What's the best job for me?
The Centre for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has built up a well-justified reputation for the usefulness of its reports comparing educational performance in member countries. It has now extended its work into the field of careers guidance with its report, Mapping the Future: Young People and Career Guidance. This is a welcome and timely expansion, and one that should be followed up.
The book is based on accounts of guidance in seven countries: Austria, Canada, Finland, Italy, Japan, Mexico and Scotland. The first part consists of thematic discussion covering the nature of career guidance, key transitions between educational stages and into work, changing needs and lifelong learning. It ends with conclusions and policy considerations. The second part provides summaries of the systems in the seven countries together with two or three detailed case studies from each.
The lazy reader may be tempted, as I was, to turn early on to the conclusions and policy considerations in the middle of the book. This is a mistake. Because they are based on provision in seven very different countries, they are bound to sound a bit bland or a little pat. Read the country summaries first, and they invest these key pages with meaning and content. They are carefully and precisely written, and should prompt one to think hard about the lessons that emerge. One lesson is that most countries, perhaps all, do things from which others can learn. One's appetite is whetted to find out more about the highly praised guidance materials developed in Canada, and its innovative computer-based packages. Finland, for all its current problems, has obviously invested deeply in the training of its professional staff; most countries have weaknesses in this respect and can learn from Finnish practice.
Austria, with its long-standing reliance on complex institutional partnerships and on the famous dual system, is creaking under the impact of change - and interesting new approaches are emerging. For those of us engaged in things English, there is, as so often, refreshment in looking north of the border (Scottish skill seeker programmes and homeschoolemployment partnerships).
Another lesson is not merely that no country has hit upon the ideal model for providing careers guidance, but that such a thing can hardly exist. How could it, when there is so much to be brought together and everything is changing so fast? Hence the need for governments to "audit" their own systems for gaps as well as for what needs improving.
For the future, one would like to see CERI deepen as well as widen its work on careers guidance. For example, there is a fleeting reference to the need "to establish what counts as success in this field". Indeed there is, and much benefit could result. Moreover, it would enable a transparency to be introduced into careers work which would consign the sort of mechanistic numerical objectives beloved of finance officers to the dustbin.
Again, what about the influence of home and friends on young people's job decisions? And - a huge subject - how best to tackle the job of providing a good guidance service for people of all ages in a society which takes life-long learning seriously?
Sir John Cassels is chairman of Sussex Careers Services and director of the National Commission on Education