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Professional training discussions

Section 1: Discussions about different approaches to professional training

Comment 1: Dictating priorities for all is not an effective method of improving professional practice, without taking into account individualised learning styles & needs

Certainly professional training has a place of high order as this medium seeks to maintain & promote good practice. However, appraisal, reviews, observations & sharing good practice are all very appropriate for individual learning & allow professional practice to be embodied at the individuals own pace.

Comment 2: Many other opportunities for learning are important and necessary

If professional training (by which I imagine we are here talking of pre-entry training or initial training, as opposed to on-going provision of in-service training programmes) did not exist, it would probably be necessary to invent it. I'd be surprised if we could do without some form of it entirely. But of course the format of that training is wide open - pre-entry full time courses aren't always going to suit everyone - and I suspect some people will get on better with on-the-job training than with a one-year off-the-job model. Doesn't it depend on each individual's preferences and style and shouldn't we take account of these - as we have attempted to do in the more recent past in some ways.

What happened in HE careers services? Did they always subscribe to the idea of pre-entry or initial training, or was there a sense at one time that people who had acquired certain knowledge and skills elsewhere would be able to handle the job from day one with some top up later? What caused the change, if any?

Careers teachers are another interesting case - at one stage they had no formal professional training for the job. Were they less effective then? Are they getting it now and has that led to more effective practice?

Voluntary agencies will also have had different practices - in fact the whole Connexions/IAG scene is ripe, when you think about it, for someone to research the different "effectiveness" or "impact" of different training/learning patterns. There are control groups all over the place!

P.S. I distinguish between learning and training in that training is only necessary when someone needs help in order to learn. Otherwise I would call it simply learning....

Comment 3: Far from agreeing that we need (even more) variation in our training routes, I would argue that we currently have far too much in guidance!

Over the past two decades, varied provision has developed to accommodate individual learning approaches, financial resources (of both individuals and employers), political pressures (that have recently driven work-based training and the Diploma for PAs - soon to be joined by Foundation Degrees and various modes of supervisory training), etc. This has actually created more difficulties for us, in some ways, than it has solved.

The highly relevant comparisons that can be made within the broad area of guidance between different ‘traditions’ of training that seem to have grown up in different guidance sectors – like careers teachers, those working within HEIs , those working with adults and those working within Connexions - have been made above. I think that even superficial comparisons illustrate, vividly, that our training provision has (regrettably) less to do with grand educational philosophies advocating, for example, individual learning styles, than ‘accommodating’ the realities within which individuals and guidance organisations operate.

The current situation relating to training and accreditation in guidance is a muddle – hardly understood by those of us within the ‘community of guidance practice’, never mind those outside it! And it seems to me that the role of ‘professional’ (broadly defined) training in developing and maintaining an individual’s occupational identity is consistently overlooked. Compare and contrast with a similar occupational sector, like teaching. So maybe our serendipitous training culture can be called to account for the fragmented and disparate nature of our sector?

Our attention has also been drawn to the lack of research evidence which might illuminate the relationship between varied types of training provision and effectiveness/impact. What would we assess – changes in the behaviour of practitioners or clients?

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Comment 4: Is a unified initial training route and professional identity for our benefit or for the client's?

Improving practice might then be about supporting the work such "barefoot counsellors" do, rather than unifying professional structures of training. As a manager of an adult guidance service some years ago, I had a member of staff who had the necessary interpersonal skills - acquired in other occcupations, but not the "information", so I ensured they all got personal computers and copies of the latest occupational databases and computer-assisted guidance software. They appeared to do a good job over the two years of the project and the computer hardware and software were then subsumed, along with the (not-professsionally-trained) staff in most cases, into the careers service - which had until then not offered such computer facilities.

The (ideal?)combination of human and non-human resources is also a political issue, of course, but I do think sometimes the demand for unity and centralisation of training routes can exclude valuable contributions (and hence knowledge creation) from outside "the profession".

In my view the careers services of the time learnt some good lessons from the less straightforwardly trained members of educational guidance services (e.g. the concepts of outreach and feedback). That's a piece of historical research perhaps!

Clear professional routes for quality reasons, yes, but not exclusive boundaries around them? As my mother used to say "there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with butter."

Comment 5: Where did the myth of 'exclusivity' in training come from?

All initial training courses are (have been for years) open to non-traditional entrants - so academic qualifications can't be the issue. Funding undoubtedly is a big problem - as it is for NVQs, etc. But I have to ask: are work-based training routes actually less 'exclusive', in terms of the diversity of workforce, than education-based routes? Aren't certain interests often served during employment recruitment processes?

Back to the lack of our evidence-base! The issue of 'in whose interests' training is for is also very pertinent. I don't think it is a simple either/or - profession or client. Couldn't good quality training/CPD (with specific requirements and regulation) play a vital part in recruitment and retention for the profession? With initial training courses currently c30% down on recruitment, surely we need to consider this vital issue? And should length of training really be an issue, here?

In hairdressing, it still takes 3/4 years, part-time, to qualify.........Why should we feel defensive about a 2 year part-time or 9 month full time training courses for guidance? I would agree that the interests of the profession would undeniably be served by promoting and supporting rigorous training (CPD as well as initial) - but consequently, and as a direct result, so would the needs of the clients.

Comment 6: Professional training is the best way to improve practice but feel that we have to be careful not to imply that by this we mean formal and lengthy

A lot of the issues that we are facing at the moment have come about because of the rigidity of the training in terms both of the time needed to undertake it and the limited applicabililty to different learning styles. This is exacerbated by the confusion about the 'level' of the training and how the different bits relate to each other.

Many practitioners now have been left with a bad experience of training as in many cases they are repeating material covered elsewhere, feel no sense of progression, and are undertaking qualifications that emphasise assessment rather than learning etc.

Comment 7: Problems Associated

How far have the problems associated with training resulted from developments around training that have taken place over the last 10 years or so?

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Comment 8: NVQs might be designed primarily to assess competence rather than expand skills and knowledge

Am I alone in having worked for organisations that don't make that distinction, but embrace NVQs as evidence of training and progression, thereby compounding cynicism around qualification attainment and reluctance to engage in CPD?

Comment 9: It is important to preserve occupational identity

On the one hand we seem to be suggesting that it is important to preserve occupational identity and on the other, that many of the skills are transferable.

I am very concerned that currently several aspects of guidance are being diminished. One current issue is the inclination of some Connexions companies to remove the word 'careers' from job titles. This would suggest that occupational identity relating to careers guidnace is indeed being down-graded. NVQs, full-time training & part-time training? NVQs were meant as a form of assessment & that concept is to be lauded. However, the variation in standards with regard to NVQ work varies massively. Of course, all courses have variations & of course, all courses have moderators. But my experience of working & assessing in all three areas has allowed me to experience the very wide discrepancies in standards that have developed.

The worrying variation of NVQ standards is caused in part by the level of ability of the assessors. This links neatly to the concerns of having too many methods of training, assessment & CPD, thus lowering standards. If this idea is pursued,it leads to lowering of professional standards, lowering the status of the profession & diminishing the quality of service offered to clients

Comment 10: NVQs do not train staff in my experience although they do help develop staff

However, the "cost" in staff morale in wading through the difficulties of NVQ make me question the net value of the gain/pain equation.

Comment 11: Whilst broadly agreeing with the statement

The guidance community also needs to consider issues potentially arising from current public sector debate regarding the role of the both the private sector and the voluntary sector in public provision. Maybe there is a role for all 3 sectors (pure-private/ public/ voluntary)and maybe an emphasis on the professionalism associated with training is a way of ensuring quality in guidance provision, no matter who the provider.

Comment 12: The history of professional training

The history of professional training in the HE sector as a case study which does illuminate some of the points being made about improving practice.

