April 11, 2017

Four dimensions of learning and identity development: Relational; Cognitive; Practical and Emotional

Four dimensions of learning and identity development: Relational; Cognitive; Practical and Emotional

Learning and identity development can occur across four domains, namely: relational development; cognitive development; practical development; emotional development. Learning may involve development in one or more domains and development in each domain can be achieved in a number of different ways. Although these patterns can be found in all learners, how you learn is unique to you. Knowing about these dimensions and how they work for you can help you learn more readily, or get you going afresh if you're feeling stuck. Each is described below, together with some case examples drawn from our recent research.

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Relational development - learning with and from interacting with other people

A major route forrelational developmentis learning through interactions at work, learning with and from others (in multiple contexts) and learning as participation in communities of practice (and communities of interest) while working with others. Socialisation at work, peer learning and identity work all contribute to individuals’ relational development. Many processes of relational development occur alongside other activities but more complex relationships requiring the use of influencing skills, engaging people for particular purposes, supporting the learning of others and exercising supervision, management or (team) leadership responsibilities may benefit from support through explicit education, training or development activities.

Jack from the UK had switched career and now who worked as a carer. From the outset Jack learned much about his work from engaging with residents in the care home as well as learning from other staff. He had received letters from residents expressing their gratitude, which had boosted his confidence. His manager encouraged him to become a trainer in the care home, and although nervous and unsure he delivered the training and his self-efficacy increased.

Cognitive development - acquiring knowledge and thinking skills

A major work-related route forcognitive developmentinvolves learning through mastery of an appropriate knowledge base and any subsequent technical updating. This form of development makes use of learning by acquisition and highlights the importance of subject or disciplinary knowledge and/or craft and technical knowledge, and it will be concerned with developing particular cognitive abilities, such as critical thinking; evaluating; synthesising etc.

Bernard, a Czech automotive worker, participated in a short internal company technical training programme which positively surprised him in terms of practical outcomes and motivated him to actively work on his vocational development. 'You had to know your stuff, the trainer was extremely competent, he knew his field very well, but sometimes I had difficulties to follow him. Anyway, it was really done by professionals who knew their stuff, and I appreciated it very much. I was very satisfied. I learned lots of things that were later very useful for my work […] It was very interesting to meet people from a completely different and a rather specialised area. I learned a lot of things and I was proud of it. I think this was the moment that made me change my attitude towards learning. I became much more curious.'

Question: do you find that although the knowledge underpinning your practice is important, it can sometimes be hard to transfer that into your day to day work?

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Practical development - learning by doing, by experience, by taking on challenges

Forpractical developmentthe major developmental route is often learning on the job, particularly learning through challenging work. Learning a practice is also about relationships, identity and cognitive development but there is value in drawing attention to this idea, even if conceptually it is a different order to the other forms of development highlighted in this representation of learning as a process of identity development. Practical development can encompass the importance of critical inquiry, innovation, new ideas, changing ways of working and (critical) reflection on practice. It may be facilitated by learning through experience, project work and/or by use of particular approaches to practice, such as planning and preparation, implementation (including problem-solving) and evaluation. The ultimate goal may be vocational mastery, with progressive inculcation into particular ways of thinking and practising, including acceptance of appropriate standards, ethics and values, and the development of particular skill sets and capabilities associated with developing expertise.

Davide, an Italian carpenter, saw learning as a practice-based process driven by curiosity, a spirit of observation, and trial and error. A major role was played by his passion for the transformation of matter, which he perceived as an almost sacred event: ‘It really struck me to see that from a piece of wood one can create a piece of furniture’.

Emotional development - making sense of your own feelings and how others feel

Foremotional development, the major developmental routes are learning through engagement, reflexiveness that leads to greater self-understanding, and the development of particular personal qualities. Much emotional development may occur outside work, but the search for meaning in work, developing particular mind-sets, and mindfulness may be components of an individual’s emotional development. Particular avenues of development could include understanding the perspectives of others, respect for the views of others, empathy, anticipating the impact of your own words and actions, and a general reflexiveness, which includes exploring feelings. Identity development at work may also be influenced by changing ideas individuals have about their own well-being and changing definitions of career success (Brown & Bimrose 2014).

Henrik from Denmark switched career, moving into caring and developed a new relationship with his work, which he found much more emotionally engaging. While studying for his skilled worker qualification, Henrik immersed himself in individual assignments of his own choice. In one assignment, he developed a ‘product’ to help improve a pupil’s ability to communicate, an ability which was being lost due to a rare disease. When Henrik talked about the assignment he was very engaged and showed insight into the syndrome. Because the assignment was closely related to his experience and practice, he saw meaning in undertaking it: 'It was as though there was a circle I could complete on my own.' He received a top grade for the assignment, and it is evident that positive learning experiences and the perception of entering into learning processes that are meaningful to his life and work situation are strong motivating factors in his engagement in further learning.

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Supporting the learning of others

Just as continuing with your own learning and development at work have become increasingly important, so has supporting the learning of others working with you. One way a practitioner might support the learning of an individual with the process of identity development in response to the changing world of work is by helping them reflect upon their career story, develop a sense of career direction and a commitment to their learning, professional development and career adaptability (Savickas 2011).


Brown, A. & Bimrose, J. (2014). ‘Model of learning for career and labour market transitions’, Research in Comparative and International Education, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 270-286.

