5 Problems with Gove’s inspirational career role models plan

There’s been a lot of coverage recently about Gove and Hancock’s proclamations that in order to support young people to make better career decisions there is no real need for trained career professionals. Instead schools should be getting “inspirational” people in various professions to come into schools and “inspire” young people to follow them into their field of work. People who have been there and done it are of greater use to young people than trained careers professionals. The focus of the DofE’s ideas are on who young people need. They do not need a trained careers professional apparently but instead they do need inspirational role models who have been there and done it in there own careers.

I feel on one level this is clearly reductionistic, why not have both? It seems the view of the DofE is as much about distrusting careers advisers as it is trusting industry role models. I feel that there is a lot to say about what trained careers professionals can offer to a school in general and young people more specifically. But rather than go over this what has made me want to write is thinking about what concerns I have about the DofE’s focus on inspirational professionals. I have big reservations about the quality of what Gove et al are proposing under five points:

  1. Coverage – My first concern with this idea is how will schools get enough of these inspirational speakers in to ensure that a young person actually gets inspired to do something they can do? It’s fair to assumes most school timetables are pushed. Will a school be able to fit in a speaker a week? Will 30 speakers a year be enough to cover the range of options available to young people? Without quality information and a trained professional to support young people understand it I fear young people will find themselves aware of less options.

  1. Competition – Secondly I fear rather than giving all children the same opportunity to learn about future career options this new scheme will limit this opportunity. Will all schools be able to get the same range and quality of speakers in especially if they’re not paying them? My fear is that in a particular area businesses will priorities the schools where they think they can get future employees. This will further exacerbate inequality at an early age and limit choices for some young people. Particular schools, particular geographical areas, some counties and regions of the country may not find themselves able to attract the right companies to inspire their pupils. Post codes will become an even greater lottery for educational outcomes as the career options you learn about will be determined by where you live.

  1. Bias – “Travel the world, join the navy”, “be the best, join the army”, “save the environment, work for BP.” Companies and industries advertise themselves. They do not give unbiased information that spells out the positive and negative aspects of a profession. There is nothing wrong with this in itself but you do need someone unbiased who is focussed on the student in the situation to unpick some of airbrushed information a company or individual may give about their profession. Just trusting “inspirational” individuals opens the system up to inaccuracy and abuse.

  1. Unsupported – Just because a young person is inspired does this mean that this is necessarily the right job for them to do? At various points in my past I have been inspired to be a professional cricketer, singer-songwriter, fantasy author, murder mystery writer and book editor. In retrospect none of these “inspirations” were realistic, took in to account all of who I was as an individual or were based on proper information about any sector. But I was very motivated to become them. Careers work should enable people to make realistic decisions and educate young people in the range of factors involved in a good decision. It is hard to work out how an inspirational speaker alone will do this.

  1. Short-term – If a 13 year old is inspired in a school talk tomorrow to become a computer programmer how much will what was described actually map on to the workplace they enter in 8 years time aged 21? 80%, 60%, 30%, 5%? The world of work around us changes and is probably changing at a quicker rate than 30 years ago. Even more so many of the jobs current school children will do may not even exist at the moment. As Fisch and McLeod have famously said that “We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist . . . using technologies that haven’t been invented . . . in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” This means we need to learn to learn, to keep up-to-date. We need school programmes that help young people handle information and shows them the importance of keeping on learning. An inspirational talk is a moment of learning, it does not equip a young person to keep on gaining and assessing the information they need.

Schools are not the only area were employer engagement is seen as lighthouse in the storm of uncertainty around students futures, just take the prevalence of student engagement in HE. The idea that “been-there-done-it” professionals helping the next generation is very attractive. My fear though is that it creates more problems than it solves when delivered by itself. For me at least any information from any source most come alongside supporting pupils and students to develop the literacies to process it and the developmental faculties to work out what it may mean for them.

2 thoughts on “5 Problems with Gove’s inspirational career role models plan

  1. Absolutely agree on those five key points. One big problem – amongst others – with politics in this country is we have ministers with very little inherent knowledge and skills relating to their department. They are then chopped and changed every couple of years – or sooner – so we see no real long term vision or strategy being implemented. Based on this can you imagine a politician going into a school to give an inspirational speech based on the bias and nepotism that exists?

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