Prior to 1992, the sector recruited advisors from a wide variety of sources. There was a always a proportion (alas never officially recorded) from the traditional DipCG route. These would be experienced statutory sector staff often working their way up the academic levels from school to 6th form to FE and then to HE. However as many if not more new recruits came from industry. Many would have been graduate recruiters, others involved in the training and development of graduates and the remainder, career changers or early retirers from a wide range of 'graduate' occupations. Their expertise and contribution was not so much in guidance but in sector knowledge and contacts.

From very early on the sector worked collaboratively to provide training. This was designed to provide the specialist labour market knowledge and increasingly, to provide the guidance skills - guidance interviewing, group work, careers education, psychometric testing, computer aided guidance systems etc.

At the end of the 1980's there was a move to introduce a qualification similar to the then DipCG. The main rationale was to provide some accreditation for training that people were already undertaking.

The AGCAS Reading qualifications were introduced in 1992. There were post experience qualifications and the entry point depended on the length of experience. Uptake was from both those with no previous guidance qualification and those with an 'old' DipCG. There is provision for the accreditation of prior learning / experience and this option was used fairly frequently by experienced practitioners. This has declined in popularity but this could be because it involves producing a portfolio (always an unpopular activity) rather than because the registrants are now less experienced.

The assessment is carried out by University of Reading . The assignments are largely work-based though some are more academic in nature. This does make it difficult for those not currently working in the sector to undertake the qualifications. However we have had some people go through by finding placements, etc.

The intention was not to make this a mandatory qualification for the sector and I think there would still be resistance were we to change this. However we have had a good uptake with 106 out of 132 institutions having registered at least one candidate.

Drivers have changed over the last 13/14 years. In the mid 90's there was increasing anxiety about competition and 'proving' competence which was new to the sector. Also we started work on Quality standards and this again acted as a driver for a recognised qualification. Another driver possibly specific to our sector, was academic credibility so the MA level was quickly added to the qualifications on offer.

Recruitment to the sector continues to be fairly open. However we are now more likely to take a candidate directly from a QCG course. We still take a large number of people from a variety of employer, academic and counselling/advice backgrounds. However, many services now require those without a guidance qualification to register on the AGCAS/Reading route. The individual courses that make up the qualification are still undertaken by non-registrants.

So the issue of 'professional' training is different for us. We don't have a particular pre-entry route. We don't have a mandatory requirement for a particular qualification. However we do have a big takeup of in-service training some of which is accredited. Take-up is acros the board - all levels of experience and all lelvels of roles.

Not sure if that is any help to our debate but it is a different approach to the pre-entry mandatory route.

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Comment 13: There certainly is no evidence available at the moment that I'm aware of to support claims to one qualification route being superior to any other.

Undoubtedly standards of NVQs in Guidance vary enormously - one assessment centre I knew of 'guaranteed' (and did!) to get candidates through within 6 months of registration (which in itself compromises a central philosophical component of VQ assessment being undertaken when the candidate 'is ready'); another within 9 months - whilst other assessment centres seem to allow registrations to continue for years! It is also true that in guidance (wonder if this has occurred in other occupational sectors?) NVQs 3/4 in Guidance has often (but not always) included some training input, often around theory & skills. Again - provision of this is enormously variable (both amount and quality).

VQs were originally designed for the assessment of competence in the workplace, rather than to deliver a training course. It has always seemed a contradiction to me that training support in basic interview skills training is offered by VQ Assessment Centres for candidates who are operating in the job!

The impending increase in importance of private provision is also relevant. Wonder what impact that is likely to have on the professional competence debate? Based on personal observations (i.e. pure speculation!) I suspect this will increase pressure on practitioners to 'get qualified' in a way the public recognises and understands. Relevant accreditation (of type and level) is likely to take on more significance when clients are purchasing services!

The example of training within the Higher Education sector is very pertinent to our debate. Higher Education, I would argue is a very different (and unique) professional context for guidance delivery. This is because:

  • it is usually funded differently, so not quite as vulnerable to changing funding regimes;
  • the uptake of Master's qualifications - I suspect many HEIs have a recruitment culture that emphasises a minimum acceptable level of education? (Probably degree?). This makes training in HEIs very, very different from pre-entry training. Many Dip CG's/QCG have also offered AP(E)L for a number of years, though the big challenge has always been to widen access to under-represented groups at the same time as ensuring that students have sufficient ability and competence to cope both with pressures exerted b the training required (which is determined largely by the profession, not HEIs) and deal with the demands of the job (e.g. a level of literacy that enables the production of action plans fit for the public domain, the ability to interpret vast amounts of information, etc.).

Comment 14: The rise of CPD schemes, mentoring, coaching and buddying all suggest that professional training courses are not doing the job of improving practice

These all stress a more developmental, individual approach that encompasses a wide range of experiences.

Comment 15: Don't really see how various CPD courses represent evidence of the failure of professional training?

Training for 'professions' (loosely defined) is usually designed as 'initial' preparation - with the assumption (often a requirement, e.g. doctors, counsellors) that personal/professional development and updating is essential on an on-going basis.

Comment 16: Do quality standards lead to improved practice?

Other aspects that might lead to improved practice could include: taking account of client feedback, partnership and multi-agency working, localised solutions, peer support (amongst client users in self-help groups as opposed to professional co-mentoring), improved access through extending opening hours and alternative access points.

Potentially though one of the most obvious ways to improve practice must be to gain an effective lobbying voice so that policy frameworks allow careers professionals to use their skills in an appropriate way.

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Section 2: Discussions about value of on-the-job and off-the job training:

Comment 1: Improving practice involves more than professional training

Other important factors include:

  • Having a clear and agreed understanding of what constitutes good practice, what it looks like, and how it can be measured or be shown to have taken place.
  • Developing a culture of reflection and continuous self-improvement at all levels, eg organisational and individual practitioner levels.
  • Putting the above two points into action to demonstrate improvement and to help identify and further dissemeinate good practice.
  • Having the resources (usually time) to deliver all of the above.

Comment 2: Professional qualification alone does not provides the competence that clients need

On the other hand, a baseline level of competence and understanding (as with teaching, qualification) is important. However, just as important is a unified approach to CPD (e.g. the RCN or College of Family Mediators have accepted courses and procedures for accrediting CPD).

Comment 3: One of the real draw backs of professional off-the-job training is precisely that - it is often not connected enough to the reality of the workplace

A training course can be excellent and the participant can have been fully engaged, stimulated, developed etc BUT when they return to the reality of the job, so much of this can be lost and despite good intentions, the person slips back into the old habits.

I am a great advocate for training in the work place, working with groups of colleagues generally in short bursts. If you have all been through the same experience there is less chance it will be lost. It can be discussed , the group can support one another etc etc. I also think that we don't recognise and don't value the learning that takes place within the job. CPD schemes can be so valuable in helping us realise how we learning through practice.

However I do agree that all this is less effective without a good initital knowledge and skills base such as that provided by a professional qualification

Comment 4: There is probably a strong case for both approaches

Initial training that is based outwith the workplace can give insight and perspective which is sometimes hard to achieve when faced with the day to day humdrum of the job (and other die hards doing it!). Four years ago I did some research for a Masters into the attitudes of Scottish Careers Advisers to continuous professional development. The results demonstrated that most advisors felt there was a place for both higher education and the workplace for the delivery of initial and continuous training for guidance professionals. This would also tend to be my view. The main findings of the rearch and further references can be found in Careers Guidance To-day (7) 3 July/August 1999 26-30

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Comment 5: A focus on professional training is long overdue in guidance!

For too long, training has been marginalised. And I don’t think it’s about the promotion of self-interest. Quite the contrary, I would argue that it’s about improving the quality of services to clients. Of course we need to understand what constitutes ‘good practice’ (which we don’t), operate within an established training culture and have access to the necessary resources. But once we get beyond initial training, where (however inadequate) assessment methods at least provide some evidence that learning has taken place (or not!), we’re hard-pushed to demonstrate the ‘effectiveness’ of CPD.

