[This article was originally published in French. It was translated in English by EPALE France]
Guidance and management of professional lives today, a series of 3 articles
In this highly unusual situation, due to the Covid-19 crisis and its current and future impacts; at a time when our points of reference have been shaken up and our professional lives are full of uncertainties, issues of career guidance have taken on a new level of importance. These issues are of concern to all citizens regardless of their age, situation and living conditions. The number of initiatives is growing, at all levels of the territories and promoted by a wide variety of stakeholders: a concerted plan: “one young person, one solution", projects developed in the framework of the Skills Investment Plan (PIC), regional initiatives in the framework of the SPRO, and the daily efforts of the Mission Locale network of youth support centres. In this series of 3 articles, we will look at how this situation has encouraged us to question the way in which we support and inform the public, to help them make decisions in such an uncertain context. In this first article, we will question the objective of "guiding and training towards the sectors of the future”, looking at the results of a major OECD study: "Dream Jobs? Teenagers' Career Aspirations and the Future of Work”. In the second article, we will discuss the practices resulting from “guidance approaches” and in the third article we will examine the different working arrangements for professional stereotypes (including gender stereotypes).
Article 1: Guidance and training towards the sectors of the future? Yes, but what are the aspirations of young people?
Issues of guidance are being studied throughout Europe, at all territorial levels and for all groups: difficulties of professional integration for the least qualified, access to university, and career changes linked to developments in the world of work. The findings of the parliamentary report on the evaluation of access to higher education presented to the National Assembly on 23 July 2020 were severe. The structure of the report and the different chapter headings speak for themselves. Guidance: the weak link in access to higher education; renewed but illegible organisation; guidance mirrors social and territorial inequalities; support in guidance: complex organisation and laborious implementation. The report also highlights an intention that remains to be implemented: Transforming forced guidance into chosen guidance. And yet, this objective is nothing new. It has featured in every policy report for the past 30 years. As for the recommendations, they also fall within a well-known lexical field: making the organisation legible, federating and mobilising stakeholders, improving public information, etc. While the report focuses specifically on the issue of access to university, these issues exist in all areas where career choice issues arise.
At the same time, at the end of July 2020, the government presented the “one young person, one solution” plan. A concerted, locally-anchored plan. It pursues three objectives: making it easier for young people to enter the workforce; guiding and training 200,000 young people for the sectors and professions of the future; and supporting young people who are removed from employment by creating 300,000 personalised integration paths.
The second objective, guiding and training 200,000 young people for the sectors and professions of the future, specifies the following points: new training courses for the professions of the future thanks to the Skills Investment Plan (Plan d'investissement dans les compétences - PIC): training courses leading to qualifications to meet the needs of the healthcare sector; digital training courses available to all; personalised courses for people between 16 and 18 years old who have dropped out of school; training for high school and university students.
Transforming forced guidance into chosen guidance?
There is no question on the need for strong measures. However, it is surprising that there are so few proposals for transforming forced guidance into chosen guidance, even though everyone agrees on this goal. As if career choice issues could be reduced to the quality of the informative process. As if it were enough to inform people about the so-called sectors of the future for people to benefit from them. Or, more broadly, that education in guidance, an area which remains poorly defined (despite decades of fruitful work and experimentation) is sufficient in resolving this complex issue. This is all the more true as the transformation of professions presupposes a reflection on the perception of the public and the evolution of its representations. From the unpredictable impacts of artificial intelligence on work systems and the increasing number of transitions to the acceleration of the obsolescence of certain technologies and more. The professional literature abounds with analyses on these changes and their impacts.
In this context, one could imagine that this increase in the messages on these developments would have significant impacts on the future aspiration of young audiences and, more broadly, on the representation of people’s professions.
What jobs do young people dream of?
An OECD study looked at this question at the end of 2019. The report revealed an inconsistency between the variety of jobs available and teenagers’ aspirations. This gap has been widening since the 2000s. In this study of 600,000 15-year-olds in 41 countries, entitled Dream Jobs? Teenagers' career aspirations and the future of work, it appears that the narrowing of career choices is particularly evident among young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and those who perform less well in the PISA tests in reading literacy, mathematics and science.
