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Let’s ban the word ‘careers’


Let’s ban the word ‘careers’

Let’s ban it in recognition that the careers guidance system so far in this country has not worked.

Let’s ban it because the word is no longer appropriate. Let’s move on. Let’s call it World of Work Education (WOWE). Let’s embed WOWE in all key stages of our education system.

In the real world (outside the education bubble) do we talk about careers? Don’t we talk about ‘work’ or ‘jobs’? Don’t we say: ‘When you leave school what job are you going to do?’; ‘Bye kids, I’m going to work now’; ‘I’m job hunting’?

‘Careers’ implies you select a career and progress through it to retirement. That is not how the world works today. In addition, the term ‘careers education and guidance’ brings with it a baggage of underperformance. It’s time for something new.

In primary schools WOWE would broaden the connection of pupils to the wider world. It could include:

  • Learning that there is a vast array of possible jobs – all presented as equally valuable
  • You can decide on what job you want to do depending on your interests; strengths; how you want to work (e.g. working outside, in an office, working for yourself, using your hands, being creative etc)
  • For all types of jobs you need to be able to communicate well – orally, on paper and with numbers
  • For all jobs you need to turn up on time, be pleasant and cooperative and most likely be able to work with others
  • We all need to work and contribute to society
  • We all will carry on learning throughout our lives
  • Work improves feelings of wellbeing.

And very importantly at primary level, let’s include parents and teachers on the journey. We know parents are far more proactive in their child’s learning at primary stage.

At key stage 3 (aged 11-14) WOWE could include:

  • Expanding and building on the primary points above
  • Developing the concepts of aspiration, resilience and different types of intelligence e.g. emotional intelligence
  • Subject teachers providing a clear connection between their subjects and links to different types of jobs
  • Developing decision-making skills for a complex world full of choices
  • Direct input from employers in innovative and creative ways
  • Expert, independent and impartial advice on local job markets and provision from local education providers.

Let’s take teachers and parents along with us through key stage 3. So by the end of key stage 3, at age 14, young people can make informed choices about key stage 4 decisions – which institution to attend; subject and course choices; and the importance of keeping your options open. Additionally, let’s appreciate that although there is clearly a place for online information and support, young people need (and want) to discuss their plans and concerns with trusted adults in person.

At key stage 4 (aged 14-16) WOWE could include:

  • Developing and building on all the above
  • Information and guidance about post-16 and post-18 routes to work: apprenticeships; study programmes; traineeships; colleges; universities; jobs with training; starting your own business etc (let’s stop talking about ‘vocational’ and ‘academic’ routes).

Wouldn’t that system be more focused on the young people’s needs rather than the current system?

I do welcome the continued focus on the inadequacies of our careers guidance system – this can only help to support the case for change. In recent weeks these have included:

1. The Ofsted report: Transforming 16 to 19 education and training: the early implementation of 16 to 19 study programmes (2014)

Finally, in order for learners to make the most of the new study programmes, high-quality careers advice and guidance are essential. Learners are entitled to receive impartial information and advice about the full range of available provision to inform their choices about the most suitable provider for them. However, too much careers guidance about the full range of options available to young people through the 16-19 study programmes was weak.’ (p.5)

2. The Centre for Social Justice report: The Journey to Work (2014)

Crucially, we should not wait until a young person with a high likelihood of becoming long-term unemployed actually finds themselves out of work before offering them help. We describe a four-stage journey:

Stage 1: Education for employment – this stage begins when a young person is in primary and secondary education and focuses on ensuring that they are properly prepared for work. (p.24)

3. The National Careers Council report: Taking action: achieving a culture change in careers provision (2014)

Finally, I [Deidre Hughes, Chair NCC] am convinced that in order to halt the trend of the last decade, where the top part of society prospers and the bottom part stagnates, a renewed focus and investment in careers provision is required. (p.3)

I also welcome all efforts to improve the system such as our new study, in collaboration with South East Strategic Leaders, Greater London Authority and London Councils, to identify promising ways for SMEs and microbusinesses and schools and colleges, in London and the South East, to work more effectively together.

But it really is time to move away from the dated ‘bolted-on careers guidance’ model to one with some WOWE factor from Year 1 onwards.

Author: Tami McCrone

Tami is Research Director (Impact) at the National Foundation for Educational Research.

12 thoughts on “Let’s ban the word ‘careers’

  1. Love the idea of a rebrand! Three things I would also include in the KS3/4 section:

    *Avoiding exploitation (minimum wage law, dangers of unpaid work and internships, etc)
    *Being selective – don’t just accept the first job offer you get, negotiate.
    *Information about the benefits of joining a union and collective bargaining.

  2. As a Careers Professional, I disagree on two points:

    It is only in the area of careers for young people that there is a problem with the term – the National Careers Service and Higher Education know exactly what ‘careers; is about. Politicians have caused the problem for young people. Before the advent of Connexions, the Careers Service Branch of the Department for Education were the experts in the civil service but were disbanded.