Savickas, M. (2011). Career counselling, American Psychological Association, Washington, DC.

February 10, 2017

Experimenting with identities and 'alone together'

It was Erik Erikson's idea of the importance of a moratorium or free space, a place of stillness, a place to gather themselves (especially in adolesence) in order to experiment with identities. Sherry Turkle (2011) in 'Alone Together' highlights how people experiment with identities in virtual worlds, although there is a difference to online spaces where there is still a link with the physical world and our place in it. On-line behaviour can help people develop a wider repertoire of real-world possibilities or those may slip away because of time spent on-line.

Csikszentmihalyi outlined by the idea of 'flow': fully immersed in an activity with focus and involvement, while Turkle highlights how on-line life offers continual connection, if you are lonely and/or we crave it (for the shot of dopamine it gives).

Does being always digitally connected mean you are less connected in other respects?

On-line activity may lead to conscious on-line performance.

Erikson - time spent caring for children leads to 'basic trust'.

Turkle - purpose-driven (and networked) individuals leading to detachment, and a decline of empathy. Interesting argument although given that she argues for 'opening up a conversation about technology, privacy and civil society is not romantically nostalgic, not Luddite in the least' (p. 264), when that was EXACTLY what the Luddites wanted. They were not against new technology per se, but rather that which did not consider the wider social consequences, including identities.

October 04, 2013

Career decision making styles

Extracts from a new publication - for examples and a much fuller argument, see:

Bimrose, J. & Brown, A. (2013). Navigating the labour market: transitioning styles of adults receiving career guidance. In Wuttke, Eveline & Seifried, Jürgen (eds.). Transitions in Vocational Education and Training. Stuttgart: Barbara Budrich Publishers.

This chapter explores how individuals who participated in career guidance processes as adults navigated their subsequent career pathways over the subsequent four years. The labour market transitions of these adults were investigated through annual interviews over five years and the transitioning ‘styles’ (strategic, evaluative, aspirational and opportunist) they used as they approached, then dealt with, career transition and progression issues were examined.

The ‘matching model’ of career transition is dominant in the policy rhetoric around skills supply and demand. It assumes that optimal job choices are made when individuals have an understanding of their individual traits (e.g. abilities, aptitudes, interests, etc.); acquired knowledge of jobs and the labour market; and made an objective judgement about the best fit between these traits and factors. When individuals are in the ‘right’ jobs in this model, the jobs match their aptitudes and abilities. However, the value of the matching model (developed over a century ago) is increasingly questioned.

Individuals do not always engage in technically ‘rational’ behaviours, often making decisions based on their own ‘pragmatic rationality’ (Hodkinson/Sparkes (1997), including responding to randomly occurring opportunities (Mitchell et al. 1999; Hambly 2007) in an ‘intuitive’ way (Harren (1979). Additionally, even if individuals wished to adopt a technically rational approach to career choice they are faced with the realities of the ‘opportunity structures’ available at specific times in particular places (Roberts, 2009). The constraints on career choice are particularly marked for socially disadvantaged groups facing significant social, psychological and economic barriers to their progress (Leong et al. 1998). Further, it assumes a degree of labour market stability, with jobs and sectors having predictable requirements, to which the objectively measured abilities of individuals can be matched. Whilst this view may have had some validity fifty years ago, it is no longer true – with volatility and fluidity being defining characteristics of global labour markets.

This chapter is based on the findings of a five year longitudinal study of labour market transitions, which examined the effectiveness of career guidance, initially involving 50 individual cases. Characteristic patterns of behaviour associated with four distinct transitioning ‘styles’ (strategic, evaluative, aspirational and opportunist) were identified in how individuals approached, then dealt with, career transition and progression issues. The research highlights the range of goals, aspirations, achievements and identities that shape how adults interact with, and move through, labour markets. It emphasises the dynamic ways many adults engage with vocational learning and development pathways, sometimes with transformational shifts in perspective as their careers unfold, often involving up-skilling and/or re-skilling (Brown et al. 2010). How individuals navigate career pathways was explored, with concepts of transitioning styles used to investigate how individuals coped with stressful labour market transitions. The chapter concludes with a critique of the dominant career transition paradigm that currently underpins the practice of formal career support of individuals navigating their labour market transitions.

Evaluative careerists

Evaluative career decision making is reflected in the psychological literature on emotional intelligence, whereby individuals can possess a range of social and emotional competences. This approach exemplifies the notion that self-appraisal through the identification and evaluation of individual needs, values and abilities is central to career planning for some individuals (Ball 1996). Individuals using this decision making style are undertaking a process of learning about themselves and the consequences of their decisions. Through a process of self-reflection and evaluation, individuals become: more comfortable and confident in their decisions; aware of their particular skills; and are able to identify preferred outcomes and goals (Gati/Saka 2001). The career narratives of six of the 29 research participants in the final phase of the longitudinal study demonstrate strong elements of this approach to career decision making. They had engaged with a process of critical self-reflection and self-evaluation that comprised periods of (sometimes prolonged) review and reflection, where career decisions were often seen as provisional, although they could also potentially contribute to a longer term career goal. A degree of uncertainty and ambiguity about career plans and how to enact then was evident throughout, partly because there was always the possibility that the process of reflection might indicate the value of a change of direction and a different future. Interestingly review is often seen in positive terms (ensuring career plans are current), but if review occurs too frequently and/or does lead to changes of direction, the process could easily be construed negatively as prevarication or indecision.