Having spent c20 years responding to employer requests for in-service training, I am painfully aware that it is possible for individuals to attend a course – usually so that a box on an appraisal form can be ticked – and learn nothing. In principle, I’m not against work-place learning. There needs, however, to be much greater accountability regarding its regulation and effectiveness. If we look to counselling, for example, I’m always struck that the supervisory requirements are a) rigorous and b) regulated. Such a system can be much more confident about supporting/delivering effective CPD than the one we currently espouse. And the focus there is unequivocally on the requirement to engage in constant, professional training in order to qualify for registered practice.

Comment 6: My experience (which may or may not be typical) suggests that after initial training, professional development opportunities were frankly limited unless you were willing to be very proactive

If someone came to observe you it would be in the spirit of monitoring and judgement rather than to encourage good practice or offer a mutual learning opportunity. Thus raising the thorny issue of the relationship between support and supervision versus critical judgement once again. A further complication was that there was a perception (not necessarily a correct one) that the person who would give you feedback on your performance did so because they were your manager -even though they themselves were not necessarily trained to give feedback or skilful or even currently engaged in carrying out interviews/ group work or whatever themselves. This rather discredited any such initiatives. None of these are arguments are against ongoing professional training, rather the reverse. I'm just echoing the point about how this experience contrasts with the image I have of how therapeutic counselling practitioners operate.

There must be a case for encouraging ongoing professional development to maintain interest and prevent burn out as well as to ensure a constantly evolving quality standard. It is interesting to note that in order to register with the Institute of Career Guidance as a practitioner you are requried to indicate your CPD for the previous and future 12 months. Whether or not this information is used in any way I don't know. It would be interesting to see what sort of training individuals have identified and if they have done so in response to organisational requirements or personal initiative and interest.

I also firmly believe that the gaining of competence in practical skills (be that 'using open questioning' or 'using Computer Aided Guidance Systems') needs to run alongside more analytical contextualising, the opportunity for debate. We don't operate in a vacuum It is not enough to learn how to e.g. administer a pyschometric test, if we dont' learn the limitations of such diagnostic tools, and alternative views of why they may or may not be appropriate.

There is a need for some sort of structured opportunity for progression and development, over and above assembling an 'eye-spy' book of courses in everything from Health and Safety to Equal Opportunities. There is a gap, and that is for some sort of cohesive structure that provides a context and a framework from which to critique those learning opportunities.

Improving practice requires reflection and an element of risk taking. it has to look forwards not backwards.

Comment 7: One could take this discussion as being about

whether a barrier is actually erected by professionals to defend their "special position" ("I have been trained to do this, you haven't" ) as opposed to ("I can do this whether or not I have been formally trained to do it" ) where it matters less how you acquired the learning. How much of what we do is actually "just learned" - requiring simply experience - as opposed to "trained" - requiring help from others in order to learn?

Then opportunities for learning become as important as - e.g. time to familiarise oneself with local industries or with relevant web sites, or to get to know a particular target community, without obvious immediate outcomes being required. Do managements take enough account of that need?

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Comment 8: It is interesting that the ICG code of ethics, while similar to that of the BACP, differs in one important regard: self-respect (fostering self- knowledge, care of self and seeking supervision and training)

This is a key principle in the BACP Code but absent from ICG's. Is this lack of self-respect not the heart of the problem in guidance?

Comment 9: The information on CPD that we ask for as part of the application for the ICG Register is used to check that someone has been/will be engaged in CPD activities

It's interesting that most of the activities cited are in fact training courses e.g. Understanding Connexions, APIR training, PA Diploma and activities that seem to be in reponse to 'organisational' requirements rather than individual needs.

Comment 10: Picking up on CPD relating to registration with the ICG I did look at the form quite recently

I was pleased to see that the notes suggest that it is appropriate to include CPD resulting from less structured activities such as involvement in this forum, or attendance at conferences. However, in practice most employees are vulnerable to the whim of their employers in identifying and taking up formal opportunities for training. Less formal, but often just as valuable CPD from e.g. work shadowing colleagues etc is I suspect sometimes seen as unjustified if it doesn’t meet an immediate or expected gap from an employers perspective. I also wonder if it is inevitable that credentialism creeps in, in being asked to identify training it's much easier to jot down a course title, than offer a heart felt reflective account, even if the former amounted to little more than attendance, whereas the latter could be a transformative experience.

CPD does get reduced to 'training' and 'training' to me suggests skills and knowledge acquisition, rather than critique. Perhaps few of us get to really identify and plan our own CPD, and we are as guilty as others of not recognising that which is informal even when it is more influential and lasting.

Comment 11: The point about self-respect/self-esteem is crucial - and it ties in with the observation that most CPD 'claimed' for the ICG Register relates to organisational requirements

It is Quite difficult, in an occupational culture like guidance, to encourage (or empower)individuals to think beyond organisational requirements. And it often seems to be the case that, where requirements for qualifications/CPD are imposed, they ignore feelings about personal/individual need. This is bound to undermine self-respect/esteem, since the underlying message is that individual preference count for little.

Comment 12: Whatever its form, training needs to enable participants to have time to think and learn and develop their own understandings/rationales of what constitute good practice

I tend to support the view that effective initial training is a pre-requisite to CPD in supported practice situations - but that might be because it is a fairly traditional approach. I also feel that training based primarily on knowledge acquisition does impact on skills and competencies eventually - but that it doesn't tend to work so well in reverse. That is, learning skills does not always encourage engagement with deeper levels of understanding and can lead to pracitices becoming routinised (and not thought about enough) because it enables the participants to get on with the job.

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Comment 13: We need to recognise that training is not only crucial for the development of competence and individual growth

it has been shown to be relevant for occupational identify formation. The recent OECD cross-country review of guidance found that training has a dominant effect in establishing a professional identity (McCarthy 2003, p.7).

Occupational identities mediate the ways in which we relate to the work organisation and work process and, critically, how we develop our skills and knowledge over time (Brown, 1997). These identities are typically formed within ‘communities of practice’, which have a strong sense of mutual engagement, joint enterprise, shared goals and shared practices (Attwell & Brown, 2003). The significance of an indivual's occupational identity should not be under-estimated as it goes beyond their work role to other forms of social identity and especially to the identity and self-governance of communities (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Occupational identity also frames the ways individuals cope with the pressures and stresses of work (Brown, 2002). This is particularly important during a time of rapid change, such as that currently being experienced by practitioners working in guidance organisations in the UK. Could the current crisis in the profession (is this limited to England?) regarding occupational identity - which coincides with the (further) fragmentation of the profession with the introduction of Connexions - be attributed (at least in part) to the lack of any coherent training framework? Interesting to note that (as I understand it?) Dip PA training is to be made a requirement to practise, the QCG remains an optional extra! What conclusions can we draw from this?

Occupational identities mediate the ways in which we relate to the work organisation and work process and, critically, how we develop our skills and knowledge over time (Brown, 1997). These identities are typically formed within ‘communities of practice’, which have a strong sense of mutual engagement, joint enterprise, shared goals and shared practices (Attwell & Brown, 2003). The significance of an indivual's occupational identity should not be under-estimated as it goes beyond their work role to other forms of social identity and especially to the identity and self-governance of communities (Lave & Wenger, 1991).

Occupational identity also frames the ways individuals cope with the pressures and stresses of work (Brown, 2002). This is particularly important during a time of rapid change, such as that currently being experienced by practitioners working in guidance organisations in the UK. Could the current crisis in the profession (is this limited to England?) regarding occupational identity - which coincides with the (further) fragmentation of the profession with the introduction of Connexions - be attributed (at least in part) to the lack of any coherent training framework? Interesting to note that (as I understand it?) Dip PA training is to be made a requirement to practise, the QCG remains an optional extra! What conclusions can we draw from this?


