I spent yesterday at the Life Designing and Career Counselling: Building Hope and Resilience conference in Padova. I gave a couple of presentations (one on digital career literacy and the other one on policy). Thanks to Giulio Iannis for sending me the above picture of me presenting (there were more people at this session than it look likes from the picture – honest).
This post is essentially just a brain dump of interesting things that I picked up or learnt yesterday.
The conference was strongly set within the context of the economic crisis that is facing Europe. There was lots of discussion about how careers work (usually described at this conference as “life designing”) could help people to challenge the crisis. The approach that was usually advanced was around helping people to build their hope and resilience in a situation that is likely to batter these attributes. Some of this was fairly persuasive stuff, but it also seemed to occasionally stray into the area of blaming individuals for their situation rather than recognising the very major contextual factors that were at play. One person asked a question in a session about whether career adaptability could address unemployment in Spain. In this context it seems to me that you need to start with job creation before it is meaningful to talk about the role of career adaptability.
This is not to underplay the importance of attitudes in addressing issues of career and employment. Shane Lopez’s talk on hope was probably the highlight of the day. He made the argument that hope is “optimism + agency” and I thought that this was a very useful way to think about this. Hopeful people believe that tomorrow is going to be better and also take actions to make it so. He pointed out that hope correlated well with just about every positive personal and career outcome you could name. In particular hope was a necessary pre-condition for happiness and well-being.
Shane went on to discuss how it was possible to build hope. In essence the answer was through careers work. By allowing people to imagine and experience their futures, to build plans and consider the implications of these plans, people become more hopeful in the sense of both optimism and agency. Shane also made another important point, arguing (based on massive Gallup datasets) that what people want most of all is a good job and a happy family. Everything else that they want is essentially seen as a way to deliver these bigger outcomes. So when we are thinking about how to motivate people we need to keep this fact in mind.
Jean Gichard also gave an interesting presentation where he built a narrative about the development of capitalist society and linked it with the development of career theory. In essence the argument was about a move from stability to fluidity both in the political economy and in the theoretical constructs that career guidance has used to address these changes. I remain to be convinced about this kind of narrative and would have liked some more opportunity to question some of the ideas in it. For example is it really possible to describe the period in which Frank Parsons wrote as one of stability? Or the 1930s? Or the 1940s? I have a suspicion that when people are talking about “modernity” they are often discussing the period from the end of the Second World War to the oil crisis. When you reduce it to this length of period it looks less like an epoch and more like a cycle. Anyway, this is probably a debate for another place. Gichard was very interesting and I need to investigate his work more seriously.
I then went to sessions on e-counselling, the role of parents in career development and the role of researchers in policy change. I finally finished at about 8.30 and went for a very nice dinner with colleagues from NICEC and Cantebury Christ Church University in the piazza.
It’s a hard life!