Category Archives: General

Helping Australia transition to a better future

Remember the 2010 CDAA National Conference? It was titled Greening Career Development, and the conference was described in the conference program as “bring[ing] into focus the important issues of sustainable workforces and careers”. Then the national debate shifted. Yet transition programs continue, and they will provide one of career practitioners’ most critical contributions.

To explore this opportunity, let’s start with three observations.

During the last 18 months we have experienced continuing and variable psycho-social, economic, health, educational and work impacts. What is now clear, as highlighted in Walsh et al’s report Life, Disrupted, is “what appeared to be new economic challenges were, in fact, pre-exiting social issues magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

In my 2017 CDAA National Conference keynote I advocated for expanding our disciplinary base, for the profession to be transdisciplinary, particularly concerning theory and labour market dynamics, and for advanced discourse analysis, particularly around skills and the framing of education and work.

Transdisciplinarity: The concept of career is not the property of any one theoretical or disciplinary view, yet our profession primarily taps only a few viewpoints. Given we face major challenges to human survival, we risk missing out on ideas and information of value to ourselves, our clients and our profession. If we’re unaware of what other disciplines contribute we may remain ignorant of the rich resources already in existence and action already taken.

Advanced discourse analysis: Our ability to make sense of the present, the immediate and longer-term future is helped by an ability to question popular narratives about how work is socially constructed. Nuanced analysis is largely missing from dominant discourse, which relies heavily on simplification, hyperbole, privileged voices, and limited, questionable, ahistorical information.

During CDAA’s 2021 event “The Real Future of Work” members questioned the dominant skills narrative, sought useful and usable career information, and wanted career development to be a more influential voice.

With these three observations in mind there are critical issues at the individual, organisational and community levels, for practitioners and the career development profession to consider.

The issues listed below highlight where transdisciplinary is critical. There are several specific aspects of contemporary work discourse, also set out below, that need nuanced attention to inform career services, debate, and advocacy. After describing areas of concern, I suggest some possibilities for individual and collective action.

Historical context: The “future of work” discourse presents the 21st century as special, tends to be overly optimistic or pessimistic, focuses on skills, gives pre-eminence to technology and its disruptiveness and transformativeness, and is driven by privileged voices, including big business, media, consultancies and think tanks.

An alternative to this discourse sees time as a continuum, with technology impacts, and skills training, shortages, gaps and mismatches as having been agonised over in previous centuries. Most of the so-called “21st century skills” are not new. Much of the future of work discourse is based on questionable methodologies, poor definitions, and it encourages unhelpful fear-mongering. And yes, technology is changing, but anything digital is not by definition better than non-digital.

Future context – dealing with uncertainty: Career development theory suggests practitioners help clients build skills to better handle uncertainty. Uncertainty is a complex, and often ill-defined, concept. Uncertainties are not all the same. Compare the likelihood of a toilet paper shortage, catching the COVID-19 virus, completing an overseas gap year, or when the next flood, bushfire, drought, or earthquake will strike. Given the fear-laden “future of work” narrative, practitioners need a more nuanced analysis that distinguishes improbability, ambiguity, unpredictability, chance events, informed guesses and speculation.

The idea of the “new normal” needs questioning. Ignoring history makes the recent “normal” seem unremarkable. As Walsh et al point out in Life, Disrupted, some types of uncertainty are manufactured to the benefit of some, and the disadvantage of others. Accepting precarious employment conditions as “normal” helps place the onus and cost on workers to live with perpetual uncertainty, adjusting, adapting, and repeatedly upskilling. The “new normal” for some people will be anything but normal.

We know that mental health has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, and will continue to be a factor affecting career decisions. Key insights in Australia’s Mental Health Think Tank’s report on COVID-19 and Australia’s mental health are that: “Australia is facing a “shadow pandemic” of deteriorating mental health” and

“The impact of the pandemic on mental health appears to have disproportionately burdened certain sections of Australian society, including: young people; females; those in COVID-related work; people living with a disability or existing mental health issue; as well as those on low incomes, experiencing job loss or living in poor-quality housing conditions.”

