16 June 2015

Character and Career Education

I attended the Character Scotland conference this week, which welcomed over 250 delegates, all keen to explore how we can integrate character development into our educational practices. This is my first exploratory post into character and career education, information, advice and guidance following this two-day conference. 

Before I go onto the content of the seminars and keynotes I took most from in relation to my own practice and research, worth noting was the quality of the delivery of presentations. In Seminar 1 Education (re)design, the panel used the PechaKucha approach: presenters work through 20 slides, each displayed for 20 seconds. This was completely new to me, and talk about keeping folk to time and to the point! I am wondering how I can use this in my own teaching and presentations. As a delegate it kept me engaged and whetted my appetite to learn more about the presenters, their backgrounds, their topics.

A second stand-out moment in relation to public speaking was the delivery of three brief presentations by science students from the Greenock campus of West College Scotland. Unlike so many conference presenters, seminar speakers and workshop facilitators, they used their PowerPoint slides appropriately! A few key pointers on the slides and focused, engaging dialogue with the audience around these prompts plus the enthusiasm of Jason, Amanda and Kim for their college experience and essentials skills reflection whilst in education, meant their talks were illuminating, and takes me to the main focus of this blog post.

At the start of conference, in her opening keynote speech Dr Avis Glaze spoke of interpersonal skills and how young people need to have the opportunity to develop these in school. The three students demonstrated that for them, this had not been the case and it was only at college level they had the opportunity to work on their personal development in this way. Dr Glaze highlighted community education and civic engagement as examples of character building career education.

This wasn't a career-guidance specific conference but it is worth noting (as ever!) that all three of the students demonstrated specific aspects of career development theory in relation to their return to college and learning journeys and future thinking. This included the influence of family (an uncle and a sister making noteworthy appearances) and friends on their career and subject choices, the visibility of jobs in their sector (via multiple employer-site visits) and the use of personal reflection, in the form of the Your Essential Skills (YES) portal.

YES was developed by Grant Taylor and colleagues at West College Scotland and enables students to reflect upon and create their own narratives relating to what we commonly know to be soft, essential, transferable or employability skills. I am not going to go into what they should be called just now, suffice to say we know what we are talking about; personal development in relation to interpersonal skills, employment skills, communication skills, self-reliance, independence and the like which are of huge relevance when applying for work (paid and voluntary) or further study. Dare I say that these soft skills might even get you a boyfriend or girlfriend, enable you to meet new like-minded friends or give you the confidence to pursue new interests or activities? Maybe, but it might only raise the question of what on earth did people do before we started teaching this stuff? Sit at home and wait for life to come calling? 

We do need to help our young people to obtain the skills that will get them ahead in a highly competitive labour market. The focus of YES, which is used in conjunction with guidance slots, is that students are encouraged to think about their potential as an employee before applying for jobs and making the transition into work. The three students in the session were confident about their forthcoming entry to the labour market and this alongside a wealth of examples for competency based applications and interviews form the way in for a majority of roles.  In Seminar 5 Assessment of Character? Why Not! on the second day of the conference, representatives from the SQA encouraged us to explore how character might be assessed. It is fair to say this was a 'lively' session; little consensus was reached as to whether it is right to assess character and if so, what form that would take.

A quantitative/qualitative difference between how employers judge character makes any assessment route difficult. Employers may be happy to employ people on surface value at application stage (a qualitative judgement based on the applicant's personal presentation and ability to provide competency-based examples of their character). There are some roles for which an upstanding citizen needs to prove themselves via the disclosure process. Employers look for potential employees who are of good character, but the applicant suitability varies between sectors and roles. Character references are still used in some recruitment processes. Personality tests and aptitude tests have long been standard practice in certain fields.

There is “no easy answer, else we’d be fixing it by now,” summarised Hugh Aitken of CBI Scotland in the Skills, Work & Enterprise seminar on day 1. This tied in very well with a meeting I’d had earlier in the day regarding the low number of women who undertake STEM Modern Apprenticeships…an analogy which suitably concludes my reflections on my last conference for a while. I am back off to my desk for the summer, with a PhD Literature Review to write, and in relation to gender and occupational segregation in apprenticeships, there is also no easy answer!