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Careers Work in Curriculum

uploaded 20th February 2008

Careers Education

Bill Law

There were two keynote speakers at the recent Victoria Careers Education Conference.  Bill was pleased to share the platform with Gideon Arulmani, Director of the Promise Foundation - based in Bangalore.  Both Gideon and Bill argue for a rethink of how we attract interested attention to our work - in the media, from policy and among our clients and students.

Gideon urges that we take more sensitive account of ‘pride and prejudice’ in the developing-world - and among its people facing the impact of global economics. 

Bill argues for an appreciation of how global technologies are changing the way all people now learn for career – both in the developing world and in the so-called developed world.

Bill takes this line of argument to a radical re-think on what we need to do in curriculum.


go straight to Gideon’s published work on Pride and Prejudice
go straight to the monograph on which Bill's lecture is based


big issues for work-life

Work-life is not just about recruitment but belonging, not just performance but commitment, not just for me but for others I care for.  Ideas of  ‘work’, ‘career’ and ‘enterprise’ are bigger than we always find time to appreciate.

 Bigger?  Well, start with a look as these work-life stories for Australia.  


the apprentice - performance and experience

A group of management trainees is set a simulated task of getting a boat across a river.  Candidates know themselves to be in competition, with performance criteria on which they will each be scored.  But the boat is entirely unmanageable – they can find no solution.   And they blame each other for their failure.

A second group knows about boats and quickly realises that this is not going to work - there is so solution.  They find the boat funny – and are reduced to back-slapping uncontrollable laughter.

Who gets hired and fired?  The first group are from the families of European immigrants – scripted for achievement and stressed out.  The second comes from the indigenous population – and they‘ve seen enough to know when they’ve been had.

Tick-box performance and real-life experience – getting them together is a big work-life issue.

'tick-box performance and real-life experience – getting them together is a big work-life issue'

the director - meaning and technology

A creative director is working on an early twentieth-century story.  The director values and expects innovative impact above everything – all other bets are off.  The drive is to find out what up-to-the-minute technology can deliver - and deliver it.  The result is unruly - but lively.

A few years earlier the same director re-developed a classical work.  It is faithful to the original conception, making only one change: the action is moved from sixteenth-century Verona to twentieth-century Los Angeles.

Should either of these Baz Luhrmann films be one you see before you die? - Moulin Rouge or Rome and Juliet.  The earlier Romeo values engagement, and is thoughtfully disturbing.  The later Moulin values in-your-face impact - impossible to ignore. 

Commitment-to-meaning morphed into a command-of-technology – big issue for work-life.

'commitment-to-meaning made over to command-of-technology – big issue for work-life'

the activist – failed expectations and new commitments

A twenty-one year-old accepts the help of his family in getting a well-paid factory job.  Thirty years later he is diagnosed with a terminal lung condition, directly attributable to that work.  He is forced to retire early.

His remaining years are given to fighting for the rights of his workmates in that factory.  It is a family matter, both brothers are also seriously ill.  He works for them all, voluntarily, until the day he dies.

When did Bernie Banton’s career end?  His life ends in Sydney in December.  He goes knowing that his former employer has set aside $4 billion for more than a hundred workmates and their families.

Taking damage and realising the commitment – no bigger work-life issue.

'damage and commitment – no bigger work-life issue'

Work stories worth telling speak of stress and pleasure, getting a buzz and finding a meaning, taking damage and doing something about it.  They raise issues of trust and deference.  They tell of people struggling with work-life balance. They show our clients becoming more-and-more wary about taking on work that harms them, their families, their communities and the environment.  More wary and increasingly savvy.

Work once formed a big part of our sense of personal identity.  But identity is as likely, now, to be formed around sporting, shopping, gaming and on-line preferences.  And, for some, identity is formed by the commitments a person feels driven to take up - driven by social. political, environmental, ethnic and religious allegiances. 

Work and identity are going through some serious re-positioning in people’s lives.

'work-life balance: people more wary about taking on work that harms - more wary and more savvy'

out of what box?  

Careers workers know about this, and work with it. But, things being as they are, we work with it in a piecemeal, situation-by-situation way. Practice has always been more quickly adaptable than theory - it takes a while for thinking to catch up with experience.

But, also, maybe we get boxed in by a too-familiar mind-set - limited assumptions? narrow beliefs? habits-of-mind?  Could that happen in our work?  And, if it could, how would we know?

Try these seven issues for contemporary careers work.  Nobody would agree wholly with the left or right on the issues set out.  And you don’t have to abandon the one in order to embrace the other. Like life, the scales are for shading in possibilities rather ticking off positions.

But how far to left and right should you colour in?  How much of the possibilities should we be trying to cover?  Colour in as much as you feel is possible and good - and share it with a colleague.

'limited assumptions? narrow beliefs? habits-of-mind?  - could that happen to us and, how would we know?'
in the box?
how much should we cover?
out of the box?

'life is for colouring in, not ticking off' 



research agenda

our general social-and-economic impact


specific diagnoses of what we do well and less well

success criteria

work-life employability

life-wide well-being

significant influence

central policy expectations

local social-and-economic needs

client learning

impartial and up-to-date information

life-long learning-to-learn

human resources

qualified expertise

informal experience

working for

individual  fulfillment

response to, with and for other people

setting for our action

information advice and guidance

active-learning curriculum

Contemporary careers work increasingly means working with both the excluded and the competitive, both host and guest communities, both stressed-out and creative, depressed and unruly - and, at times, both damaged lives and angry people.

People are changing the way they manage those pressures, issues and conflicts.  What they know comes from more sources, is exchanged and checked out in more ways, and takes on board more influences.  There is growing belief in the value of everyday experience and diminishing belief in exclusive claims to expert authority.  Including ours.

It is not that what we have been thinking is not useful, or that what we have been doing is not necessary. It is that what we have been offering is no longer sufficient - certainly not for those in serious need. And that is now most people.

Because people are changing the way they manage their careers, we are changing the way we help them. And those changes need to be supported by changed thinking.  

'as people change the way they manage their careers, we change the way we help them - and that needs changed thinking' 

getting to work on the national curriculum

We have clients and students now who will work into the twenty-second century.  They need to be ready for anything.  The biggest challenge to how we help them with that is what we do about curriculum.

Contemporary careers work needs a curriculum which enables people to learn for action which is fulfilling and sustainable. It takes time to build from what they know to what they need to know.  We can most help by enabling them to interrogate what they find. And they need to do that for both what they find in informal experience and what they get from us.   

It means seeing students in rounder terms than candidates for selection. And in deeper terms than customers to be pleased.  They must become partners in learning - their own researchers, theorists and biographers. We succeed when they take sustainable control of their own stories. 

Most of all this is for people fired-up for learning. There has never been a time when people have more needed to find out what is going on, and to work out what to do about it.  That’s what we do.

But we can’t do it with tick-box schedules for cut-and-paste learning.

'in rounder terms than candidates for selection, and deeper terms than customers to be pleased, they are our partners - taking control of their own stories' 

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download a monograph pdf setting out these ideas in more detail, backed up with technical panels, and fully referenced.

have your say on 'Careers Education Out of the Box' - use the Café's feedback form
tell a colleague: e-mail the url -

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