Audrey Lang, October 2015 Fellow, met Tristram Hooley, Head of Research at The Careers & Enterprise Company, and talked about the role of career education for young people in the light of the changes in the world of work ahead.
How are young people prepared for the world of work in the UK? In an environment that is rapidly moving and where the skills of today may not exist tomorrow, what are the challenges they face and how are we helping them set up strategies to get the best work life for them?
Career education is an area that has had various levels of influence on both the work and education agenda through the past decades. In the past years it has been supported firmly in the UK by the government, who amongst other initiatives created in 2015 The Careers & Enterprise Company. This organisation was set up to build bridges between schools, government, businesses and providers of career education for young people in the UK.
Tristram Hooley is Head of Research at The Careers & Enterprise Company. Expert in career development, he is a Professor of Career Education at the University of Derby. In addition to many publications, he runs the fascinating and insightful blog ‘Adventures in Career Development’.
Why career education is particularly important for young people
My belief is that we all have careers that go right across our life: From when we’re very young through to when we die we’re pursuing a set of career choices. Even moving to retirement is a career choice: You could for example do it slowly, over a long period of time; you can do a lot of activities or you can sit around and watch TV all day – These are all essentially life or career choices. So I think we need to provide people with support and services throughout their life to help them through their choices, because everyone finds it difficult at some point.
Young people find it particularly difficult because they don’t have much previous experience to draw on, it is hard for them to imagine what the world of work might be like, so I think it is right to provide some intensive support to help them think about their career before they leave school, before they leave the educational system.
Learning to listen
One of the challenges when you are talking about any kind of education is that you have to learn that not everyone is like you: Not everyone learns or thinks in the same way, not everyone has the same experiences, and not everyone wants the same thing out of their future. I think often both educators and policy makers find it difficult to imagine, because everybody tends to assume that everyone wants the same kind of things as them, when in fact people might have different ideas.
Somebody’s career aspirations could be to have a family, to earn enough money to make that work, to not necessarily spend a lot of time at work, and I think that is a good and a reasonable career aspiration. Someone else’s aspirations could be to earn a lot of money, spend all their time doing huge achievements, etc. This is the difficulty about career education: it is very individual. Therefore one of the things you have to do is listen very carefully to what everybody actually wants to get out of this, at the same time as we open them up to a lot of opportunities and ideas about what the future might become.
Multiplying encounters with the world of work
At the Company we have been very influenced by a report from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation called Good Career Guidance. This report sets out an evidence-based approach to providing career support in schools. It identifies that it is very important for young people to have encounters with employers and learning providers, experiences of work and an opportunity to learn and make plans. Through this process young people can develop their knowledge about the future and make decisions accordingly.
What young people like or love now may find a different interpretation in the world of work
One of the things I find quite interesting is a theory which is called ‘Work Adjustment’ or ‘Job Crafting’: It argues that you can pretty much turn most jobs into something that you like, because you can change the job and focus on the aspects you are good at and passionate about. For example I like performing but I don’t feel that need to be a professional performer because I have developed my job so that I get a lot of chances to ‘perform’ when I am teaching or lecturing. Conversely, you could get the job that you thought was perfect, and actually the amount of time you spend doing what you thought was interesting is very limited. To use the example of performing again, the amount of time an actor spends acting as opposed to selling him or herself, schlepping around trying to make networks, etc, is very low. Jobs don’t always turn out the way you want them to but you can often influence jobs to become more like what you want them to be.
Great transformations and challenges in the world of work
There are a number of things that are happening in the world of work that many people are finding challenging. This is particularly true for university graduates. At one point there were roughly the same number of high paid, high-skilled jobs as there were people doing a university degree. Therefore if you were doing a university degree you were pretty much guaranteed to get one of those jobs. We then have had a policy in most developed countries to increase the number of people going to university, however that hasn’t necessarily resulted in an increase in the number of high-skilled job and this makes it more difficult for graduates.
I think there are other changes in the world of work that are also making it more difficult to people: Automation for example (we’re seeing the world of work changing as we’re seeing robots and computers doing more of the things that people would have done in the past). We’re also seeing some transfer of work throughout the world, in particular some movement from the first world to the developing world, particularly places like India and China.
However, one thing I would say is that it was ever so; I don’t really believe that there was a period in which work was completely stable – if there was it was a very short period, probably from the 1950s to about the mid – 1970s. So actually historically chaos and change have been much more the common reality. If I think about my grandfather, he was born in poverty, went through the depression in the 1930s, went to war in the 1940s, came back for the complete reconstruction of Britain in the 1940s and 1950s, saw through the oil crisis in 1972, etc. So I don’t really agree with the idea that there was a period in which work was completely stable, however I think we have to all learn to manage change, and we always have had to do it – and that’s a key part of being a good career manager.
There is a role for policy-makers to think about what kind of skills are going to be useful moving forward. And probably they’re going to be higher-end skills, they’re going to be skills that require creativity and so on. But there will also be human-related, inter-personal skills and these will be needed for jobs that are dependent on human relationships. We can imagine a world in which you get food produced entirely by robots, but it’s much more difficult to imagine a world in which I want my children to be looked after entirely by robots. So I think the nature of the economy is likely to shift, and I think that will mean that we’ll need to organise things a bit differently. Part of the response has got to be ‘yes we have to develop these skills’, but also part of the response has also got to be ‘we need to think about how wealth is spread around so that it enables society to do the things like looking after young children and old people that at the moment are poorly paid, but which we probably won’t be able to automate very easily. So we will need to rethink how we organise work and the economy.
The challenges and opportunities in career education for young people in this context
Young people have to recognise that their life is going to change, and that what they can see now is not going to be what they see by the time they finish working. Therefore resilience and flexibility are clearly very important. I also think that we should help people to learn resistance, because change is not always good: sometimes being flexible is the right thing to do, and sometimes not being flexible is the right thing to do. And just because somebody wants to change your job – for example if you’re a taxi driver and you’re being told that you should drive an Uber, and an Uber will result in a big cut in your pay, then I think it is perfectly reasonable to bring some resistance – it’s something that might be of good career development value for you. We need to recognise the changes, the context within which a career is pursued, and then we teach people a range of strategies to manage and deal with that.
There are things we can and can’t influence, and I think one of the things in career development we should be doing is encouraging people in thinking about the things that they can influence, both individually and collectively. But, of course you don’t always get what you want and so career development is a process of coping with what you are given. You might want to say that the world should be organised differently, but if it isn’t then you have to make the best out of what you’ve got. I think that is what career development is about. It is primarily focussed on you as an individual, but it doesn’t have to be – it could also be thinking about what is likely to change, what can change, what can we influence? And then how do we pursue our own lives within that framework.