Adviser on the Edge

Spatial perspectives on career guidance and development


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Young People’s Attitudes and Aspirations in the Islands

So, over the last couple of months Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been publishing a range of reports on the attitudes and aspirations of young people in the Highlands and Islands. The research consisted of a survey of young people (aged 15-30), some online focus groups and consultations with a range of stakeholders (I’m rather proud to be named as one of the consulted stakeholders!). As well as a general report on aspirations and attitudes in the Highlands and Islands, separate reports have been completed for Orkney and Shetland, as well as for other areas.

Over the last week I have been reading and digesting these reports and in this blog will attempt to draw out some key findings.

Orkney and Shetland Stayers and Leavers

Firstly, and significantly for my research, the report categorises young people in terms of their planned migration statuses. These are summarised in the table below:

Which of the following best describes you?

Expressed in terms of % of total excluding potential returners, new residents

and none of the above

Shetland

(n=120)

Orkney

(n=211)

Highlands and Islands

(n=3607)

Committed stayer: I live in the H&I and I plan on living and working here 55 58 43
Reluctant stayer: I live in the H&I; I would prefer to leave but I don’t think I will be able to 3 6 5
Reluctant leaver: I live in the H&I; I would prefer to stay but I don’t think I will be able to live and work here 18 10 13
Committed leaver: I live in the H&I, but I plan to leave and live and work elsewhere 24 27 40

(adapted from HIE 2015a, HIE 2015b)

What we can see here is that young people in Orkney and Shetland are considerably more likely to be ‘committed stayers’ and less likely to be ‘committed leavers’. In Orkney young people are more likely to be stayers than in Shetland, and in Shetland there is a high proportion of reluctant leavers.

Curiously in both Orkney and Shetland the main towns (Lerwick and Kirkwall) have greater proportions of reluctant stayers, and less committed leavers or committed stayers than in the other (often more rural areas) or the islands. This suggests some regional variation within Orkney and Shetland.

When looking at future aspirations, the pattern of commitment to the islands remains marked, so over half of young people in the islands want to be in the islands in five years’ time (which compares to 36% for the Highlands and Islands region as a whole). These levels are even higher when young people are asked to consider where they wish to be by the age of 35 with 57% from Shetland and 65% from Orkney wanting to be in their local area (significantly higher than regional average of 33%).

Overall these figures demonstrate that young people in Orkney and Shetland view their communities very positively, and although some wish to leave many leavers also wish to return to the islands in later life. These figures also show some variations between Orkney and Shetland, suggesting perhaps slightly higher commitment to staying in the islands or returning to the islands in later life in Orkney than in Shetland. However, Orkney also has higher levels of committed leavers, so perhaps as has been suggested in previous research from HIE, there may be a pattern of ‘planned return’ in Orkney.

Understanding these patterns

The rest of the reports offer some interesting features of young people’s perceptions which might help explain these patterns. Some interesting points are:

Perceptions of the community

  • Young people from Orkney and Shetland have the highest levels of pride in their local community of all areas in the Highlands and Islands region. Similarly there are very high percentages of young people in these island groups reporting that the communities are a good place to raise a family (94% in Orkney, 96% in Shetland). And compared to the Highlands and Islands as a region, Orkney and Shetland are felt to be the safest areas.
  • However, 25% of young people ‘strongly disagree’ that the islands are places where it’s okay to be different – although this is in line with the regional averages.

Further and Higher Education

  • Compared to the regional averages, school leavers from Shetland are slightly less likely to want to go on to further education (college or university), this compares to Orkney where young people are considerably more likely to want to progress.
  • Young people in Orkney and Shetland are more positive about the local further and higher education offerings than in the rest of the region, believing there is a good range of courses and that these are well aligned to employment opportunities.
  • Young people in Orkney are more familiar with the offering of UHI than regionally, in Shetland proportions are similar to the regional averages.
  • Higher levels of young people in Orkney and Shetland would be happy to attend UHI. The cost of studying in Shetland is perceived less favourably and in Orkney more favourably than the regional averages. This could perhaps be due to the high accommodation costs in Shetland and the geographical distances that some young people in Shetland would need to cover to get to Lerwick.