Resilience is receiving much attention, with a mountain of government activity, including establishing specialised agencies with a disaster and emergency focus. The Institute for Integrated Economic Research – Australia (IIER-Australia) has partnered with Global Access Partners (GAP) to develop proposals for the establishment of a National Resilience Framework for Australia. Their report, Australia – A Complacent Nation: our reactions are too little, too late, and too short-sighted, points out that: “A dynamic approach to resilience is necessary. It is important that resilience is not seen simply as a rebound to a previous state.” The report covers a broad range of challenges and states: “We should not underestimate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic; it will be extensive, long-lasting, and damaging. It intersects in complex ways with the social, political, economic, and ecological challenges facing Australia (and the rest of the world.)”. A critical part of being resilient, it says, is to make improvements, to create a better future.

Resilience exists at multiple levels, such as individual, organisational, and community. What role can practitioners play in debunking misinformation, building media and digital literacy, and advocating for a better future rather than just adapting to the ways of the pre-COVID-19 labour market?

Evaluating information sources: There’s no shortage of reports and research relevant to career development. However, our ability to assess the validity and value of this material is essential to inform our practice. The Professional Standards for Australian Career Development Practitioners includes both Core and Specialist Competencies related to research and information, under Labour Market Information, Technology, Information and Resources, and Research Skills (which focuses on conducting research). The behaviours associated with judging the value of research reports are not specified. The closest behaviour is “Maintain, retrieve and interpret information effectively to assist clients” (6a).

Are we sufficiently skilled in judging the methodology, sample base, questions explored, conclusions drawn, author/s or authoring body? Professional development could include modules on assessing and evaluating sources, such as that outlined by ANU. This competency would then enable us to better serve clients who may be tapping questionable career information.

Skills language: Skills are social constructs, assumed to be neutral, readily categorised, one-dimensional. Multiple disciplines discuss skills, using unique and overlapping classifications and terminology. Removing unhelpful binary distinctions from the skill lexicon, like hard/soft, is an uphill battle. While the Australian Skills Classification is designed to provide a common language, it mixes skills, tasks, and competencies. These skill definitions differ from those used in career tools on JobOutlook. Skill levels used – Low, Intermediate, High and Basic, Expert, are confusing. Plus, contextual processes and skill inter-relationships are largely ignored.

A more nuanced analysis of skill behaviours is needed to assist clients. Applicants need to demonstrate their ability to do a job by explaining how they use multiple skills in a given set of circumstances. If people don’t understand skill terminology, and are unable to apply multiple skill terms to their own behaviour, they are disadvantaged in the labour market. If people facing redeployment, redundancy or transitions are unable to see the transferability of their skills, they too will be disadvantaged. Without more refined behavioural distinctions, they will have difficulty making a case for higher levels of skill ability.

Human relationships skills: Most jobs need human relationships skills, such as communication, interpersonal, teamwork and customer service skills. These skills have a long history of being down-graded, gendered, less valued, particularly when linked to caring roles. How these skills are socially constructed needs continuing attention, as does their analysis to show their context, detail, and level of sophistication.

Behaviours comprising a skill are inadequately specified. Take persuasion, a critical skill during a pandemic. Does it only mean changing a person’s mind? What about behaviours that aid the process, such as using tact, engaging in give and take, compromising, enabling face-saving, or understanding another’s viewpoint? And when does persuasion become negotiation or manipulation?

Successful industry transitions depend on highly sophisticated human relationships skills. Race for 2030’s report, Developing the Future Energy Workforce, takes a socio-technical perspective and highlights the need for skills “related to the complexities of raising awareness, communicating and convening dialogue across a range of sectors and disciplines, and fostering the shared vision and commitment between diverse actors to make transitions work”.

Skill inter-relationships: The inter-relationships between skills are largely ignored. We have witnessed the direct impact of inter-related skill failure. Poor “21st century skills” (like teamwork, planning and organising, and problem solving), and ill-informed, mediocre communication have impacted Australia’s vaccine roll-out and international standing.