  • Attwell, G. and Brown, A. (2003) Supporting knowledge development in communities of practice or developing knowledge in communities of interest?, Paper presented at European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2003), University of Hamburg, September 17th & 20th, 2003.
  • Brown, A. (1997) A dynamic model of occupational identity formation. In A.Brown (ed) Promoting vocational education and training: European perspectives, Tampere : Tampere University Press.
  • Brown, A. (2002) Challenges of supporting learning of newly qualified professionals in health care. In Nijhof, W., Heikkinen, A. and Nieuwenhuis, L. (eds.). Shaping flexibility in vocational education and training. Dordrecht/Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
  • Lave J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge : Cambridge University Press.
  • McCarthy, J. (2001) The skills, training and qualifications of guidance workers. [Online].

Comment 14: The issue about organisational training is an interesting one. The drive for training linked to OFSTED is an interesting example.

Suddenly lots of short courses are being arranged, to address the skills issues that have had little priority until now. But with OFSTED looming, there is a different priority. But CPD? How is that linked to government initiatives? How is CPD linked to organisational initiatives? If this means that organisational & govermental initiatives are irretrievably intertwined, what hope has the individual voice?

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Section 3: Formal v. informal sources of guidance: implications for practice:

Comment 1: A personal case study

Although I have worked in this field for 14 years now, I had never previously sought any form of careers guidance. I was the first in my family to go to university and so did not feel that family could help when it came to career planning. I did discuss options with friends, read about different types of work and based a lot of my ideas about what I would like and not like, on my various part time and vacation work experiences.

I made a big mistake with my first graduate job (computer programming) and this taught me a great deal about my aptitudes, interests and values. I was lucky in that I was a graduate in the early 70's when there were plenty of jobs and you could refine your ideas by trial and error.

Comment 2: Many of us probably got where we are today without the blessing and benefit of careers guidance!

At my school, I wasn't aware of any career guidance either, there was a box of dusty signpost cards locked away in the deputy head's office, but we were all too scared to ask to see them. At university where there was a careers service I assumed it wouldnt be able to help me because I didn't know what I wanted to do and I'd done a 'useless arts degree' in any case. I did a whole sequence of low grade clerical, manual and service industry type jobs, interspersed with periods of unemployment, volunteering etc in an ever downwardly mobile career spiral and I only found out about the notion of careers guidance at all when I got a job as an information officer at an HE Careers Service. When I applied for my Dip CG as a mature student I didn't find out until embarassingly late in the day (like after I'd started the course) that most careers advisers worked in schools - should have researched my option choices more thoroughly obviously!

Anyway the relevance is perhaps not so much what does that sprint through my personal narrative say about my random career path, but would career guidance have made a difference? I really think it would have done.

Although generalising from personal experience can be dangerous, I do think the level of ignorance I had about what my options were, the total inability I had to identify or articulate my skills meant I spent several years in the career wilderness possibly unecessarily. Of course it doesnt follow that that advice would necessarily have had to come from a Careers Adviser, but having a framework within which young people are exposed to the concepts of decision making, sources of information and advice etc is I think important.

Maybe careers guidance isn't a necessity for all, but it does have a role, it can be a catalyst and it is infinitely preferable to alternative coercive sources of career advice that might replace it, if we dont start coming up with some evidence about why it should remain client centred and impartial.

Comment 3: In HE this is a well accepted fact

We are not funded at a level that would allow us to provide a service to all those eligable. There are huge concerns that the increase in full and part time students could overwhelm us. I think it is also important in our area of practice that most clients self refer. It is therefore not so much a concern that people seek guidance from a variety of sources other than guidance workers - it can be a relief!

Comment 4: In pragmatic terms, it is just not realistic to expect careers services (whether in HE or elsewhere) to meet all the demands for career guidance

certainly the knowledge that we aren't the only option for users can be at times a relief. However, couple of observations relating to areas of concern:

  • For me it isn’t that I have a problem with people getting advice from others, but I do worry that it may not always meet their needs. I think it's highly desirable that people seek advice from more than one source if they are going to make a decision - I know I do. However, I do have a concern that sometimes we seek advice from people who will affirm our existing view point, when it might need to be challenged, and that can lock behaviour into an unhelpful circle. It doesnt follow this will inevitably happen, but it might, a true critical friend is a rare treasure.
  • What worries me far more, is the perception in some quarters that other professional sources of advice are equivalent to the impartial advice offered by a trained careers adviser. I am not suggesting for one moment that CAs have the monopoly in professional scruples. However I do think this is becoming an issue. From a careers adviser perspective it concerns me that people not trained in careers advice are purporting (or perceived to be) offering it.

If not all of the people need careers advisers all of the time, and some people never need us, then should we rely on self-referral in terms of identifying who would potentially benefit most from seeing a careers adviser or is targeting the way to go - identifying users on the basis we'd be good for them, if only they could see it!?

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Comment 5: Anyone can now in theory get "guidance"

Given the extensive and wide-open nature of the Internet/World Wide Web, anyone can now in theory get "guidance" from anyone anywhere in the world, and, if they aren't satisfied with what they get locally, they may indeed do so.

We discussed this issue in particular as part of the CSU/NICEC project: Careers Services: Technology and the Future, Chapter 3 (2001, Offer, M.S., Sampson J.P. Jr., and Watts, A.G., CSU, Manchester) where we told the story of how Monster had come to take over the on-line employment and placing services of higher education careers services in the USA, as a competitor service, but also a national and universal one that could threaten other services too. Careers service, particularly in higher education, face market forces in this way, relatively unprotected unless they actively address the strategic issues involved - which many are doing.

So, it's not a question of "if" but "when" - the horse has already bolted. People have always got their guidance from all sorts of sources - we can only justify our role by offering a better service of higher quality than is available elsewhere, but technology has opened up the (old) issue in a big way, I believe, over the last few decades.

Comment 6: This point is indisputably true.

Though what about the argument that ICT/CAG stimulate the demand for face-to-face guidance? I was very struck by a comment made by an FE client in some research I'm currently doing - along the lines that he knew there was all the information he could ever need out there on the internet. But he just wanted someone to talk to....

One of the other implications for the guidance community is that the accessibility of guidance/information from varied sources makes it extremely difficult to evaluate the impact of a particular intervention!

Comment 7: It also difficult to evaluate the quality/ integrity of the information available

Particularly if its accessed through the world wide web when there are ethical issues around potential misrepresentation. Ths brings us to the role of information - should it be seen as apart from or a part of guidance? To what extent is 'expert knowledge' of e.g. the labour market, educational systems, a defining characteristic of career guidance, or are skills more important? It is clearly not an either/or situation, but understanding how information fits in is critical. Particularly if we accept that few things are factually self-evident, there are many variations on 'information' depending on whose agenda it serves, who it is aimed at, how it is publicised, navigated and utilised...

Comment 8: Formal guidance can't cover everything – and doesn’t need to

As things are now, guidance is - more significantly than ever - interleaved with other influences. Guidance people are quite used to working with teachers and lecturers; who themselves work with work-experience contacts; and everybody works with mentors; to say nothing of how we all work with families; and out-reach has, for some time, had an increasingly important place in our work. In todays 14-19 sector, with more-and-more fraught and troubled career conditions, we are also learning to work with people in the youth, social services and education-welfare services. Many of these ‘other helpers’ choose to work informally. And we can expect that similar conditions will increasingly call on similar links in all sectors.

Our understanding of why all of this is valuable extends back to Paul Willis’s trail-blazing account of ‘how working class kids get working class jobs’ (still a really useful read!). Learning to Labour is a graphic account of those young men’s attachment and allegiance to each other. But it is also a more subtle account of how they are affected by deeply-ingrained beliefs and values - rooted in their neighbourhood-based upbringing. My own work on ‘community interaction’ owes much to Paul. Phil Hodkinson’s current work on ‘cultural capital’ belongs to the same stream of ideas. (There is more about it all at my website, including one of Paul Willis’s lad’s story.)