Employment

  • Awareness of graduate placements in Orkney and Shetland is low, although proportions are similar to regional levels.
  • In comparison opportunities for apprenticeships are viewed much more strongly than in the region as a whole – in Shetland 69% and in Orkney 60% think opportunities are quite good (compared to 49% regionally)
  • The level of local employment opportunities and pay levels are also viewed more positively than in the region as a whole – 64% of young people in Shetland and 51% in Orkney said local employment opportunities were quite or very good – higher than 35% regional average. In terms of pay, 39% in Orkney and 57% in Shetland said this was quite or very good, higher than the regional average of 27%.
  • In Shetland the labour market appears to be viewed more positively in Orkney, with men in Shetland being much more positive than women. There is some suggestion that this could be due to the strength of the male dominated (and well remunerated) oil and gas sector in Shetland.
  • The perception of pay levels in Shetland gets more positive with age, but in Orkney perceptions get less positive with age. Similarly the prospects for career development are viewed more positively with age in Shetland and less positively in Orkney.
phone pics 2015 july 3460

Lerwick: in the left of the picture is an accommodation barge brought to Shetland to help house workers for the new gas plant. Although the strength of the oil and gas industry may result in positive impacts such as the availability of work, negative impacts such as the cost of accommodation may also result.

Other factors

  • Housing is more of an issue than regionally in Shetland and less of an issue in Orkney.
  • Public transport is rated strongly for availability but very poorly for affordability in both island groups. Notably as well as plane travel being considered unaffordable, so is boat travel with approximately one third in Orkney and half in Shetland considering the ferry unaffordable. This contrasts to other areas in the region such as the Outer Hebrides where the rate is considerably lower because of the ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’ being offered.
  • Broadband speeds and access do not appear to be a significant concern, but mobile connectivity is a fairly big issue in Orkney in Shetland, with these two island groups rating mobile connectivity the worst in the whole region.
  • The availability of arts and leisure facilities are very well rated in both island groups.
  • Although generally the perceptions of the island groups are very positive perhaps somewhat strangely in both islands there are lower proportions of young people than regionally believing the region is a better place to live now than five years ago, and there is also greater pessimism about the future.

Overall the research demonstrates that there is significant regional variability in the perceptions of young people. Although both island groups are viewed very positively overall, there are significant differences in things like how the labour market is perceived and housing issues. It is quite possible that some of these differences in perception are due to material differences between the communities – for example the different geographical position and layout of the island groups, and the different labour markets (with the impact of the oil and gas sector on Shetland specifically being noted throughout the research).


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Stats busting: the Higher Education experiences of students from Orkney and Shetland

So, as part of my PhD I have been looking at the destinations of higher education graduates who were originally based in Orkney and Shetland. I have looked at data collected as part of the annual Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey over a five year period and some initial observations were published recently in the latest Graduate Market Trends.

Basically I make several observations:

  1. In terms of which Higher Education Institutions students are graduating from we can see that institutions based in Aberdeen are very popular (accounting for about 25% of graduates). The University of Edinburgh is also popular, and the University of the Highlands and Islands (considering its size) is also very popular – accounting for the same sort of proportion of graduates as institutions such as Glasgow and Strathclyde which are significantly larger institutions. The results can be seen in the graph below:

university by domicile

2. Some subjects seem to be relatively more popular with students from the islands than among their Scottish counterparts (e.g. creative arts and design, and education) and some less popular (e.g. business and computing). The results are shown below:

subject choice3. A surprisingly high number stay in or return to the islands after graduation, with almost 40% of those whose location is known six months after graduation being back in the islands. This suggests a more complex migration picture than a simple ‘brain drain’ from the islands.

4. There is a marked difference between the proportion  of men and women progressing to higher education, with approximately 63% of graduates from the islands being women. Women also appear more likely to move back to / stay in the islands after graduation.

Now, given that the numbers in this sample group are very small it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from these observations. It is also important to note that in order to get a big enough sample size I have used historical data from the last five years, and so the experiences of students now may have moved on slightly from when this data was gathered. However these findings do give an indication of some interesting areas that may merit further research….


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Cross-cultural research: careers in island communities

In my last blog I was discussing how being at the ECADOC summer school got me thinking about the potential for collaborative research looking at cultural differences in the impact of rurality on career development. In this blog I want to consider what this research might look like….

So, during the ECADOC week one of the keynote speeches was from Ronald Sultana who talked about his experience of doing research in different cultures, particularly in Europe and in the Middle East. He challenged us to think about how our research relies on mainstream notions of careers guidance that may not be shared by all communities or cultures. For example, we are largely used to talking about ‘careers’ that are about individual choice and self-fulfilment, however these concepts may not be shared by everyone – for example in some contexts it may be more common to talk not so much in terms of careers but livelihoods, where work is a “curse”, and where notions of individual choice are not as salient as community expectations, and determination by external factors. His examples of different contexts included Maori contexts, Indian and Arab contexts and class cultures. Interestingly he also included ‘small states’ in this set of contexts, considering particularly how in small states career choice may be different  to commonly assumed ‘norms’ because of the scale. So for example, in small states it is common to have a ‘chameleon career’ – that is one characterised by shifting career identities, occupational multiplicity, and shifting expertise. In addition the small community may lead to a career that is more influenced by personal ties, with employers commonly familiar with applicants prior to application, and sometimes exhibiting favouritism based on personal knowledge.