While online tools, such as the Australian Skills Classification’s skills clusters, endeavour to show skill-related jobs, resources are needed that contextually demonstrate the links between roles and skills across organisations, sectors and industries. SBS’s series Inside Central Station provides insight into how diverse jobs support each other for the overall functioning of Sydney’s rail network. One of the best tools I’ve seen is that of the World Economic Forum, which uses web diagrams to show how a wide range of skills within an industry, such as Media, Entertainment and Sport, are linked to each other.

Earlier this century Australia dipped into the “skill ecosystem” concept as a way of tackling some skill issues. A skill ecosystem, as defined by the Skills in Context guide is: “a self-sustaining network of workforce skills and knowledge in an industry or region.” The concept is regarded by some as somewhat problematic, and there were problems with skill ecosystem projects undertaken.

Nevertheless, this work has value and widens the scope of thinking about skills and their inter-relationships. An analysis of human factors in autonomous shipping (Hynnekleiv et al 2020) applied the skills ecosystem model and socio-technical systems concept to the maritime industry. The authors identified a high degree of interdependence as one of four elements needed to support a maritime skill ecosystem – interconnections between parts of the system to allow communication and influence. One of the most important skills for this future sociotechnical system was communication, the ability to work in teams and share information.

This research is part of the Human Autonomous Enable (HUMANE) project which uses the socio-technical system concept and an interdisciplinary approach to the design of human-machine networks. Australian examples of sector or skill ecosystem analyses are Infrastructure Australia’s report on national infrastructure capability (which includes an analysis of skills data limitations) and the Australian government’s work on the drones and newly emerging Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) sector.

Transitions: While there is some career development research about industry, sector and career transitions, much relevant material lies outside the career development profession. Without transdisciplinarity, career practitioners can miss vital information.

Australia has learnt from past transition programs, such as the closure of car manufacturing. While much of the national global warming debate presents options as either/or choices (e.g. jobs vs the environment), the reality is far more complex. We know when coal-fired power plants are due to close. Businesses, sectors, industries are making changes to reduce their carbon footprint. Yet market transformation programs, such as Race for 2030’s work on developing the future energy workforce, or the work of the CRC on digital health, don’t appear to include career development stakeholders.

Major industry transitions are complex, demanding exercises. The literature on “just transitions” explores issues concerning equitable outcomes. The Stockholm Environment Institute has studied four major industrial transitions from across the globe, including the closure of Australia’s BHP steelworks plant at Newcastle in 1999. Their report sets out principles that capture a range of equity issues and they examine lessons learnt, one of which is about the need for nuanced measures of actual changes. Total employment figures can mask the reality of new employment that is less secure and lower paid.

On a different scale of analysis, MacKenzie and Marks, researchers in work and employment studies, examined the relationship between restructuring and work-based identity among retired UK telecoms engineers, exploring occupational identity, occupational community and their roles in navigating transitions in the life course. Given the importance of occupational identity to these workers, it may mean practitioners need skills in “reverse-engineering” a person’s career narrative to assist them to make career transitions

Ideas for action

So what can be done to enhance the nuances of analyses, build useful career information, and raise career development voices? Here are some questions and suggestions.

  1. How can career development associations build links with sector and industry transition researchers and programs, such as CRCs?
  2. How can/should the career development profession respond to systemic inequalities that are shaping our society?
  3. Provide feedback to the National Skills Commission to assist with developing career information websites.
  4. Professional development (PD) could increase transdisciplinarity by tapping relevant evidence, concepts and theories (e.g. skills ecosystems, socio-technical systems, industry and sector transition experience, just transitions) to inform practice, increase awareness, foster understanding of career development, and build networks.

Career development associations could offer PD on how to:

  • evaluate information sources to discern their value and support clients in interpreting career information.
  • identify when mental health is affecting a person and know how to respond appropriately.
  • build media literacy so clients are helped to select credible career information.
  • discuss current discourse inadequacies with clients.
  • “reverse engineer” a person’s career narrative to support career transitions.
  • analyse the nature of uncertainties to help with building client adaptability.
  • analyse skill behaviours to identify the nuances of skill sophistication (e.g. with human relationships skills).
  • tap resources that explain skill inter-relationships.
  • identify occupational information outside the limits of career information websites. As it’s not possible for career websites to include all possible occupations, where else can we find information? (For example, I recently listened to a BBC interview with a sports architect. The climate think tank Beyond Zero Emissions has produced a report The Million Jobs Plan which shows how in just five years, renewables and low emissions projects can deliver 1.8 million new jobs in the regions and communities where these are needed most.)
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.