The classic professions of the 20th century, or even the 19th century; doctors, teachers, veterinarians, business leaders, engineers and police officers continue to inspire young people just as they did 20 years ago, before the advent of social media and the acceleration of technology, such as artificial intelligence, in business. There are still marked differences between girls and boys. The best performing young people from the most disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are on average four times less likely to express aspirations as ambitious as the best pupils from the most privileged backgrounds.
The report also underlines the common difference between young people's career aspirations and the training and qualifications required to fulfil them.
And as always, the recommendations remain general, consensual but not particularly operational. To meet this challenge, effective career guidance services must be put in place and special links with the world of work need to be established. The report also stresses the importance of the social and family background in young people's career choices and professional aspirations and the need for accurate information on labour market needs.
What lessons can be learned from all this?
What are the challenges and prospects?
Society as a whole is facing a crisis whose impact no one can really measure for the time being. Young people are legitimately concerned because they are always the first to be impacted in their access to the world of work in situations of tension. Beyond inequalities of access, the OECD study (but also the report on access to university) clearly shows these processes of self-limitation of choices as being correlated with social origin. A major plan has been announced and it seems clear that all support registers need to be mobilised to face the difficulties ahead. However, the situation requires analysis from different angles. Policy issues cannot be reduced to simple management of flows that the public authorities could control and anticipate according to their own objectives. They refer to multiple registers, both collective (societal, economic, etc.) and individual (representation of professions, conception of one's place, vision of the future). In short, a complex mix between objective and rational data and subjective and singular vision. It is striking to note that most of the texts dealing with this issue, both in initial training and lifelong learning, seek to articulate the emancipatory and singular dimension (enabling each person to find their way according to their aspirations and talents) and the economic and collective impact (adjusting the public's skills to the demands of changes in the world of work). This is nothing new. However, this dialectic perhaps requires us to think of guidance not necessarily as a subject as such but rather as a transversal process, requiring the development of both attitudes (curiosity, cooperation, critical thinking), knowledge (content on changes in the world of work) and skills (learning from experience, developing projects of collective use, knowing how to cope with hazards, etc.). In short, the question of “conducting one's professional life” should not be reduced to periods of choice or transition, but should be integrated into a continuous educational process in the emancipatory sense of the term. Inspiration should be drawn from guidance approaches developed in Quebec and France by a number of professionals and networks. We will discuss these in the next article. The question of guidance involves issues of purpose (what profession?), path (what itinerary? what training?) and meaning (for what? in the existential sense of the term).
The OECD study shows us that the subjective dimension plays an essential role as a mobilising element, but also that the jobs people aspire to are resistant to traditional information processes. It is then a matter of developing a more preventive and educational approach to guidance that does not content itself with incantations on the necessary self-knowledge but helps everyone to have learning experiences (work is an environment for developing skills). In this respect, lifelong professional development is at least as much related to formative content as it is to real experience. In terms of guidance, this is clear. A rich, varied Erasmus exchange, where not everything is integrated into a reference frame, can allow a person to make encounters, discoveries and clarify their intentions. But without going that far, many territorial initiatives based on organized experiences (participating in a collective project useful to the territory, building a prototype in a Fab Lab, getting involved in a Hackathon, etc.), produce very interesting results in terms of openness (getting to know the environment better) and clarification (identifying one's priorities). Several regions have taken steps in this direction and we will discuss these in the following articles. There is a risk that policy issues will be addressed exclusively from the perspective of access to information by mobilising the computational power of algorithms. Admittedly, a number of recently developed platforms are interesting, fun and clearly provide support in terms of research and exploration of the environment. But they risk concentrating on access to and sorting of information, overshadowing the function of appropriation, which requires human interaction and dialogue, and even controversy. Because guidance cannot be reduced to data management.
The stakes are high. Through our obsession with wanting to train young people for the sectors of the future and our persistence in trying to convince them to choose what we consider to be “the right choice”, our guidance risks falling on deaf ears. We mustn’t forget that with the development of social networks we need to question the role of expertise in individual choices. Just because we rely on objective and evidence-based information does not mean our message will be credible. We see this on a daily basis: rationality has its limits!