Now, Sultanta’s approach is obviously very interesting to me, he is the only person I have come across to have articulated some of the experience of career development and careers guidance within small communities. However, what this also got me thinking is about the intersection of different cultures – for example, class cultures and small states, how do notions of career differ between classes within a small community? And how do notions of career differ between different small states with different cultures? So for example, Sultana himself is from Malta, so how do Maltese notions of careers differ, say from those in Orkney and Shetland? At the most basic level, I bet that Maltese students don’t feel that some of the appeal of moving away is for warmer weather, like some of the students I interviewed back in April! Indeed when I met Ronald at the ECADOC conference he mentioned how escaping the heat of Malta for the relative cool of Paris was a particularly attractive feature of the summer school!

Considering how different cultures intersect I’m sure there is scope for some kind of comparative study, looking at the experience of different island groups for example in different parts of the world. Perhaps something for the future?


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ECADOC Summer School 2015

Back in late June I was lucky enough to take part in the second ECADOC summer school – thank you very much ECADOC organising committee! Now, given that I was heavily pregnant at the time and on a blog-break, I haven’t blogged about it since, but now I’m back to blogging, here are some thoughts….

So, first of all for those of you who don’t know, ECADOC is the ‘European Doctoral Programme in Career Guidance and Counselling’ which is funded by the European Commission, and is a joint venture by the European Society for Vocational Designing and Career Counseling (ESVDC) and the Network for Innovation in Career Guidance and Counselling in Europe (NICE). The project aims at “promoting the development of top-notch academics in our field all over Europe and establishing research and higher education in our field at the European level’.

Paris: the location for the summer school.

Paris: the location for the summer school.

The summer school itself comprised of lectures and workshops covering research methodology, and policy and practice of careers guidance and counselling. It was a fantastic opportunity to meet researchers from all over Europe (and some from further afield) and to discuss mutual areas of interest as well as expanding our skills and knowledge. You can see more details about the participants at the summer school and their research interests on the website.

Part of the purpose of the summer school was to encourage collaborative research projects between participants and between nations. Although at the moment I’m currently juggling my PhD studies next to family life and (in three months’ time) my work too, I am hoping that when the time is right some of the people I met might be interested in collaborative research with me. Wouldn’t it be interesting to consider the impact of remoteness and rurality from the standpoint of different countries? I wonder if the different education systems, and different cultures would mean that rural and remote students in different places had different experiences, or would the experience of rurality and remoteness be similar…..?


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Rasing children: Islands are best!

So, readers of this blog may have noticed something of a hiatus over the last few months….. What is the reason for this? There’s a clue in the picture below…

DSC_0002So now baby-Alexander has arrived and we’re becoming more settled as a family I am back to blogging!

The strange thing is that while I’ve been on blog-break, a news story broke about how the islands of Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles are the best places to bring up children (isn’t that strange timing?!). The rankings were based on the Children’s Quality of Life Survey, where variables covering education, urbanisation, labour, housing and well-being were summed to give an overall score. There is more information about the survey on the Lloyds banking group website. Orkney was top based on factors such as primary school class sizes, education spending per pupil, population densities etc.

Now, this is an interesting report, partly because of what it says about our collective assumptions about what a ‘good childhood’ looks like (why were these variables selected and not others?). But what also interests me is how this report chimes with a key finding from my previous research: that for island graduates returning to Orkney is associated with ‘settling down’ and having children. What this new national report shows is that the idea that ‘Orkney is a good place to raise children’ is not unique to graduates living in Orkney (the participant group of the previous research) but is actually much wider: based on collective narratives about what a ‘good childhood’ looks like (and consequently the identification of ‘good places’ for child-rearing).

Academically this is interesting and leaves me plenty to ponder, but personally it is also rather reassuring to know that young Baby-Alexander is making her first steps in the ‘best place’ to raise children!


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RETI Conference

Cover of the RETI 2015 conference programme

Cover of the RETI 2015 conference programme

The week before last I was lucky enough to attend the latest RETI conference, being held right here in Orkney (hosted by the Centre for Nordic Studies).

RETI stands for Réseau d’Excellence des Territoires Insulaires and is a network of island based universities, of which the University of the Highlands and Islands is one. The conference itself focused on the “Impact of culture heritage on economic development in island destinations” and included delegates from across the world.