Crafting 40 minutes of workshop value

Career development professionals have plenty of opportunities to present conference workshops – CDAA, NAGCAS, CDANZ, APCDA and NCDA, to name a few associations that hold conferences. Presenters are encouraged to provide engaging, outcomes-focused experiences for a target audience.

Time is short – 30 to 40 minutes. Every minute counts, yet many are wasted.

Several people, including Winston Churchill, have been credited with stating that how long they spend on preparing a presentation is inversely proportional to its length. It is easy to talk for an hour or two, but the shorter a presentation is, the greater the time invested in preparation. And that preparation needs specialised skills and knowledge that is not provided by experience or qualifications in training, teaching and lecturing.

To ensure you craft 40 minutes of value, here are six points to consider next time you are preparing a conference workshop.

1. Write an introduction.

Despite advice to the contrary from some conference organisers, your bio is not your intro! An introduction is an advertisement, designed to elicit anticipation from your audience. It should focus on what value is to be gained from your presentation, rather than on your background details.

2. Focus on the must-knows and delete or edit everything else.

You know lots of stuff. Surely it is better to be generous with information? Actually, no. Ask yourself: Does my audience know and understand this information? If the answer is yes, then delete it. Another option is to include the detail elsewhere, such as in a handout or online.

3. Drop ‘My story’.

Unless there’s a critically relevant point about you that hasn’t been mentioned in your bio or introduction, drop telling people your life story. It takes up valuable time and adds little of value.

4. Rigorously edit description.

If you’ve included detailed descriptions of process, research methods, a model or tool, edit this material to the essentials. People attend conferences to gain value – new information that they can use post-conference. Balance description with application. Ask yourself: what are the lessons you have learnt, what are the traps you have identified, who does the model/tool work well with, what skills are needed to effectively apply your information?

5. Focus on value.

Value means giving information that is relevant to your audience, is usable in a range of contexts, and provides confidence to adapt and apply the information with awareness of the traps and pitfalls. This means spending less time on giving information, and more time on helping your audience to understand and apply it.

6. Apply some stage craft.

Speaking is as much a physical activity as it is a mental and vocal one.

Do you keep moving as you speak, or wave your arms around? Random movement is distracting.

Stage craft concerns deciding where you are and what you do during a presentation. These movements are deliberate and have purpose. Practice standing still. Think about where you are in the speaking space and what gestures are relevant to the point you are making. If this is unfamiliar ground, learn some stage craft.

A workshop that is well-crafted, skilfully presented, and full of value will win an audience every time, and help cement your reputation as a must-see and hear presenter.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.

How grandparents influence kids’ career choices

Grandparents can have a big impact on kids – their beliefs, attitudes, choices, thinking, self-belief. And nowhere are these more important than in the area of careers.

Children form their beliefs about jobs very early, including what they might aspire to be and do, and what is relevant and appropriate. Depending on circumstances, these beliefs may expand options or limit choices, thereby having a lifelong impact. For children growing up in a changing and uncertain world, this is a serious matter.

Research indicates that childhood experiences affect identity, attitudes and ideas about work, available occupations and appropriate options. Plus, there is evidence that young people’s career expectations are often unrealistic, poorly informed, and heavily shaped by gender.

The working world of the baby boomer is different from what grandchildren will experience. There’s a risk that the suggestions you make, based on your experience, will not match today’s reality. My free ebook, Grandparents’ Guide to Career Learning for Kids, provides a summary of the contemporary working world and of research that hints at what the future may be like.

