16 March 2017

Annual Career Guidance Research Symposium 2017

The annual University of the West of Scotland (UWS), Edinburgh Napier University and Skills Development Scotland Career Guidance Research Symposium was held yesterday, 15th March 2017, at UWS in Paisley. 

The theme of the symposium was equality and inclusion in career guidance and development, with the title: Supporting Inclusive Professional Practice Through Research

My Keynote speech will be available here in due course. In the meantime, here is a news story about the event from Skills Development Scotland and a couple of photos from the day. 

Selected Speakers (L-R): Dr. Pete Robertson (Napier) , Susan Meldrum (Napier), Emma Bolger (UWS), Dr. Marjorie McCrory (UWS), Professor Chik Collins (UWS), Leann Kelly (UWS/SAMH)
Emma Bolger, Keynote Speech



3 February 2017

Why would someone choose to be a careers adviser?

One of the modules I’m teaching this trimester at UWS is Career Development Theory, examining the theories that explain how and why people make career decisions. A career decision I often wonder about is “Why would someone choose to be a careers adviser?” I’m not being flippant; I see few reasons why the media representation of the role would influence anyone to become one. From the outside, it’s not a job that gets good press.

There is a heck of a lot of bad-mouthing of the careers profession and its purpose, the occasional high-profile media story (nobody mention Mary Poppins) and then there’s the section in every celebrity life story ever: “They told me to/not to do it, the clueless adviser, and they were so, so wrong.”

We know that high profile TV programmes boost the profile of certain careers. CSI led to a raft of wannabe forensic scientists. Call the Midwife and One Born Every Minute respectively give young people a dramatised and fairly realistic view of the midwifery profession. Some TV and film influences lead to slightly less realistic career ideas; one of our student careers advisers was asked by a client recently for information on “how to become a spy.”

We talk about the importance of role models in career development. The only positive role model for the job of careers adviser you are likely to meet is the adviser who you encountered when you went for careers advice yourself.

For a long time I’ve been on the lookout for careers adviser characters in fiction. I asked my students at the start of this trimester to add to my fledgling list. Here’s what we have found, in searching for careers advisers on TV:

Skins
Writer and comedian Josie Long plays a college careers adviser in both televised episodes and webisodes of the show. Apologies for the link being subtitled in French (unless you are a French-speaking reader of my blog) but Channel 4 block the original. Further apologies if you are of a delicate disposition when it comes to swearing.
Compilation 1
Compilation 2
When I showed this to my class, we laughed along at how absolutely perfect this is in demonstrating exactly what a careers adviser doesn’t do. I'd hope the tv audience were laughing with the profession but I suspect it’s more geared towards laughing at it, and furthering misconceptions.

Fresh Meat
Here we have the character of JP (played by Jack Whitehall) seeking careers advice on how to be a spy (see above!). In this clip the adviser comes across pretty well, certainly better than the character seeking advice. I think careers advisers will see slightly too many things ringing true in this interaction than might be expected by an independent viewer.

Bad Education
In the final ever episode (titled: The Final Banter) we get this insight into aptitude testing and job matching software.

There is a definite trend here. Perhaps I should have introduced the preceding section as “Channel 4 and their ‘awareness’ of the profession.” I am finger pointing at Channel 4 a bit here, but at least they acknowledge that careers advisers exist. Perhaps more important than these efforts are the omissions. I did find mention of a Mr Sibley, a careers adviser in a 1970 episode of classic BBC sitcom Please Sir, but aside from that, as far as BBC tv is concerned, careers advice is invisible.

Let’s consider the schools that don’t bother with careers advice. If Channel 4 are all for giving us a ribbing when it comes to careers advice then at least they acknowledge our existence. There wasn’t a careers adviser in the BBC prime time school drama Waterloo Road. There wasn’t a careers adviser in the long running tea-time school drama Grange Hill. Actually Channel 4, I take it back: there wasn’t a careers adviser in Teachers. There wasn’t even a hint of a teacher with a careers remit.

Then there are the soaps, watched by millions and filled with day-to-day occurrences like explosions and murderous love triangles and angst-ridden teenagers worried about their lives. Yet these are also filled with people doing jobs, finding jobs, losing jobs and getting new ones. Do we see a careers adviser helping them through this?

A quick sweep of fiction doesn’t offer up much else. If we consider the fact that most people across the globe have read Harry Potter, then we need to consider how many people have the Hogwarts guidance model in their minds when they come to see an adviser. Yes, there’s a bit of career guidance in Harry Potter. Harry gets a few minutes in his fifth year, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which is summarised here.  It’s far from how we deliver statutory CIAG and career education within Scotland, but then Hogwarts isn’t really going to be subject to government education policy, is it? We’ll let you off Ms Rowling, but it’s still not helping in giving young people a skewed idea of what to expect from careers advice in school.

In secondary school exam text classic, A Kestrel for Knave (AKA Kes) Barry Hines includes reference to a woeful careers office in the school. Let’s remind ourselves that this was written in 1968 and hopefully is taught as a historical piece now, if it is still on school reading lists.

It’s fair to say that careers advisers on TV and in fiction seem to be there mainly to be the butt of a joke, or they don’t exist. And yet most of these fictions are targeted at our biggest client group in the guidance sector: adolescents and young adults. Is careers advice in fiction only noteworthy if it's terrible? Are writers deterring people from valuing and seeking person-centred guidance from those best placed to deliver it?

What do we need? We need good publicity. A documentary: where the general public get to see careers advisers doing their work day to day, with clients from every walk of life. We need to be seen on TV, in books and on film. It’s not as if the role doesn’t exist, it’s been there since stories began and is clearly the role of donor in folklorist Vladimir Propp’s well-known Morphology of the Folk Tale. Every hero needs a helper, or someone to send them on their way in life with a greater understanding of the world around them and how to operate in it. We need fairy godparent-like careers advisers, not the misdirecting, bumbling and inept few we’ve been granted thus far.

If anyone can find me any other careers advisers in film, television, theatre of fiction then please get in touch!

***UPDATES***
01.05.17
A character in The Only Way is Essex visits a careers adviser in Season 20, episode 16. Thank you to Liza and Louise, two of my current students for spotting this one!) [LINK] A rare sighting of a straight-faced, client-centred careers professional!