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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Global perspectives in effective career development practices

Tony Watts

In December 2010, the Victorian DEECD convened a forum to allow careers practitioners in schools, ACE and TAFE to learn about and discuss the draft Careers Curriculum Framework proposed for Victoria. The Framework was developed under the National Partnership on Youth Attainment and Transitions, a joint initiative of the state and territory and Australian governments. The current article is adapted from a keynote presentation at the forum given by Professor Tony Watts, an international policy consultant on career guidance and career development who has contributed to the Framework's development. A link to the presentation is available on the DEECD Careers and Transitions page.

This article outlines the rationale for attention to career development and for its inclusion in the curriculum. An accompanying article in this edition describes the Careers Curriculum Framework.


The last 20 or 30 years have seen a paradigm shift in the concept of career. In the industrial era, ‘career’ usually meant progression up an ordered hierarchy within an organisation or profession. We talked about people ‘choosing’ their career, as though they then entered it and simply allowed it to unfold in an orderly way. It was a bureaucratic concept. It was also an elitist concept: some had careers; many only had jobs; some did not even have that.

With the advent of the post-industrial era and ‘knowledge society’, that concept has been fragmenting. Organisations, constantly exposed to the changes driven by technology and globalisation, have become less willing to make long-term commitments to individuals; where they do, it has to be in exchange for task and role flexibility. Security now lies not in employment but in employability and a willingness to keep learning new skills.

This paradigm shift transforms the concept of ‘career’. In today’s world, careers are no longer ‘chosen’: they are constructed, through the series of choices we all make throughout our lives. Career development in this sense need not be confined to the few: it could be accessible to all.

The paradigm shift explains the increased policy interest in the issue of career development and the provision of career guidance services reflected, for example, in policy reviews by organisations such as the OECD, the World Bank and the European Commission and its agencies.

Implications for career guidance

Traditionally, career guidance staff measured individual attributes and matched them to appropriate opportunities, based on the assumption that these elements were reasonably stable. Career guidance was an event rather than a process, and was conventionally implemented at the point of transition from full-time education into the world of work.

Today, career guidance needs to reflect the fact that careers develop throughout life. It should accordingly be conceived as a learning process which should start early in schools and continue not only through the transition to working life but throughout adulthood.

Alongside this, the concept of an expert guidance specialist working with individual clients needs to be supplemented by more varied interventions, including curriculum programmes, group work, experience-based learning, and the use of computer technology and a range of other media. Career guidance professionals also need to work with and through networks of other individuals and agencies to, for example, involve parents, support the guidance roles of teachers and others, and make use of voluntary and community agencies. 

Underpinning all these changes should be a greater emphasis on the individual as an active agent in, rather than a passive recipient of, the career development process.

The careers curriculum

A careers curriculum is a crucial part of this model.  Its aim is to help individuals to develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes they require in order to make the decisions and transitions that will determine the course of their career development – in other words, in order to manage their career.  To some extent, such knowledge, skills and attitudes develop naturally as part of social maturation (Super, 1957). The aim of a careers curriculum is to support, accelerate and ameliorate this process.

The development of a contemporary careers curriculum raises a number of issues.


There is a strong argument for starting careers education early in primary school, when perceptions of self and of work are formed. In the USA, the concept has long been viewed as starting in kindergarten (Hoyt et al., 1974). In Britain, there has recently been a growth of interest in career-related learning in primary schools. A lot of exciting, innovative practice has been initiated along these lines, which will be the focus of an upcoming report.


An important issue is to find a balance between didactic approaches in which the teacher transmits information, experiential learning using group processes, and experience-based learning such as work experience or work shadowing. Each approach produces very different outcomes, and has very different implications for the role of the teacher and for teacher training.

There is a strong case for placing work experiences at the heart of programs, but it is important that they are framed not just in terms of good briefing and debriefing but also in terms of conceptual preparation and reflection, in order to convert experiences into learning (Jamieson, Miller & Watts, 1988; Miller, Watts & Jamieson, 1991).

Models of delivery

There would seem to be four broad alternatives models of delivery:

  • a stand-alone model, in which career education is provided as a separate subject within the curriculum
  • a subsumed model, in which it is provided as part of a more broadly-based subject – for example, a common model in Britain has been to deliver it within personal, social and health education
  • an infused model, in which it is infused into different subjects across the curriculum as a whole
  • an extra-curricular model, in which it is provided as an additional element outside the boundaries of the formal curriculum. 

The infused model is attractive in principle, since there are opportunities for such infusion in all subjects. There can, however, be difficulties in infusing careers themes into subjects based on different ‘recognition rules’ – what teachers and students regard as legitimate discourse within particular lessons (Whitty et al., 1994). Implementation can often be patchy, disconnected and invisible to the student (OECD, 2004). 

Similar difficulties arise with the stand-alone and subsumed models, if the active learning required for career development jars with a traditionalist, teacher-centred classroom culture. Moreover, in the subsumed model, there is a tendency for careers education to be marginalised in some cases, as some teachers focus on other topics which they feel more comfortable and competent in covering.

The extra-curricular model escapes the confines and constraints of the curriculum, and enables a fresh set of ‘recognition rules’ to be established. The risk is that it becomes marginalised from mainstream school learning.

