9 February 2011
A number of times lately in discussion with different kinds of people, the question of which word we should choose to describe the post-formal education destination of a students has arisen.
I favour using the simple word “job”. But this I am told is limiting and “career” would be a better choice. Even “employment” seems to be favoured ahead of “job”. But the words we use matter and the words that have impact on students matter. Our thinking is not just formulated by the words we used but actually formed by them. They are very important.
This is not a trivial issue. Currently questions are being raised about the effectiveness of “careers” advice and much thought is being directed at the nature of it, the way it works and when it should be delivered.
Let me nail my piece to the door. I believe that “career” is a concept that comes largely after the event. It is a qualitative judgment about a person’s continuous work over a long period of time. It is often used by people other than the person it is being applied to. “She has had a stellar career” might well be said of a person who could be reluctant to think of herself in these terms.
Children in middle class homes, the homes of the professionals, grow up with a sense of what a “career” is because there are people in the home who have had one, or know of people who have.
A “career” is something of a collective noun for a series of jobs that are connected and cumulatively add up to something.
I don’t want to here discuss careers education other than to say that it seems to me to be a lot like sex education – too little, too late and when it happens, overly obsessed with the mechanics of connection.
We might get much more traction and reach new levels of effectiveness in the advice we give to young people by using the word “job”. Is the point of education the development of a sets of skills, knowledge, dispositions and aspirations that will carry people into a job with enthusiasm and certain in their knowledge that their education will continue even though their schooling might stop?
That is why multiple exit points and pathways are needed. Some students need to make the school / job transition more quickly than others, some need to get onto a pathway along which they clearly see a job waiting for them at an earlier point. Others can sustain a more distant view of a job, perhaps even wrapped up in the concept of a career but not many.
So, let’s start being comfortable with the practice of making clear the link between “schooling” and “jobs” with a view to getting increased numbers into work. Such a commitment will not dent in any way the numbers who are heading for university or who have a view of where they are going. However it will be absolutely central to making inroads into the ranks of the disengaging and those who leave school to drift into the NEET group.
Making explicit the purpose of schooling is an important change we could make if we are to tackle the issues of dropping out and disengagement. We need to agree on and then work to a clear equation: Schooling + Job = Purpose. There is plenty of evidence that purpose is the very thing that many successful students have and many unsuccessful students do not. It might also be the difference between an effective teacher and an ineffective one (and this is not a comment on competence).
Perhaps the confusion about schooling that a group of students has is shared by their teachers. This is sad if it is true for such teachers will find it hard to aspire to a “career” in teaching and will instead become increasingly unhappy about the “job”.
The old battle cry of the teaching world in the 1960’s was “Give us the tools and we will do the job!” By and large any increase in resources was used to continue to do the same thing and not surprisingly the results were the same. Now demographic pressures and the realities of the sort of economy we have, demand different results which can only result from working differently.
A good start would be an affirmation that education should lead to a job and that this could happen at a number of points none of which need threaten the pathways that see students reach high levels of qualifications. But we must attack that group who end their encounter with education after eight or ten or 13 years and are either unemployable or ill-prepared to continue in education. It is not a mystery.
An orientation on “jobs” might be the solution.