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Belonging, being, becoming

The purpose of careers education in schools and colleges is often treated as being self-evident. We’re too busy getting on with the job to give it much thought. The problem with that is it leaves too many assumptions unexamined and unchallenged. If you believe the current policy rhetoric, for example, our role is to meet the needs of employers (all of whom are uniformly inspiring, by the way!) by preparing young people to be enterprising, employable and resilient. It’s not that this aim is not admirable, it’s just that it’s inadequate as a rationale for careers education and open to abuse. When, for example, does teaching young people to be resilient become an excuse for employers to behave badly? Recent stories in the press have highlighted poor behaviour by some employers focusing on exploitative zero hours contracts, appalling workplace cultures and, more subtly, the failure to develop their staff.

 

It is refreshing then to come across a framework that is used to describe aims and purposes in another context and find it has a huge resonance for careers education. Such is the case with ‘belonging, being and becoming’, the framework for early years learning in Australia.

 

The attraction of the headings in this framework is that they correct some of the misconceptions about the purpose of careers education. Careers in the western tradition is often perceived as being about rampant individualism, but ‘belonging’ reminds us that a primary impulse in individuals is to get along with others and to satisfy their affiliation needs. A key dimension of careers education is the interdependence of people, both socially and economically, and the individual’s commitments and wider connection with others: with family, community and society. It is for this reason careers educators teach young people how to contribute to the wellbeing of others through the work they do and help them to discover where they could fit in.

 

Careers because of its link to ‘work’ is often seen as being about ‘doing’ but having a sense of ‘being’ is fundamental to individual wellbeing and happiness. Careers education helps young people to discover who they are and invokes their beliefs, spirit, values as well as their various roles and identities. Teaching young people how to take responsibility for themselves and grow in autonomy boosts their self-esteem, self confidence, self efficacy and inner control. ‘Being’ helps careers educators to focus on developing hope and optimism in young people.

 

‘Becoming’ is helpful to careers educators too because it is about enabling young people to achieve, to experience success and be recognised for it. Young people need to think critically and act ethically in exploring who they are and who they could possibly become. Some will experience a sense of calling or vocation, others will make more pragmatic ‘that’s good enough for me for now’ decisions. It is often too simplistic to tell young people that careers is about ‘fulfilling your dreams’ when their actual decisions will be the result of difficult compromises not only between ‘being’ and ‘belonging’ but also between chance and opportunity. That’s one of the reasons why teaching about career adaptability and resilience has become so important.

As is often the case, it can be exciting to look beyond our own field to be enthused by the insights that others provide. Has ‘belonging, being and becoming’ got the potential to transform the way in which we think about what we do in careers education? 

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  • Shamin Mackintosh

    At last, a truly thought provoking article on careers guidance but not as we know it! In these times of global migration, it is of paramount importance to view careers education in more culturally ethical ways than has previously been done. We must embrace pluralism which exists in some cultures more than others and often influences a young person’s career and life choices. As a Careers Adviser working in a large multi-cultural college, I have always tried to adopt this broader philosophy in my work.

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  • Nick Palmer

    Interesting post Anthony, thank you. I’d be interested to read more about this framework? Do you know how one can get hold of a copy?
    I was particularly interested in the opening paragraph, and your comments about “too many assumptions are unexamined”......... I’m afraid to say that I think you highlight one such assumption in the remainder of that paragraph.

    The problem with “current policy rhetoric” is not that it assumes the purpose of careers education to be about meeting “the needs of employers” (that much is pretty central to any employment!) The problem is that neither the politicians nor the various stakeholders (education establishments, the media) can articulate this as the two-way dialogue that actually underpins employment. Without this understanding, a young person is at risk of enduring disappointment.

    Our careers model assumes employment to be some passive activity that happens to young people (“get a qualification, impress at interview, and then the career will follow”). There’s insufficient preparation for the dynamic negotiation that young employees must manage / conduct (themselves) over many years.  Giving young people the tools (language and contextual awareness) is a very strong rationale for careers education, but it doesn’t feature in contemporary careers education (that I can see). We need to move beyond careers as the process of course / job application, into a broader understanding of the context of employment if we are to support young people in lifelong job security. I assume (hope) this is a part of the “belonging” you noted, but I’ll have to read the original to find out. 

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  • Ros Lucas

    Anthony’s vision for developing CEG has always been admired and how well this present view fits in with how we see the great need to add the social dimension of character in order to enable employees to fit in and belong, whether to an organisation or community.  It is by developing the traits of caring and supporting others, together with resilience and adaptability when things do not go according to plan, that will help to improve mental health issues.  Sometimes, a person’s aptitudes and interests are not given sufficient importance when discussing future progression - it is ‘making decisions wisely’ based on knowing more about the working world, based on universally acceptable ethics, morals and beliefs that can help to lead a person into a worthwhile fulfilling future.

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  • Marian

    Very helpful framework - thanks for sharing this.

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