I doubt that we know how important the Web is, as a source of influence on career. I’d place a personal bet on the continuing importance of neighbourhood cultures, each celebrating its own sources of ‘help’ from the Web - and other media.

The implications here are not only for management - although they are serious enough. There are also implications for how we enable people to know who and what they can trust - among those informal, local, media-influenced sources of influence on their lives. It is in part of a need for ‘somebody to talk to’. But it may need to be a new and different kind of guidance talk.

It is all a growing challenge to our ‘professionalism’. We really do need to know a lot more about what is going on out there. Which is, I suppose, why we need a research forum.

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Comment 9: We are making an assumption that clients have a choice whether or not to self-refer

For example, Connexions is a universal service that was set up for all young people with an emphasis on the young disaffected. Yet recently, some doubt has been caste on just how universal the service is, with the implication being that guidance relating to careers is offered, not as a universal service to the young, but to a selected few.

Certainly it has long been the case that advice is sought from a variety of sources. Careers information is now more accessible than it has ever been. But information & advice on their own are not sufficient to enable effective, informed career decisions to be made. There is a clear place for effective careers advisors, with both young people & adults. To enable self awareness & understanding to develop& then to understand how to apply this knowledge to education & careers is a skill. It may be true that non- experts may have this ability, or have it in part, but to use the skills of a trained careers advisor who is impartial & unbiased is, for some, the only source of reliable help.

The example given above of the young man who 'just needed someone to talk to' demonstrates admirably the need for, & place of, careers advisors. They are trained to enable & to listen & it is these skills, together with others, which are used consciously to focus on the client. Their skills, combined with the qualities of respect, understanding & acceptance, allow them to perform a necessary & important role in the community.

Comment 10: Restrictions

The restrictions placed on the availability of careers advice through Connexions for 14-19 year olds seem in prospect in England for adults with the publication of the National Policy Framework and Action Plan for IAG for Adults - with guidance restricted in future to those with level 2 qualifications and below.

These policy developments seem set to open up the private market in guidance in England in the (very) near future. This could fan trends already acknowledged to exist by the structural constraint/community/cultural capital theorists....with those who are able to purchase 'bespoke' guidance services and those who can't (and don't qualify for state funded guidance) increasingly being forced to rely on informal resources. Perhaps some English clients will even be tempted to cross home country borders for a free guidance entitlement - as well as higher education?!

Probaly worth speculating on the implications of an expanding private sector for profession training/registration. The private sector is likely (is it not?) to place a much higher premium on high quality professional training/CPD that the public sector has ever done. Customers want validation that the service they are purchasing is worth having and this is one indicator.

Comment 11: Policy and Framework Action Plan

The new Policy Framework and Action Plan places a clear emphasis on training and developing the front-line in delivery of IAG services. This is likely to be mostly at level 2 with the requirment, already being implemented by some LSCs, for level 3 qualifications for staff delivering Enhanced Advice services. Where does this leave the professional Guidance Adviser with a level 4 qualification? In the present climate ..... well not with a job funded through the LSC IAG route!

OCN provides a much more user friendly (than NVQ) competence framework. The OCN framework is not seen as very rigorous by many, but, the Units and Performance Criteria obviously relate to practice for the learners fulfilling front-line functions.

Improving practice should be a never ending journey for guidance workers and the development of reflective practitioners, through taught programmes, at all levels, might be a corner stone for building on other information/knowledge development activities. If we can poach reflective practitioners from other sectors or areas of work then we can just give them the knowledge of course!!

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Comment 12: It seems to me that the most important part of all research-and-development is to frame useful questions

It is critical to any work we are to do on the relationship between professionalism and informality. What are the issues? Are they about the value of what we – the professionals - currently provide? I doubt it.

Our influence has always been interleaved with the influence of others . That is now-more-than-ever the case. Some of what helpers who are ‘other-than-guidance’ can do may be as useful as what we do.

We have not invariably been spectacularly successful in enabling the career development of all our learners. Suppose it is what we haven’t so-far been able to do, that holds the key to our future. We can learn a lot by asking why some of our learners turn away.

We have made much of providing neutral, economy-related information. And self awareness has been made to hinge on employability. Nothing wrong with that. But it is not all that there is. There is, for example this: in the contemporary world information is outdated at release. And so the most urgent learning needs are not only defined by what we help them to find out, they are defined also by how we help them to go on finding out more – learning usefully to learn from other sources. But even that is not all: because everything swims - or sinks - in the currents and vortices of feeling, attachment and allegiance. Not all of what our learners most need us to do is within easy reach of the conventional apparatus of ’I’, ‘A’ and ‘G’.

What we currently call IAG needs further to strengthen its links with community, with curriculum and with other formal and informal sources of enablement. And what IAG – and its successors - can do, needs to be re-thought; and re-shaped to make useful partnerships with other sources of help.

Sorry, but I just don’t believe that academically- and politically-driven agendas are going to do this for us. This forum is important because the research community needs practitioners to help it formulate useful questions. And, as part of the deal, researchers need practitioners realistically to reflect the new environment in which we all now work.

That environment is characterised by change and by socio-affective dynamics. But it is also characterised by commerce. We stay ‘competitive’ by understanding more of the reality. Once we lose that grip, commercial interests will move in – are moving in.

Different times, different questions. It seems to me that the question ‘Why is what we do so valuable?’ is no longer particularly useful. It tends to lead to a recommendation along the lines ‘more of the same’. But what about really probing variations on the question, ‘Where else do learners go, for the kind of help they need?’ We’ll get new answers. We should have the confidence to believe they will not mean that guidance people are no longer needed. And we should also have the confidence to recognise how we can re-shape what we usefully do – and interleave what we do with what others do.

Comment 13: The emphasis on services framed around career development

The emphasis on services framed around career development for learners that takes more account of community influences does take us in a different direction from the dominant delivery paradigm for publically funded guidance services, which still emphasise placement into training and jobs.

It's hard (impossible?) to reconcile these two goals in training. How do we form the partnerships that would ensure that training/assessment regimes reflect 'real' need? Who should be included in these partnerships? We don't seem to have succeeded to date.............

Comment 14: The contrast drawn between bespoke services and the rest highlights some interesting issues

The bespoke (and usually paid for service) is, in its best form, completely client centred and may or may not be delivered by people whose training and credentials are recognisable. However, what people are buying there is the time factor, I think.

When we consider the workload that public sector advisers have to administer and the unsuitable circumstances and premises that they often have to contend with, it seems that the agenda becomes less and less client-centred and more and more target driven.

So, we have the case of those who can buy in to an unregulated service which may be of variable quality (rather like in education) whereas those who cannot may only get a vestigial service... In this context, the idea of deprofessionalising careers professionals is confusing, since the need has not disappeared, but is just not being met in the same focused way.

I don't think the current training regimes for guidance are in tune with the direction of the market....and this has massive and rather alarming implications.

My conclusions to all this are that training is necessary, but that we have not yet got right the training for what we are currently delivering.

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Section 4: How useful is research for improving practice?

Comment 1: Practitioners are busy and often pay less attention to research than it deserves but there are so many instances when practitioners really need and value the outcomes of research

These include:

  • decisions about the deployment of resources
  • making funding bids
  • influencing academics
  • informing institutional decisions and so on.

Trainers also dependent on research to inform their teaching with both new and experienced staff. This is all obvious stuff and to me the need is self-evident.

What I think is the issue is dissemination - getting the findings to the practitioners in easy to understand, easily accessible, quotable formats. I do think that practitioners are unlikely to read academic papers. They are looking for 'soundbites' and are certainly looking for research findings that assist them with the task in hand - ammunition, justification, influential messages, techniques that work. A dilution maybe of the research work, but valuable!