The material is deliberately presented in a general fashion so that you can adapt it to your personal circumstances. By considering this material you can play a role in broadening and raising your grandchildren’s aspirations, building confidence and motivation, countering stereotypes, building an understanding of the value of education, and improving social-emotional skills. You can help them identify positive things about themselves and their achievements, what they are good at, how to make judgements about who to listen to when making choices, and how to compare the pros and cons of different choices so that they can make progress.

Included in the book are these chapters:

  • A brief explanation of some career terms
  • How the world of work has changed
  • What we think and say matters
  • What skills people will need for an uncertain future
  • Why social skills are so important
  • Why gender is important
  • A range of literacies: science, numeracy, digital, media, financial, civics, health and wellbeing, arts and culture
  • How to talk to people about the work they do

Career management skills are essential

Managing your career is now seen as an important set of skills, attitudes and knowledge that we need in order to make sound choices throughout life. This process is much broader than choosing subjects and courses, although these are still important decisions. Key points to understand about managing your career are:

  • Careers often develop in unintentional ways and can change multiple times.
  • Managing a career is not a simple process and is a lifelong journey.
  • People’s life, learning and work opportunities are influenced by personal circumstances and characteristics across the lifespan. These include family, community and cultural values, geographic, economic and social circumstances, age, gender, ability/disability, plus unpredictable events.
  • Managing careers is an active process that involves learning a set of skills.
  • People need to actively engage in learning throughout life.

Social skills are important

In addition to environmental and economic challenges, societies are also facing social challenges. Communities are being reshaped by increasing social and cultural diversity. In large parts of the world inequalities are widening, conflict and instability are increasing. While young people need to prepare for the world of work, they also need to be equipped with the skills to become active and responsible citizens, with the social and emotional skills to live and work with others.

Research reports about the future of work recognise that social skills will continue to be important and higher-level social skills will be in demand due to growth in sectors needing these skills, such as health and aged care, and the difficulty of automating these skills.

There is also plenty of evidence demonstrating the links between specific social skills and important life outcomes. They influence academic achievement, job performance, occupational attainment, health and longevity, and personal and societal well-being.

Some of the social skills you can help develop are:

  • Self-control: able to avoid distractions and focus attention on the current task, know what behaviour is accepted.
  • Emotional control: can resolve conflict and regulate temper, anger and irritation in the face of frustrations.
  • Empathy: kindness and caring for others.
  • Cooperation: finds it easy to get along with people.
  • Tolerance and respect: has friends from different backgrounds, appreciates foreign people and cultures.

How grandparents can influence career choices

There are many small steps you can take that will help build wise, respectful grandchildren who have the broadest set of options. Here are some of them.

Help grandchildren to learn about themselves by discovering their interests, values, and strengths.

Expand options by challenging rigid gender roles and identities, and by promoting attitudes that foster a mutually respectful approach to people.

Cultivate curiosity by encouraging your grandchild to explore, discover, and find out more about what a particular job or occupation involves.

Develop your grandchildren’s interests. Starting at a young age, take them to museums, art galleries, zoos, historical sites, cinemas, concerts, sporting events and the theatre. Expose them to many different things and see what they express an interest in.

Show grandchildren what you’re interested in so they can discover if they are also interested in those things. Have them sit with you while you watch a sporting event, or have them help you cook dinner. If possible, take them to work with you and show them what you do.

Encourage your grandchild to write down goals about what they would like to learn or try, then help them achieve these goals.

Perhaps one of the most valuable things to do is to let your grandkids dream, and dream big, when it comes to their future careers. Maybe they see themselves as an astronaut, a movie star, or a neurosurgeon. No matter what the goal, keep in mind it may change, and that what’s important is to encourage their interests, continued learning, and expanding horizons.

This ebook is broadly designed for young grandchildren, in the pre-school to primary school years. The suggestions offered are general, rather than targeted at a specific age or set of circumstances. This means you can adapt them to your circumstances, taking into account the many factors that make your situation unique. Given the vast range of circumstances grandparents may be in, with varying access to resources and facilities, the ideas offered are largely cost-free, requiring only some thought and effort. I invite you to take a look and explore the ideas the ebook contains.

If you belong to a book club, U3A group, or discussion group, you can explore how grandparents influence kids’ career choices using these discussion notes.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.

