Adviser on the Edge

Spatial perspectives on career guidance and development

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Labour market information and career education and guidance

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.

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Narrow definitions of LMI focus on statistical data about labour market functioning. But in careers practice LMI is about a lot more than statistics….

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!

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Talking Careers in the Faroe Islands

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to deliver a keynote speech at a conference on careers guidance policy and practice which took place the Faroe Islands. The conference was titled ”Vegleiðing – nær og fjar” and it was supported by the Nordiskt nätverk för vuxnas lärande (NVL). You can see full details of the conference including copies of the presentations on the NVL website.  I took the family too and we made a bit of a holiday out of it – and what a fantastic time we had!


If memory serves me this is Norðdepil in the North of the islands.

Of course it was wonderful to be able to explore the islands, they are truly very beautiful, and if we hadn’t been slightly encumbered with a small child who just wanted to jump in puddles (!) we would have loved to walk in the hills too… But it was also great to speak at the conference and meet people involved in careers guidance policy and practice in the islands and to compare notes with our experience in the Scottish islands.

My presentation at the conference focused on islands and career development. I broadly structured the presentation by considering some of the key features of small islands (drawing on the island studies literature) and then by considering the impact of these features on the career pathways of islanders (drawing on some of the work of Ronald Sultana on guidance in small states particularly as well as my own research). Throughout the presentation I was concerned to challenge some of the deficit model of islands – the idea that islands are limited (in space, in people, in job opportunities) and that therefore there is a lack in terms of career (and life) pathways. Instead I focused on how islands present particular contexts and as such are marked by perhaps different career  pathways but these are not necessarily “worse” . This is something I’ve increasingly been thinking about.

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Small islands, limited opportunities? Maybe not… this is Nólsoy.

It was a total pleasure to present my thoughts, but the best part of the conference was definitely meeting people and comparing notes about our various contexts. The conference didn’t just include people from the Faroes, but also Åland and Greenland (as other self-governing regions) so it was a fantastic opportunity to share ideas and learn from each other. It was also great to be able to explore the islands over the coming days, to take part in Culture Night in Tórshavn by presenting a shortened version of my keynote (I felt very honoured!) and really to take the opportunity to learn as much as possible about a community that in some ways was so familiar to me and also so different.

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Looking back at Tórshavn from the boat. The maritime context is a key feature of similarity for island communities.

During our time in the Faroes I was struck by how many people had Scottish connections, and  had visited Scotland – in fact our flight to the Faroes from Edinburgh was precisely the same duration as the flight from Edinburgh to Orkney so in some ways the islands are as close as we are to mainland Scotland (in time at least!). And then of course the Norröna used to call in Shetland as it sailed from the Faroes to Denmark so quite a few people had visited Shetland too. There were other links as well, and my favourite moment was probably visiting a print studio where the artist showed our rather grumpy child (not an art fan, at least not yet!) a stuffed oystercatcher to distract her. He told us the Faroese name for the bird ‘tjaldur’ which I had to get him to say again because it sounded exactly the same as the Orkney word ‘chalder’ (or ‘shalder’). The Orcadian word, like many Orcadian words comes from old Norse, so it is no surprise really that the words are the same, but hearing it spoken really brought home to me how our shared Atlantic history can still be traced in the present. It also made me think about lots of other research that I have come across exploring links in the North Atlantic region – talks on things like knitting patterns (by Liz Lovick), archaeology, even the tuning of the St Magnus Cathedral bells (by Gemma McGregor). And there again is another link… St Magnus churches seem to be all over the Faroes! It was lovely (if a little strange) to visit the ‘other’ St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkjubøur while we were in the islands.

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Oystercatcher eggs outside the church door at Saksun… In Orkney we have an oystercatcher nesting on a roundabout. They choose the strangest places.

Of course there are differences too, and one really significant difference I think is that the Faroes have a great deal more autonomy than Orkney and Shetland. In practical terms they are self-governing, having their own parliament, and setting their own laws. They also still have their own language, whereas Norn died out in the Northern Isles many years ago. Then there is the fact they are so much further from Denmark (they are still technically part of the Kingdom of Denmark) than Orkney and Shetland are to the Scottish mainland. Being a self-governing region in particular makes for a really interesting context in terms of careers guidance because of the need to define their own guidance agenda including policy, training and research. And it was a pleasure for me to be part of conversations during the week about the future for careers guidance in the islands. In comparison policy and practice in Orkney and Shetland are very much determined by Scottish policy and practice – although perhaps the recent Islands Bill might start to impact in this area.

In terms of career development in the islands again what I heard was in some ways so familiar to me, and yet also had some differences… Of course I heard about problems of youth out-migration for higher education, I heard about gendered patterns of migration which are perhaps even more acute than in Orkney and Shetland, and I heard about occupational plurality and people pursuing “chameleon careers” (Sultana, 2006). I also enjoyed speaking with the University of the Faroes, which shares something of a similar purpose and mission to the University of the Highlands and Islands. However I also heard about some differences – I heard for example of instances where young people didn’t want to leave the islands because they were competing at an international level in Faroese sports teams – of course Orkney and Shetland don’t compete internationally* so that same appeal just isn’t there! Also seeing the range of prospectuses in one of the guidance departments in the school I realised just how international some student pathways are, and although most students study in Denmark many do study elsewhere – in Orkney and Shetland in comparison almost all students study in Scotland, with very few going to England and even fewer (I’m not sure if there are any?) going abroad, at least not for undergraduate studies.


Truly international prospectuses at a school in the Faroes….

We had such a great time in the Faroes, and professionally it was a really productive visit too. I left the islands reminded about how much we can learn from each other as island communities that share many similarities but also, because of the particularities of islands, have differences too. And this is what I think is potentially so fruitful, when island communities work together – in our similarities we find common ground, and yet our differences help us to think outside of our contexts, potentially helping us to understand ourselves better and find areas for innovation and development.



*that is unless you count the Island Games which are currently being held in Gotland. Incidentally I see the Faroe Islands and Åland both beat Orkney and Shetland, but at least Orkney’s in good company next to Greenland in the medals table…