I have been working with Ronald Sultana and Rie Thomsen for several years now. We have been thinking about how an educational activity like career guidance can be helpful to people in an unequal and unfair world. When the coronavirus started to make its way through the world, we quickly saw that this had the potential to hurt people's careers and livelihoods and to increase the need for career guidance. We have started to write about this and try to agitate for the importance of career guidance during the pandemic and in its aftermath.
The coronavirus is turning our world upside down. It has shown us how fragile so many of our political systems are and how dependent our normal lives are on things that we take for granted like being able to live our houses and travel to work. The enormity of the shock that we have all experienced is bound to make people think deeply about themselves, their values, and the way that they spend their lives. This is where career guidance comes in as, career guidance is essentially a set of tools that help people to think through how they live their lives, manage their work-life balance and so on. The coronavirus is a time when career guidance is desperately needed.
Of course, many people will not have the luxury of engaging in the kind of deep reflection that I've just described. Many will be engaged in a scrabble for survival. Unemployment is growing very rapidly across the world. The International Labour Organisation says that the crisis is likely to lead to between 5-36 million new unemployed people across the world. We fear that young people, those with ‘low level' skills, people with disabilities, those who are marginalized and who have been made vulnerable will experienced the worst effects of the crisis. This is another reason why career guidance is going to be so important, because in challenging economic times, people need help and support to find their way.
But it is important not to just view career guidance as a support service. Of course, career guidance is important because it is supporting people, but it is also an educational act. It helps people to learn and this begs the question, in the time of the coronavirus, what is it important that people learn. We've been arguing that career guidance should help people to respond to the changes that they are experiencing in their working lives, but also to think about why this is happening and to consider the different ways in which this could be addressed. The last few weeks have shown us that many of the political and economic certainties of the past are being dismantled. Career guidance need to help people to cope with the present, but also to analyse the past and dream of the future.
What are the 3 main challenges of the career guidance in times of the coronavirus pandemic?
As ever the first challenge for career guidance is simply to have enough funding and political support to exist and be able to deliver services. It is very important that governments recognise that the employment effects of the virus are likely to be as significant as the health challenges. There is a desperate need to invest in educational and employment services and to support citizens to deal with the employment challenges that lie ahead.
Secondly, it is going to be very difficult providing career guidance in a world of scarcity of jobs. If unemployment rises as much as we expect career guidance is going to have to expand its understanding of what work and career is. We need to help people to stay active and engaged with society even if there is not paid work available.
Thirdly, we need to be careful not to fall back on old assumptions about what is possible for citizens and societies. Career guidance has often helped people to accommodate to the world around them rather than challenge it. But, over the next year or so we think that there is going to be a lot of change and a lot to challenge. Career guidance needs to become more assertive about helping people to become active participants in change rather than recipients of it.
Which actions the people and the career guidance professionals should do to face the challenges that you have mentioned?
In the last book that I edited with Ronald and Rie we identified five signposts that we feel can help career guidance professionals to address the world that we live in. We used these signposts to provide a structure for the kinds of responses that we think professionals should be making to the pandemic. They are as follows.
- Build critical consciousness. During this period of crisis careers workers can help people to understand the situation, not just to react to it on a personal level. This means to encourage people to think about the politics of the situation and consider where they stand on the approaches that are being taken by governments, businesses and other actors.
- Name oppression. It is already clear that the coronavirus is not going to affect everyone equally. Older people, those with pre-existing conditions and the immunocompromised look set to be made increasingly vulnerable to losing work, health and potentially their lives. Meanwhile, precarious workers, those on low pay and those without reserve capital also face unique challenges that go beyond maintaining their health. Unless these groups are supported, they look set to bear the brunt of the crisis. Careers professionals can recognise the specific needs of these groups, help them to see injustice and inequities in their treatment and organise in solidarity with them to ensure that they can still have access to a decent career.
- Question what is normal. What is normal is shifting quickly in the current situation. But discussion about a ‘return to normal' and what the ‘new normal' look like are likely to become the frontiers in political debate and discussion. Within our careers this is likely to manifest as a thousand micro-struggles about where and when we are expected to work, what work consists of, what constitutes sickness, stress, and wellness and so on. Encouraging individuals to question and challenge these ideas of normality is a key role for career guidance.
- Encourage people to work together. The coronavirus creates a complex environment for social solidarity. On one level it has created a recognition of common experience that transcends age, race, nationality, and other markers of difference. On the other hand, it has atomised us, preventing us to come together. Careers workers can help individuals to come together for the purposes of support, solidarity, and action. Mutual aid groups are emerging quickly, and we need to be part of them. As the new normal emerges individuals can together figure out how they respond both personally and politically to the new context for careering. Careers working can play an important role in facilitating this social interaction through a variety of online and other tools.
- Work at a range of levels. Finally careers workers can recognise that career is not just be viewed as work with individuals. We are in a period of rapid change and renegotiation and ensuring that people can build meaningful careers is going to require intervention into organisational, social, and political systems as well as advice, counselling, and education.
What academic and career guidance good practices do you know that can help to cope the effects the coronavirus is causing and will cause in the labour market and education?
Career guidance is important because it addresses individuals' psychological issues alongside their participation in social systems. The present time is an excellent example of when both are important, and both of these are intertwined. The coronavirus has been unsettling for people. It makes us question everything in our lives. But it also presents us with real, complex, and serious social and economic challenges. Career guidance, whether it takes the form of a counselling session, an online resource, a group learning experience or something else, is ideal to address this because it asks you to think about who you are, what you value and where you sit in the world. Our approach to career guidance has also emphasized the connection to others (what Rie called ‘Career guidance in communities') and the possibility of taking collective and political action to change the context within which you are pursuing your career. We have sought to operationalize these through the five signposts that are set out above. I would urge career guidance professionals to try these out.
How will this pandemic change the way people are provided with academic and career guidance? I mean, how will be the career guidance after the coronavirus pandemic?
We don't know how career guidance will emerge from this pandemic. While the political and economic context is changed that doesn't mean that there is only one way ahead for society or for career guidance. We hope that what will emerge from this period is a more humane world which values the connections between people and seeks to ensure that everyone has access to the things that they need to thrive. In such a world career guidance will be vitally important in helping people to find their way and consider the contribution that they wish to make.
But it is also possible to imagine a more dystopian future. Where the pandemic stretches societies capacity to breaking point. In such a situation career guidance has a role in helping people to survive and hopefully in helping them to come together and move beyond such a period of barbarism.
For now, all we can do it commit to mutual aid, assert the importance of decent work and a fulfilling career and work to engage citizens and governments in creating a better world.