 

 

Why career practitioners need some financial literacy

Everybody, regardless of circumstances, needs some financial literacy. The Australian government has a financial capability strategy to help build financial literacy. Some areas of concern include:

  • ‘Close to 1 in 5 struggle with credit card debt
  • 3 in 5 don’t understand the investing concept of diversification
  • 2 in 3 don’t know the exact value of their super.’

The Royal Commission into misconduct in the banking, superannuation and financial services industry made the need for financial know-how clear.

Plus some economic literacy would also help, given we are so often told ‘the economy’ is so important, rather than our society. Tapping the wisdom of people who can demystify economics would be a good place to start. People like Ross Gittins and Richard Denniss, author of Econobabble. And the research papers of The Australia Institute. So often, the language of economics is used to confuse and deceive. As Denniss points out in Econobabble, “They [Australian politicians] use words like productivity when they mean profit. They say things like ‘The economy is overheated’ when they mean ‘The wages of low-paid workers are growing faster than I think they should’. Words matter.”

Whenever governments cut taxes it’s useful to know what this means and what your options are before you go on a spending spree. Reducing debt stress (such as credit cards, mortgage, or outstanding bills) or saving the money (for emergencies, in superannuation, for a home deposit) may be better choices than a new smart TV.
Career practitioners need financial literacy as citizens, business operators, and as service providers. An examination of the roles of career practitioners, the career development standards, competencies, and the relevance of financial literacy to careers, all point to the need for career practitioners to have some financial literacy and referral links with specialist advisors. Some also need some economic and business literacy, depending on the context in which they work.

What is financial literacy?

Financial literacy is a combination of financial knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours necessary to make sound financial decisions regarding the use and management of money, based on personal circumstances and needs. Or, put more simply by ASIC, ‘financial literacy encompasses both knowing about money matters and being equipped to utilise that knowledge by applying it across a range of contexts. … Generally, however, it will involve an understanding of:

  • a person’s own values and priorities;
  • budgeting, savings and how to manage money;
  • credit;
  • the importance of insurance and protecting against risk;
  • investment basics;
  • superannuation;
  • retirement planning;
  • the benefits of shopping around and how to compare products;
  • where to go for advice and additional information, guidance and support;
  • how to recognise a potential conflict of interest; and
  • how to recognise and avoid scams.’

The way in which a person behaves will have a significant impact on their financial wellbeing, such as actively saving, and shopping around for financial products.

Attitudes and preferences are considered to be an important element of financial literacy. If people have negative attitudes towards saving for their future, for example, it is argued that they will be less inclined to undertake such behaviour.

Financial literacy is a relative concept, depending on the complexity of the financial system and products in a society and an individual’s needs and circumstances. With a constantly changing financial and social environment, people need financial literacy to deal with increased expectations to manage their financial affairs, less stability in working patterns, increasing access to credit, and technology increasing privacy and security risks.

We all hold beliefs about money, drawn from personal experience, other people’s comments, media messages, cultural and religious influences, to name a few. We may be anxious about money, lack confidence about our ability to make financial decisions, regard money positively or negatively, hold back from developing money management skills because ‘it’s too hard’ or ‘I’m no good at maths’ or ‘I’ll leave it to someone else to take care of’.

Career practitioner roles that need financial literacy

The definition of a Career Development Practitioner is broad, to cater for the range of contexts they work in and services they provide.

The Professional Standards for Australian Career Development Practitioners provide this definition:

“Career Development Practitioners provide a wide variety of services to diverse client groups in order to foster their career development. Career Development Practitioners may deliver services in settings such as, but not limited to, schools, higher education (e.g., TAFE and universities), business organisations, government agencies and private practice in a range of formats including one-to-one, small groups, via the web, large classes and self-help materials. Such services may include, but are not limited to, career counselling, career advice, career education, job placement, employment services, recruitment, career coaching, training, mentoring and coordinating work experience or internships programs. Career Development Practitioners may work at either a Professional or Associate level.”

Practitioners may provide a service that facilitates career decision making, provide timely and authoritative advice and information, offer a process that assists people through self-awareness and understanding in order to develop a career direction, and assist people to make educational, training and occupational choices to manage their careers.