The paper I gave was titled: Migration, education and employment decisions of islanders – understanding the role of sociocultural factors in shaping individual decisions and economic outcomes in Orkney and Shetland

And this was the abstract:

Migration, and particularly youth migration, as many commentators have noted, is a common feature of island communities. The ‘missing generation’ of young people is a cause for concern among policy makers in the island communities of Scotland, including Orkney and Shetland. Retention and attraction of young educated professionals is seen as a vital part of increasing levels of human capital and the economic potential of island communities. Therefore understanding the motivations for migration decisions of young island leavers as well as those who stay and return is important in order to inform necessary policy interventions. Research in this area has typically focused on how young people leave island communities for economic reasons and the pursuit of better education and career opportunities; those who return (usually later in life) are shown to move for primarily lifestyle reasons. However, as this paper will demonstrate, migration pathways and decisions are complex, and as well as economic motivations, individual differences and social and cultural influences are also important. Split into two parts this paper will first of all offer some discussion of contemporary career theory and the work of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu to identify how wider social and cultural influences may impact on the career and migration decisions of young islanders. The second part of the paper will present some initial findings of a current research project into the decisions and pathways of higher education entrants from Orkney and Shetland. Qualitative data will be presented from interviews with recent graduates alongside analysis of statistical data from previous graduate cohorts in order to explore some of the sociocultural influences that lie beneath the migration and career decisions of higher education students from the islands.

The paper generated some really interesting discussion and gave me a whole lot of ideas to follow up, which was great!


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Orkney Research in Progress Conference

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Orkney Research in Progress Conference, I meant to blog about it at the time but I’ve only just got to it now!

The conference was arranged by Orkney Heritage Society, and included a fantastic range of speakers. My presentation was on the career and migration pathways of students from Orkney and Shetland (no surprise there!) and in the presentation I covered some national trends in entry to Higher Education and destinations from Higher Education before looking at some figures from Orkney and Shetland. I have been lucky enough to secure some data that covers the destinations of graduates originally from Orkney or Shetland six months after graduation (covering the last 5-10 years), so some of the data I presented was from my initial research into this data set (for those of you interested this data set is from the DLHE survey). I am hoping to work up some of this content into a full published paper before long, so watch this space….!

Me presenting at the conference - thanks to Orkney Heritage Society for the photo!

Me presenting at the conference – thanks to Orkney Heritage Society for the photo!

I really enjoyed the other speakers during the day too –

  • Andrew Appleby’s talk on Neolithic pottery, it was great to hear about his experimentations with adding fats to Orkney clay to make it more malleable, a really interesting practical exploration to help understand how Neolithic people survived and thrived in Orkney!
  • Scott Timpany’s talk about Orkney’s wooded landscape – it’s amazing to think that Orkney once had so many trees!
  • Hugo Anderson-Whymark’s talk giving an overview of stone objects in Orkney in prehistoric times – I never knew the patterns on stone might be important to why some stones were used for some objects and not others.
  • Rebecca Ford on a dialogical approach to discourse and community, looking at the work of Bakhtin particularly and how community is constituted – I always enjoy her thoughts, and it made me think again about the role of humour in Orkney.
  • Helga Tulloch’s talk on the Stromness Yule Tree game – which I’d never heard of before, but it was really interesting to think that this annual game could be representative of a struggle between ‘land’ and ‘sea’ with farmers predominantly making up one team and fishermen the other, and how the result of the game may be used to predict the relative prosperity of these industries over the coming year.
  • Tom Rendall’s talk on migration and the ‘mither tongue’ looking at the importance of dialect and how incomers to Orkney use (or don’t use) dialect – which was another interesting one from my perspective and my interest in movements of people and identity.
  • Carola Huttman on George Mackay Brown, which gave an excellent insight into his work, something I always feel I should know more about…
  • Liz Lovick on Orkney Ganseys and Lace – which was fascinating from my perspective in terms of identifying unique ‘Orkney’ patterns for fisherman’s ganseys, but also at how patterns had moved around, with Orkney patterns borrowing from Icelandic, Norwegian and Shetland patterns, I guess perhaps moving with the fishermen who travelled between these communities?
  • and finally Peter Leith on Weights in Orkney and Nordic Communities, which had some great visual aids, and I never knew there was a weight called a scruple! That must be where the word ‘scruple’ as in ‘moral misgiving’ comes from….?


