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Resources for practice

This section includes a range of resources and links to useful websites to support the theme of improving practice. If you have any suggestions for additional materials please email us at guidance dot research at warwick dot ac dot uk

Occupational career trajectories and cases studies

Across the internet a range of individuals have told their story about their working lives. The following offer personal narratives that provide useful insights into how different careers are perceived by those who work in the careers profession. Online videos of people talking about their career stories and occupations can be found at:

Short case studies of both young people and adults are included on the NGRF as a resource. The ICG has produced a document for non-specialists and lay people to explain what career guidance is and the ways in which it makes a difference to people's lives, see Career Guidance: Making a Difference (Second Edition).

Recent research on career trajectories includes:

The key role of career adaptability in skills supply

The aim of the study, which forms part of the UK Commission’s National Skills Strategy Research Programme, was to extend and develop existing (national and international) knowledge about career adaptability, with particular emphasis on skills accumulation. The project provided a view on how the UK Commission for Employment and Skills can most effectively influence and/or provide advice in relation to support for the development and integration of career adaptability in practice. It will provide a greater understanding of what happens when people change sectors during their careers and the role that upskilling and reskilling plays in supporting these changes. This is important in the current economic climate where the concept of a ‘job for life’ becomes less relevant and to be successful in the labour market individuals will increasingly need to move between sectors. The skills required to make these types of transitions will become critical, as will the type of support required for their acquisition and develop the skills required to be able to do this. The report can be downloaded here.

Research into forms of individual career development and continuing vocational training

Continuing vocational training is seen as vital for enhancing people’s employability and adaptability during their working life. However, little is known about this training, which seems to be increasingly work-based. Even less is known about individuals’ perspectives on, and attitudes towards, learning or how their vocational learning is linked to their individual career development. While much of the literature and policy development in the field of Vocational Education and Training (VET) primarily deals with initial training (whether school-based or apprenticeship), how it is structured and executed, little attention is given to the examination of how those who complete initial education and training use these opportunities in working life and what particular types of training they engage in.

Recent trends suggest that working life has become increasingly flexible, characterised by higher levels of job mobility and occupational change. Consequently, there are major challenges for continuing vocational training (CVT) and how it can best be structured and designed to support people in adjusting their careers to demands of increased labour market flexibility. If CVT is becoming more a form of work-integrated learning, this also has consequences for the human resources development in companies and for VET providers in general.

The study on ‘Research into forms of individual career development and CVT’ was funded by EACEA (Education, Audiovisual & Culture Executive Agency). The project investigated employees’ responses and strategies as they are required to cope with more flexible work and employment, changing skills requirements and instabilities at work. The investigation, in particular, addressed how workers use learning and continuing vocational training to shape their individual careers. This approach required examining training offers and support, as well as trying to gain insights into the subjective orientations of individuals and their actions, i.e. how they actually engage with, and use, continuing vocational training. The report can be downloaded here.

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Guidance interviews

How do we know what is effective in careers guidance interviews? Is there a best way to structure interviews? What issues are related to confidentiality in interviews? And how do you deal with reluctance and resistance?

What makes effective guidance?

A discussion involving a practitioner, a manager, a trainer and a researcher came up with a model identifying the features of guidance interviews that, in their view, makes them effective.

guidance model

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Evaluating effective guidance: evidence from a longitudinal case study in England

A qualitative, longitudinal (five year) study of effective guidance in England has been conducted by the Warwick Institute for Employment Research over the period 2002 to 2008. It was funded by the Department for Education and Skills, Access to Learning Division (subsequently renamed Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills). The project used a qualitative, longitudinal case study approach to investigate the nature of effective guidance and how it can enhance the capability to add value to post-compulsory learning. The main purpose of the research was to evaluate the effectiveness of guidance in England by tracking the career trajectories of research participants over a five year period to evaluate the role of guidance in the process of career development and progression. The fifty clients who participated in this study were followed-up over a four year period (2004-2008). In the final year of the study, the research team were able to follow-up 29 of the original 50 participants. The first interim report presents focuses on what is 'useful guidance', what are its key features and the characteristics of effective guidance from the perspective of the client and the careers professional.

