Yesterday I attended the first day of the inaugural Career Development Institute conference. It was a really excellent day and one that gave me considerable hope about the future of the institute and the wider profession.
Much of the plenary time was devoted to robust discussion of the policy issues that have bedeviled career guidance. We rehearsed the fact that much recent government policy has been disastrous for the area, described its consequences and explored various ways forward. While some people argued that “it was time to move on” from such complaints about government policy, other bemoaned the fact that the policy did not effectively support such moving on.
Of course, during the discussion about the current environment many people highlighted exciting projects or initiatives that were flourishing. The problem was not that it was impossible to find ideas about how to go forward, but rather that at the moment such ideas are fragmentary and often uncritically engaged with. A good example of this is provided by the enthusiasm that often accompanies employer talks to schools. I believe that such talks can be a useful part of a career education programme. However, it seems to me that without a proper context such talk run the risk of being pointless. For example I’m pretty enthusiastic about being a university researcher. I would happily visit a school and explain what I do and why such a career might interest others. For those individuals who are considering such a route, it might be a really useful event. If I’m really inspirational (a big if) I might even convince some others to consider such a career when they had not previously done so. However, this kind of “inspiration” leaves school students relying on the luck of the draw for their future career direction. Without some context and some critical questioning of what employers say such an intervention can present a very weird picture of the labour market based on who is available to come and talk to the class.
The careers profession understand this kind of issue. Unfortunately the government doesn’t. This means that at one end we’ve got a vision of a programatic curriculum based version of career development and at the other the hope that a succession of events involving employers can do the job. On the evidence of the CDI conference the profession at least knows what we need and our job is now to move such ideas into the view of government.
Away from the plenary we got engaged in some potentially more interesting conversations. I went to an excellent workshop about building a career education programme and to another one about how young people’s engagement with celebrity culture helps to shape and express their aspirations. I think that it is really important that we spend time at the CDI thinking about such things and considering how career works and what kinds of career development interventions have the most impact. I certainly learnt a lot yesterday and came away convinced that despite the troubled times the profession is going through, there is enough resilience and creativity to build a new future for career development.