    Connexions was not a ‘careers’ service in that the Secretary of State’s required qualification for Personal Advisers, the NVQ 4 in IAG was not a Careers Guidance qualification. That the careers guidance provided by Connexions fell short of what was required should not have been a surprise to anyone. It must also be remembered that the Conservatives in their 2010 election manifesto proposed an ‘all age’ careers service which was dumped as it did not fit with Michael Gove’s views on school autonomy and the c£.200m spent on the young peoples’ component should be spent on something else.

    ‘WOWE’ doesn’t embrace the concept that ‘careers’ does. Careers theories based on narrative and relationships particularly Social Capital based approaches, describe experiences that individuals have whatever their position is in the labour market. They recognise that individuals are unlikely to have careers for life and acknowledge that there is no reason why those who may have started a ‘career for life’ may need to continue in it.
    So in summary WOWE would need to have a lot of ‘careers’ in it so lets continue to call it ‘careers’.

  3. Very sad to see the NFER associated with such a crass set of comments.

    ‘WOWE’ is an intervention; ‘career’ is the process in which it is seeking to intervene.

    ‘Career’ is the only word that brings together learning and work, and grounds them within the individual.

    The notion that ‘you select a career and progress through it to retirement’ is totally outdated. ‘Career’ is now about the individual’s lifelong progression in learning and work. We all construct our careers, through choices we make throughout our lives.

    To say that ‘the careers guidance system so far in this country has not worked’ is nonsense. Prior to Connexions, it was world-class: far from perfect, but strong and improving. It was Anne Weinstock who started the decline, by – wait for it – seeking to ban the word ‘career’.

  4. Just seen the NFER blog and disagree fundamentally. Increasingly careers is being seen as prep for work etc and not the broader definition that includes education and broader self fulfilment. Where do people who are unable to work fit in or those who want to consider life post paid work? Let’s hear it for careers in its broadest sense.

  5. Comments are always welcome – I am pleased my post has provoked discussion on this topic. As Tony Watts suggests, perhaps we could consider how ‘WOWE’, as an intervention, might help to inform/contribute to careers guidance going forward? Clearly WOWE is only applicable to schools and could help to prepare young people for the world of work (voluntary or paid) from an early age.

    No one can argue that the careers system in our country is currently working well. NFER has conducted a lot of work recently both internally and externally funded, for example these:

    Click to access RB773.pdf

    Click to access DFE-RR122.pdf

    We want this work to make a difference and as such we need to promote a debate. The proposals for WOWE are set in that context and as such we really welcome your thoughts. We agree with many of the points made, e.g. Ann’s comment ‘Increasingly careers is being seen as prep for work etc and not the broader definition that includes education and broader self fulfillment. Where do people who are unable to work fit in or those who want to consider life post paid work?’ and Ed’s comment ‘It is only in the area of careers for young people that there is a problem with the term’.

    There is a case for considering how to improve our current careers guidance system and considering alternative options should be part of that debate.

  6. I always appreciate Tami McCrone’s work on careers. We regularly refer to it and find it very useful in understanding the current state of practice. So I’m mystified as to why she is proposing this, but at least it has got some debate going, which is always a good thing.

    So we should replace career and careers education with world of work education (WOWE) should we?

    At best this is a promise to replace one bit of jargon (career – a word that actually has a meaning) with another (WOWE – which has no meaning). Ultimately this won’t solve any of the problems that exist with the actual activity. All of the things that Tami describes as WOWE are current features of career education programmes, so this is just an attempt to rebrand.

    I’m also getting a bit bored with this constant talk about how “we’ve never got careers right” and how there hasn’t been a golden age. In essence this is a truism. We don’t get education “right” ever. Nothing is perfect, but we can observe that somethings are better than others. As Paul Chubb points out ( careers education has been a lot better in the past. Perhaps Tami believes that it would have been even better if it had been called WOWE, but I have my doubts.

    However, given all of this, I actually don’t have any object to rebranding things as long as the new brand is better than the old one. Unfortunately I have three objections to WOWE.

    1) Anyone with experience of teenagers would have concerns about entering a class and announcing that they were going to teach WOWE or even that they were the WOWE teacher. Five minutes after the word WOWE itself had ceased to be funny students would devote their time to thinking up other words that the acronym could stand for. I’ve been doing this and I can’t think of any that are clean!

    2) The world of work is an inherently funny concept. The Daily Mash sent it up with this piece on NASA Discovers the World of Work ( and Lee and Herring used to do a whole load of sketches pretending that “World of Leather” was an actual world – expect the same if you use this branding in the curriculum.

    3) Finally and probably most importantly WOWE is a more limited concept than “career”. Career describes your progress through life, learning and work, while WOWE is just about learning about workplaces and employers. The connection between learning and work is an important element of careers provision that WOWE bypasses.