In this research, ‘effectiveness’ was defined as what the recipients of guidance (the clients) found useful. The majority (98%, n=49) who participated in the initial phase of this research evaluated their guidance interview as ‘useful’, immediately after the event. Findings indicated that guidance is useful to clients in supporting their transitions into and through professional learning and development when it:

  • provides challenge and direction
  • gives access to relevant resources
  • can be accessed over a period of time
  • brings about positive change(s)
  • provides support and safety

The research also highlighted how some factors that influence the guidance process come from outside the immediate boundaries of the interviewitself (e.g. availability of different types of resources for clients).

A typology of the guidance interview was generated from practitioner interventions across the forty-nine ‘useful’ interviews. Four discrete categories of activities emerged from a detailed analysis of the interview transcripts. These were: building a working alliance; exploring potential; identifying options and strategies; plus ending and followingthrough. Each category comprised between three and six subsets of activities. Not all activities of guidance were evident across all interviews, nor did any particular combination or sequence emerge.The follow on reports explore the decision making styles of clients that emerged from the data, the barriers and influences on these career choices and decisions, as well as clients’ views about the impact of guidance on their career transitions.

More details on the project and key findings can be accessed here.

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Structuring the interview

Many interview frameworks are flexible and can be used across a range of different professional contexts, like marriage guidance counselling, debt counselling, etc. as well as guidance. Perhaps one of the best known is that developed by Gerard Egan.

Models for helping interviews ***********LINK BROKEN***********

This summary of two models indicate various suitable frameworks for careers guidance, with variations on stages. One example is taken from Richard Nelson Jones (1993) and the other from Gerard Egan (1994).

A five- stage model

Contribution from Ann Scott, University of East London

1. Introduction and Contracting: (Starting and Contracting)


  • smile/make eye contact/voice tone
  • set the scene
  • adviser name/professional title
  • welcome (hello)/hand shake
  • coffee/tea seating
  • be friendly, inviting & professional
  • communicate respect, acceptance & understanding,
  • stress impartiality

Contracting: our contract with client

  • possibilities for referral/further interviews
  • confidentiality/disclosure
  • services offered
  • time available
  • paperwork
  • advocacy/support
  • resource library

Contracting: clients contract to us

  • What does the client want?
  • Boundaries - what we can/cannot assist with.
  • Contract must be mutually understood & very clear to both parties

2. Exploration

  • Tells the story; Gives a picture; Finding out: work history; education; personal details & financial situation; home situation; self esteem; blocks/barriers; relationships; motivations; current situation

    3. Mid-Stage: Development & Focusing

    • Development of specific issues - focusing on key areas
    • Looking at all the options to move forward with those issues

    4. Goal Setting & Action Planning: Implementation

    • Goal Setting: Looking at the pros, cons & consequences of each possibility; Choosing the best options
    • Action Planning: Planning what to do next with the client; Enabling client to decide, with your help

        5. Ending: Closure

        • Summarise main points of discussion & Action Plan

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        Dealing with reluctance & resistance

        Contribution from Sally Wilden

        Sometimes clients are reluctant or resistant to co-operate with the helping process and difficult to motivate. This considers definitions of motivation, reluctance and resistance, identifies some techniques and outlines some strategies which may help overcome these difficulties.

        Motivation is difficult to define, with a mechanical model of motivation dominant (that is, motivational responses are stimulated by rewards, or deprivation, that leads to change). In practice, this type of extrinsic motivation probably needs to be balanced with intrinsic motivation (that is, motivation that comes from within the individual and link with personal belief systems or emotions).

        “there are no magical motivational buttons that can be pushed to make people want to learn, work harder, act more responsibly. Similarly, no one can be directly forced to care about something, feel particular emotion, or to be optimistic about his/her chances” (Ford, 1992, p202)

        Clients who experience low levels of motivation often present challenging behaviours and responses that require practitioners to re-think and re-evaluate how they can best work with these client groups. Clients can come to an interview with different levels of commitment. Two groups of clients with low motivation have been identified as reluctant (Egan, 1998, Okun, 1997) and resistant (Egan, 1994, 1998).

