LMI in career guidance: biased or impartial?
- To explore the challenge of potential bias in LMI used for ethical career guidance support.
- To identify some strategies for safeguarding impartiality in practice.
What are the issues?
LMI is what makes career guidance distinctive from other forms of counselling and guidance support. But it is not just the expert knowledge and information about how the labour market changes and functions that makes career guidance a distinctive form of support. It is the impartiality of that information that is often highlighted as unique in career guidance support.
Previous LMI for All learning units available from the LMI for All website have explored other crucial questions related to LMI in practice, such as: What is LMI and why is it important?; Who uses LMI and what for?; Sources of LMI; Limitations of LMI; Features of LMI; Choosing amongst sources of LMI.
In particular, the unit: Choosing amongst sources of LMI, touched on the question of impartiality of LMI for career guidance. It defines impartial LMI as:
information that does not promote one sector, in a competitive manner, as superior to any other, or mask an economic decline
Two questions immediately arise from this:
1. When can LMI be regarded as not promoting one job, or occupational sector, over another?
Can you think of some LMI that you have come across that gives the message that a particular job has so many attractive features, that it should be considered above others?
[For example, job adverts are one source of LMI that are likely to highlight the advantages of a particular job and downplay the disadvantages].
2. How can impartiality be safeguarded against, as part of the career guidance process?
Can you think of examples of LMI where impartiality may be compromised as part of career guidance?
[For example, LMI that relates to a particular job or sector that is suffering skills shortages, so is trying to attract more applicants. The government publishes shortage occupations. Can this be regarded as impartial LMI?]
The questions of bias and impartiality in career guidance
It is usual for career practitioners to claim both that:
- The career guidance given is client centred (that it is designed to support the client to realise their full potential)
- The information they either give, or make accessible to clients/learners, is impartial.
These features of career guidance are core to the professional identity of career practitioners, about which they are justly proud. However, providing high quality, reliable LMI is not necessarily a guarantee that it is impartial.
This is because facts don’t speak for themselves.
Learning unit 1: What is LMI and why is it important, distinguishes:
Labour market intelligence
Keeping these distinctions in mind helps understand how the same factual correct information can be used to support different versions of events.
For example, LMI (hard data) about the numbers of girls and women attracted into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Science) careers, over a particular time period, could be used to:
- Illustrate how recent campaigns to encourage girls/ women into STEM careers have achieved a measure of success, because numbers of these target group are beginning to be attracted to the sector in greater numbers than previously.
OR the same LMI can be used to argue the opposite, for example:
- Careers guidance support is biased and partial because insufficient numbers of girls and women are being encouraged into this occupational sector.
Similarly, soft LMI can be used selectively to support or illustrate particular points. For example, information on the numbers of people from under-represented groups over recent years can be used to:
- Demonstrate how well an occupational sector is doing in terms of increasing equal access to opportunities because it is attracting more diverse populations into the sector
OR the same data can be used to:
- Lobby the sector to improve its record in the area of equal opportunities because it is failing to attract sufficient and/or representative proportions of these diverse groups.
In other words, LMI data partly determine and partly constrain the interpretation that can be placed on events.
At some stage, the use of LMI (hard data) as part of the career guidance process is likely to require a degree of interpretation on the part of the career practitioner. This process of interpretation for the purposes of using as part of career guidance is commonly referred to as labour market intelligence.
• A key challenge for career professionals is: does the use of hard or soft LMI, or labour market intelligence, as part of their practice risk compromising the impartiality that lies at the heart of career guidance, by introducing bias and partiality?
Is it ethical for a career guidance practitioner to use partial LMI, because the practitioner regards its use as in the best interests of clients?
Can you think of an example that illustrates this point from your own practice?
LMI, ethical codes of practice and professionalism
The integration of LMI into the career guidance process raises important questions both about impartiality and/or bias in the guidance process and how this reflects on the professionalism of any career practitioner. Basically, can the use of LMI in career guidance ever be impartial?
Ethical codes of career guidance practice and impartiality
Ethical codes of practice promoted by professional career guidance associations have the impartiality of career guidance process as a key part of their practice.
