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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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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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.


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A Tale of 1930s Island Migrations….

Last night I went to see the film ‘The Galapagos Affair’ at the West Side Cinema in Orkney. The film is a documentary focusing on three groups of European settlers on a remote island in the Galapagos, a mysterious disappearance and the deaths of some of the inhabitants…

The story itself is gripping – however, as well as enjoying the film itself, it also got me thinking about key themes in terms of migration to island communities. In particular I was struck by this quote from the imdb.com database: “it is a parable about the search for paradise — about what happens when a handful of individualists settle on the same small island seeking their own distinct and sometimes clashing notions of Eden.” The motivations of the main participants in this film are indeed quite different – the first, the Ritters, move to escape civilisation and to allow Dr Ritter to develop his philosophical ideas. They are followed by the Wittners who are attracted by developing a sustainable lifestyle, and have read about the Ritters in the European press. They are then followed by ‘the Baroness’ and her two male companions who want to set up a hotel on the island for rich travellers. The difference in motivations, which could be characterised as ‘solitude’, ‘sustainability’ / ‘community’, and ‘economic’ are also infused with different ideals and images of islands – islands as refuge from society, islands as bounteous places, islands as close-knit communities, islands as ideal holiday destinations. As the motivations and ideals of the different migrants come into contact clashing is inevitable, but it is when the ‘reality’ of island life is intensified through a prolonged drought that tension in the island really intensifies and results in the disappearances and deaths of the inhabitants. Now, it is common for islands to be portrayed as a ‘paradise’, but it is also common for islands to be associated with confinement (for example the prison islands of Alcatraz or Robben island). What is interesting in this film is how quickly ‘paradise’ can turn into a claustrophobic prison for the settlers.

The film is a great watch if you’re interested in island movements – both in terms of the huge sacrifices made to move to island communities, and the (financial) challenges of finding a way ‘off’ islands. The challenges for incomers to island communities are also acutely portrayed, and some of my favourite quotes from participants were: “wherever you go, you bring yourself” and “paradise is a state of mind, it is not a place”.


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Our Islands Our Future Campaign Video

I rather enjoyed watching this – all in the name of research you understand!

This is the video for the ‘Our Islands, Our Future’ campaign which is a campaign by Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles councils to promote greater independence at a local level for these island groups. In particular the campaign uses the debate about Scottish Independence to propose greater local  autonomy for these island groups, with a focus on gaining greater local power for the natural resources in these areas (mostly energy resources from oil and gas and renewable technologies).

I found the rhetorical positioning of the video particularly interesting, with a focus on how islands are ‘special places’ with a sense of ‘identity’ and ‘pride’. The practical ‘can do’ approach of islanders is implicitly contrasted to elsewhere and there is a repeated theme that greater autonomy for the islands would lead to greater productivity and impact on the local and national economy. As I was listening to this video I got a strong sense of difference and this reminded me of when I used to teach difference and diversity as part of a counselling skills course. What I taught then was that what is important is not that we are not treated ‘all equally’ but that our differences are recognised (and celebrated) – because by recognising differences (rather than ignoring them) we enable equality ‘where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’ (DoH, 2004). It struck me that on a much larger scale, the concepts of difference and diversity may be fitting concepts to explain the rhetorical positioning of this campaign.


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Population of Scottish Islands on the increase…

So, it seems that the population of Scotland’s islands is on the increase… And you’ll never guess – the largest increase has been in Orkney! I found this comment from our Council Convener (quoted in the Scotsman) particularly interesting:

“Ours is a strong community where folk look out for each other, and we value our culture and heritage. We’re ambitious as well – with a can-do attitude and willingness to embrace new ideas and opportunities.The emergence of the marine renewables industry has created around 250 new jobs, bringing with it not only the workers, but their families too, and providing opportunities for our young people to find work at home.”