Why Political Rhetoric Is Bad For Careers Work

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Ed Miliband has accused the chancellor or leading the UK towards a “lost generation” off the back of the budget stating that,

“We are five years on from the financial crisis of 2008. We are in the slowest recovery for 100 years. And it is you who are suffering. Wages are frozen. Prices are rising. Living standards falling. Yet the chancellor offered no change in the Budget. He offered more of the same. Can you imagine another five years of this? Low growth. Living standards squeezed further. You paying the price. A lost decade Britain cannot afford. A decade of national decline.”

Now I want to go out on a limb and say that this sort of rhetoric can be bad for careers work. The leader of the opposition is obviously completely entitled to hold the government to account for their policy decisions. Miliband is also in the business of hopefully winning the next election and he wont do this by patting the government on the back. Hence the doom and gloom and predictions about the economy followed by promises about things getting better under a Labour government. The problem is when we move from the public domain to the personal, when the application shifts from what can we do politically about this to what can I do personally about this? Political solutions stand above the individual, the basic political message is “you can’t do it alone, we need government to sort this out.” This is where the problem starts.

As a careers adviser I care about helping people take action in their lives, to increase their self efficacy and interact with their surroundings. What I often hear from the students I work with is that their isn’t a chance for them at the moment, their are no decent jobs and that they face menial work or long term unemployment. They seem to be convinced they’re already in Miliband’s lost generation. To this the politician says “the system is against them, we need to change the system.” Which just leaves me asking if there is any point in my job.

I don’t think things have to be like this and not just because I want to keep my job. I feel there is a more complicated relationship between these two domains, the public and the private. As a careers adviser its partly my job to help my students understand this relationship better. Is there high unemployment at the moment? Yes. Does that make it harder for my students to find work? Well that depends on what is causing the unemployment, how prevalent these factors are in their lives and how they are reacting to them. This is quite a complicated view of how people live inside systems and interact with them. It is quite easy when faced with this complicated view to jump to the simplicity of the political rhetoric even if on a personal level this offers less hope.

But students need to work through these levels. To understand what is forming the general trend in society, to see how this relates to their context and then what can they do about this. When I say that political rhetoric is bad for careers I don’t mean its bad in general or that it shouldn’t happen. I just mean that when people take something meant for the public domain and apply it personally things go wrong. The public message is simple because by nature it is a summary which removes complexity. I want to help my students respond to political rhetoric not through overly simple messages (usually some version of “you can be anything you want to be”) but by helping students understand the steps between a public discourse and theirlives. I feel asking the questions outlined above is a start.

Are you a careers adviser? How do you help students respond to public news stories? Are you a student? How do you work through what public news stories mean for you?

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