Released in October 2019, this book is a collection of 15 chapters that each focus on different areas of young people’s progression or career concerns and try to illuminate them to parents so that they can offer support and better nurture their children’s first steps into a career. Chapter titles range from the hopefully obviously needed (“GCSES: what they are and how to do well”) to the more thoughtful (“What happens if it all goes wrong? A philosophy for careers”).
The use of lists and tips is where the book gets across it’s messages succinctly and with the greatest impact. “10 top tips for introducing career ideas to 11 to 13 year olds” is decisive and clear for parents to take on board for example. The top tips for completing application forms are clear in purpose and helpful for parents who will be able to tick them off.
Elsewhere, in chapters that were more general in topic, I found the book battled to overcome the limitations of it’s format. Each chapter has a different author and, while it’s impressive that the overall friendly and reassuring tone is consistent throughout despite the varied contributors, this does lead to overlap of topics and repeated links to websites across the chapters. More general chapters such as “Year 12: Looking forward” and “Years 10 and 11: career planning and choices” are naturally going to introduce routes such as Higher Education or Apprenticeships will then leads to repeated content in the chapters specifically dedicated to those routes.
Each of the more general chapters aims for generic advice and guidance which can lead to a frustrating lack of specificity. The repetition of suggested websites across different chapters is also slightly self defeating. Careers Advisers know that many websites can be useful for a multitude of 1:1 topics but it could appear to a parent that they were being shortchanged seeing the same links, if the topics are important enough to devote chapters to them, then they should be important enough to devote websites to them.
Of course the authors want each and all to feel addressed to when reading the book but this lack of specificity reads as if the writers are offering all options to all readers which, while a useful method for comparison and to initiate discussion in a 1:1 guidance interview, is ineffective here because this is not a dialogue. The parent is left with the menu but no comment as to what would be the more suitable and accompanying choices. The purpose of the book aims to be the tool which will
be of enormous help to parents and other carers looking to support young people through the often complicated options that will lead to their future
but simultaneously also wants to walk a tightrope in giving the tools to parents but then not trusting them to use them as skillfully as required,
As a parent or carer you can introduce career ideas to your 11- to 13- year- old, but please do not, and ever feel you need to, take on the role of the careers adviser.
which has a valid kernel of advice as there could be support required by the young person that parents, even after reading “a starters guide” can’t offer. Careers professionals will be unbiased in their evaluation of a young person’s strengths and weaknesses, untainted by favoritism in regard to job roles or routes and more knowledgeable of the levers to pull and hoops to jump through when taking steps to enact decisions all of which will be skills many parents would struggle with. Like any of us though who watch a plumber’s youtube video on learning how to change a tap, there is a shared agreement between specialist and newcomer that, while the specialist is on call if the newcomer feels they would like to access them, the newcomer is free to attempt what they wish. Parents should feel empowered to nurture positive career building experiences for their children after reading the book rather than told to not take on this role. To be fair, much of the book does achieve this tone but I found this one warning an insight to a mindset that if, as Career professionals, we felt confident that parents would still seek us out because our service offered value then we could be more confident in empowering others.
The youtube example is also a hint at where the kind of message the book wants to convey might find a more suitable home. Videos or streams are formats which offer interaction, dialogue and regular updates. A book is not interactive and, once published, not easy to update but this then only begets the question as to why a book is the best method to reach and influence parents. What is gained through the medium compared to a series of short youtube videos or streams on the same topics? In a modern marketplace which could have the greater impact with a wider range of parents?
Another trapdoor that the book occasionally falls down is confusing the history of education policy with advice and guidance. It can be sometimes useful to recap the recent policy history of a qualification or employment routes in IAG sessions with clients (and their parents) as this can give helpful context as to why the route is designed in certain way or why the entry requirements are set at a certain level but, at times in the GCSE related chapters, I felt the book padded too heavily with policy history which a reader of Schools Week would find relevant but a parent might not.
The strengths of the book, for me, lie where the writing is more decisive and isn’t afraid to draw back the curtain
On the other hand, if the applicant’s estimated grades are sufficient and any other entry requirements are met, some courses at some universities might only give the statement a cursory glance.
and show the realities of what can be presented as systems requiring the utmost compliance but are actually only using selective information.
And when the authors aren’t afraid to couch their advice to parents
We must kill off this idea that those who are successful, succeed first time at everything or know their destiny from the start and then work towards it (such circumstances are incredibly rare). What happens for many of us is that we try things out and through doing so, begin to figure out what feels right for us.
This achieves a worthwhile impact by reaching out to address parental fears. As C.S Lewis said (at least the fictional version of him says in the play Shadowlands), “We read to know we’re not alone,” and a great reason for publishing a book on this topic is the ability to reassure parents that their fears of failure for their children in regards to career exploration are reasonable but should managed. Risk is part of the journey.
Many students find themselves ‘frozen’ by uncertainty or expectation and find moving forward or trying anything at all difficult. Sometimes it feels much safer to hide away and try nothing, as nothing is then risked or lost… yet in turn, nothing is gained.
And it is these messages sprinkled through the chapters that, in this format, can be underlined or highlighted and reread and cherished in times of uncertainty by a parent wanting the reassurance from a professional that they are making good choices for their children.
Career Journeys for Young People is available through all good bookshops and rubbish ones too.