For example, the Career Development Institute (CDI):
CDI Code of Ethics: Impartiality (Retrieved 3 February 2021)
Members must ensure that professional judgement is objective and takes precedence over any external pressures or factors that may compromise the impartiality of career development activities and services. In doing so, members must ensure that advice is based solely on the best interests of and potential benefits to the client.
Where impartiality is not possible this must be declared to the client at the outset.
Another example comes from the International Association of Educational and Vocational Guidance (IAEVG):
IAEVG Ethical Guidelines: Ethical Responsibilities to Clients (Retrieved 3 February 2021)
(3) IAEVG members are aware of their values and attitudes, in order to avoid the unnecessary imposition of their personal values and strive to take into account the worldviews of their clients. Members refrain from consciously dictating or coercing client choices, values, lifestyles, plans, or beliefs …..
(8) IAEVG members provide information that is clear, accurate, current, and relevant and does not include misleading or deceptive statements or materials
To become members of these professional associations, career practitioners must ‘sign up’ and commit to these codes of practice. Unsurprisingly, therefore, impartiality is a key professional value and an important feature of professional identity for most career guidance practitioners, who will generally argue that their impartiality is crucial to the delivery of ‘objective’ guidance, so defending their ethical obligation to operate impartially. Yet, can this impartiality be taken-for-granted?
Anticipatory discrimination and impartiality
As soon as any career guidance practitioner starts to discuss the implications of a career-related decision for one of their clients/learners, they are likely to start making professional judgements by selecting which (of the many) implications to discuss with the client/learner, for example, emphasising particular issues they consider to be important or relevant, or by selecting ideas or issues brought up by the client/learner. LMI may be used as part of that process.
At this point, there is a risk of impartiality being introduced. For example, ‘anticipatory discrimination’ (Equality Act, 2010) has been identified as one example of potentially partial practice. This is where the career guidance practitioner may shelter clients/learners from occupational experiences they anticipate will be discriminatory and negative. Whilst this could be regarded as commendable in some cases, because practitioners are likely to be acting in what they consider to be the best interests of their clients, it is not being impartial . Indeed, it could be argued that because of the professional judgements made related to what LMI is chosen to use in career guidance practice, practitioners are all partial and that impartiality cannot exist.
Implications for career guidance practitioners?
This is undoubtedly a challenging area for career guidance practice. There are no easy answers, nor are there any strategies that will guarantee against partiality in the use of LMI. However, there are some strategies for protecting impartiality, including:
- Being aware of the criteria that help discern the selection of high quality information from reliable sources for practice. Learning units Limitations of LMI, Features of LMI and Choosing amongst sources of LMI all help with strategies to ensure that the LMI used in practice is high quality, robust and current.
- Being constantly alert to the impact of value systems and prejudices in career practice. Signing up to codes of ethical practice of professional associations may be helpful reminders of the obligations involved in providing impartial guidance, as well as providing support, if required (e.g. from online communities of practice to raise and discuss issues being confronted).
Being mindful of the challenges to practice of safeguarding equality of opportunities that are inherent in LMI. One example relates to the construction industry. Despite recent efforts to attract more women, between 2017 and 2020 their employment rate in the sector actually decreased:
The Construction industry is overwhelmingly male dominated. Female employment in construction was at its highest for women in the third quarter of 2017, with 321,000 women working in the sector, compared with 2,024,000 men. By 2020, the number of women employed in this sector had reduced to 298,000, compared with 1,939,000 men (Statista)
As well as the under-representation of women, there is also concern about the low levels of BAME workers in the construction sector. For example:
Figures from the ONS’s Labour Force Survey show that in the fourth quarter of last year just 5.4% of construction workers were BAME. Jude Brimble, GMB National Secretary, said: ‘The construction industry is facing a massive inequality challenge. GMB is committed to building a more diverse workforce that is sustainable for the future’.
What might cause these underlying trends?
How might these LMI data be used in career practice, impartiality?
LMI continues to be critical for delivering effective career guidance practice. Career guidance practitioners, using LMI as an integral part of their practice, have a responsibility to develop and maintain the professional competence and expertise that will enable them to mediate information about the labour market effectively as part of the guidance process.
Go to the next unit: Using LMI effectively