Comment 2: Of course research is not worthless

In terms of how it is viewed by practitioners there are a range of issues that come into play:

  • Practitioners are heavily influenced by research - any Careers Adviser who has been trained will have been exposed to some sort of theoretical underpinning to there work and the best theories have some basis in research or they would be just 'random thought harvesting' The issue is that not all practitioners are encouraged to see it that way. Part of the PR job is to help make that link, so there is some recognition that research can make you more effective at doing what you want to do.
  • Dissemination is key. I've worked for largish careers companies who must have regularly received reports and bulletins, but presumably they were percieved to be only relevant to managers, I don't recall anything being circulated to practitioners. It might be that not all would be interseted, but if at the most basic level there is not physical access to documents how would anyone know they existed let alone if they were interesting or relevant. Part of the battle is to get managers and trainers in organisations to see circulation of such materials as part of their role
  • There may be an issue about the 'entry level' of research. I know that Newscheck is in some circles regarded as a 'bit of a comic' not really having proper authority. But in the old days when it was delivered en masse free of charge it was widely read, and did provide anyone in a service with an easy way to catch up with a range of relevant issues. The popularity of Newscheck (judged here in terms of how many people would flick through it) suggests there is an appetite for sharing information
  • One way to disseminate research is to attend conferences as a participant or delegate. Attending conferences is expensive, and again in my experience was something frequently seen as only the preserve of the senior management team.

I suppose what I'm getting at here is that the gatekeepers for accessing research are often managers and maybe that needs to change.

Comment 3: It's not the research that is the problem - it's the link to be made with practice

Managers need to build in time for practitioners to update themselves on research that meets their needs or challenges their current practice. There is a role for a "research disseminator" - effectively what information scientists and librarians have done in proactive mode in some organisations. Someone needs to pre-digest the research and alert those who should/might need to take note of it that it exists, enabling them to decide whether to allocate the time to examining it.

Comment 4: Don't think disseminators/physical access would be sufficient

Changing practice in a way that integrates research findings requires risk. Seems to me that we somehow need to create a culture that encourages, supports and even requires the taking of calculated risk and experimentation in practice. This has implications for practitioners, managers, trainers and policy makers. Whilst outcomes are being measured in particular ways and targets must be met to secure funding, this will be challenging!

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Comment 5: Issues re. resourcing are always at the core

Tutors on career guidance training courses are not always in a position to undertake research as this can be, dependant on the University's policy and this in turn devalues the role it has on initial training. This coupled with the point that students themselves have little space on the over-assessed initial qualification to undertake research of any depth means that the interest and value it should bring to learning and practice is lost at a crucial stage.

We also have guidance organisations who are establishing models of practice which have not been evaluated (e.g. the implementation of the Career Planning Continuum by Careers Scotland). And we have research from a number of sources which suggests that without appropriate guidance the drop-out rate from HE has increased - yet few resources are being re-directed to this group. So, it is not just the case that it is difficult to access and commission research. When research has been done, how do we respond to its findings?

Comment 6: What's the most effective method of dissemination?

I agree that Newscheck was a good quick read to see what was at the top of the agenda currently, but we no longer have that (does it still exist in a paying version?).

Many adult guidance organisations/practitioners are affiliated to NAEGA and they are not mean with copies of 'News and Views' ... Maybe there could be an opening here for at least weblinks and/or digested versions of good and relevant research.

I don't know what Connexions PAs read these days or which professional organisation (if any) they feel closest to - the fragmentation of professionalism created by that multi-tasking role might make that feeling of closeness difficult.

The other thing that springs to mind here is the LSC's e-newsletter (late of DfES) Skills and Enterprise Network which is free and often has very good weblinks for employment-related research.

And what's the role of professional associations, here?

I suppose the issue is: who is to take the responsibility for reading the papers and digesting them into briefing-type chunks which could then be circulated to existing newsletters/magazines etc?

Comment 7: It would be helpful to include links to known e-newsletters, and it would be helpful to 'firm up' existing partnerships in relation to this forum

I'm thinking of the ICG email update service which you can subscribe to and get topical updates. Admittedly I don't always read them as punctually and methodically as I would wish, but they are a useful updating mechanism and do occasionally fire me up nicely.

On a functional note, yes Newscheck is still around, but you do now have to subscribe. It's a more glossy publication and (I think) £5 an issue - which seems a lot after being used to it as a freebie -I'd be interested to know what it's circulation is like now. Still I suppose if you translate it into an annual subscription it's more of a bargain. Again though an issue for me is whether or not employing organisations see any value in subscribing to this on behalf of their staff, or does it become something else (like ICG membership) for which individuals are increasingly expected to foot the bill...

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Comment 8: Research is not worthless or self perpetuating

But statements like this cannot be wholly true or untrue; and there is – I think - some truth in this one; and we would do well to face up to it.

The fact is that practitioners do not wait, their hearts all-of-a-flutter, for each new research report. I think they spend more time sniffing out policy documents. And I doubt that this is because lists of proposals, targets and funding regimes are brief and sexy (quite incompatible qualities!). Suppose it’s because practitioners know that policy is going to make an actual difference to their lives - and the lives of their learners - in pretty direct ways?

And what would this say of research? To recognise that it is difficult to know what anybody is actually supposed to do about some research, is to glimpse how things can be improved. To suggest that the research community might be becoming part of a rather closed circle, where a limited range of ideas and preoccupations get a hearing, is to wonder how that circle can be broken.

This is largely a matter for the research agenda – that is the issues, problems and questions on which researchers produce evidence. We are urged to do evidence-based practice. It is a troublesome notion; and one of the reasons why is because evidence can inform practice only where it is couched in terms that practice can recognise. In a parallel forum thread - ‘how do we influence those who commission research’.

The Forum can help a lot. It is a conversation between practitioners, politicos, academics, managers, researchers and theorists. We each have our own authority; and practitioner authority can, like no other, represent the contemporary realities of delivering help.

We must, of course, respect researchers’ authority. A large part of it is knowing how to transpose a research question into an appropriate enquiry. Nobody should try to second guess researchers on that. But the whole process would be a closed circle if only researchers and their sponsors get in on the act. And there are a lot more episodes in the research story, where other voices should be heard. One is when research questions are formulated. There are a lot of good and useful research questions currently going begging. Another is in framing findings into actionable form. Conventional reports don’t work like that. In both places the authority of practitioners is indispensable.

It won’t be easy; it won’t always be possible. But it would be well worth working out how such a conversation can best be enabled - and fed into the circle. We’ll get more evidence-based practice when we get more practice-based evidence.

Comment 9: I wonder if part of the difficulty in engaging busy practitioners is that often research aims to lift people's thinking out of the day to day detail

Yet practitioners might feel they need help with just that detail (hence the interest in policy). Perhaps making research findings more accessible will necessarily involve taking it closer to practice - perhaps research is the wrong term for that (even action research). Research that called itself 'practitioner concepts' or 'practice development' or 'insights on practice' or (something more eloquent) might encourage use, not just readership. This would have to be coupled with suggestions/case studies/scenarios created from practice to stimulate thinking. Thinking enables practitioners to make (their own) sense of the research; this is a dynamic, interactive process not a passive, receptive one.

Comment 10: There is a need to bring practitioners into contributing to the research agenda

The language used to describe published research findings might be alienating to practitioners (self included) who may then view them with trepidation. 'Research' is perceived to be inevitably 'difficult, complex, statistical, irrelevant etc', but really the issue is perhaps linked to a lack of ownership both at the outset and with understanding how the findings might help them do what they want to do better. Engagement with the research process needs to come both in the evolution of the research question and process as well as in communicating findings in a user-friendly way.

