Welcome to Space4Careers

Welcome to Space4Careers, the blog of the Centre for Career & Personal Development at Canterbury Christ Church University. This blog does what it says on the tin, it provides an opportunity for anyone who is interested in all aspects of careers work to find a little bit of space in their busy lives to think about current issues and trends. If you like or dislike, agree or disagree with what you see, please respond and let us have your views. We'd love to hear from you.

Please note, the content of this blog represents the views of the individual blogger, not those of

Canterbury Christ Church University.

View the website for the Centre for Career and Personal Development

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

The Role of Information, Advice and Guidance in Young People’s Education and Employment Choices

One of the key conclusions of this report is that CE/IAG (about either future studies or training/apprenticeships) from Connexions does not seem to have any measurable effect on young people’s opinions or on their eventual choices.

The authors of this report themselves admit that ‘the apparent lack of any effect of Connexions on either short-term attitudes or on actual long-term decisions is surprising and disappointing’ (p.78); but straightaway go on to say ‘the finding needs to be interpreted with some care’.

This is not the first report to fail to find the positive effects from CE/IAG interventions that they are looking for and to fall back on the argument that there is no evidence that it does any harm either!

Wherein lies the difficulty? The researchers do not help themselves by starting with such a skewed definition of what CE/IAG is for. They argue that ‘Good CE/IAG can be thought of as aiming to meet two objectives. The first aim is to increase the stock of highly qualified and highly skilled people in the British workforce. The second aim is to encourage disadvantaged young people to aim high’ (p.4). CE/IAG is for all young people and its overriding objective is to enable young people to fulfil their aspirations in learning and work for the well-being of themselves and for those where their attachments lie.

A further flaw in the premise of their research comes from the statement that ‘Young people can obtain CE/IAG from three main sources: from their family, from their school, or from the specialised Connexions service’ (p.4). The researchers were tied to these three items by the survey data that they were using which had been created for a purpose other than understanding the impact of CE/IAG provision. We all know that young people engage with many other sources of CE/IAG including the media, the internet, opportunity providers and friends. In fact, the ‘informal’ CE/IAG providers often have more impact than the formal providers. Organisers of CE/IAG provision are increasingly trying to harness and strengthen the effectiveness of these informal sources of help. In a typical school year, students may have 10-15 hours of careers education, one hour of contact with a Connexions personal adviser and over 1,100 hours of other lessons. Is it surprising that a quantitative-based evaluation fails to pick up significant effects from formal provision when the inputs themselves are inadequate?

The report concerns itself with two kinds of outcomes: effects on young people’s opinions (which we might call intermediate outcomes) and effects on their actual activities at 16 (which we might call practical or economic outcomes). There is no attempt to examine another important effect of CE/IAG namely the impact on personal attribute outcomes such as changes in young people’s self-efficacy beliefs, understanding of their own interests and their capacity to make life-enhancing decisions. The research does try to control for the effects of some other variables that affect practical or economic outcomes; but there is no discussion of the constraining effect of the wider ‘opportunity structure’ whether it is the limited curriculum offer in the school/consortium or the restricted availability of alternatives such as Apprenticeships and training courses. The report does find ‘that talking to either family members, or to school teachers, about future studies in the course of years 9 or 10 has some positive effects on attitudes to school, and the intention to stay in education and reduces pupils‟ probability of not knowing what they would do after year 11’ (p.7).

The authors do seek explanations to compensate for the shortcomings of the data available to them. One which careers teachers and Connexions advisers will be familiar with is the issue of attribution for the help received. Young people do not always remember where their ideas, information and support came from; and if they’re doing well, they’re more likely to say that they got there all by themselves!

For all its limitations, the report does point to some useful conclusions. The strong tendency for young people who had used one source of CE/IAG to have used the other two, suggests that parents/carers, schools and Connexions services need to work together more closely. The report also supports the notion that earlier CE/IAG interventions have more effect, at least on short-term outcomes, than later interventions.

This sobering analysis of the state of CE/IAG provision should be read by all; but it is not the longitudinal study that we need to help us really understand the role of CE/IAG in young people’s education and employment choices.

Anthony Barnes
Download the report at:

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Robert Frost

Sometimes the more you try to think, to be creative or to have ideas, the less it happens. Conversely I often have moments of revelation when I least expect it; often while driving on the M25. This morning such a moment occurred so I hope you don’t mind my sharing it with you.

It began because I was recalling a visit to the US many many years ago when a friend took me to visit the home of the late poet Robert Frost. I knew little of his work at the time but soon grew to love his most famous of poems, The Road Less Taken. This I found for the first time, written on a board at the point where a path through the woods near his home divided into two. In this work, you probably already recall, he reflects upon how he chose which route to take and how it metaphorically reflected the choices he had made in his life. He chose, as a poet, the road less taken – and that he says ‘made all the difference’.

Here is the whole poem for those who don’t know it or who, like me had forgotten all about it.

The Road Not Taken – by Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

Now it doesn’t take a genius to see the parallels between this and the choices that face young people and others, at key decision points in life and career. Career has often used the metaphor of a journey but what this poem says I think is a little more interesting.

First of all, at the end of the first verse Frost describes how our horizons are limited by where we are. The traveller cannot see what is around the corner, past the undergrowth, unless he walks down that road a little more. Here surely is comment on the importance of experiencing the working world so that horizons are expanded.

In the third verse he makes a choice and keeps one option ‘for another day’, although he acknowledges that ‘as way leads on to way’ he might not ever get around to trying it. Perhaps some years ago this was true for many young people. Way led on to way in one direction so that ‘doubling back’ was rarely an option. But is that still the case today? In a year where so many young people may not succeed in their application to university, does that mean that they will never have the chance again? Perhaps they will in fact take another option and return to Higher Education after having journeyed down this ‘road less travelled’ and benefitted from all the views and experiences that that might offer. Perhaps they will return to their fork in the road with a better understanding of the journeys on offer and perhaps that will make all the difference.
Anne Chant