ME YOUR STORY
a search for meaning
The author is in search of new thinking for her work
in Connexions. Does the use of narrative offer any clues to what
that might be?
I was just beginning to feel settled, comfortable and at-home in
my new career, when - suddenly - with the arrival of the Connexions
Service, my job title became politically incorrect.
So, after some debate, confusion and finally consensus, may I introduce
myself to you as a specialist career-guidance practitioner.
Quite a mouthful in comparison with careers adviser,
but it better explains what I do and, in part who I am, than the
generic title of Personal Adviser (with or without the Connexions
Another change is the focus on working with young people at risk
of dropping out of education, training and employment. In my one-to-one
work I have become aware that the tried and trusted three staged
interview - known to many as Egans model of helping
is not helping. I am experiencing a sense of nice person,
different planet. I find myself thinking that there must be
other ways of communicating with these young people. Ways of gaining
insight into their world; how they see themselves; how they feel;
what they believe and value. It is my belief that the publication
Challenging Biographies clearly points towards where the
answer lies. If you like a good story, then read on...
The book is
the outcome of a conference held in 2002 that brought together practitioners
and academics to explore a narrative approach to careers guidance
using biographies. I like that fact that it contains three essays,
each offering a different but complementary perspective on the use
of story telling. The fourth chapter takes the form
of a dialogue between the editor, Andrew Edwards and the three authors;
Linden West, Bill Law and Hazel Reid . Also, unlike some theoretical
tomes I have struggled with, each chapter is written in an easy
to read and fully accessible style.
In chapter one, Linden West explores how adopting a narrative approach
that is encouraging clients to tell their story can
enable adults confronted with change to re-create themselves and
The exposition is based on research conducted among marginalised
adults trying to build and manage careers with minimal resources
in demanding socio-economic conditions. I thought the use of four
case studies provided useful examples of how through active collaboration,
the adoption of a narrative based approach provides insight into
why people act and think as they do - what enables them to keep
going in difficult and often oppressive situations.
For me, the
studies reveal the role of significant others, the need to be listened
to and the importance of transitional space in the reconstruction
of self and rebuilding a career. All factors which I
think are equally relevant to work with young people.
In chapter two Bill Law helpfully explains the shortcomings of DOTS
in addressing the social context of career learning, and sets out
how biography can fill this gap 'we need stories to
help us see cause and effect'.
Like Linden, Bill highlights how narrative helps to understand the
basis for sustainable action. I found his use of examples from literature,
demonstrate how biography enables its author to communicate a unified
account of self-in-situation, and provide a scaffold
for learning. A clear line of argument here supported my understanding
of the need for greater use of the narrative in preference to the
more dominant goal-orientated models.
In particular, a break-down of the narrative into five key elements
(people, setting, talk, events
and meaning) combined with his description of how each
moves beyond DOTS, potentially provides a new model which can support
me in using story telling and its analysis.
theory to practice
In chapter three Hazel Reid also recognises the need for finding
news ways of working but, of equal importance to me as a practitioner,
in considering the adoption of biography and narrative perspectives
she helpfully moves from the theoretical to the practical.
Debating its usefulness, she considers issues around the investment
of training, time and resources. Looking at the benefits and limitations,
like Hazel, I conclude that there is no doubt about the potential
of narrative-based approaches; 'working with narrative may
be a better way of helping the client to enhance self-esteem, by
working towards a positive self-identity in order to research life
and career possibilities'.
However, in adopting an approach which allows the client to construct
a career narrative that identifies with their beliefs and values,
I also value her wise words of caution about when it may not be
appropriate, and recognition of the need to develop an economically
viable framework to support its use in career guidance.
In chapter 4 Andrew Edwards expertly draws the arguments of the
three contributors together through the form of a dialogue. He anticipates
many of my own questions, and he takes the debate forward.
One of these issues concerns the need for realism. Story
telling does not exclude reality because 'there is a
hard world out there which never fails to intrude'.
All the contributors are agreed that people use biography to define
direction and meaning. And this links directly to the sense of agency
necessary to career planning.
Biographical and narrative perspectives are not new, but perhaps
their relevance to careers guidance - in an increasingly unpredictable
world - has never been greater. Working in the Connexions Service,
I frequently find myself grappling with issues beyond the traditional
boundaries of careers guidance. During one-to-one work in particular,
I find my thinking around a young persons career options consistently
intruded by why questions. Why the poor self-esteem?
Why the erratic attendance? Why the lack of motivation, the negative
attitudes, the challenging behaviour? I know that many face the
these questions, Challenging Biographies has much to offer.
My opening paragraph demonstrates the ease with which we naturally
use story telling in defining and introducing ourselves.
What remains open to wider debate is how should it be
adopted in career guidance work?. How can it be introduced into
career guidance training? Can the model or framework proposed by
Bill Law be adopted in practice? I like to think so. But will time
and targets allow? Im not sure.
Conversely, to meet targets and maximise the use of time, I sense
that we ignore the need to extend the ways in which we work at our
peril. Practitioners and academics alike have to pool resources
and experiences to move this story forward.
After all, career is about constructing the future.
Edwards (Editor), Hazel Reid, Linden West, Bill Law
Challenging Biographies: Relocating the Theory and Practice of
Canterbury Christchurch University college. 2003
YOU ARE IN THE MAGAZINE SECTION
of the Career-learning Café
'a good read'
Fords commentary on Challenging Biographies
an updated version of Bill's
chapter Guidance: Too many lists, not enough stories'
about Challenging Biographies
with career use
back to café career magazine
- a good read