School-based careers advisors have been given a key role in assisting young people in transition from school to work and further education. Their role is especially significant in light of the strategic importance attached to career development for workforce preparation and development policies. However major changes in the nature of work and in contemporary transitions from school, as well as shifts in career education theory and delivery, mean that careers advisors are often left playing continual “catch up” challenge in terms of knowledge and expertise. Meeting the needs of young people today now involves establishing a far wider range of working relationships inside and outside of the school and managing far larger volumes of constantly changing information than ever before.
Some careers advisors have addressed these challenges by working closely with the School Support Services pathways advisors to form dynamic, cross-linking, networks alongside and outside of existing organisational structures. These decentralised networks include careers practitioner associations and policy developers and crucially also include a range of people formerly considered peripheral to career education - industry consultants, school support staff, and community coordinators. Far from being a simple personal engagement, the activity of networking on an informal face-to-face and virtual basis is a source of shared learning, knowledge production, and knowledge management. It allows a community of practice to be built across schools, education sectors, and community organisations (including employers and industry) on a regional and national basis. This inclusion of new community membership helps shape the ongoing development of career education. However it also signals a thorny issue around the role of nonteaching support staff in career education models that are moving towards curriculum-based, teacher-qualified activity and delivery. We suggest that the selection and training of careers staff needs to take account of new network and community membership and to enhance individuals’ capacity to engage in networking. We also suggest that networks and networking be recognised and valued as a professional activity. Networks can be further developed as communities of practice, perhaps with the assistance of a “professional spine” to give cohesion to what is a diffuse set of ideas, activities, and actors in a very dynamic environment.
(EEL Research Report No.6)