        Reluctant clients:

        Those who are not sure that they want to pay the price of managing their lives. The incentives for not changing are often greater than the incentives for changing.

        Resistant clients:

        Those who react negatively to feeling coerced. It is their way of fighting back. Resistant clients are likely to present themselves as not needing help and show little willingness to establish a relationship with the practitioner. They may be resentful, make active attempts to sabotage the helping process, terminate the process at the earliest possible moment and/or may be actually abusive and belligerent.

        Click here for more on reluctant and resistant clients.

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        Group work

        The emphasis is on developing and supporting the understanding and skills needed for group work, rather than materials to use during a group work session.

        Defining groups

        Jaques (1992) provides a summary of the characteristics of groups most commonly described by practitioners. He suggests that a group can be said to exist as an entity when the following qualities:

        • Collective perception: Members identify themselves as members of a group.
        • Needs: Participation in the group will satisfy specific needs.
        • Shared aims: Shared aims or ideals bind members together.
        • Interdependence: An interdependence develops amongst members, whereby they are affected by and respond to event relevant to the group.
        • Social organisation: A group is a social unit - with norms, roles and emotional relationships.
        • Interaction: A process of communication is established which enables member to respond to each other, even when not face-to-face.
        • Cohesiveness: A group has coherence with its members wishing to be members and to contribute to its successful maintenance.
        • Membership: Two or more people interacting for longer than a few minutes can constitute a group.

        It should be noted that these characteristics alone don't define a group and not all of them will apply to every group. (Some theorists argue that a group has to comprise at least three people before significant group behaviour can occur).

        Defining group size

        As the size of a group increases, so its characteristics change. Individuals become less constrained by the norms of the group and become more aware of their feelings. Leadership and other roles become more established. With numbers of 12 to 25 the likelihood of full face-to-face interaction decreases and sub-groups start to emerge. When the group is over 25 in number, face-to-face interaction between everyone becomes impossible. When leadership occurs is takes a clear `external' role.

        Click here for more information on: Tips for working with groups, facilitative interventions and language

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        Developmental theories of group processes

        Developmental theories of group processesOne way of making sense of the sometimes bewildering events which occur in group work, is to assume that there are stages through which a group must develop in reaching a state of `maturity'. Two development models of group behaviour are summarised in this section.

        Schutz (1970)

        Schutz suggests three linear phases, but introduces the notion of circularity and spiralling. Expressed simply, this means that group development can reverse and repeat sequences. They can also move forward by apparently going back through stages and even by going around in circles. The three stages in group development suggested by Schutz are:

        The Inclusion Phase: This refers to the desire of participants to connect to and associate with other people - to want interaction and relationship. This is a period when group members are becoming familiar with each other, though they have not yet formed close ties. There may be restlessness, tension and mobility. Members are evaluating and probing each other for mutual or complementary interests, exploring possibilities and beginning some preliminary pairing. The central issue for members at this stage is to belong to the group or not

        The Control Phase: Next, control issues become prominent. Control behaviour is the independent and assertive activity of group members in the areas of power, authority, status, influence, decision-making and communications. At this stage, the group starts to differentiate and develop a social structure. People assume or are ascribed roles and functions, positions and ranks. Cliques form and alliances are made as members jockey for status and power. Group members often compete against any formal authority vested in the group leader. The discomfort of creating and adjusting to a new social structure can manifest itself in a variety of behaviours such as: hostility, scapegoating, withdrawal, sub-grouping, power struggles and deviance which take members away from each other and pit them against each other. A previously docile group or compliant group can suddenly erupt into conflict, bickering and apparent mutiny! While groups can get stuck in this phase, the turmoil can bring with it much potential for reconstituting the group relationships on a higher level of involvement.

        The Affection Stage: This stage is about building emotional ties and deciding on the degree of intimacy to be developed with the other group members. In this phase, the group assumes an importance for members. There is a sense of identity and pulling together. Participation and involvement increase. Members are more sensitive to each other. The interpersonal relationships stabilize and it is possible to observe the heightened emotional feeling between pairs of members, triads, and sub-groups.

