The economic benefits of career guidance – Presentation to CERIC

economic benefits.PNG

Tonight I am presenting our Economic Benefits of Career Guidance paper to the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC).

This is what I plan to cover…

The economic benefits of career guidance



Travel broadens the mind?

They say that travel broadens the mind. As I’ve just got off a 24 hour flight I should be the ideal person to test this out on. So punk are you feeling broad?

I was very nervous about the 24 hour flight. Spending that long in my own company is a terrifying thought. However, I discovered the US version of House of Cards on the flight and hungrily consumed the entire season. Watching the amoral political antics of Kevin Spacey and co. may well have broadened my mind, but I’m not sure that this is what is usually meant when people talk about such things.

I’m pretty new to the whole idea of travel. When I was younger it felt like the rest of my generation were travelling around the world in endless gap years consisting (it seemed to me from a bedsit in Leicester) largely of raves on various beaches, having a succession of doomed romances and returning to pontificate on how proximity to the world’s poor had given them an entirely new perspective on Western materialism. While they experienced enlightenment with a backpack in Thailand, I gloomily wrote a PhD on Second World War literature muttering that I wouldn’t want to travel anyway.

Given my failure to travel any further than the University of Leicester library throughout my 20s it has come as a surprise to me that I’ve ended up as the director of an international centre. Over the last four years I’ve been to Scotland, Northern and Southern Ireland, Wales, Italy, Estonia, India, Canada and Australia. I’ve also made a lot of friends online and at conferences and meetings in other places around the world which may mean that I’ll get invited to other countries in the future.

So what do you get out of visiting somewhere that you can’t get from books, TV, phone calls and your imagination? It is actually difficult to pin it down. One thing that I do feel is that without some preparatory work travel can just assault you with a bizarre mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar. I spend my time focusing on little details and simply marvelling at them: “They have McDonalds here, but Burger King has a different name”; “the newspapers all seem to have sport on the front pages”; and “look at that building over there, I wonder what it is”. Amongst all of this you can probably pull out a few iconic landmarks that you recognise from whatever national mythology has penetrated through. So, look, there is the Sydney Opera House and here is an Ug boot or a jar of vegemite.

This version of travel is hugely enjoyable, but rather unsatisfying. Ideally you would have read a history book or a novel about the country to provide you with a frame of reference. But unencumbered by knowledge all you can do is endlessly goggle at pretty or pretty weird things, and either conclude that they do things differently here or energetically translate everything into the familiar. OK, so Elizabeth Street is their version of Oxford Street or Pieface is their version of Greggs or whatever. Sometimes, when you are in ex-colonies, they help you with this by naming things after the same thing in the UK so London, Ontario is on the River Thames and has a Covent Garden Market.  In Sydney they’ve got a Hyde Park which I had a very enjoyable walk around on the day I arrived.

Even if you do try and do a bit of research before you arrive somewhere, there is still a temptation to translate everything to make it easier to understand. This process of translation has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand it provides you with an analytical framework against which you can judge what you see, on the other it can diminish the distinctive factors and leave you blind to the systemic issues. For example, universities the world over have an amazing amount in common. This is partly because they operate within a global labour market and partly because if you put a bunch of highly specialised clever people together in any culture they will behave in fairly similar ways (both petty and inspirational). However, universities are funded and organised in a myriad of different ways and this places them in a wide range of very different positions in the social structures and consequently shifts the way in which they relate to the rest of the education system and to wider structures (like employment). Translating (oh, this is like their Oxbridge) can sometimes blind you to these kinds of systemic factors.

I have never successfully learnt a language. But, those who have tell me that there is a moment that happens when you stop translating and start thinking in the new language. Because languages carve up the world in different ways (we wrote something about this a while ago) this shift away from translation opens up the possibility of thinking in new ways. Similarly, when you are visiting a country there comes a point when you stop trying to translate everything into what it would be in your country and start to understand it on its own terms. I think that I’ve started to get to that point in Canada, but I’ve now worked there a lot of times. This attempt to stop translating, but to remain comparative, is what I’m trying to do when I visit countries and write about career and their education and employment systems. It isn’t easy, but when it does happen there is a real sense that your mind is not only broadened but also stretched into new shapes.

Career Development in Canada

career development in canada

A long while ago I undertook a trip to Canada to look at the career development system there. I chronicled it on the blog, but somehow the report never got finished. I’ve been living with guilt about this for the last two years, but have finally got myself together and finished the report. So here it is!

Hooley, T. (2013). Career Development in Canada. Derby: International Centre for Guidance Studies, University of Derby.

I hope that people enjoy it. Particularly everyone who helped me with it back in 2011.

Extreme makeover: Career Edition

I’ve just found this film from the University of Saskatchewan’s Student Employment and Career Centre. In it the Centre polishes up four student’s career skills and CV before sorting out their interview outfits.

What do people think about this sort of thing? Appearance clearly matters in recruitment and in working life. Catherine Hakim calls this erotic capital. Should career professionals be talking about it more and designing services like this to enhance it?

Useful links and organisations that I’ve come across in Ontario

Here is a quick brain dump of organisations, websites and documents that have been useful (or look like they might be useful) in helping me to understand the worlds of education and guidance in Ontario. I mainly put them here as somewhere to put them, but if it sparks any thoughts about what else I should be looking at, then please make other suggestions.