    So if it is alright with you I’ll stick with careers for now. I remain willing to hear other suggestions for rebranding the activity of course. Perhaps we could call it “Fred” or “Dorothy”, or perhaps we are best sticking with a meaningful term drawn from the English language that describes an individual’s pathway through life, learning and work. If only we had a word like that…

  7. World of Work Education really tends to make me think of World of Warcraft rather than anything else. If you type “World of” into Google World of Warcraft comes up top, and there’s a reason; it’s the highest grossing video game of all time.

    It’s always going to be tough selling careers education but we’re unlikely to succeed with amusing and easily confused jargon. Especially acronyms that remind children they could be playing video games rather than learning about the workplace.

  8. This blog appears to be based on outdated definitions of career – a modern interpretation includes formal and informal learning and work, a complex pathway rather than a linear progression through paid work. It would have been helpful to start by considering definitions such as those provided by Davld Andrews (“an individual’s progression through learning and work”) and Michael Arthur (the boundaryless career). However, outside of the career development profession, many people appear to hold onto a more traditional definition of career, one of a ladder related to paid work. As a profession we need to take some responsibility for promoting a broader understanding to other agencies and the general public. Difficult to achieve with the demise of career learning programmes!

  9. In my experience, the idea that if you change the term the problems that are associated with it will go away is a delusion. ‘Career’ is a rich and, yes, problematic concept but that’s why it is important. People use it with different meanings in the same sentence and yet we all still understand what is being said.
    I also think that we are currently seeing a major transformation in the way we think about careers. Of course, the job for life view of careers is outmoded but employability skills are not a substitute for career management or career care skills. In the UK, career professionals are beginning to show a lot of interest in issues such aspiration and inspiration, adaptability and resilience (Tami refers to these), happiness and wellbeing, equality and diversity, optimism and hope, values and good work, happenstance and chaos. Its early days yet, but I think they will in time change fundamentally the way we approach careers work in schools (and, of course, Tami is right that it should start much earlier in primary). My concern is that there is very little public recognition of how the hands of careers educators have been tied by policy-makers over the last 25 years. The National Curriculum, assessment and performance tables, the remodelling of teaching and learning responsibilities, and the lack of a route in initial teacher training have all conspired against careers education.
    David Cleaton used to tell a story about a school where careers lessons were called ‘Non-German’. I remember a school where the work the pupils did in careers was kept in plastic folders. The teacher used to say to them ‘Get out your plastics’. Now, there’s an idea for a new name for careers education, CEG, CEIAG, IAG, PSHEe, Learning for Life, economic wellbeing, WOWE (or whatever it is we’re talking about)…

  10. I welcome the debate but reject Tami’s conclusion. Comparing the word career to the term WOWE is like comparing apples and bananaas. They are not the same thing. One is a process, the other an event. She says ‘Careers’ implies you select a career and progress through it to retirement.’ This is out of date thinking and does not reflect the views of the young people I’ve just been working with. These students (taking part in an innovative careers project) were only too aware that technology and globalisation mean that their CAREERS will be very different to that of their parents. They also realise that the project is only part of the process and that they need to take responsibility for creating and shaping their lives (careers) in a very uncertain world.

  11. Over the last two decades, NFER has made a significant contribution to research into careers education and guidance. Tami Mc Crone’s interest in pushing the boundaries of current thinking is to be commended. But, the framing of this discussion unfortunately starts from the wrong place. Making the case to ban the word ‘careers’ goes completely against what the wo/man on the street recognise – watch this video –
    The suggestion to ‘chuck out the old and bring in the new’ is a daring proposition. It’s unlikely to gain support from business, education and careers sector leaders. Some schools are seriously struggling in the immediate period of transition to meet their new statutory responsibilities. It’s very encouraging to find NFER alerting organisations and individuals to get behind the National Careers Council’s recommendations to Government so that action will be taken to achieve a culture change in careers provision. NFER has a strong track record in careers education and guidance and long may this continue.

  12. Tami, You sign off with:- “But it really is time to move away from the dated ‘bolted-on careers guidance’ model to one with some WOWE factor from Year 1 onwards”.

    Everyone in the world of careers guidance would agree with this, it is what we have battled for all of our professional lives, i.e. that the ‘careers guidance’ we give is built on the foundation of a good careers education programme in schools, colleges and universities and not just a ‘bolt on’.

    In the 80s when each LEA had government funding to provide a ‘Careers Service’, schools and colleges had professionally trained Careers Advisers linked to them who would advocate for students to receive such support by working closely with schools/colleges as to how such careers education programmes could be be developed, whilst also providing ‘careers guidance’ for their students.

    The problem is such funding is no longer available from central government and all of this expertise is wasted.

    You seem to be on the same page as the careers professionals, so a shame that the discussion is around the use of one word rather than the overall concept of supporting young people and adults through the complexities of education, training, work experience, volunteering, work and continuous self development. Does ‘WOWE’ really describe all this?

    Alan Hawley, Freelance Careers Consultant

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