My summary of the main themes of the #NICEC Rethinking Conference


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Kate Mackenzie-Davey opening Rethinking Career Development 


Last week (21st-22nd September) we held Rethinking Career Development – The NICEC conference for 2016.

The conference brought together almost 100 career development experts from across the world to talk about the past, present and future of the field. I thought that it was a fantastic event which I was privileged to attend alongside some amazing people.

It is impossible to summarise the conference in a blog post as it was so repeat with ideas, conversations and experiences.  I’ve used Storify to pick up most of what was shared on social media during the conference. But I was also asked to give a brief summary at the end of the conference of the main themes and so I thought that I might try and reproduce that here for anyone who is interested.

Closing remarks to the NICEC conference (reproduced from my notes and enhanced by my memory and post-hoc reflections)

I’m going to try and say a few things to close the conference.

I wanted to start off by giving a few thanks. Firstly to the NICEC conference committee of Phil McCash, Hazel Reid, Julia Yates and perhaps most of all to Rosemary Mclean who anchored the conference committee brilliantly. I also wanted to thank iCeGS who sorted out lots of the logistics – especially Pip Betts who has been amazing and Siobhan Neary who gave us the space to make it all happen.

I also wanted to thank all of the speakers and participants at the conference. It has all been fantastic and thought provoking.

I need to pay tribute here to the authors of Rethinking Careers Education and Guidance. The book was a landmark contribution to the field and 20 years later we are still talking about it and inspired by it. We organised the conference to mark its 20 year anniversary and I hope that we have done it justice.

I think that it is nice for us to be able to pull back from policy as we have done in this conference. Policy is critically important, but it is ultimately a means to an end. In this conference we have been focusing on what the ends are.

What I’ve been hugely impressed by is the fact that we’ve all managed to have such a rich and fulfilling conversation. We are practitioners, researchers, teachers and academics, we are psychologists, sociologists, educationalists and drawn from a wide range of other disciplines, we work with young people, teenagers, unemployed adults and the high skilled. Yet despite these differences  we are all united by the field of career development, by our interest in career and our belief that we can help people to have meaningful and fulfilled lives. Our differences have enriched our conversations rather than divided us into silos.

Over the last two days we have wrestled with some of the main contradictions in our field. Careers is at once about the internal and the external, the individual and society and about both our personal and political responses to change and circumstances. We can never expect to resolve these contradictions but over the last couple of days we have gone some way to balancing them in new and interesting ways.

Context and environment

One of the main themes that we have tried to deal with has been the nature of the world in which individuals pursue their careers.

We have talked about all sorts of changes that are reorganising the ways in which individuals live their lives. We discussed environmental change, generational change, active aging, globalisation, migration, uberisation, automation and the importance of place.

But, while change is everywhere, we also discussed continuity. Much has stayed the same. As we reach back in history we find many of the same concerns echoing down the years. Sometimes it is old wine in new bottles, at other times it is new wine in old bottles. But the world is rarely turned inside out over night. Our interests in career and in making a difference to people’s careers continue to be useful and relevant.

There has been a lot of discussion about the importance of social justice. The context within which individuals are pursuing their careers is often not fair or just. Many of us argued that we have a role in balancing this injustice and in making the world a better place. How we should do this takes us onto the other themes of the conference.


Theory provides us with a way of defining both what our field is about and how it can be achieved.

If the last two days have taught us anything it is surely that there is a lot of theory to draw on. But, the theories that underpin career development are often tangled and unclear. In particular they often offer few clear lessons for practice.

However, our theoretical traditions continue to be useful. We have discussed Parsons, Holland, Super, Watts, Law, Savickas and others and thought about how their lessons continue to inform our field. The existing theoretical base is useful but not sufficient. In particular there was a cry for us to consider what the theoretical base for a more socially focused career development would look like. How can theory support our desires for social justice?


Finally I turn to practice. We have demonstrated over the last couple of days that careers work is lifelong and valuable for all. Practice within the field is multi-faceted, broad and creative.

We have also seen that practice is its own domain. It is not simply the translation of theory or the response to context. Rather it is in constant dialogue with theory and context with each part of this triangle shaping the other.

Given this we need to continue to think about practice deeply and broadly as we have done over the last few days.

Where next?

The conference has recharged me and made me think about how to take the field forwards. I hope that it has done the same for everyone else.

We have lots of plans and we would invite you to become part of them by joining NICEC. We have seminars organised, a fantastic journal and who knows, in the future there may be another book or another conference.

So thank you to everyone for coming and contributing to this event. Career development remains as a strong and vital field, something worth engaging with and something that can transform the lives of individuals. I hope and believe that this conference has taken the field forwards.

So thank you for your time and energy and may the odds be ever in your favour!


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