend to be inflated and not fully correspond to the labour market.
Charlie then goes on to finish with a broad point that I agree with. There isn’t too much point in trying to match individuals to jobs. Both individuals and the labour market are too complex and ever changing for that. It is far better to develop a system that supports individuals to be more flexible and to effectively manage their careers across a dynamic labour market. As he puts it…
We have a good, flexible education system in this country, particularly in higher education. You can take a physics degree, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a physicist.
But Charlie then goes on to say…
And while effective careers advice is a good idea, do we really want 18 year-olds to be set on a firm career path already? I’m not sure that’s a good idea in a rapidly-changing jobs market, when they’ll still be working 50 years from now.
Which for me misses the point of what careers advice and other forms of career development set out to do. Career development doesn’t just try and match people up to labour market opportunities. Nor is it in the business of telling young people that they have to choose a job for life. If you listen to careers people they are endlessly harping on about the changing labour market and the need to be adaptable. Career development, at its most effective, is about developing the career management and employability skills that support engagement in lifelong learning and a dynamic labour market. The kind of flexible education system that Charlie is describing should really have career development at its heart if we want people to emerge from the education system ready to suffer the slings and arrows of a complex world.
So I’d agree with Charlie that there is no point is worrying too much about whether aspiration ties up exactly with opportunity. What we need is education and career development that enables young people to own their aspirations and adapt them to the opportunities that they discover once they move into work.