Options for Life

11th October 2017

As students go about choosing their A Level and GCSE options at key decision points, we often help them make these choices based on the jobs they are thinking of doing in the future, helping them build skills for work and not play. Yet, is this the only way to make these choices? Systems Theory teaches us that there are many factors affecting our lives and decision making, from informal social settings and family through to institutional influences. When working with clients we are in danger of assuming they wish to make their decisions based on the world of work alone and not based on or combined with, other ideas, values or factors.

It is important that we don’t force them to make option choices through a default process which focuses on just work, but check in with them to find out what else is important to them as they make their decisions. When we ask them questions to help them consider the impact of their educational choices based just on the world of work, we do so through the lens of a very particular set of values and agenda which we have bought to the process.

How often do we speak to students who wish to pursue education for the love of education? How often do we show or explain to them this choice? We often collude with the idea of choices having to be inexplicably linked to work and therefore defining career as only focusing on work, when career can be considered in a much broader context than this, relating to how we choose to live our lives as well as earn money for living.

As client centred practitioners I wonder how often do we provide scope for this wider narrative or do we move straight in to discussing option choices along narrower, preconceived notions of career and unconscious bias? It is why as Career Management professionals we must be clear with ourselves and our clients what our agendas are when we begin to ask questions. Are we helping them choose options for work alone and/or options for life? As discussed in previous blogs, we are independent from external institutional influences but, not from our own agendas, no matter how benign.

For example, in Years 8 or 9 when choosing GCSE options, the Government focus has been on education as preparation for the world of work which understandably is a big concern for many individuals. Being able to earn a living means being able to put food on the table and live. Yet, philosophy and theories of education show us that schooling is just as much about developing well rounded individuals who can make a positive contribution to society.

It is also about learning where we come from and our place in historical, sociological and geographical contexts; about morality, ethics and understanding life itself. When choosing options, the choices we make may help us learn more about ourselves as individuals and the part we wish to play in life, as well as society. These reasons for choosing options shouldn’t be discouraged, omitted, left unexplored or play second fiddle to choosing options based on skills for work alone.

Career thinking is much broader than this and option choices are not only for getting into work but also to help us grow as individuals. Consider the student who takes Sport not to gain a career in the area, but to belong to a team and develop the self-esteem which is gained via healthy competition.  A student who takes Performing Arts because of their love of the stage, resulting in greater confidence. How about the student taking Food Technology, gaining the skills needed to live independently at University or when they move out of home once working?

All of the above options can be taken to gain access to work in these sectors, but each can also be taken alongside other options, to support life and living. Option choices need not only be for work but can be considered part of a wider skills set, taken for enjoyment, interest or self-development.

CXK offers a range of career information, advice and guidance services for young people, adults and schools.

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