A big idea for careers education

Published on 12 Sep, 2015

I have always lived by the ‘sleep on it’ test. You have what feels like a good idea so you sleep on it and see how it feels in the morning. For me the same idea has been coming back for over 1000 mornings since it first hatched in a coffee bar with a manager from a nearby PRU. We were collaborating on an ESCC funded project to develop the Turning Points Module on www.talkingjobs.net, a short series of video case studies shot with people who had overcome adversity to use as a conversation starter in group work. We were having a progress review when she suggested I work on a way of enabling students to create their own modules to run on the platform. Having already been supported by Aimhigher Sussex to create a student directed module, and appreciating the learning wrapped up in the making, I already knew the overhead on staff and students was too great, and that quality controlling the output would put further limitations on the process. The idea is right, but small-scale endeavours are self-limiting and costly. The idea needs to be planned at scale with collaborations between schools combined with a shift in emphasis about where the learning really sits.

Given that I enjoy thinking about big ideas, our conversation set in motion 3 years thinking about, consulting and iterating a sketch of what a reframed model for group work in careers education could really look like. During this time my thinking was also being sculpted through involvement in the UKCES led LMI for All project and membership of an advisory group on Girls in Physics at the Institute of Physics. The former project trying to encourage the use of labour market data in the design careers education tools, and latter seeking to understand why so few schools send girls forward to take physics at A’ level; one about pattern and the other about stereotypes.

Some terms.

LMI stands for Labour Market Information and encompasses a wide range of information about the jobs market, including profiles, salaries, entry level requirements and much more, pretty much any data about the workforce. Schools have started to use this kind of data, but the tools are immature and not yet fully realised.

LME stands for Labour Market Experience and relates to the world of insight and personal narratives, and encompasses the video case studies found on www.talkingjobs.net, www.icould.com, www.careersbox.co.uk and many more. These tools are now quite commonplace although nowhere near being used to their full potential.

Unconscious bias refers to the quiet processes that inform the decisions we make every day, from what we eat, to whom we befriend, to the decisions we make about education and employment. It’s about the deeply held ideas or constructs about identity that quietly define how we see ourselves and others. Schools are doing a fabulous job breaking down stereotypes, but mostly allied to ideas about champions and the pursuit of excellence, which again is only part of story. Tackling unconscious bias is bigger than this.

In the past schools and their careers support struggled to:

- Get access to up to date and reliable labour market information (LMI)
- Get access to diverse pool of speakers to help broaden horizons (LME)
- Explore the impact stereotyping has on shaping aspirations (LMI and LME combined)

None of the above is still true. Most schools can now argue that they’re in a better position to address each in turn. But probably not in a unified way that uses the gaps between these requirements as the ground on which the learning rests; the area between things where thinking really happens.

Most careers education programmes are based on looking at an individual motivation, their interests and also their skills. The individual may also asked to find out about themselves through psychological profiling tools to matching them to roles. My concern is that these processes take no account of the labour market itself, of what’s actually happening on the ground. They are inward facing activities that don’t attempt to explore the context in which education and career decisions get made, doing nothing to help challenge the mismatch between aspiration and opportunity. And nor do they do anything to tackle the unconscious bias attach to ideas about ourselves and others. Only stories can do this, and then we need different stories for different people, not just champions.

What about a unified methodology that pulls right across these under-served themes, in a ways that allows young people to create and interrogate ever changing portraits of the local labour markets through collaborations between schools; collaborations that access all kinds of labour market stories from our communities and networks of local employers? This is what I’ve been thinking about and seeking support to develop since the idea first started to grow. I think I know how to do this now but it’s a properly big idea that only operates at scale so I can’t get there alone. Please do ask questions or get in touch if interested to know more.