Role into one

Careers education and citizenship are natural partners, says Karen Gold

When adults make choices about their lives, they base them on experience. Teenagers, by contrast, are at a serious disadvantage. They haven't lived long enough to have much experience. Yet we still expect them to make decisions about studying and training and work - decisions which rest on assumptions about the kind of lives and society they anticipate for themselves.

Some of these assumptions are about to be made explicit when citizenship joins the curriculum this autumn. Students will be encouraged to think about the kind of society they want to live in.

But in other ways the citizenship curriculum will reinforce their experience gap. We are going to expect them to discuss social and political responsibility at an age when they have not yet had any.

This is what prompted me to think about the links between careers and citizenship. Both subjects are about the future rather than the past. Both deal with big questions: technological change; globalisation; ethics; unemployment. But if young people are to relate to them, they must find some way of perceiving their relevance to their lives.

Careers and citizenship are ostensibly about facts, yet require leaps of the imagination. What kind of world do I want to see? In traditional careers lessons we ask: what kind of aptitudes can I exploit, what kind of work could I do, what would satisfy me?

But careers lessons are about work and say nothing about the rest of students' lives. Would interweaving careers and citizenship teaching enable them to imagine their future fully, I wondered.

Would it enable students to see themselves in a broader context, imagining the different roles they would play? Trying to create a sense of how individuals work within the world, I started planning what I thought was a citizenship activity.

Students were to survey their neighbourhood and contribute to improving it. They could find out who was responsible for the homeless, for pensioners'

lunch clubs, for pond-cleaning, as well as finding a role for themselves.

Immediately, I realised I had discovered the common ground for careers and citizenship. Students needed to ask what makes people choose to work in this kind of job. In researching it, students would have to work in teams, solve problems, compromise, stay motivated and motivate others.

Are these citizenship or careers skills? Of course they are both. This is what we want our future citizens and workforce to learn.

Our teenagers have the chance to gain practical experience at the same times as reflecting on why they make decisions. All we need to offer them is the time to analyse and record their aptitudes and performance in skills such as communication, team-work and leadership. Then they have data about themselves in a format which is clearly relevant to the world of work.

I don't think I have all the answers. But when students script dialogues between migrant and local workers, or design job adverts for the year 2020, or discuss whether human rights include the right to a job, they are taking citizenship personally and career planning globally. And that must be a good thing.

Karen Gold is the author of 13+ Pathways to the Future, a 180-page citizenship and careers resource for Years 8 and 9, published by Lifetime Careers WiltshirePrice: pound;59.95 + pound;5 pamp;pTel: 01225 716000

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