Curiously this sort of links back to notions of lifelong learning. Why do some people (us too) get switched off certain sorts of learning and enthused by others. Why is it that a new student can break out into a sweat at e.g. the prospect of attending their first lecture at university, (how will I remember the content, know what's important, be confident enough to express an opinion afterwards) and yet sit through a film or a documentary without being paralysed with anxiety in case they don't have perfect recall, and easily draw from it the bits of interest and relevance at a later date? I know the media of communication is part of this of course, but isn't is also about the confidence with which each is approached in the first place, along with the element of choice in selecting the agenda for consideration? Could that anecdote be extended to make a parallel case with why it is that practitioners assume research is unfathomable whereas practice is just something just taken for granted most of the time. (Putting on one side for a moment, those haunting times of crippling self-doubt which I am sure are an occupational hazard of professional life for any reasonably self-aware individual!)

I'm sure the point has already been made somewhere on the forum that practitioners do 'research' all the time. Any practitioner with but a vestige of enthusiasm for their role will happily regale a willing listener with case studies, anecdotes from practice, frustrations around their experience of working in 'partnerships' based on competition rather than collaboration, distorted agenda's, trying to balance client's needs with their organisational priorities, impact of new legislation etc ad infinitum! That's not to mention the numerous evaluation reports, statistical records that are an essential part of the job. The problem might be that practitioners don't see this as research at all, and these stories are not really harvested.

Understanding how 'proper' research is structured, might help them communicate their frustrations in a more persuasive way and so contribute to improving practice. It might also encourage critical reflection that can lead to the potential for improvement and change (as opposed to depressing whinging for example). Recognising this interest as a starting point for 'research' could demystify the process and demonstrate the innate relevance of most enquiries, together with the potential research provides for change and improvement - as well as understanding. Research isn't necessarily just about recording and understanding what has happened historically, it's about answering the 'so-what' question to address what this might mean for the future.

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Comment 11: Most practitioners need to see a need for research to act on it

We have been involved in the research and piloting of a qualification for support (supervision) of guidance practioners. This stemmed from a perception on our part that support and supervision would be needed for those working with the hard to help. This led to desk based research on supervision (sponsored) within the helping professions (Jenny Bimrose and Sally Wilden's BJGC article published in 1994 was our starting point!). Following this we undertook focus groups to gauge practioner views which resulted in a training module for 17 staff who have become supervisers within Careers Scotland. This is an example of research influencing practice in a very direct way.

Comment 12: This example of research influencing practice is superb

I am sure there are other examples like this too. The questions that researchers formulate derive directly from a sense of what is 'out there' and needing to be known about - but I don't think we know how to articulate that process adequately yet. Do we?

Comment 13: I was involved in training with experienced adult guidance practitioners

Recently we were discussing the potential impact of research into vocational choice and how it could influence their practice. They made some interesting comments including that if theory only explains why things occur (eg Roberts' Opportunity Structure, Hodkinson's Careership or Krumboltz and Mitchell's Planned Happenstance) how does that change practice? How does this explanation add to learning if people see it as commonsense, only jargonised! My colleague suggests the analogy of the tree falling in the forest making no noise if no-one is there to hear it: how many practitioners subscribe to the BJGC? They made other points which echo previous contributions to this discussion ie lack of time to assimilate theory and to interpret it and that the eclectic use of theory can be confusing.

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Section 5: How do we influence those who commission research?

Comment 1: Accessibility of results of studies (in terms of comprehensibility) may be a factor here, e.g. action research may be easier to read and understand than quantitative work.

The divide between theoretical depth in training versus skills development is an issue because those who are already trained to use theory may have more open minds to different styles of research when they come to read the findings (i.e. demanding only a low level of theoretical understanding for NVQs may, in the long term, leave us with both practitioners and managers who can't or don't want to deal with this type of text.

The example of French staff who deliver 'bilans de competences' is interesting. They need to have professional qualifications already (psychology or teaching at master's level) in order to work with clients. My perception of this (from when I went on a week's placement in a Centre in Paris ) was that there was a well-embedded sense of professionalism which was present on both sides of the delivery relationship, and therefore a corresponding self-respect.

Comment 2: So, in the French guidance context, there are practitioners who are confident in their ability & skills, recognise their worth & expect to be treated in a respectful manner?

These people do not sound like trainees who are training & learning at the same time?

Comment 3: An article by Gold and Villeneuve throws light on the need to reconceptualise the relationship between research and practice if it to have an impact upon policy

Reference: Busting the silos: knowledge brokering in Canada Irving Gold and Julie Villeneuve Knowledge Transfer 5th International Conference on the Scientific Basis of Health Services Washington, 2003.

Their argument revolved around the need to go beyond dissemination:

  • Knowledge transfer is still widely thought of in terms of researchers producing research and then disseminating it (push).
  • Some researchers have begun to focus on helping decision makers access, appraise, adapt and apply research (pull).

In a review of 24 studies that asked over 2000 policy makers what facilitated or prevented their use of research evidence the number 1 factor was personal contact! (Innvaer et al. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy 2002; 7:241).

This means that dissemination and uptake strategies are necessary but not sufficient in many cases. Relationships matter! Some researchers and decision makers are going beyond separate dissemination and uptake efforts and are engaging in true joint knowledge production. When this model is used, many still encounter difficult barriers to effective collaboration and exchange. The most commonly mentioned were:

  • A lack of understanding of each other’s culture and work environment
  • A lack of a common language
  • A lack of understanding of the relative roles and responsibilities in the process.

Gold and Villeneuve argue that relationships between researchers and decision makers are needed to overcome these barriers. Brokering is about building and nurturing relationships between those involved in joint knowledge production:

  • Finding the right people and linking them
  • Helping to set agendas and facilitating their interactions
  • Brokering is also about building relationships between communities
  • Understanding each others realities
  • Creating a common language and frame of reference
  • Helping to establish realistic expectations, roles and responsibilities.

What does this mean for careers guidance?

It means that that the guidance community needs to create forums (like this, but also face to face) that involve a range of participants and talk about the nature of practice.

The tide is turning. With the Tomlinson 14 –19 review, there is now a favourable policy context for guidance. But the detailed case about the form of guidance required still needs to be made. To do this, the guidance community needs to assemble different types of evidence of impact.

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Comment 4: Challenges for research are to provide an evidence base to inform policy and practice

To say a little more on this theme:

  • One important issue is whether the knowledge claims of research into guidance can be justified beyond the particular context in which the research occurs. This is a particular challenge where the research is complex, affected by many variables and in many cases is interventionist in that it is trying to 'improve' practice. Additionally, many studies rely on narrative accounts to communicate and justify their findings. The narratives though are written from a particular perspective and may be open to very different interpretations.
  • One key question here is therefore what is the basis of understanding guidance encounters as outlined in research studies? How can claims to knowledge be demonstrated others? Can evidence-based knowledge be built to help answer complex questions about the nature and outcomes of guidance, and is the idea of what constitutes an appropriate evidence base different from the conceptualisation of evidence-based practice of policy makers (and paymasters at the Treasury)?
  • I am not not confident that such testing questions can ever be answered, but they should be discussed further. There is a double loop here. Not only is it a question of whether guidance has an impact, but also whether the research into this question has an impact.
  • How can these goals be achieved? A number of claims can be made. Members of broad guidane community will need to discuss (ideally theory-informed) research that focuses upon practice, work collegially with practitioners, policy-makers and researchers, in the co-construction of knowledge about guidance.
  • Perhaps there is a general reluctance to talk about theory-informed research and practice and whether this is a serious weakness in the search for impact?
  • The range of issues facing practitioners need to be acknowledged together with the variety of contexts within which guidance takes place and how guidance is adapted to these different contexts - in ways that recognise the limits of application of particular theories.
  • However, by highlighting the specifics of practice it should be possible in an iterative fashion to adapt and sharpen theories and explanations of guidance in context.