Careers and guidance

STEM Outreach

Vocational Education


Ms Infinity Ontario

Paticipants at a Ms Infinity event

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Meghan Yip from Ms Infinity Ontario as part of our STEM career guidance: benchmarks and practice project. Meghan is a health sciences graduate student from the University of Guelph who also acts as the director of Ms Infinity Ontario which is a voluntary organisation dedicated to raising girls interests in STEM and STEM careers. The organisation’s volunteers are mainly current undergraduate and graduate students, but it draws on wider networks of support.

Meghan Yip
Meghan Yip

Meghan described the work of the organisation to me. Explaining how its activities are centred on an annual conference where high school students have the opportunity to meet and hear from women who work in STEM. Meghan notes that she has benefitted from support from strong female role models and sees Ms Infinity as a way of passing on opportunities to current high school students. The conference is a mixture of inspiring keynotes, panel discussions, often featuring women who are at earlier stages of their careers, and experiential activities designed to give participants a taste of what working in STEM involves.

The conference organisers work hard to ensure a range of jobs both in terms of entry level and disciplinary background. Meghan notes “most opportunities in science require a post-secondary education, but we are trying to provide a range of different kinds of jobs. Miss Infinity is not just about ‘high flyers’ it is trying to engage all girls.” She also notes that while the numbers of girls interested in life sciences are growing, there is far less change in the physical sciences  but hopes that opportunities such as Ms Infinity can inspire more girls to pursue the physical sciences. “We are really trying to provide more opportunities through Miss Infinity to interest girls in the hard sciences and engineering.”

Although Ms Infinity Ontario’s activity is centred on the annual conference the organisation is active year round. Key to its activities is an ongoing engagement with high schools through visits where volunteers have the opportunity to talk to students, raise awareness of science careers and invite them to the annual conference.

Meghan described the challenge of engaging high school students in thinking about STEM careers.

When we go in and talk to classes we notice that a lot of the girls don’t see themselves in science careers. We’ve noticed that that this is particularly the case in mixed groups. We have encountered girls interested in science careers, however, at times they don’t want to share their enthusiasm for our initiative or talk about their future in sciences in the mixed classes. This is different when we chat with the girls in smaller groups or one-on-one.

She notes that it is not always easy gaining access to high schools or changing attitudes, but says that where there is good buy in from principals, teachers and guidance counsellors, they find it easier to engage students.

We try and inspire people by providing them with information about career opportunities in STEM. Often the girls we talk to haven’t even heard of many of the careers we tell them about. We can then talk to them about what they need to do in order to achieve these careers.

Participants engaging with a Ms Infinity activity
Participants engaging with a Ms Infinity activity



Learning more about the school guidance counsellor model in Ontario

I’ve always been interested in the school guidance counsellor model that you find in the US, Canada, Ireland etc. It is a very different model from the one that we have been used to in the UK and so it is difficult to get a feel for how it works from the outside.

I’ve written about school guidance counsellor’s in Canada before, but after visiting some schools in Ontario and talking to guidance counsellors here (including the local professional association)I feel that I didn’t get it quite right in my previous post. Or at least that the way I described it doesn’t fully describe how it works in Ontario.

So I will have another go at describing it and anyone who is reading this in Ontario can explain why I’ve got it wrong.

In Ontario ever secondary school has a guidance counsellor. In fact secondary schools are funded to have 1 counsellor for every 385 students. In practice this means that most schools have more than one guidance counsellor, often situated as part of a broader student support department. Guidance counsellors seem to be involved in three main activities as far as I can see.

  1. The provision of pastoral support and personal counselling to students who are having problems.
  2. The provision of support for students educational choice making. In Ontario students have the opportunity to choose from a range of course options. This includes balancing different subject, academic and vocational track subjects as well as taking advantage of work-experience (co-op as it is called here). The counsellor supports the individual in these choices, but also support the school to manage its response to student demand. This essentially means that the counsellor has a major role in building the timetable, which in turn has implications for things like staffing and the general ethos of the school.
  3. The provision of career and transition support.

My understanding has always been that one of the problems with the school counsellor model was the draw to deal with accute problems leading to the excessive focus on (1). However, during this visit it seems clear to me that, in Ontario at least, counsellors are spending most of their time on (2). This gives counsellors a very important role in the school, in fact Ontarian schools would not be able to function without this role as the process of choice making and ensuring that students don’t pick strange or unhelpful combinations for their post-secondary destinations is absolutely critical. This is appealing as it builds counsellors right into the heart of school life and the school ethos.

However, there are also tensions in this approach. Firstly there are dangers that counselling becomes an arm of the timetable. The counsellor serves the dual masters of the individual student and the effective running of the school’s timetable. Secondly this constitutes a considerable administrative load which inevitably takes counsellors away from directly working with students.

The links between educational choice making and career are very close, however, the activities of supporting educational choice making and career building are not the same ones. I’ve actually got a strong sense that counsellors in Ontario are actively involved in working on career with students, but it is also clear that this is secondary to supporting educational choice making. One place that this could be addressed would be in the compulsory Civics and Careers course that schools in Ontario have to offer. However, it is clear that counsellor involvement in these courses is patchy with the courses often being taught by other members of staff. This leads me to think that career education (in the UK sense of education about career development) is not as well developped as an activity in Ontario as you might expect given its compulsory place in the curriculum. I find it difficult to understand why guidance counsellors (who are all trained teachers) aren’t keen to own it.

I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve seen so far in Ontario. I’d be interested to hear whether people feel that my summary is accurate, or whether I’ve missed the point.