What do you do and how do you share it with others? The I am… challenge.

My colleague brought her son into work recently and he left her a note at the end of the day that said ‘Mummy, how long do you stay at work? PS What do you do?’

Out of the mouths of babes as the famous saying goes. But this is an important question about how we learn about people’s jobs and what they do. There is a significant amount of work happening in the careers world by the Careers and Enterprise Company amongst others to better inform young people about the world of work.

My question is how can we as career development practitioners promote the work we do more effectively?

Last year I did a small piece of work for the Career Development Institute (CDI) to explore how people come into and make a career in the careers world. This has become an important piece of research, as it has identified that our workforce is predominantly white, female and aging! There are a few caveats that must be applied in that the survey will have not been answered by all practitioners and therefore only represents those we were able to target and wanted to contribute (we had 453 responses).

But there are a couple of interesting points here, one is that even if this is not representative, it tells a story that what we do is not attracting a diverse range of potential practitioners. Why is this? Why are young people not seeing careers development as an interesting future career, why are graduates not applying the way they do for teacher training? Why are we not able to promote working in the careers sector as an interesting, varied career that makes a difference to people’s lives?

Recently I have delivered several sessions that focus on the professional identity of career development practitioners. Wrapped up in this is the question, ‘How do we communicate who we are and what we do to others?’.

I have posed this question to participants, because I think this is central to building the prestige of careers that is currently been called for, most notably by The Rt Hon Robert Halfon, Minister of State for Apprenticeship and Skills.

One of the challenges we have as career development practitioners is that it is difficult to isolate the causal impact we have on the people we work with, because there are so many other variables that can influence and impact on career decision making.

However, what we can do is have a clear message about how engaging with professional careers support can make a difference to how people see themselves, the opportunities they think are available to them and how to make these a reality.

I came across this picture which I have been using a lot in workshops and I really like it, yes, it is a little cheesy, but it clearly states what dental hygienists in Canada do! They educate, empower, contribute to individual health care and well-being. Career development practitioners can claim similar attributes, we educate and empower individuals to embrace the opportunities that are open to them, to manage their career whatever that might be and to help them to aspire to achieve their potential. But again, these terms are still quite vague.

I have challenged practitioners to think about how we can better promote what we do. This links in with the CDI theme for 2017 which is advocating for the profession. It would move the profession forward considerably if we were able to have a clear definition that we can use that defines what is special about the work we do and how we do it.

This may encourage a broader range of people to want to work in the field but it may also promote and enhance how our work is perceived and establish it as a prestige profession.


"CPD for the Career Development Professional - A Handbook for Enhancing Practice" CoverSiobhan Neary is Head of the International Centre for Guidance Studies at the University of Derby, UK and is co-author of CPD for the Career Development Professional.

She has a background in the guidance sector which encompasses more than twenty five years working as a practitioner, trainer, manager and lecturer.