Comment 5: The problem of lack of interest and application of research is multi-faceted

  • There is no mention of research or its application in job descriptions. This means it is merely an 'added extra' to be fitted in to an already overloaded timetable.
  • There is also the notion of 'whats in it for me?' Why should practitioners, & managers for that matter, bother with either reading research or applying it?

I suggest that few people working in guidance in the field, can see how it can help them. If managers took time for research, this may then be encouraged.
Time is a key factor here. How can various aspects of research be built into a packed professional timetable? These timetables are built around statistics & government-led initiatives.

Unfortunately, the owner of the purse has the power. These initiatives are always short -term & results - driven in a quantitive manner. It is perfectly reasonable to expect results, but I wonder if a goverment-led initiative based on qualitative results would encourage a different focus, embracing & welcoming research & its application?

Comment 6: The point made about the professionalism evident in interactions between practitioners and their clients in France is an interesting observation

The requirements for undergraduate training in psychology as a basis for more specialist guidance training will mean there there is familiarity with the notion of applied research. That familiarity seems to be largely lacking in the guidance community in the UK.

The point made about the importance of personal contact with policy makers sounds very plausible. Working on those relationships is something we may need to consider.

But the problem does remain - how can research to made to seem relevant to practitioners. A means of improving practice may be one lever/incentive?

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Comment 7: This needs to be a three way relationship:

  • policy makers (with the money to pay for the research) driving;
  • the researchers doing it; and
  • the practitioners,receiving , possibly implementing etc.

Big research is obviously commissioned to address a particular agenda. Practitioners can feel threatened by that agenda and therefore potentially by the findings. Obviously this will not help in the dissemination to them of these findings. Ideally, rather than a linear relationship between the three, it would be great if the practitioners were also commissioning and driving research.

As an organisation AGCAS does encourage and even commision very small scale stuff but we don't see this as an automatic part of the annual budget - we just don't have the money. I guess the other bodies will be the same.

The Guidance community is neither united nor wealthy. We are making improvements on the united front with the Guidance Council and FedPAG but we are never likely to be well off!

Comment 8: A couple of points to contribute:

The original question was: 'how do we influence those who commission research?' I had interpreted this primarily as central government - so it was helpful to have it pointed out that this isn't always necessarily so and that budget issues and time come into play even from those who we might view as being 'on our side' (professional bodies etc).

However, it seems to me that one big issue - before we even get to influence those who commission research - is: 'is there a need to communicate what is careers guidance?'

Studies repeatedly suggest practitioners and users alike struggle to define it and I just wonder if basic misapprehension of what it is about dooms some research projects at the outset. I'd like to see greater clarity (and confidence) about what career guidance is about. How, too, can the fundamental obstacle be overcome of investigating something that in its nature is often longitudinal with a focus on research that operates in fairly short and tight timescales?

  • An associated point relates to influencing those who commission research studies I suppose there is a need to speak a language they understand. Just as in disseminating findings there is a need to use language and messages appropriate for the various groups. However, might this represent a compromise in terms of distorting or diluting intentions? Perhaps this comes down to the power dynamic inherent between funding bodies and those who deliver to them. Partnership would suggest evolving a shared understanding, shared language and outcomes that are greater that the sum of their parts? A relationship based on delivering pre-determined outcomes in accordance with funders' objectives is likely to narrow outcomes and reduce the credibility of research.

Is the issue about individuals influencing those who commision research, or is it about finding a collective voice? And if a collective voice, then is there sufficient unity and clariy to do that?

How might end user authority (the client at the end and beginning of everything) also be brought into the equation of influencing those who commission research? And, assuming that it is accepted there is an onus on those involved in guidance to advocate especially for the most disadvantaged of clients who are by definition the most likely to be voiceless.

How on earth can we tap into that unrepresented group as well?!

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Comment 9: The source of funding seems to impact, significantly, on the expectation of outcome from research

For example, differences are evident regarding whether research is being funded to inform policy, improve delivery and/or increase understanding. Additionally, many government agencies or departments seem to operate, generally, with tight tendering requirements - sometimes even specifying method and process in fine detail. In contrast, research councils place more emphasis on the tendering organisation proposing their own design (within, perhaps, less restrictive parameters). Other types of funding organisations (e.g. charities, like the Joseph Rowntree Trust) have their own priorities and procedures. So - ways to influence those who commission research will depend on the type of commissioning organisation.

In terms of producing truly 'independent' results from research , I suspect the researching organisation is as important as the commissioning body. University's defend the right to undertake independent research and to publish results in academic journals (not always successfully, with some funding bodies!). A consultant researcher, operating alone or as part of a small, commercial organisation may have very different priorities in terms of the 'customer/client' relationship?

Comment 10: This is a complex area, isn't it...?

I still want to return to the professionalism of practitioners, though, because my experience of research (and often evaluation too) done by outside consultants is that they often fail to pick up local detail which may be crucial to the findings.

With professional practitioners (as with trained psychologists) an understanding of research principles and methods would enable them to carry out local research as part of their role, or to advise their own managers on relevant topics for local research.

A theoretical underpinning in research methods would also enable commissioners of national research to trust local data collection (something which I would find it hard to do currently). Certainly, a principled approach to research would enable people to ask hard questions and to be able to hear the answers even if they were not what they wanted to hear.

This brings us round to that old training issue again!

Comment 11: All commissioners of research do so because of a perception of an agenda - or research question or need.

The most likely way to influence that is by engaging in dialogue with commissioners of research - be they DfES or the local chamber of commerce - or a PhD student at the local university - there need to be means by which to communicate with those engaged in enquiry.

No research is neutral. Everyone approaches research (the doing it and the using of it) with some sort of bias or prior understanding. For example:

  • some researchers believe that research is something that uncovers truth;
  • others believe that research articulates truth;
  • others again think that truth shifts and changes over time (rather like language).

I guess practitioners (professionals) also have different views about what research can and cannot achieve - as do policy makers and funders and the man running the newsagent and .....

Comment 12: If research is to become recognised & valued by practitioners, then it has to relate to practice together with the impositions of their work

Research is seen by many to be a luxury, with results that do not impact on the work place. Sometimes this is indeed the case. Whilst research may be fascinating for the researchers, where is the link for practitioners?

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Is there a source of funding that starts 'from the other end'? What practitioners would request in the form of research. Are they ever asked?!!!

Comment 13: As a practitioner, I feel that this Forum will give practitioners an opportunity to make their voice heard

Given an opportunity to initiate a discussion thread, they would become very engaged in the process - assuming it gets picked up and others respond.

Comment 14: A practitioner voice is important to this issue

A recent discussion with practitioners suggested a frustration with the prescription of service delivery required by some organisations which in itself does not encourage a culture of considering 'other ways of doing it'. So what hope has research ? I know myself how difficult it is to get the time to do research and I am in more of an environment that encourages it (i.e. a University) than are most careers practitioners.

  • Is it not just asking too much from practitioners to consider 'action based research' (an activity some guidance organisations say they wish to promote)?
  • Can employers consider providing their own research units with impartiality?

A suggestion in Scotland was that anyone engaged in research which could be seen to be helpful to guidance practice be networked or brought together so that interested others could be made aware of their contributions. Nothing has happened as yet but there was a suggestion that the ICG may start the ball rolling with a conference/ meeting on research ideas.


Health policy-makers' perceptions of their use of evidence: a systematic review.

  • Innvaer, S., Vist, G., Trommald, M. and Oxman, A. (2002), Health policy-makers' perceptions of use of evidence: A systematic review. Journal of Health Services Research & Policy, 7, 4, pp. 239-244.Summarises evidence from interview studies of facilitators of, and barriers to, the use of research evidence by health policy-makers. Two theoretical perspectives were dominant in the literature. The first argues that there are large and complex communication problems separating researchers from policy makers. This was often referred to as the "two communities thesis" or the "two cultures". The second perspective focuses on the concept of the "use of research". It argues that the word "use" is ambiguous and may have fundamentally different meanings.

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