Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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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!

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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.

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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…

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Widening Access in Rural Areas

The Scottish Government has just published “A Blueprint for Fairness: The Final Report of the Commission on Widening Access”. 

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The report concerns widening access generally, but makes a few interesting points with regards to rurality and widening access:

  1. The report recognises that the continued use of the SIMD (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation) is ‘less likely to identify those from disadvantaged backgrounds in more rural areas’ because it identifies geographical concentrations of deprivation, and in rural areas the population is generally more geographically dispersed. However, in the absence of any strong alternatives, the report recommends the continued use of SIMD as a marker of deprivation. This is disappointing for those of us working in rural areas, and with individuals who may experience significant deprivation – however in the absence of any strong alternatives the recommendation is understandable, and it is good to see that, at least, the issues with use of SIMD are being foregrounded.
  2. Recommendation 18 specifically mentions rural areas: “Universities, colleges and local authorities should work together to provide access to a range of Higher and Advanced Higher subjects, which ensures that those from disadvantaged backgrounds or living in rural areas are not restricted in their ability to access higher education by the subject choices available to them.” In contrast to the first point, this is a really welcome recommendation – it is absolutely true that students in small rural schools may have less choice over their subjects than in other larger schools. In my experience this can lead to students either feeling unable to undertake certain training routes, or having to take a less-than-ideal training route e.g. undertaking a crash-Higher course in order to access their preferred training.
  3. Finally it is good to see that at the end of the report there is recognition that the authors have had to focus their findings on one specific area: access to the core provision of higher education for those from socioeconomically deprived backgrounds or those with care experience. As they note, to their regret they have not been able to focus on a number of areas, including ‘Access to HE for those from rural areas’. Again it’s great to see that access to HE from rural areas is noted as an area of interest, even if the report does not address this to any significant extent.

Overall although it is disappointing that we have retained the SIMD as a marker of deprivation, it is good to see that rural issues are being noted by the authors of the report, and it is great to see that increased flexibility in education pathways is being identified as important for rural communities and rural people.

If you’re interested in this blog you may also be interested in my previous blog on Social Mobility in Rural Areas. It is also maybe useful to note that there is some research on access to HE from rural areas specifically – for example the research coming from St Andrews about Access to HE for rural communities  As ever I would be interested to hear your thoughts too!

 


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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”.

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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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Orkney and Shetland Student Survey is live! Can you help….?

Well, this is exciting. The first stage of my PhD project – a survey of final year undergraduates from Orkney and Shetland has just gone live!

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Image courtesy of mrpuen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So, if you lived in Orkney or Shetland before going on to study for a degree, and you are due to graduate in 2015 please do take part! The survey is available online at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6XWVS2M

Alternatively you can download the Final Research Information Sheet and Survey.

Please do help if you can, and help me to spread the word about the project too…! The more people take part the better the results of the research will be. Through my research I hope I will be able to find out more about what it is like for Orkney and Shetland students who go on to higher education, and help to inform careers and education services for future students from the islands.

In the coming weeks I will be promoting and circulating the survey as much as I can – so if  you have any ideas about what I can do to get the word out do let me know… Thank you!


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Aquapelagos….

So, here’s an interesting idea. Reading about island studies and definitions, I came across the idea of the ‘aquapelago’. This term is used by Hayward (2012) in  an article in Shima: The international Journal of Research into Island Cultures’.

In his article, Hayward notes that the term ‘archipelago’: ‘has increasingly come to define the land area of a group of islands within a sea’ (p.3). In this definition  the sea is simply the boundary that delineates the island. However, as he notes, the sea itself in terms of the sea-shore, the inner waters and more distant sea spaces, are themselves vital to the constitution of island identities. Therefore he proposes a new term ‘aquapelago’. He states: ‘I propose the latter term in order to provide an expanded concept of the territory and human experience of an intermeshed and interactive marine/land environment’ (p.5).

MV Eynhallow

MV Eynhallow: many jobs in Orkney and Shetland may actually be based in the physical space of the sea rather than on the land itself.

This idea particularly appealed to me following the paper I wrote about the role of the sea in the career paths of people in Orkney and Shetland (which I have previously blogged about). In this paper I talked about how the range of sea-based careers available in island  communities (and Orkney and Shetland in particular) may influence the choices of young people. Hayward’s concept of ‘aquapelagos’ perhaps appeals because when we talk about ‘careers in Orkney or Shetland’ we are also talking about careers that predominantly take place in the waters around Orkney or Shetland…

Hayward, P. (2012) ‘Aquapelagos and Aquapelagic Assemblages: Towards an integrated study of island societies and marine environments’ Shima: The International Journal of Research into Island Cultures vol. 6 no. 1