An alternative but related approach is to provide for extended blocks of time within the curriculum, either on a regular basis or by suspending the usual timetable. In England, there has recently been a lot of interest in what are called ‘compelling learning experiences’, based on concentrated blocks of learning time (‘thematic learning days’). They are linked to subjects through cross-curriculum dimensions like healthy lifestyles, community participation, enterprise education, and technology and the media (Barnes, 2010).

A mixture of models may be needed, with a clear articulation of the contribution of each.


Within such a plan, attention is also needed to the issue of progression. What needs to be learned when, and how does such learning need to be conducted so that it builds in a coherent way? A useful contribution to answering such questions is the career learning theory developed by my colleague Bill Law (1996), in which he suggests that career-development learning can be built in cycles which develop through four stages:

  • the sensing stage, in which the individual is able to sense career-related information and impressions
  • a sifting stage, in which they are able to sift this material into recognisable patterns that can become the basis of action
  • a focusing stage, in which they are able to focus on aspects which require attention and suggest enquiry
  • an understanding stage, in which they are able to relate causes to effects and anticipate the consequences of actions.

This model needs to be viewed not in linear terms but as a spiral process.


Assessment and accreditation can legitimise career education as a worthwhile activity, motivating students, increasing its credibility in the eyes of teaching staff, and making it easier to secure curriculum time and other resources. They can also add to the rigour of the activity. On the other hand, they tend to externalise the focus of concern: students become more concerned with impressing the assessor (self-presentation) than with engaging in honest reflection (self-disclosure). Assessment and accreditation may distort the aims of career education programs by emphasising elements that are easier to measure, such as opportunity awareness and self-presentation skills, at the expense of elements such as self-awareness and decision learning. Also, the notion of ‘failing’ on career management skills is problematic. 

The key issue here is whether it is possible to find forms of assessment which are congruent with the aims of career education and which support the learning process: assessment for learning as well as assessment of learning. This is easier where the model of assessment being used within the curriculum as a whole is broad and flexible. Portfolios can be particularly helpful in this respect.


Within the careers curriculum, two important areas of content are enterprise and ICT.

Under the topic of enterprise, young people become aware of the potential to be self-employed or set up a small business, either early in their careers or once they have built up experience and contacts. Enterprise may also take the form of ‘intrapreneurship’ within employing organisations.

Digital literacy helps young people to draw on the web as a major career development resource. The web now includes not only a massive information resource but also user-generated information like Wikijobs, and social networking sites which enable young people to make contact with ‘career informants’ in the courses or occupations they might enter. Despite young people’s fluency with the medium in their social lives, few are skilled and discriminating users of such resources in relation to their own career development (Hooley, Hutchinson & Watts, 2010).

In Finland, guidance (which includes careers education) is a compulsory element of the curriculum, integrated into other subjects at grades 1-6 and as a separate subject in grades 7-9. Within the core guidelines for these programs, ICT is a compulsory element, and all students must be introduced to national career information services on the internet (Vuorinen, 2010).

Career guidance roles within and outside the school

In Britain, the Careers Profession Task Force (2010) has distinguished between a number of roles in relation to career education and guidance programs in schools. Careers advisers are usually based outside the school, so that they can be impartial and closer to the labour market. Within schools, there should be a careers governor who has overall responsibility for careers education and guidance; a nominated careers leader within the senior management team to offer strategic leadership; a careers co-ordinator based in middle management who attends to day to day managing of the programme; and a careers administrator who administers resources and work placements. Teachers have three potential roles: teaching relevant content in their subject area, tutoring students about careers, and possibly also taking career education lessons.

The Victorian Careers Curriculum Framework

While countries can learn from each other in developing such frameworks, each must develop their own, linked to their own distinctive contexts and needs. Victoria has given careful attention to the issues raised in this paper during the preparation of its draft Careers Curriculum Framework, discussed in the accompanying article in this journal.


Barnes, A 2010, Careers education and the cross-curriculum dimensions at key stage 3, CEIAG Briefings

Careers Profession Task Force 2010, Towards a strong careers profession, Department for Education, London

Hooley, T, Hutchinson, J & Watts, AG 2010, Enhancing choice? The role of technology in the career support market, UK Commission for Employment and Skills, London

Hoyt, KB, Evans, RN, Mackin, EF & Mangum, GL 1974, Career education: What it is and how to do it (2nd edn.), Olumpus, Utah

Jamieson, I, Miller, A & Watts, AG 1988, Mirrors of work: Work simulations in schools, Falmer, London

Law, B 1996, 'A career-learning theory'. In Watts, AG, Law, B, Killeen, J, Kidd, JM & Hawthorn, R: Rethinking careers education and guidance: Theory, policy and practice, 46-71, Routledge, London

Law, B & Watts, AG 1977, Schools, careers and community, Church Information Office, London

Miller, A, Watts, AG & Jamieson, I 1991, Rethinking work experience, Falmer, London

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2002, OECD review of career guidance policies: Norway country note. Paris: OECD.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development 2004, Career guidance and public policy: Bridging the gap, OECD, Paris

Super, DE 1957, The psychology of careers, Harper & Row, New York

Vuorinen, R 2010, Career education in Finland – recent trends and challenges, Paper delivered to a seminar held in Gyeongju, Korea, 20 May

Whitty, G, Rowe, G & Aggleton, P 1994, 'Subjects and themes in the secondary school curriculum',  Research Papers in Education, 9(2), 159-181.


Subject Headings

Career education
Transitions in schooling
Education policy
Educational planning
Educational evaluation