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?