As part of my teaching on the MA in Careers Education and Coaching, I am this semester teaching a module which (in part) introduces our trainee careers advisors to LMI (who labour market information to the uninitiated in careers speak). LMI is an interesting subject in terms of the canon of careers development as it is;
- Constituted by the public and by those in charge of educational institutions as central to what careers work “does”
- Often a central part of what practitioners end up actually delivering
- There is comparatively little written about it from either a theoretical or a delivery standpoint.
To expand on point 3. above let’s take DOTS as a module of careers development. I would say the majority of theoretical literature related to careers deal with the D and the S with an increasing focus on the T but the lowly O has been left behind in terms of theoretical writing.
Maybe I’m wrong about this but I bet readers of this blog can’t name 10 theorists to explicitly write about LMI (do you like my tactic for writing my module reading list…?)
So that said I’ve set myself the task of writing a few blogs about this matter.
In this first blog, I want to focus on what our focus with LMI actually is
I guess I want this post to sit a bit on the boundary between theory and practice and ask what our expectations are in regards to LMI, what should it do for our clients. I have come up with a 5 point typology, these ideas are not mutually exclusive but practitioners are likely to focus on some at the expense of others.
Here are the 5
This is the common view of LMI. It links in with a matching view of careers and states that in order for individuals to match themselves effectively to jobs they need to have an accurate view of the world of work. Because of this, they say that individuals need access to LMI of a certain quality. This quality LMI is often described by terms such as accurate, unbiased, up-to-date, comprehensive etc. To give an example when people saying that it is important that young people “need to know about apprenticeships/ self-employment/ university etc.” they are implicitly referring to a threshold of what people should know, normally described by the terms above. Having known enough they can then make the right decisions for their future.
This is by far the most dominant view in careers work (or at least the one that most practice echoes) but I think there are some serious problems with it. Hopefully, some of this will come to light through looking at the alternatives.
The idea of a threshold of knowledge as outlined above often leads to information being presented in fairly formulaic manners. If you look at LMI profiles on popular careers websites they tend to list jobs salary, work activities, qualification requirements, recruitment methods, progression opportunities and so on. This tends to focus on the information that employers want to make public and which are perceived to be verifiable. Julia Yates in her excellent book The Career Coaching Handbook argues that this sort of information is not necessarily what we need to know about jobs. Instead, information such as work culture and levels of autonomy have statistically higher levels of work satisfaction linked to them. I think we can take this though a step further and argue that how we understand work is as much constructed as how we understand ourselves. We all have different categories that are important to us in relation to work but because we tend to approach work on a personal basis the job of careers work is not to provide quality information so much as to support people in their own construction of work by which they develop categories for how they understand work and then fill them in through a variety of methods including formal LMI but also involving their own experiences of work, talking to others and researching through a variety of sources. Constructivism applied to LMI would mainly want to get rid of the idea of a threshold of knowledge and support individuals in constructing how they see work through their own experiences and the experiences of others.
A problem you could see with both of the above views is that it focusses on how you learn about the world of work at the expense of what you do with the information. A motivational view of information would see information not so much as an abstract idea out their in the world but as something which is shared and contextualised through relationships and most importantly has consequences for the trajectories of those receiving and investigating this information. Taking into account theorists such as Pryor and Bright, Krumboltz and Savickas we can see that there is a growing strand in careers literature that puts an emphasis on the positive impact concepts such as confidence, risktaking, curiosity, resilience and hopefulness have on how people manage their careers. This view particularly challenges the idea of being comprehensive as described above, instead, it would argue that individuals can never know all of the options available to them or even some of them. Our rapidly changing world makes comprehensive understanding of work a myth and instead we should aim to react to opportunities when they arise and to put ourselves in their line. This does not mean that exploring information is pointless but instead, individuals should aim to find something they are interested in exploring, building skills and connections around and so exploring information can start people off taking other actions with the knowledge that they may have to change tac along the way but that the process of actively exploring will help them towards meaningful work in the long term.
A literacy-based approach rather than looking at how much individuals know, what their threshold is, should instead look at how individuals can learn to access and understand information in the future. This view would focus on the ability of individuals to access information when they need to be a vital part of their career. Similarly to a connectivist view of learning this literacy view would focus on what skills people need to access and make use of information for themselves. Building personal networks, knowing how and where to find information online and how to integrate and make use of information for their futures are the main focuses of this approach. The focus here is less on what individuals currently do or don’t know but coaching them with the skills to learn for their future.
A radical view of LMI would argue that the world of work is unfair and that power is distributed unequally. Part of how inequality is reproduced is that those in power have control of how information about the world of work is constructed and shared. Following from Chomsky the argument could be made that consent to an unfair system is “manufactured” through how the powerful use media. In this view LMI (to paraphrase Chomsky) has a system-supporting ideological function which maintains control without coercion. Employers and educational institutions control what is shared about the world of work in order to coerce individuals. While they may trumpet the financial and social rewards of work they are less likely to discuss matters such as how minorities are treated in their organisations, how they respond to unions, how power is distributed in their organisation and what levels of autonomy individuals enjoy. The job of LMI is (in this view) to lift the lid on how inequality and injustice are perpetuated inside institutions by no longer collaborating with the system described but instead looking at how awareness raising (or developing consciousness in a Marxist sense) might underpin developing forms of resistance.
So what do you think? Have I missed anything? Which of the above views are you most drawn to and how could they help underpin alterantive views of practice.