In 2019 I published a report with the Education Development Trust titled ‘Careers and labour market information: an international review of the evidence’. The report reviewed the existing literature relating to the use of labour market information in career guidance, and drew out some messages for practitioners and policy makers. In this blog I will consider some of the main messages from this report, and in a later blog I will explore more specifically the implications of this research in small / rural labour markets.
In terms of the findings of the report, key points included:
- Challenging definitions. ‘Labour market information’ can be defined relatively narrowly, relating to statistical data sets about workforce supply and demand. These definitions are often favoured by policy interests, seeking to ensure the successful functioning of the economy. In career guidance however, and for individuals making career decisions, a wider definition of information may be more appropriate – one that includes not only statistical labour market information, but also information about different careers and career pathways and may include qualitative information (what people say about these careers), and information about training routes, as well as statistical data. This is sometimes referred to as ‘Careers and Labour market information’ (CLMI).
- Key sources of LMI (or CLMI) for career guidance therefore include statistical data sets, but also a range of informational and learning products (for example careers websites), and activities (such as employer talks) and even informal sources of information such as friends and family. The most impactful sources of information are often not statistical and impersonal information, but is information which is ‘personalised’ in some way – for example that which is interpreted by or provided by people known to us, or which provides insights and inspiration (for example case studies that might give us insights into the workplace)
- One significant challenge in the modern world is the proliferation of information online, and the complexity of career pathways. There is a risk of ‘information overload’ which can actually impede effective decision making rather than support it. There are also challenges in the variable quality of information and trying to identify reliable and valid information to support decision making.
- However, at the same time as there is a proliferation of information, sometimes some of the most meaningful information is not available. Key gaps in information in the UK include regional and local labour market information, educational and vacancy data, and information about the transferability of skills. There are also gaps in the availability of careers information products (websites and so forth) for some groups of individuals. There is therefore, room for improvement in the information gathered in the UK (and elsewhere) and the information products available.
- As you might suppose from the points above, focusing on simply providing a lot of information is not an effective approach to supporting career decision making. Instead, and as shown in the evidence, some mediation is important in supporting individuals to access and use information – making sure that information is purposeful and appropriate to individuals, and that it can be understood and applied to an individual’s situation (in other words – that it is personalised). This can be understood as a shift in perspective – it is not information per se that is important in career guidance or development, but the process of (helping clients) becoming informed. This focus emphasises the client as at the centre of the information provision. As a result, the importance of career education and guidance is clear – these are key interventions which can support clients to access and make sense of information.
Working on this review was a fantastic project for me. I learned a great deal about the history of using information in guidance, about the different perspectives on information, and different contemporary ideas about how to best use information in career education and guidance. I was also able to explore and reflect on my own work as a career practitioner. One thing that the review really reminded me of was the difficulties I had in the early stages of my career in understanding how to use LMI in career guidance. This, I think stemmed from my own relatively narrow view of LMI as relating to statistical information about the labour market only – a view that was probably reinforced by being sent regular LMI bulletins and other information sources that provided mainly statistical information. I found it difficult to understand what I should be doing with this information, and I also probably had a sense of shame or guilt over not really knowing what to do with this information, but having a sense that I ‘should’ be using it. Over time I have developed greater confidence with using information, but have probably never sat down and really interrogated how I use information, or what I think about the use of information in career guidance and education.
By exploring contemporary literature and research, what this project (and, I hope, the report) really clarifies is that an understanding of LMI has to consider the wide spectrum of information sources that may be valuable to guidance practitioners, educators and policy makers – it is not just about labour market statistics. It also highlights that information can be used in different ways and for different purposes – it is not always necessary to present information to clients (either of the statistical or other varieties) but it is important for informing our own understandings as practitioners and the support we offer to clients. Where we do provide information to clients we have a key role in helping individuals to make sense of and apply this information to their own situations.
My hope is that this report will help new careers practitioners develop a clearer understanding of LMI than I had when I started out, and will help more experienced careers practitioners reflect on, and perhaps develop, their own practice too. In a future blog I intend to consider the particular findings of the review around local labour market information, and issues with using information in smaller and rural communities…. So look out for that!