Blog by Professor Jenny Bimrose, Institute for Employment Research
Most of us need paid work to earn the money we need to survive. As well as earning money, many of us enjoy those jobs (or at least parts of them). That is certainly a common (though not universal) aspiration – that we should enjoy the jobs we do, because then it is more likely that we will perform well. Just how we end up in those jobs, and how people can be helped to get jobs, is at the heart of career guidance support.
Understanding how people get jobs
For well over a century, models, frameworks and/theories have been developed to help us get a better understanding of how individuals move into paid work. The more we understand about how we move out of education into training or jobs; how we move from one job to another; or how we get back into work from a period of unemployment or absence (because of caring responsibilities or ill-health) from working, the better career practitioners will be able to provide relevant career guidance support. Until relatively recently, the majority of people made one significant transition from compulsory education, when they left school for the first time and moved into training, work, or further/higher education. With labour markets having become more volatile and less predictable over the past decade or two, the majority of people will need to make more transitions in their lifetime, with many needing to weave courses into their career pathways, perhaps more than once, that upskill and reskill as some jobs disappear and other jobs are created.
The question of choice
A key issue for career guidance support is the extent to which individuals are able to make choices. Do individuals exercise individual choice in the job or career decisions they make throughout their lifetimes? Should they be able to exercise choice?
Do individuals exercise choice?
This is a controversial issue, with some denying that they are able to exercise any meaningful free choice, because of various social constraints over which they have no, or limited, control, like gender, race, socio-economic status, disability, age, etc. Labour market statistics collected over decades show how these social constraints, both on their own or in combination with other constraints (where these variables intersect, like gender, race and age) operate to reduce individual choice. As a consequence, many argue that the options open to members of certain social groupings are (at best) limited, with members of these groups having to navigate their job transitions within these limits. Others argue that everyone is able to exercise, at least to a degree, their free choice over their decisions. Of course, yet others argue that it is not as simple as choice versus no choice. Rather, that the extent to which an individual can exercise choice depends on their life-stage and circumstances.
Should individuals exercise choice?
Social and/or cultural values and attitudes can come into play regarding the degree of free choice individuals should exercise over their job transitions. Cultural sensitivity requires an understanding of individual worldviews, where different value orientations have been identified by international researchers. So, western societies predominantly espouse an individualistic orientation, where individual autonomy is important and there is an assumption that we should plan for the future, typically sacrificing today for a better tomorrow. Here, it is assumed we control our own destiny. Most career theories and models have been developed within this paradigm. There are, however, other worldview orientations. For example, collateral, where there is a strong value around consulting with families and friends, taking advice and sometimes direct instruction regarding which job is suitable. It would be inappropriate for an individual to pursue their individual preferences. Imposing career models or theories developed within a western worldview is unlikely to be seen as relevant to people from different worldviews.
How do we get jobs?
So, there are many different ideas about how individuals get jobs. These are reflected in the many and varied career theories that each propose different ways individuals both get into jobs and change jobs. Theories that have had most influence on practice are from the academic discipline of psychology. Probably the theory that has had most influence of all on career practice is the ‘trait and factor’ or ‘talent matching’ approach to job choice.
In summary, this approach to career guidance support argues that the process of getting a job is a three-stage process. First, individuals identify, or assess, their own talents, abilities, skills, aptitudes, values, attitudes, etc. Second, jobs in the labour market are analysed in a similar way, identifying the skills and competencies required by a particular job. Third, individual profiles are matched to the best fit jobs. It assumes that individuals exercise free choice and that the labour market is relatively stable. This is the theory that underpins the Skillsometer, where you can complete an assessment of your own skills and these are matched to jobs that require the same, or similar, profile of skills.
The profession of career guidance support was established at the turn of the last century. Now about 120 years old, it has a robust research base that provides the evidence to support different approaches and strategies to help individuals undertaking labour market transitions. Like all professions, there are different schools of thought to which career practitioners subscribe and which provide a framework to guide their practice. New theories are being developed to respond to new world orders and to accommodate the realities with which people requiring support are grappling. The Skillsometer represents one approach, the matching approach, to career guidance support. Many will find this extremely helpful. Others may find it limited, for reasons identified above. For all users, it is likely to represent one powerful way of starting, or continuing, to think about themselves in relation to new and changing labour market conditions.