The need for green career guidance

This article first appeared on the Sustainability and Environmental Education blog in March 2021. In it I examine the way in which career guidance can support environmental aims in education.

Everyone has a career, and everyone has choices to make in their career. Should you pursue wealth and power or follow your passion and your beliefs? Do you live to work or work to live? Should you stay in school as long as possible or strike out into the world of work? And of course, should you worry about the environment and sustainability when you are thinking about, and pursuing your career?

Our careers make us think about the big issues in our lives and in society. But, of course, as Karl Marx said, we don’t do this in the circumstances of our own choosing. Careers are about making choices, but they are also about recognising the constraints that an unequal society places on those choices. We should ask children and young people to dream big, but also help them to recognise what might get in the way of those dream and think about how they can challenge and overcome them.

Career is the place where the individual meets society. It is where the ‘I’ meets the ‘we’ and where we need to think about how we balance all of the different aspects of our lives. Too often when people talk about career they are thinking about climbing the career leader and acquiring the trappings of individual success. But, a more holistic perspective on career encourages us to think about all of the things that make up decent work and the good life. Money, autonomy and prestige in paid work are part of this, but so too are your wellbeing, time with your family, living in a fair and equitable society and having clear air to breath and water to drink. These issues are all bound up with career and so need to be discussed as part of career decisions.

Understanding career guidance

Career guidance describes a wide range of interventions within the education system and beyond it which are about helping people to think through their career, make decisions and manage their life trajectory. This includes the one-to-one counselling and coaching sessions that are most commonly associated with career guidance, but also careers education in the classroom and forms of experiential learning including volunteering and work experience.

In England we have an approach to delivering career guidance in schools which is known as the Gatsby Benchmarks. This sets out a set of activities that schools and colleges should undertake to deliver good career guidance, including things like embedding career learning into subject and organising work experience placements. Gatsby is a good framework, but it says what schools should do but misses out why.

Over the last year I have been working with the Career Development Institute, which is the professional body for careers professionals. We have been redeveloping the CDI framework of learning outcomes which provides guidance on the curriculum that career education and guidance should cover. As part of this we have been influenced by ideas around social justice and ‘green guidance’ and made sure that the new careers curriculum includes space for discussion of environmental issues as a key part of career development. 

We argue that to give young people the best chance of having a positive career, they need to be supported to see the big picture and think about the relationship between their lives and the wide context. To see not only what might impact on their career, but also how their career and their actions can shape the context within which they live. Thinking about the interaction between their career and the environment is key to this.

Where next for green guidance?

We have lots of ideas about how career guidance can support young people to think about and take positive action around the environment. But, there is a desperate need for greater dialogue to move this agenda forwards.

On one hand environmentally concerned educators have a lot to teach about both what the environmental issues are, and how we can address this in the education system. On the other hand career guidance professionals and careers educators have insights to share about how we can talk to young people about their careers and futures.

Ultimately, we need to think about how we can create forms of career guidance that are greener, and forms of environmental education that are more engaged with career. I look forward to working with SEED on these issues.

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