Looking back to Connexions and my 1995 careers interview.

I’ve finally had chance to watch the video of the iCeGs 17th annual conference from Tristram Hooley’s blog which happened back in Nov (there is a link to the video and transcript as well) .  I’ve heard Professor Tony Watts speak before so was keen to listen to his final lecture before he retires from his professional life in career development.  The video is one hour and brilliantly captures the last 50 years of history, progress and events that have shaped where we are today.

My interest particularly peaked  during two points in the discussion that resonate with my own personal & professional life.  Firstly the idea of a golden age of careers in the mid 90s (well the claim it was as good as it ever has been) and the events leading to the rise and fall of the Connexions service.  My own personal reflections perhaps go against the status quo on the pervading feeling out there on this but I’d like to qualify them from two perspectives.

Golden age of careers in the mid 90s:  In the mid 90’s (well 1995 to be exact) I was preparing to leave compulsory education from a very bog standard comprehensive and head into the big wide world without a clue as to where I would end up.  I’d been the recipient of one Careers Advisor appointment which I’d found to be a rather random and forced process.   As memory serves me it went as follows.  A list of names were called out in morning tutorial time and those selected were told to arrive in the library at our designated slot for our one and only Careers Appt.  I remember the talk in the class at the time was that the Careers Adviser would be there to help tell us decide what we should do. Up until that point I didn’t know the Careers Service A) existed B) we had a Careers Adviser linked to our school C) any prior knowledge this appt would take place.  I’m pretty sure my friends didn’t either.

My recollections of the  appointment itself are that the careers professional was likeable and well intentioned but we never ventured beyond the main idea I’d presented to her which was to work in a travel agents.  This idea had been formulated from my one week work experience in year 10 where surprisingly enough I’d been told I was going to have to work at the local Lunn Poly (remember them!).  The option of a follow up appointment was never brokered nor was any real probing beyond the presented idea.  I came away non the wiser still confused as to my intended path, apart from having garnered some additional information on local courses as we were still pre-internet back then.  There was no what I call “track and trace” later on.  I was left to my own devices from that point onwards.  A couple of weeks later I was given a typed action plan from the meeting by my personal tutor.

I’ve read Paul Chubbs well argued guest post that points to the robust nature of mandatory service standards and funding at this time and in fairness there is balance to what he has written when referring to the churning out of action plans to meet targets. The practitioner in me will always ask the critical question, “how can we be sure we are meeting client need?”  Infrastructure and goodwill alone does not always correlate into the intended end user experience.  It has to flow down, regardless of how well we perceive things to be going at the top. One of the criticisms labelled from the coalition at Connexions was that it was patchy but my first hand experience of the mid 90s careers service on a local level was underwhelming and flawed.

The rise & fall of Connexions: I felt fortunate to work for the local Connexions service for just over 7 years so I was there for  a substantial part of its shelf life. It’s rise and fall and the reasons behind this have been done to death and the debate has now moved on to how and where the gaps it left need to be filled.  Some people are glad it’s gone, some are ambivalent and some like myself who worked on the inside and could see its true value now whistle be careful what you wish for.

Like any service it had it’s faults and some of the criticism was well-founded but the performance metrics drove behaviour (and funding) towards a targeted service which is what we were staffed and funded to deliver rather than the targeted and universal service we would have liked to deliver.  Careers work was always in Connexions, and many partnerships actually ring fenced staffing and split teams so it remained delivered and protected. Near the end, during the slow death of the service from 2010, dissenting agenda driven voices highlighted everything the service didn’t do, rather than what it did.  As a national preoccupation we are inherently good at knocking down something we carefully build up, (just ask our sport stars on that count) so it was sad to see the human cost of the dismantling with experienced, talented, passionate colleagues leaving the profession behind forever.  So there’s no going back but it’s worth remembering there was a lot worth saving amongst the patchwork. I for one was sad to see it go and am proud of what we achieved for the young people we served.

A bitter sweet symphony?

A bitter sweet symphony?


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