Careers leaders are in a privileged position to create amazing opportunities for young people that will have a lasting impact on their lives. But whilst the role of the careers leader is fulfilling it can also be overwhelming and isolating.
From October 2018 to January 2019 I conducted some small scale research into the role of the careers leader before presenting my findings at the NICEC conference in April 2019. The careers leaders who participated in my research expressed their concerns about high levels of isolation. Most careers leaders do not have a team of people that they can work closely with to share ideas or ask for feedback. Feelings of isolation stem not only from working alone but also as a result of a lack of support and buy-in from teachers and staff. Despite the fact that schools have a statutory duty to have a named careers leader, the recognition and support is not always available and careers leaders can struggle to successfully carry out the role.
In this article, I use the term ‘lone worker’ to describe an employee who largely works alone without close or direct supervision. According to the Health and Safety Executive, lone workers are people who work away from co-workers for all or part of a day. They are people who work outside normal hours, or those people who are alone in a building or who work amongst other people but with no co-worker present. Lone working can have negative repercussions including feelings of isolation, anxiety and motivation issues. However, there are a number of things you can do to reduce feelings of isolation and gain the support you need to fulfil the requirements of the role.
Below are my tips for combating feelings of isolation and looking at ways to reduce ‘lone working’.
TIP 1: Don’t be afraid to ask for help
It is important to remember that careers is everybody’s responsibility. I did a careers launch to staff in my school in September 2019. I thought a mini quiz would be a good way to check staff understanding of the Gatsby Benchmarks and where responsibility lies in relation to the role of the careers leader. When asked whose responsibility is careers in the school, with four possible choices including: a) The Headteacher, b) The Assistant Headteacher with responsibility for line managing careers, c) The Careers Leader, or d) Everybody. It was quite surprising to see that staff were unsure of how to answer the question. It is a useful starting point to inform staff that careers is everybody’s business. This message might need to be repeated several times but buy-in from staff is one way of sharing the load and reducing feelings of isolation and lone working.
TIP 2: Share examples to help staff
I have found that quite often staff are willing to become involved in careers activities but issues around workload can prevent them from committing their time. If staff can see what you are talking about and the benefits of careers activities, particularly in relation to how it links to their subject, they are likely to engage with work-related learning activities. The more creative and appealing the activity, the more likely staff will want to engage and encourage their students to do so. You could create a bank of ideas, such as starters and plenaries, worksheets and quizzes, and share them with staff via your school intranet so that they can tap into them at any time.
TIP 3: Set up a careers working party
One of the most resourceful ways of sharing the load and having a group of people to bounce ideas off is to form a careers working party and encourage representation from different departments to join. I have found setting up a careers working party to be hugely beneficial. You could begin with a small group of people and invite them to join your working party. As others see how the group works they might be encouraged to join. What has been successful in my school is a member of SLT invited staff to setup different groups (e.g. Teaching and Learning, Aspirations, Careers, Student Leadership) and staff were asked to sign up to one of the groups. This is one way of encouraging staff participation in whole school careers activities, it can help to build successes and share good practice, thereby reducing feelings of isolation.
TIP 4: Identify Champions
This tip follows on from TIP 3 and focuses on all the great work that is already taking place in your school by amazing people. There are always small groups of people who are keen to embed careers in their subjects and are willing to make slight changes in their teaching in order to incorporate, signpost and celebrate careers. These champions may be willing to begin making small changes by ensuring they include a careers focus to setting up a departmental website, which signposts and includes links to useful careers websites and promotes careers in their subjects. They may also link specific jobs to what students are studying in relation to employability and transferable skills. This works really well when teachers embrace it willingly and see the links with their curriculum areas.
TIP 5: Offer staff CPD
Quite often we assume that it is workload alone that prevents staff from getting involved in careers activities. Another barrier that could scare staff is a lack of knowledge about careers. One of the ways of breaking down barriers and demystifying the idea of careers could be to provide staff training. I conducted a staff survey in my first year in my role as a careers leader. I thought it was important to ask staff about their training needs for the very reason I have suggested. I was interested to know what training and support staff were interested in receiving and how they felt this training could help them get a better grasp of careers so they, in turn, could use the skills to help answer questions students might ask about careers but also to help them embed careers in their subject areas.
I provided a range of CPD options for staff to choose from. These included a simple link to online resources, face-to-face help and information to help them get up-to-speed regarding careers. By providing CPD you are equipping staff with the skills and knowledge to feel confident in offering careers information and guidance to students or linking careers to their subject.
To summarise, there are some sources of support that are a must. It is essential to have the support of SLT and your SLT link or line manager. If the role is seen as valuable by the headteacher and SLT it will be easier for teachers and staff to embrace careers, your vision and direction. Administrative support is also vital if you are to carry out the role effectively. Regardless of who is carrying out the role (senior leaders, teachers or support staff), administrative support will enable the careers leader to focus on those strategic leadership aspects of the role that require long-term thinking, whilst the day-to-day activities and paperwork can be managed by an administrator.
According to the Department of Education’s Careers Statutory Guidance (October 2018) careers is everybody’s business. Whilst this might seem like a daunting statement, it actually tells us that the careers leader is not alone. Other staff members could and should engage with amazing careers activities that will enable your school to achieve all eight Gatsby Benchmarks.