Strategic careerists

A strategic approach represents a more focused career decision making style, based on cognitive processing. Here, individuals base their choices on a process of analysing, synthesizing and weighing up advantages and disadvantages, then setting plans to achieve goals. Through this process, decisions are primarily based on rational considerations (Baron 2000). Individuals using this style of processing information and making decisions are competent in understanding a problem, considering and reflecting on options, and, perhaps more importantly, focusing on one particular solution (Sampson et al. 2004). This approach is essentially the same as the ‘rational’ style identified by Harren (1979) and was used by six . The term ‘strategic’ was used in an earlier relevant study of the development of engineers’ work-related identities which identified four forms of strategic action in which those in work may engage: identification; adjustment; strategic career; and redefinition (Brown 2004). Those individuals following a strategic career have initially committed to a particular occupation, and can be single-minded in achieving that initial goal even if a number of other steps are required. However, once the initial goal has been achieved, they are subsequently likely to continue to be interested in career progression, if avenues are available that build on their existing skill set in new ways. They are seeking to build their career strategically, enhancing their existing skill set, often following accepted progression pathways (for example, becoming a team leader, specialist, tutor, manager etc.).

Aspirational Careerists

A small number of research participants (three out of the 29 in the fifth year of the research study) were pursuing interim career goals which seemed almost tangential to their ultimate career aspiration, yet for them either represented relevant preparation or were regarded as unavoidable. Aspirational careerists adopt a style of career decision making based on focused but distant career goals and their career decisions are inextricably intertwined with personal circumstances and priorities. The aspirations may be career or personal and relate to performing, self-employment or any ‘dream’. They will take jobs to ‘get by’ – that is, provide the necessary finance to keep the aspiration alive, work becomes a means for striving for a distant goal. Interim goals are sometimes, but not necessarily, related to formal employment and achieving their ultimate career goal is definitely a ‘work in progress’.

Opportunistic Careerists

The fourth style of career decision making identified describes those individuals who have taken opportunities that have presented themselves, however unexpected, and tried (sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully) to turn them to their advantage. This was the largest group in the research sample, with eight out of 29 illustrating this style in the final phase of data collection. Opportunist careerists have a very different approach to career decision-making compared to the other three styles explored above. They exploit available opportunities rather than make active choices about work (see, for example, Banks et al. 1992, for further examples of this approach). Participants’ career plans could seem vague, undecided and uncertain. This resonates with the concept of ‘planned happenstance’ that encourages us to be receptive to randomly occurring opportunities that could be critical in shaping our careers (Mitchell et al. 1999; Hambly 2007) and the need for practitioners to place greater importance on context. This type of decision making behaviour has certain similarities with Harren’s (1979) ‘intuitive’ decision making style.


Findings from the longitudinal study challenge, fundamentally, the notion that a matching approach is generically suitable. For some (perhaps even a minority) – of those who use a strategic career decision-making approach – this paradigm is, indeed, entirely suitable. However, for others (possibly a majority) it is not. For policies designed to support the up-skilling and re-skilling of the labour force to be successfully implemented, these differences will need to be accommodated.

Only a minority of adults make use of formal career guidance provision so a question may be raised about the generalizability of the findings to all adults. However, the point which is clearly generalizable is that there are a range of career decision-making styles other than the career decision-making approach around which much career guidance is still organised. Additionally, however, specifically to address this question, two follow-up studies are being conducted in Ireland and China.

The longitudinal investigation of adult career trajectories has revealed a multiplicity of factors combining to produce complex patterns of movement. Effective careers guidance aims to support individuals at all stages of their career, to reflect on their skills, consider various options and embrace career change. It needs to ensure that it incorporates research findings, including those relating to career decision-making styles, which will enable it to enhance its effectiveness. A substantial evidence base now exists that indicates the positive impact of careers guidance on the working lives of adults. Reshaping careers, learning and identities is a daunting challenge for everyone and careers guidance can play a major role in helping adults construct new coherent career narratives, if it takes account of differences in career decision making styles, when considering how learning can help drive these processes.


Ball, Ben (1996): Assessing Your Career: Time for Change? Leicester: British Psychological Society.

Banks, Michael; Bates, Inge; Breakwell, Glynis; Bynner, John; Emler, Nicholas; Jamieson, Lynn; Roberts, Ken (1992): Careers and Identities. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Baron, Jonathan (2000): Thinking and Deciding. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Brown, Alan; Bimrose, Jenny; Barnes, Sally-Anne; Kirpal, Simone; Grønning, Terje; Dæhlen Marianne (2010): Changing Patterns of Working, Learning and Career Development across Europe, Coventry: Warwick Institute for Employment Research.

Brown, Alan. (2004): Engineering identities. In: Career Development International, 9, 3, pp. 245-273.

Gati, Itamar & Saka, Noa (2001): High School Students’ Career-related Decision-making Difficulties. In: Journal of Counselling and Development 79, 3, pp. 331-340.

Hambly, Liane (2007): New theory: Implications for Guidance Practice. In: Career Guidance Today 15, 3, pp. 30-33.

Harren, Vincent (1979): A Model of Career Decision Making for College Students. Journal of Vocational Behavior 14, 2, pp. 119-133.

Hodkinson, Phil & Sparkes, Andrew (1997): Careership: a Sociological Theory of Career Decision Making. In: British Journal of Sociology of Education 18, 1, pp. 29-44.