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Aquapelagos and Island Careers: a case study of Orkney and Shetland

This week I published a paper in Shima: the International Journal of Research into Island Cultures titled “Career Decision making in Island Communities: applying the concept of the Aquapelago to the Shetland and Orkney Islands”.

Shima front cover

Front Cover of Shima: love the puffins! It reminds me of some great puffin-watching at Sumburgh Head a couple of years ago.

In this paper I take Hayward’s concept of the Aquapelago (which I have previously blogged about) and examine how useful it can be as a conceptual frame for thinking about island career pathways.

Hayward originally introduced the term ‘aquapelago’ as a way of redefining the ‘archipelago’, a term he felt had become too land-focused (focusing on the land spaces of an island group, rather than the integrated marine and land environment). His full definition of the aquapelago is:

a social unit existing in a location in which the aquatic spaces between and around a group of islands are utilised and navigated in a manner that is fundamentally interconnected with and essential to the social group’s habitation of land and their senses of identity and belonging.

(Hayward, 2012: 5)

My main argument in the paper is that the concept potentially offers a strong interpretive value when considering island careers for several reasons:

  • It refocuses and expands the concept of the island labour market so that it includes employment that may take place on and around sea spaces as well as land spaces.
  • Alongside conceptualising the labour market, it also focuses on the experiences of migration off, on and between islands. This allows for an integrated perspective on career pathways which considers migration issues alongside labour market issues.
  • It highlights the social and cultural context of island communities, and the role of space in the creation of ‘identity’. This allows for an understanding of the way the social and cultural context of islands may influence career decisions.

I then go on to discuss Orkney and Shetland using the lens of the aquapelago to pick out some themes about island career trajectories.

I would be really interested to know your thoughts on the paper!


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Changing times in Sanday

I loved this recording from BBC Radio Orkney! Not only is it great to hear the Sanday (Orkney) accent next to the Yell (Shetland) accent, but the interview with 75 year old Angy acts as a form of oral history, with Angy making some interesting comments about how island life has changed, and his own career journey within Sanday.

In 1943 when Angy left school (at 14) his ambitions were to go away, to get some kind of work and to see what was out there. However, his father had other ideas and bought more land meaning that Angy actually started work on the farm. Initially he was ‘not awful struck on it’ as a kind of career, but by the time he was in his 20s he was “underway wi’ it” and no longer minded to leave. This interested me because of his desire to go away and see new places, which is something that lots of young islanders also report today. What is also interesting is how after his initial decision to stay, life just kind of developed from that point and he became settled in his work even though it wasn’t what he’d really have chosen. I wonder how much that is true of people now too? That life sort of carries us along sometimes meaning that we become settled in jobs even if they weren’t really what we would have chosen in the first place?

Other comments from Angy that I found interesting were about the changes in island schooling – when he was at school there were a number of different schools on the island, and the island community itself was relatively divided between the ‘north’ and the ‘south’, who didn’t really mix very much together. Now all the children are based in the same school, and the island is less divided. Angy also talks a little bit about changing island demographics, including the fact that now there are more incomers on the island than ‘Sanday wans’ – but at how he thinks this is a good thing because without the incomers the island would have been ‘dead’. Indeed being open to change and development is apparent in his comments about the island economy too – when asked about priorities for the future Angy talks about the island needing more tourist facilities particularly in the North. However, he still sees farming as important in the future of the island because of the central place it has in the economy.


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New Research Project on Youth Aspirations and Attitudes in the Highlands and Islands

A new piece of research has just been commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on the attitudes and aspirations of young people in the Highlands and Islands. According to the researchers the project aims to: ‘capture the aspirations of young people with regard to living and working in the region, and their perceptions of the Highlands and Islands in terms of the opportunities it affords young people’.

I’m excited about this project because of the potential it affords to build on the previous research commissioned by HIE into Youth  Migration (2009), and the socio economic report on Young People in the Highlands and Islands (2014) as well as drawing from the  Orkney Population Change Study (2009) and the Outer Hebrides Migration Study (2007). All of these reports have provided a solid basis for future research, outlining some of the general population trends and motivations for migration within, to and from the region. However, this new research aims to probe further, understanding more in-depth about the aspirations and the motivations of young people. This should really help to increase what we know about youth migration in the region. Personally I’m also looking forward to the research being published because I suspect that the findings may well form a key part of the literature review of my PhD!

As part of the project, interviews are being held with key stakeholders (and I pleased that this included me!), as well as interviews with young people and a survey of young people too. So if you are aged 15-30 you can take part in the research and help contribute to the project by completing the survey, you don’t even have to live in the region in order to take part, and by taking part you can be entered into a draw to win tickets for the Belladrum music festival.