Last week I wrote a reflection on the current state of careers policy and practice. I concluded it with a few policy ideas and some narrative for building a case for the future. But, I also acknowledged in the post that I was largely dodging the issue of Brexit. This was useful, but dishonest as it has become increasingly difficult to talk about any politics or policy without Brexit crowding everything else out.
Whatever you think about Brexit, it has served to displace pretty much all debate about almost everything else in our political system. The Labour Party have been attempting to play a clever game by pushing the responsibility for Brexit onto the Conservative Party (where, to be fair, it does belong) and trying to open up conversations about other issues. But, this has been hugely difficult even when they are talking about big ticket issues like homelessness, education and the health service. They certainly haven’t been able to raise anything as low down the pecking order as career guidance as an issue and they haven’t really tried. This means that apart from the present situation we really have no ideas about what the future of the field might look like.
Last nights’ antics in the House of Commons, as May’s Brexit plan suffered a massive defeat, underlined the fact that British politics is not about to return to normal. We are moving into uncharted waters. Even if there is a general election, what will it be about? Will parties be able to produce manifestos as usual? Will we be able to talk about anything other than Brexit?
All in all it leaves us confused and lacking any tools to engage with politics in a meaningful and normal way. The kind of things that I would normally be doing like writing critiques, trying to influence ministers and pushing to get some good ideas into the manifestos of the opposition parties all seem a bit pointless.
Gramsci’s famous quote about the interregnum has been used by almost everyone writing on the current political economy and I’m going to reuse it here.
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
We are seeing the neoliberal settlement that emerged in the aftermath of the oil crisis running out of steam. Will it revive and reinvent or will it be replaced by something better or worse. At the moment all we have to work with are morbid symptoms like Brexit. The ideological, political and economic crises are all intertwined and it is difficult to see a way forwards.
And yet we all continue to live our lives, to do our jobs and to think about how the circumstances within which we live and work might be improved. This is why it is important to continue to think about how career guidance can be better organised. There may be little prospect of this moving forwards in the short term, but as we start to unfold our futures we will need ideas about how we want to remake society.
Indeed, this ability to imagine the future whilst dealing with an imperfect present is at the heart of career guidance itself. Career guidance practice needs to recognise the interregnum and help people to find their way through it and remake it, just as much as career guidance policy. To give career guidance in the present time is necessarily a political act because the future of our country, our lives and our careers are so contested. Now is not a time for career adaptability alone, now is a time for active citizenship and purposeful careering. The ruling class don’t seem to know what they want and so we need to encourage our clients and our students to articulate what they want as part of their career building.
While there is little hope to be found in current parliamentary debates or Brexit negotiations, there is still a future to be made and I remain convinced that career guidance will play an important role in helping people to make this future.