Leong, Frederick; Austin, James; Sekaran, Uma; Komarraju, Meera (1998): An Evaluation of the Cross-Cultural Validity of Holland’s Theory: Career Choices by Workers in India. In: Journal of Vocational Behavior, 52, 4, pp. 441-455.

Mitchell, Kathleen; Levin, Al; Krumboltz, John (1999). Planned Happenstance: Constructing Unexpected Career Opportunities. In: Journal of Counseling and Development 77, 2, pp. 115-124.

Roberts, Ken (2009) Opportunity Structures Then and Now. In: Journal of Education and Work 22, 5, pp. 355 – 368.

Sampson, James/ Reardon, Robert/Peterson, Gary/Lenz, Janet (2004): Career Counseling and Services: A Cognitive Information Processing Approach. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

December 14, 2011

Discussion threads relating to age discrimination and the role of guidance

Discussion threads relating to age discrimination and the role of guidance.

This discussion took place in 2005 on the old National Guidance Research Forum (NGRF). The new site is more tightly focused but it seemed a shame to lose this discussion altogether. The discussions explore a wide range of issues relating to third age guidance

This discussion explores a wide range of issues relating to third age guidance

Comment 1: Role of film in challenging age related stereotypes in guidance

There are a number of films that lend themselves to use for career discussion purposes because they help to expand understanding of particular career guidance situations. However, until an example of a distinctly 'third-age career guidance' film became available. 'About Schmidt' is about the effect of retirement on a man in his 60s who has no personal desire to retire but has to go through with it, and is then left looking for a purpose in his life - including wondering what he has achieved by his life work. I wonder if it might lend itself to use within pre-retirement courses - and if so what impact it would have on older adults attending? At the very least it could shift attention away from the attractions of the 'Saga way of life', and help them to focus on the creative use of leisure, and the value of downshifting policies and volunteering.

Comment 2: Raising awareness

I am extremely interested in the part that films of this type and quality can play in breaking down barriers, stimulating meaningful discussion within groups, raising awareness, helping to show people that they are not alone with their problems and the issues they are facing and seeking to overcome, and in creating open peer support groups. The latter is one of the most successful methods of helping older adults to re-establish confidence and direction and extend their networks leading to work, learning and other activities - as of course it is for other age groups as well.

Comment 3: Discrepancies in the level of financial support for guidance with different age groups

An interesting point about the similarities of agendas/issues between Connexions' target group of sidelined young people (Not in Education, Employment or Training) - and Third Age sector members. One crucial point of common ground is that Government has ignored the needs of both sectors of the population until very recently. They are choosing to pour all this money into Connexions to work with the NEET group of clients - but IAG remains starved of funds, as the Government seems to think that adults should make their own way forward in second/third/fourth stage of careers, with no help from any expert in career planning. Who could put their hand up and say that all members of this group enjoy such freedom of thought - not to mention multiplicity of career choice at their disposal?!

Comments 4: Strengthening the evidence-base to justify guidance funding

I think we should acknowledge significant amounts of funding have been put into adult guidance compared with say 1995. In that context to say IAG for adults remains 'starved of funds' appears to be unhelpful in that it externalises (and blames?) the problem. The key issue for the adult guidance community is to 'make a case' for further funding based on what it is achieving and by mobilising arguments to inform 'evidence-based policy'. For example, Scotland and Wales both devote considerably more resources to adult guidance. What effect has that had?

Comment 5: Raising the retirement age: implications for guidance

The point about 'making a case' will be greatly helped by issues highlighted in the recent Government consultation document on age legislation, 'Age Matters: Towards Equality and Diversity: Report of Responses on Age' (2003, DTI). For a number of reasons, including financial, increasing numbers of adults are expected to want to work after 60. The extent to which suitable opportunities will be available remains an unknown factor. This also links to concerns about savings and pensions.

More guidance for adults is therefore likely to be on the way, but in what form. Will it be sufficiently open-ended to cope with the individual's desire for a change and to give extended guidance to consider choices and opportunities. Personally I think rights to guidance on the French (bilan de compétences) system would be helpful (Gendron, 2001). In that system it is possible to get a competency audit of prior experience to fit the requirements of the education and training system or the qualifications system, but also considerable time can be devoted to the development of more individualised career plans (Bjørnåvold, J. and Brown, A. 2002), . What if everyone had the right to say three days guidance say every ten years or so?

  • Bjørnåvold, J. and Brown, A. (2002), Rethinking the role of the assessment of non-formal learning, in P. Kämäräinen, G. Attwell and A. Brown (eds), Transformation of learning in education and training: key qualifications revisited, Cedefop Reference series 37, Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.
  • Gendron, B. (2001) The Role of Counselling and Guidance in Promoting Lifelong Learning in France, Research in Post-Compulsory Education, Volume 6, Number 1, 2001, 67 -96.

Comment 6: Regional variations

Demographics and economic imperative are going to mean people working longer, and there are likely to be changing patterns of work and retirement. However, there are likely to be major regional, social and economic variations in the circumstances of different sections of the community. That is, even if age discrimination were effectively tackled there would still be a number of other equal opportunity remaining.

Comment 7: Relevance of the 'Challenging Age' report

Looking at the Challenging Age report published in April 2003 could be helpful to this discussion. It addresses the huge wastage of skills and loss to the economy because of the barriers faced by the 'active ageing' group of those aged between 45 and 65 years. Aimed at helping older job-seekers successfully re-engage with the job market, the report provides a model of best practice for use by the network of information, advice and guidance partnerships across the country.