        Tuckman (1965)

        Tuckman's is a linear model. A group passes through the first stage on to the second and so on until reaching the final stage as an effectively performing group. Tuckman's approach was to bring together numerous studies by other researchers. He came up with 4 stages of group development:

        1. Forming: exploring what the group will be like, finding the basis of forming relationships with others. Finding out who they are, acceptance of whoever is in the formal leadership role. Tuckman sees orientation, testing and the establishment of dependency relationships by group members as the chief characteristic of this phase.
        2. Storming: conflicts break out as subgroups emerge, differences are confronted, control becomes an open issue and is resisted, regardless of its source....including a formal leader.
        3. Norming: rules start to emerge about acceptable ways of behaving and of carrying out the task of the group; these rules are allied in working with conflicts and a spirit of cooperation develops. Intimate, personal opinions are expressed
        4. Performing: conflicts are resolved, energy is put into task accomplishment -the group is becoming effective. The group has evolved to the point where it is supportive of task performance. Roles have become flexible and functional and group energy is channelled into the task. Members begin to acknowledge each other's uniqueness and permit individual differences to emerge. The standards and norms of behaviour are established.

        Tuckman was actually quite critical of the idea of producing a generalized theory to apply to different types of groups in different situations. However, this model is widely known and applied by people using groups. Not all groups follow these stages exactly and no allowance is made for the context and history of a particular group, who the people are and what their task or purpose is.

        Developmental theories of group processes can be extremely useful in making sense of what happens in groups, and for developing strategies for responding. They are easy to understand and remember. However, like any theory or model, groups rarely behave as suggested in reality. These models can offer pointers and markers if they are used flexibly, rather than slavishly.

        This model of group behaviour, like all models, can be misused is applied too rigidly and uncritically. For example, they can obscure what is really going on - and can distract attention away from the really issue. A group of dissatisfied participants can indicate that something is fundamentally wrong with the way a course or group is being run. It is important that such theories or models are used to illuminate the dynamics of the group, rather than be used to rationalise the limitations of the group leader.

        A second possible weakness with Tuckman's model is the fact that it is not value-free. Themes of effective performance and conflict resolution are more applicable to some types of group activity than others, and certainly do not indicate universal ways of seeing the world. They should, therefore, be treated with some caution.

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        Psychodynamic theories of group work

        Examples of psychodynamic theories can be found in this section (theories which consider the internal dynamics of groups.)


        Freud did not write much specifically about education, but some principles derived from Freudian psychology are used in education and training. He developed the idea that the individual was in conflict due to the demands made by different parts of the personality. These components of personality were the:

        • Id: a basic, instinctive force which expresses itself either as Eros, the love instinct, with an energy referred to as `libido', or as Thanatos, the destructive or death instinct.
        • Superego: a basic, instinctive force which is a drive towards the individual's ideal self. This super conscientiousness is equally as extreme as the id.
        • Ego: this part of the personality sits between instinctive forces of the superego and the id and tries to keep a balance.

        Freud stated that a psychology of the group had to answer three questions:

        • What is a group?
        • How did it acquire the capacity for exercising such decisive influence over the mental life of the individual?
        • What is the nature of the mental changes which it forces upon the individual?

        He saw individuals in the group released from the inhibitions of civilization, with the consequent emergence of the unbridled instincts. However, the same conditions can activate intense effort and self-sacrifice for the group's ideals. A central consideration in groups are the emotional ties between members, and that one of the principal mechanisms in the effecting of such ties is identification - the process whereby a person wants to be like his/her parents.

        Other key concepts:

        • Introjection/Projection - To use Freud's terms - people `introject' a preferred person (a leader) or the qualities they like in that person, into their own being, while at the same time `projecting' some of the bad or painful qualities of themselves onto others. When each member of a group assimilates the same qualities of the leader, they can identify with each other. In the same way, a group can spend a lot of time and energy in projecting its own conflicts or inadequacies onto another group or an institution.
        • Transference - Another Freudian concept which has relevance to groups is that of `transference' - a common phenomenon in which fears, loves and longings experienced in early childhood (usually in relation to parents and siblings) are re-awakened in later life when they are displaced onto another person (e.g. a participant rejects, resents or conversely respects to an unrealistic extent simply because the leader triggers the same feelings (usually subconsciously) as did one of the participant's parents.

