Are careers advisers not qualified to give careers advice? I was interested to read this article by Mark Stevens on this very topic. Stevens seems to be taking a pop at anyone who would put careers advisor (or I assume coach, counsellor, consultant etc.) on their business card. I don’t want to respond directly to Stevens so much as discuss a wider phenomenon I feel his piece is part of. Stevens for me represents the logic of the Dragon’s Den meets The Apprentice hack. This type pedals a certain form of neoliberal corporate wisdom that is popularised on LinkedIn in particular. I feel there are a number of themes which often comes out of the mouth of the LinkedIn guru:
- Looks at success in linear terms
Everyone wants to get to the top, to get the promotion, get the award, get the new post at the better company. Success is discussed in linear terms and so the sort of careers advice that is offered is about enabling this sort of linear progression.
- Prizes experience above criticality
For the LinkedIn guru experience is always the key, the ability to think critically or to use appropriate techniques is despised in favour of the been-there-done-it hero who can now mentor you to become like them. This particular glorifies the college drop-out and the Alan Sugar esque entrepreneur who starts from the bottom and without privilege or support becomes a self-made millionaire. You need to have gone there a done it before you can help anyone else, the value of distance from phenomenon to analyse and understand them is completely dismissed, learning is gained at the coal face or not at all.
- Pedals the hidden knowledge of the guru
Linked to this is some notion that the guru is in possession of some hidden secrets and mystical knowledge only they are party to. Just look for how many corporate careers advice articles claim to give you “7 secrets to successful networking” (the irony of secrets being shared online is obvious). Again this emphasises that the guru alone come help because of their hidden knowledge and expertise. Professionals just don’t have the right set of secrets these days.
- “caught” not “taught” logic
What this all adds up to create is a “caught” not “taught logic. If you haven’t been to the top how can you help others do the same? Success is caught, it is tacit knowledge that isn’t taught in the classroom or discussed in the advisors office you either have it or you don’t. And if you don’t have it, well education won’t help you, you need to hang out round the right people, get yourself a mentor who can transmit success by osmosis I guess…
- Despises the academy and qualification
There is a temptation in may of these sorts of corners to despise the academy, despise education, rubbish ideas of theory and development of evidence based practice. If you’ve watched any Apprentice you will have seen Lord Sugar taking pot shots at people with their degrees and people from professional backgrounds (think lawyers, accountants etc.) will he look more positively on the likely lad with not a GCSE to his name. It seems thinking is of no value and doing is all that counts.
Now this is a bit of a caricature but I think it holds weight. There is available, popular and labelled as careers advice barring these marks. What we are seeing is a popular narrative from the corporate world that is repositioning career support as coming from a trained and qualified professional to coming from an unqualified individual with business credentials. There has always been this dichotomy I imagine between the technical advisor and the experienced professional when it comes to the support individuals gain access from but I think there are things happening at the moment that sharpens this. Firstly current government policy in the UK very much looks to experienced corporate types coming into schools as the main people who will deliver careers advice. Secondly images on TV from programs like Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice give voice and prevalence to experienced corporate figureheads. Thirdly and I think maybe most significantly the internet has created a soap box for individuals to proclaim their “careers advice” from making them an alternative to the trained careers professional that many are becoming exposed to.
So what should the trained careers advisor make of this? I feel the challenge it creates for us which we may not be great at responding to is to differentiate. I think especially when you look at FE and HE careers work its fairly easy to spot corporate lingo and corporate ideals seeping into the provision of careers work. I feel the danger is to become a light version of what it being popularised online rather than clear demarcating the difference we provide. As organisations increasingly look to get the corporate world “onto campus” the question becomes how the advisor is different and what they are still doing there? It can not just be about availability to students of permanent support or brokering external relationships their needs to be an argument on the level of ideas not just practicalities.
I feel there is a shrinking middle ground for the professional. My worry is that for someone who wants to hold onto some of the traditional ethics around careers advice (client centered, impartial, LMI, rational decision making etc.) but incorporate the corporate ethos we have been discussing they are under threat as to how useful they are seen to be. The trinity of current policy, internet gurus and sector trends in FE & HE create a challenge to careers advice as we know it. Maybe that’s too apocalyptic.
Where this leads me at myself is a feeling I want to distinguish myself at every point from this approach. If this new camp of “careers advisers” is emerging I want to show how different I am from their advice. Taking what we’ve just discussed I think we could look at five key destinctives of how to describe careers advice as I understand it.
- Non-linear – Careers advice should embrace the idea that there is no ladder. This is obviously not saying that corporate progression does not happen but that we can spot paths to success individuals make and construct what is meaningful to them and that there our predictions do not hold weight over time, we can not plan the future but most manage it’s emergence.
- Critical – Careers advice should embrace that their are no obvious solutions, the world is complex and resists simple categorisation. We need a careers advice that can encourage clients to think rigorously about the world around, to not take the surface but dig for depth.
- User-generated – Careers advice is about empowerment, it is not about placement, it sits uneasily with measurable results. What we hope and aim for is the individual we worked with becoming more than they are now.
- Justice – Careers advice should be aware of the powerful relations that exist in the world, the forces that shape the world our clients exist in look to provide tools to help clients understand and exist well in these contexts.
- Embraces complexity – At the heart of the academy (at least in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences) is the belief that the world is not straight-forward to grasp. No ready made technique will solve everything. Careers is about acknowledging a whole host of different complexities (how we conceptualise the future, how we understand the world of work, understand ourselves etc.) and helping clients develop tools to cope with these.
So over to you, what do you think? how shoud careers advice me managing itself in our brave new world