The key findings of Challenging Age were that:

  • stereotypes of older employees persist, and low value is placed on the skills and experience of older workers
  • many people over 45 years want to work, learn and continue to use their abilities in their later years.
  • many want a 'second chance'; to access high quality information, advice, guidance and retraining to enable them to overcome barriers to employment
  • adult information and advice must play a key role in helping mid-life and older adults to work, learn and earn.

Comment 8: Experiences from the frontline

There are also annexes to the Challenging Age report that include reports on the focus groups and telephone interviews with frontline workers in agencies working with older adults. In these older adults and frontline workers speak about their experiences - it might be helpful if we were able to draw upon these in the construction of some 'stories' about adult guidance that would give a stronger 'human' dimension to our discussions. Others may wish to contribute their own stories - there were also some available in some separate IAG reports.

Comment 9: Activities of third age guidance

The Challenging Age research report also highlights how older adults particularly welcomed a number of guidance inputs and activities, preferably available from the same provider so that they formed an integrated whole. The favoured activities and inputs included:

  • Clear and precise descriptions of what guidance services offer;
  • Accessible, personally relevant, up-to-date and detailed information on work and learning opportunities, finance and benefits, self-employment, volunteering, and local organisations that can help;
  • Expert advice and guidance that enables them to relate the information to their own circumstances;
  • Ready access to expert information, advice and guidance on financial issues and self-employment;
  • Skilled assessment;
  • Access to computer-aided guidance packages, and information on relevant websites;
    Skilled help in relating individual skills, aptitudes and experience to the changing labour market and needs of the local community - help in drawing up personal action plans;
  • Coaching in personal presentation, writing CVs, interview techniques, jobsearch and self-advocacy;
  • Training and career development opportunities that provide them with the skills required by local employers, and which they can afford;
  • Opportunities for work trials, work sampling and work experience;
    Opportunities to form peer group support networks.

The attitudes, approaches, and skills of the helping staff are of critical importance. Staff should be able to make older people feel welcome, be able to smile and encourage, possess empathy with the issues facing older adults, have the ability to work holistically, be good advocates and have extensive local networks, and be efficient and conscientious and keep in touch.

Comment 10: Making sense of individual stories

The point made earlier about 'stories' is important. In the Challenging Age report one could see that the guidance activities and inputs that older adults particularly favour are those that help them to make sense of their own individual stories and to decide how they want to develop these next. It was clear from the focus groups that many (perhaps all?) older adults are concerned about their life contributions and how they will be remembered. They want their lives to have been worthwhile.

One of the aims of the NGRF site is to give scope for story-telling as a vivid way of trying to make sense of many of the complex issues involved both in people's lives and in the guidance process. Bill Law's Career-Learning Cafe shares similar ideas. It can be accessed on http://www.hihohiho.com/. Although Bill's initial work on story applied to guidance relates to CEG in schools and colleges, and Connexions Services, adult guidance practitioners will quickly see how relevant Bill's work is to adult guidance.

Comment 11: Narrative approaches to working with adults

I am particularly struck by the importance of Bill Law's work to adults aged 45+, and the need to help many older adults to make sense of their individual stories in order to determine their next steps. I feel increasingly that third age guidance can only operate successfully if the 45+ are given time to explore their own stories.

I think that many older adults sense this need themselves, and this is a main reason why the Challenging Age research team found that the 45+ particularly favour IAG providers that offer a range of guidance and related activities from the same site, including learning opportunities and access to caring guidance workers who are available over a period of time and are skilled listeners (Ford,G. Watkins, B., Bosley, S., Hawthorn, R. McGowan, B. & Grattan, P. (2003) Challenging Age: Information, Advice and Guidance for Older Adults. DfES: Sheffield).

Basically older adults are, consciously or unconsciously, trying to create the space they need to explore their own stories and work out what they want the next chapters to contain so that their ultimate story has real quality and meaning. Guidance workers who have well developed caring, mentoring and listening skills are able to facilitate this process. Law's work helps to show why working out one's own story is potentially such an important and powerful aspect of guidance.

Comment 12: Challenging Age report uses quotes or vignettes to convey the human dimension, examples are given below:

  • Some of the group described the feelings of panic that older people can experience because of a sense of time running out - in trying to find suitable employment, satisfy an unfulfilled sense of vocation, and in other areas of their lives. You're determined not to give up.....but people can become disheartened. Some participants had direct experience of disappointment and disillusion, accompanied by a sense of panic, in their own search for employment. Two participants had also witnessed the process in their husbands who had been made redundant, and the loss of confidence and hope that the individual can consequently experience. I could see his personality changing...he lost confidence and didn't feel good about himself any more...he hasn't been the same man since.

Challenging Age focus group, York and North Yorkshire

  • You're on the scrap heap. You have to work really hard at remaining positive and keeping your motivation and self-confidence. All the time there's this unspoken innuendo - you're too old. But we've all got something to offer employment and the community. We need opportunities to use our experience - where necessary to be trained and retrained - and to work. There are social costs here - costs to the economy, costs to health and costs to social services and the community. It's an issue that the country has simply got to get hold of because there's so much waste - at some point it could be any of us.