        Key issues:

        • Authority: Whenever decisions have to be made about process or the allocation of tasks, a group is likely to experience authority problems. The leader's role would seem to be to aid the students' growth by refusing to join battle and to help them understand the consequences of their action.
        • Responsibility: There is a feeling in groups where visible authority is present that the ultimate responsibility for each person's action and its consequences resides in the figure of responsibility. The leader who is the incurable helper may fail to develop the student's capacity for self-growth into greater autonomy and harmony.
        • Boundaries: All groups have boundaries:time span, physical space, task and input.Evidence of the strength of subjective boundaries can be readily perceived if a stranger (e.g. new student/observer) is invited into the group.
        • Organisational Structure: The power relationships in the group, whether determined by outside factors (e.g. curriculum) or internal factors (e.g. skills of individuals) can have a profound effect on the work of a group. The recognition of this problem has led some group leaders to allocate special roles and responsibilities in a group on a rotating basis.

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        Psychodynamic theory: Bion

        Out of Freud's approach has developed one of the most powerful interpretations of group interaction (that commonly known as the `Tavistock Model'), which is relevant for understanding groups within education and training. Bion (1961) proposed that a group operates simultaneously at 2 levels:

        The Work Group...meets to perform a specific and overt task:

        However, this is frequently obstructed or diverted by the powerful emotional drives of the second `shadow' group that from time to time takes over. The shadow group may appear to be working on the task but it is actually governed by powerful yet unconscious forces arising out of fears for individual or group security. This is called the `basic assumption group' because its members behave `as if' certain things were true even though they are not.

        The Basic Assumption Group...behaves as if it shared the following tacit assumptions or motives:

        • Dependency - obtaining security and protection from one individual on whom it can depend e.g. leader;
        • Fight/flight - preserving itself from annihilation - either attacking (fight - scapegoating some other person in the group in order to avoid a difficult problem) or avoiding the task (flight - takes the form of withdrawal, passivity, dwelling on the past or jesting)
        • Pairing - two individuals form a bond in which warmth, closeness and affection are shown. i.e. assumption that the purpose of the group is to bring two people together who will somehow save the group from its current predicament. Frequently happens when the group is bored, lost or resentful. In learning groups, pairing can take 3 possible forms:
          • 2 participants provide mutual support for each other, to the exclusion of the rest of the group, who are thus rendered inactive
          • 2 participants could engage in an intellectual battle, each partner representing a different side of a conflict that has been preoccupying the group
          • the leader/tutor may pair with the group as a whole and collude with them in their which to avoid work. Often characterised by a sense of unreal hope

        The purpose of these `basic assumption' groups is to replace intolerable levels of uncertainty with something which seems more manageable. In groups which are less directed or less structured uncertainties will be present from time to time, and the less structured the activity the more likely it is that this will be so. Bion's ideas enable us to make sense of a response to uncertainty - initially subconscious - and it can happen at any time.


        • Benson, J. F. (1987) Working More Creatively with Groups, London: Routledge
        • Cotton, J. (1995) The Theory of Learning: An Introduction, London, Kogan Page.
        • Johnson, D.W. & Johnson, F.P. (1987) Joining Together: Group Theory and Group Skills, (3rd edition), New Jersey, Prentice-Hall International.
        • Pines, M. (1992) Bion & Group Psychotherapy, London: Routledge.
        • Reynolds, M. (1994) Groupwork in Education & Training: Ideas in Practice, London: Kogan Page.
        • Schutz, W. (1970) Profound Simplicity, London: Turnstone Books.
        • Tuckman, B.W. (1965) Developmental sequence in small groups, Psychological Bulletin, 63, 6: 384-99.

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        More links:

        People development and teamwork - A document (originally produced for the DTI) summarises key points from Belbin, MBTI and Adair, together with other web-based resources on the theme of teamwork.

        Web resources

        Discussion: what is the relationship between guidance and learning?