Guest post: Careers Advisers and Smugglers


Thank you to Andy Gardner of the Central London Careers Hub for sending me this guest post. It tells the story of  a smuggler to tell us another story about an obvious truth that is being ignored about career guidance in England.  

There is an old middle-eastern fable which recounts the story of a border guard and his attempts to catch a smuggler.

This border guard had been told to watch out for a merchant who everybody suspected of being a smuggler, but there never ever seemed to be any evidence.  Every-time the merchant came to the border, the guard would go through all his goods trying to find something illicit.  Year after year this went on.  The smuggler was bringing more goods through, the donkey-train was getting longer. The smugglers clothes were looking more distinguished.  He was clearly up to something, but he never knew why. On his last day as a border guard the smuggler came through and the border guard spent hours trying to catch him out, but found nothing – no spices, no precious metals, no jewels-absolutely nothing.

Many years later in retirement, the border guard heard that the smuggler now lived in his town, living in one of the grandest houses and very soon chanced upon him in the market place.  The border guard, still intrigued after all these years went up to the merchant/smuggler and was immediately recognised.  They chatted for a while and actually got on well, and then the border guard couldn’t resist asking the obvious question, and nothing was now going to happen to the smuggler, too much time had passed, “What were you smuggling?”, “Donkeys” replied the smuggler.

I’m recounting this fable because I think we as Careers Advisers, relate to this fable.

I was a local authority careers adviser for 13 years, doing something called Duty, where you would see clients in the public careers office, whether by appointment or drop-in.  All very unspectacular, but actually it was very important to our clients, many of whom were unemployed, often teenagers, often with issues and sometimes with chaotic lifestyles.  You could see how it acted as a very important civic function giving our young people somewhere safe and friendly to go to find a way forward in terms of work, training or education.

A colleague from the excellent Camden Connexions– showed me a document called the NEET Scorecard which had a range of data within it and allowed you to compare local authorities. Thinking about the fable above and remembering my time in the careers service, I asked myself the question, “is there a difference in this data when you compare local authorities who have tried to maintain some sort of public careers office provision and those who haven’t?”  If you go to the link below you will see that I think there is.

Careers Advice has been hit by a number of buses recently – social mobility (a dubious set of theories and research), neoliberal ministers, digital technology and austerity.  Why have an old fashioned public careers office when you can give responsibility to schools, use mentor schemes, alumni and do everything on the web through websites and social media?

The thing is, especially when it comes to knowing destinations and working with NEETs, old fashioned public careers office actually work!  They are the donkeys that everyone is ignoring.

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