Challenging Age focus group member, City of Sunderland

  • Voluntary work at the centre provides "a lifeline" for one and is the "mainstay of my life", for another. One participant found that her experiences of office and care work are valued at The Bridge. Through voluntary work she has been able to re-enter employment after two redundancies, and the "distressing and discouraging" experience of being unemployed. Another who was made redundant/early retired found voluntary work at The Bridge to be so fulfilling that he no longer wishes to return to paid employment. Volunteering is a valued source of self-esteem and structure, and provides the opportunity to use and develop skills.

Challenging Age focus group, Derbyshire

Comment 14: Feeling valued?

The point made earlier about how older adults are concerned about their life contributions, how they will be remembered and how they want their lives to have been worthwhile. This helps to explain why so many of those interviewed in the Challenging Age research shared an intense dislike of job centre staff who wanted to shunt them immediately into inferior and unsuitable jobs to get them off the unemployment register. Many adults wanted opportunities to develop their careers through training (within work, outside work, through volunteering) and wanted a fresh start (that is, not necessarily their old job but to develop latent interests and skills currently under-developed).

It was also apparent that volunteering work suited the skills and values of large numbers of older adults in ways that the current workplace appears unable to do. Would it be possible to pay stipends for volunteering (as is done in the States) and might we be able to enable many more older adults to provide the cement which holds together local communities through volunteer work? Is it necessarily a good thing for the economy that many more older people should be encouraged to stay in their existing work and/or in conventional paid work? Should we looking at ways of enabling many more to work within the voluntary sector?

There are fundamental issues here. High quality, targeted and effective third age guidance can help many more older adults to continue to lead productive and useful lives. This could help them to die content and feel they will be remembered (sounds bleak but this is almost certainly a universal desire which we do well to remember - and so should politicians concerned with the quality of life and the economics of happiness).

Comment 15: The importance of practitioner attitude

The point made above that the attitudes, approaches, and skills of the helping staff are of critical importance and that staff should possess empathy with the issues facing older adults, have the ability to work holistically, be good advocates and have extensive local networks, and be efficient and conscientious and keep in touch has parallels with Connexions. The requirements of staff dealing with the Connexions groups are similar - and indeed there is a strong argument for a Third Age Connexions or similar provision if the country is genuinely going to do something about using the vast and often wasted reserve of skills and potential possessed by the 45/50+.

Challenging Age raises issues concerned with the move into active retirement - however, much more work is required on guidance for shifting into active retirement, and the variety of routes from gradual and planned to sudden and unexpected that can be taken.

Comment 16: Further reading on this topic

Geoff Ford and Jim Soulsby's Mature Workforce Development: East Midlands 2000: Research and Report, prepared for EMDA and obtainable from NIACE.

This report includes over 200 pages of brief outlines of third age policy and research reports and resources, classified under the following categories: key national policy documents; the changing situation; employment; recruitment and employment services; community involvement; lifelong learning; special groups; overcoming barriers; and consulting older people.

Life after 50: Issues for policy and research edited by Donald Hirsch. Joseph Rowntree Foundation 2000.

This reviews relevant research under 3 headings - older people and paid work; the income dimension; and active participation beyond employment. Donald Hirsch produced this to inform the JRF 50+ Transitions Programme, and to identify priority gaps within which to commission research. Third age guidance methodology was identified as such a gap.

August 22, 2011

Career Adaptability

The European project on Changing patterns of learning, working and career development across Europe has now been completed - the linked final report was produced in 2010.

The work was extended with qualitative interviews with participants from England and Norway in a follow-up study for UKCES on career adaptability (the ability to continue to make successful transitions across the lifecourse), which was published in August 2011: details and links given below:

Bimrose, J., Brown, A., Barnes, S-A. and Hughes, D.(2011) The role of career adaptability in skills supply, Evidence report 35. Main Report. Wath-upon-Dearne: UKCES.

Bimrose, J., Barnes, S-A., Brown, A. and Hughes, D.(2011) The role of career adaptability in skills supply, Evidence Report 35. Technical Report. Wath-upon-Dearne: UKCES.

We are, however, continuing to examine how people’s careers are changing and how people develop career adaptability - so we still interested in your experiences, so please contact us for further information.

November 09, 2010

Research on career adaptability

The current focus of UK skills policy is on four policy areas (economic performance; skills demand; skills supply; and jobs and skills mismatch), based around concerns with organisational productivity, sectoral and regional policy, education and training, the labour market, and reducing inequality and promoting social mobility, while addressing three key underlying issues: individual aspiration; employer demand; and responsive provision (UKCES (2010) Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK).

What is missing from this set of concerns, however, is any sense of progression of individuals through work across the life-course, particularly insofar as this involves moving between sectors. As a consequence, a dynamic element of how individuals become engaged with learning and development pathways, which involve upskilling, reskilling and sometimes transformational shifts in perspective as their careers develop, is largely absent from current policy analysis.

The GLACIER group at IER believe this gap could be filled with a focus on ‘career adaptability.’ Our current research in this area builds upon a major ten country enquiry into changing patterns of career development across Europe, which highlighted how some people were much more successful than others in negotiating a series of work-related transitions. Additionally, it extends international research from a seventeen country study into the concept of career adaptability, which we believe to be a key element in understanding successful transitions and accumulation of skills at the individual level.

