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Ever wondered who university careers advisers really are?

by Fiona Christie on May 25, 2011

This blog post may be at risk of being narcissistic but here goes!  Guilty as charged.

Firstly, I’ll put my cards on the table. I think as a careers adviser/consultant in Higher Education (HE), I have got my ideal job. It took me a while to realise this as no job is perfect after all! I’d say the key pre-requisite for my role is that you have be to be curious about everything and everybody and be good at using the knowledge and insights you gain with the people you work with. All suits my nosey personality down to the ground.

But who are we as a profession?  We are a fairly mixed bunch. Many of us (like me) have come through the route of  gaining a postgraduate qualification in careers guidance and worked in schools and colleges before moving into Higher Education. Others have experience and/or qualifications in HR, Recruitment, Training and, Teaching. Some of us have gained a qualification in guidance or coaching while working on the job. I have worked in 2 Universities but in the 13 years I have worked in Higher Education I have got to know a lot of advisers/consultants from across the country. We are all part of a professional body called AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) which has regular conferences and training events. We share email discussion lists which means if I don’t know the answer to a question that affects my work – I can send a message to all careers staff across the country asking for help – and generally colleagues are very helpful; although there is a collective sense of disdain for the odd question that gets sent to all careers staff that really does have an obvious answer. Must be a feature of all such lists.

The average day for a careers adviser/consultant in HE is varied – we may see individuals, run workshops, teach courses, produce content for publications and online, work with employers and make sure we are up-to-date with the labour market; as well work in partnership with academics and others in ensuring careers & employability issues are being promoted as well as integrated within academic disciplines.

The approach of careers advisers varies. Some people use coaching or counselling-based approaches with a focus on supporting individuals to identify their own options and way forward and don’t give a lot of information.  Other advisers are soaked in useful labour market knowledge and can quote chapter and verse on their specialist subject.  Most people are somewhere in between.

Careers advisers/consultants don’t just work on their own in Universities though. We tend to work in teams with people specialising in generating opportunities for our students – employer liaison staff, careers fair organisers, volunteering co-ordinators, enterprise and information specialists etc….

So why am I writing this post. Well firstly to any students and graduates reading – make use of this bunch of people – they are a resource that’s free and on your doorstep. Let’s be honest – you would be foolish not to. For Salford readers – go to our main careers website at Salford to find out how you can access our services. Or just phone or email us (0161 295 5088 and futures@salford.ac.uk). If you are reading this and are a student or graduate of another University – just contact yours.

But there is a bigger issue that’s made me think about this whole area of “our profession”.  Currently the irony is that while careers support in HE is generally very good and there is a strong sense of a national community via AGCAS, unfortunately the careers profession that has historically worked with young people in schools in the UK is under threat. I am very sad to say that hundreds (if not thousands) of careers advisers across the country are being made redundant without a clear solution being posited by government with regard to what should replace them. This has happened as a result of the current government’s policy to get rid of Connexions as a statutory service which was the body that brought together youth workers and careers advisers.

Currently there remains a lot of uncertainty; the great and the good of careers work have been considering the future via a grandly-titled “Careers Profession Alliance”. However, things don’t seem to be looking good. In my view this is bad for young people primarily,  but also makes me mourn the fact that the path to the ideal job that I have found seems to be disappearing.

I do wonder whether an underpinning reason for these changes in Connexions is that fundamentally  there has been a view that anyone can give careers advice, so why would you need qualified professionals to do the job.  What a waste of public money?  But in a time when the options and challenges facing young people have grown; how much more important is it that there is a quality-controlled and regulated group of professionals working to support young people?

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Alison Bird May 26, 2011 at 6:53 am

Hi Fiona,
A quick note of support, thanks for writing this, I agree very strongly with you.! As a Twitter newbie I’m finding so much useful reading via the links and was in touch with Nick Newman when I saw his blog about what’s happening in the careers world outside AGCAS. I’m an ex-Reading Uni and Oxford Uni CA and now doing a bit of part-time tutoring on employability awards at Oxford Brookes. My route into careers was via HE teaching and a bit of HR; a passion for labour market analysis! I’m talking to all my contacts about the plight of our colleagues, professional status, AACS, the Alliance etc, etc.
Best wishes,
Ali (@CareersLadyBird)

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Tahira Majothi May 26, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Hi Fiona,

What a great post, and so timely! I too totally agree with you and Alison. Quite often people are quick to ridicule Careers Services without having a clue as to what is on offer or our commitment to our own professional development. We are a sector that definitely practices what it preaches. Our work as you point out is so varied, we constantly have to keep up to date with changes in the labour market, so we really are in the best position to offer impartial advice to young people.

As a former Connexions Adviser, I did occasionally think the one size fits all policy of supporting young people, including the most vulnerable, with a combination of careers, youth and social work, whilst well intentioned did not always mesh. However that is no excuse for Careers Services and Careers Advisers as a profession to be diluted. If the Govt is serious in it’s commitment to raise aspirations and provide real opportunities for young people and university students, then it also needs to invest in and support the infrastructure of the support services especially Careers. Otherwise it will be a case of you get what you give.

Best

Tahira

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Elizabeth Wilkinson (University of Manchester) May 26, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Hi Fiona

I can attest to the strong community of HE careers advisers, particularly having spent a good part of today talking to you in “the real world”!

Postgrads (and research staff) sometimes think we only really know about undergraduates or won’t be able to help because they are mature career changers. It’s worth pointing out that most of us are well over 21 and many of us have worked outside HE, being mature career changers ourselves. I think providing careers support to some of the brightest and best graduates who have gone on to postgraduate study is a real privilege (and the best job I’ve ever had).

However at the other end of the spectrum, I also agree with your concerns about the decimation of careers support in schools. There seems to be an assumption that if you develop enough web resources and throw masses of information (about league tables or glossy versions of working in certain professions) at a school leaver (or earlier), they will be able to make rational strategic choices about their careers on their own.

Careers guidance isn’t about just pushing information. It’s about challenging misconceptions (about work or yourself), asking the deeper questions which get to the core of what you really want, and having the space to talk about your future with an independent listener, free from parental or peer pressure (or supervisor pressure if you’re a postgrad!) – something which is a valuable service throughout your life, but particularly when you start out.

Now, back to working out how to use the RDF …
Elizabeth

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counselling in salford September 5, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I am looking forward to another great article from you. After skimming through your websiteHappy to see your blog as it is just what I’ve looking for and excited to read all the posts.

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