The concept of career adaptability is strategically important because whilst ‘employability’ seeks to ensure that individuals can find a place in the labour market, ‘career adaptability’ is concerned with the development of, and support for, the capability of an individual to make a series of successful transitions where the labour market, organisation of work and underlying occupational and organisational knowledge bases may all be subject to considerable change.

The aim of this study is to assess and develop existing (national and international) knowledge about career adaptability, with particular emphasis on skills accumulation, in order to provide a platform for the development and support of career adaptability in a UK context. The objectives include exploring the potential of the concept of career adaptability to empower individuals to take positive decisions and actions regarding their skills development; and investigating the influence of particular labour market conditions in supporting career adaptability (through an Anglo-Norwegian comparison).

Using career adaptability as an analytical framework, helps address the issue of readiness of young people for different types of employment: ‘adaptability’ provides real purchase on this issue precisely because it can be examined in terms of individual proactivity, relational issues and quality, structure and nature of institutional support (examples from engineering, accountancy and healthcare show how career adaptability can be fostered and developed as a process extending right through to ‘experienced worker’ status and how the lack of challenge and support in work can undermine earlier preparations prior to employment). It can also help highlight the value placed on different types of knowledge, skills, qualifications, experience in their learning and skill development. We will be looking, in particular, to make a qualitative comparison of successful transitions in the UK and Norway. Norway is an interesting comparator because it has a buoyant labour market and low unemployment and would help us answer the question relating to the extent to which career adaptability takes different forms in different structural contexts – career adaptability is likely to be influenced by the dynamic interaction of structural and agentic factors.

Separately, a detailed conceptualization of career adaptability is being be derived from an ongoing seventeen country study in which IER is participating. Whilst career adaptability is derived from a psychological perspective, it is also influenced by psycho-social factors (through the interaction with others) and structural factors (such as the provision of careers guidance and other forms of support in making transitions). The proposed research will therefore enable a deeper understanding of the potential role of career adaptability in employment and skills policies derived from a range of contrasting international contexts.

July 26, 2010

Development and application of interpersonal skills in different contexts

My broad argument is that doing something well in terms of cognitive development, the affective domain or development of psycho-motor skills can be used as a basis for development in other areas too. Here I want to say something about the development of interpersonal skills in relation to higher skills development more generally.

A 'Listening and Interpersonal Skills Review' was produced in 2007 by Therese Shepherd, Julia Braham and Carol Elston of the University of Leeds. Their paper offers the non-subject specialist an overview of the literature which has influenced the development of listening and interpersonal skills in UK higher education.  It refers to articles, seminal texts and writers within the field.  The importance of these skills within occupational and educational domains is also highlighted. See: http://www.learnhigher.ac.uk/Download-document/293-Literature-Review-Listening-and-Interpersonal-Skills-19-06-07_1.htm.

However, transfer of knowledge between education and work in professional contexts is problematic, because of the challenge of combining the various relevant aspects of knowledge and skill into an integrated, holistic, performance (Michael Eraut has written about this - see, for example, http://www.mofet.macam.ac.il/iun-archive/mechkar/pdf/TransferofKnowledge.pdfor http://www.ou.nl/Docs/Expertise/OTEC/Publicaties/els%20boshuizen/deel3.pdfor http://learningtobeprofessional.pbworks.com/f/CHAPTER+A2+MICHAEL+ERAUT.pdf).

Difficulties getting labour market information on consequences of subject choice

Another contribution I made in a debate about role of labour market information (LMI) at a Symposium on Lifelong Learning held in Glasgow in June 2010:

Yes I wanted to say something we’ve picked up on the information, advice and guidance front. An issue I think is important following on from that point about information, is actually just to look at where people go in terms of the careers after following certain paths and the information associated with that. I think it ties back to the point about languages and also to a certain extent the challenges associated with maths. I mean one of the disadvantages of the modular and credit systems is to a certain extent you can do things which duck away from certain areas which are actually quite demanding, like languages and subjects which have a mathematical underpinning. They have really serious labour market consequences and the premiums if you do these sorts of things well are astonishing. Now you come into a different area because when you give people this type of information: you come up with things like if you get a Degree in a non numerate subject which is a 2:2 or below, you know in the following 5 years after graduation your prospects are greater than somebody who got a first or a 2:1 in a non numerate subject. Absolutely stunning in terms of the difference. Now there might be other reasons why you want to do different sort of things, but there is opposition to that type of information being given at the school level. In an English context you have the case where, again, it is better to take difficult subjects like languages and maths and do less well, but you try telling that to head teachers in England, you know they go crazy. I thought I was going to be beaten up once when I said that, because they concerned with school performance tables. But they’re the sorts of things where the information comes and then the point about the guidance, you’re absolutely right, the guidance comes later. I think you are also right to focus on the client, addressing people not about where they fit in terms of a qualification or where they fit in terms of giving them a course, but where they fit as an individual. It is interesting in that sense that the French system, bilan de competence, gave them a right to a number of days where they reassessed their career as an individual with a guidance practitioner. So I do think that’s right, but I do think there are also things we can do on the information side and to address this confidence issue.

Tranferability of doing things well in different domains

Here is a reply I made at Lifelong Learning Symposium in Glasgow

It is also linked to the point about value of learning languages and seeing things from a different perspective and I think that one of the things is that although the confidence issue can be partly addressed by the need to do something well, which is where I started when I was talking about some of the different sort of settings in which to perform well and what effects that had in terms of confidence and self esteem. I think that developments in the cognitive dimension can be linked with other forms of development: you can be good with people, understand their feelings, get a sense of place, as affective and psycho-motor skills can be developed too. The example I always give, which again is from another TLRP project in which was involved, looked at teaching and learning in special areas like music and sport. It had a number of researchers in Scotland and England and one of the students in the project was at The Royal College of Music. She was a singer and she performed and made a presentation at an event where the young people themselves talked about the research and performed and it was very instructive in terms of what she did. She performed as a singer and it was stunning, but in her reflections on the research she also recognised that her skill set in terms of what made her a really good singer (although she also recognised she wasn't going to make a career in terms of singing) also led to a degree of self-reflexiveness. She was able to say what I am aware of is my body in terms of what I have to do in order to produce this sort of performance and have to reflect upon and so on and so forth and from that she said ‘I think I’d make a pretty good psychotherapist’ and you thought yeah I bet you would. There was that sense of the confidence from doing something well that spills over into other areas and it is that sense of allowing people to excel in other areas other than just the cognitive which is important.

for further work in this area in music, see: http://www.cps.rcm.ac.uk/CPS/Research; http://www.cps.rcm.ac.uk/CPS/People/Staff/Perkinshttp://www.tlrp.org/proj/phase111/L2P.htm

see also: http://www.tlrp.org/pub/documents/HigherSkillsComm.pdfon Higher Skills Development at Work

June 26, 2009

Innovation in learning and development

Here are some documents that may be of wider interest as well may be being of some use to support members of the innovation group? The Learnovation project drew attention to the following documents:    

[February 2009] Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate.This book published by the OECD summarises and discusses key findings from the learning sciences, shedding light on the cognitive and social processes that can be used to redesign classrooms to make them highly effective learning environments. Read more >>

[January 2009] Innovative learning measures for older workers.Published by Cedefop. Devising attractive lifelong learning (LLL) measures to address the needs of mature employees, is a challenging task. The challenge has as much to do with changes in the world of work (workplaces) as the need for new policies in learning (training institutions). Read more >>

[January 2009] European Innovation Scoreboard 2008: Summary of the situation in the 27 Member States. The 2008 report improves the methodology with a revised set of indicators which give more importance to service sectors, non-technological innovation and innovation outputs. Overall innovation performance is calculated on the basis of 29 indicators covering seven dimensions of innovation. Read more >>

[December 2009] On Creativity: Towards an understanding of creativity and its measurements.This paper published by the European Commission's Joint Research Centre aims at constructing a preliminary understanding of research on creativity and the possibilities of constructing a “creativity composite indicator” using large scale surveys and other existing statistical tools. The paper reviews some perspectives on creativity. Read more >>

[December 2008] New Skills for New Jobs. Adapting to change and ensuring the correct matching between labour market and supply is crucial if EU countries want to remain productive and competitive. The rapid change implies that EU countries have to become pro-active and be able to anticipate in order to be better prepared for future challenges. This is why EU Member States have asked the European Commission to report on future skills requirements in Europe up to 2020. Read more >>

[November 2008] School's Over: Learning Spaces in Europe in 2020: An Imagining Exercise on the Future of Learning. This IPTS report uses a rigorous imagining approach to develop an alternative way of organizing learning in Europe whereby the traditional school system no longer plays a significant role. This study shows that, on the basis of phenomena already present in Europe today, it is possible to invent a discontinuous model of how people learn and how what they learn is used in everyday life. Read more >>

[November 2008] Exploratory Research on Social Computing (ERoSC). The ERoSC project has been carried out by the Information Society Unit at IPTS during 2007 – 2008. The project is part of the Joint Research Centre's exploratory research scheme which aims to build competences in strategically relevant scientific fields. The publications are:
- Social Computing: Study on the Use and Impacts of Collaborative Content
- Social Computing: Study on the Use and Impact of Online Social Networking
- An Empirical Analysis of the Creation, Use and Adoption of Social Computing Applications
- The Socio-economic Impact of Social Computing: Proceedings of a validation and policy options workshop

[November 2008] The use of ICT to support innovation and lifelong learning for all - A report on progress. The report describes how the use of e-learning has developed in Europe since 2000. It assesses the impact of ICT on school and higher education, while taking other education sectors into account. ICT are not yet sufficiently present in Europe's education systems, and reforms must be introduced to adapt them to the technological changes sweeping through our societies. This is the main conclusion of a report adopted by the European Commission. Read more >>
Press release (available in EN, FR, DE)

[October 2008] Learning 2.0: A Study on the Impact of Web 2.0 Innovations on Education and Training in Europe. The objective of this study is to assess the impact of web 2.0 trends on the field of learning and education in Europe and to see where Europe stands in terms of using web 2.0 innovations in the domain of learning. Read more >>
Database results, 217 submitted cases

[October 2008] Compendium of Good Practice Cases of e-learning. Cases selected by Members of the ICT Cluster. The cases collected in this Compendium are examples of good practice in e-learning in Europe. They were all selected by countries participating in the ICT Cluster and Peer Learning Activities managed by Directorate General Education and Culture (DG EAC). In total, 43 cases were selected and described. Read more >>

[September 2008] OECD's Final Report, Thematic Review of Tertiary Education. Tertiary education policy is increasingly important on national agendas. The widespread recognition that tertiary education is a major driver of economic competitiveness in an increasingly knowledge-driven global economy has made high quality tertiary education more important than ever before. Read more >>

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