While the Professional Standards do not specifically mention financial literacy, there are several relevant references. What these references point to is that some practitioners do need some financial literacy. In particular, they are practitioners who:

  • Operate their own business
  • Manage projects
  • Manage budgets
  • Have clients who may experience financial difficulties, such as those facing redundancy, retirement, career change; people starting careers with large education debts; clients with limited job opportunities.
  • Teach career management skills.

When working with clients, career practitioners would benefit from recognising attitudes and behaviour impacting careers, education and work, and the need for financial knowledge and skills to better manage careers.

Career practitioners who operate a business need relevant knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours, as do those managing budgets. For private practitioners, how you relate to money can impact how comfortable you are with setting realistic fees.

Professional Standards relevant to financial literacy

The Professional Standards for Australian Career Development Practitioners lists a range of principles and competencies that are relevant to financial literacy.

The Code of Ethics includes the standard: Ethical principles for career development Practitioner-Client Relationships. These principles include:

  • Accept the rights of the client to make independent choices and to take responsibility for those choices and their consequences.
  • Ensure that the services provided are culturally appropriate and relevant to the clients’ needs, and valid and reliable concerning the information they provide.
  • Apply, and inform clients about, ethical issues (such as privacy, information-sharing practices) associated with media technologies, including social networking.
  • Make appropriate referral when their own competency does not meet the client’s need or when their professional assistance cannot be provided or continued.

These principles can embrace financial matters and would certainly include referring to qualified financial professionals, including financial advisers, accountants, financial support services.

The Core Competency Career Development Theory includes understanding models of career decision-making and their application, and applying models of career decision-making to practice. Systems theory means taking account of a range of career influences, which could include financial factors. Theories concerning change means understanding the economic issues that impact the labour market and having financial literacy to deal with the unexpected.

The Core Competency Labour Market Information includes keeping current and comprehending local, regional, national and international labour market trends and information, and assisting clients to interpret labour market information in the context of their career decision-making and aspirations, skills, knowledge and needs. It also includes assisting clients in creating their own opportunities, including entrepreneurial opportunities. Understanding the economy, business, and having some financial literacy underpin providing these services

The Core Competency Diversity and Inclusion includes understanding the influence and impact of the client’s cultural, geographic, social and economic environment or context in decision-making. Research referred to in this article points to client groups who potentially need insights into the economic and financial environment.

The Core Competency Professional Practice Application includes applying sound business practices. As Briefing Paper 2 points out, “This means business practices that relate to the work of Career Development Practitioners rather than essential, core business knowledge.” Financial literacy is essential to meet this competency.

The Specialised Competency Career Development Program Delivery includes Preparing and presenting program proposals that consider context, budget, objectives and outcomes.

The Specialised Competency Project Management includes understanding and applying the processes of, and tools for, preparing project plans, managing projects, including effective budgeting, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It’s not possible to manage a budget or projects without some financial literacy.

Relevant Career Management competencies

The Australian Blueprint for Career Development is a framework for designing, implementing and evaluating career development programs for young people and adults. It sets out eleven core career management competencies, that is, the skills, attitudes and knowledge, that people need to make sound choices and to manage their careers. Some of these are relevant to financial literacy:

  • Knowing how to manage stress
  • Being aware of how changes related to work can impact on our lives and may require commensurate life changes
  • Understanding the relationship between educational levels and the learning or work options that are open to us.
  • Knowing how to interpret and use labour market information
  • Understanding how society’s needs and functions affect the supply of goods and services
  • Understanding how economic and social trends affect our work and learning opportunities
  • Understanding the nature of the global economy and its impact on individuals and society
  • Knowing how to locate, interpret and use labour market information
  • Being aware of what might interfere with attaining our goals and developing strategies to overcome these.

Financial and economic literacy are essential to demonstrating these behaviours.

How does financial literacy impact careers?

Concerns identified by government and NGOs point to both the need for greater financial literacy, to areas that impact careers, and to groups particularly affected by low levels of financial literacy.

A 2011 ASIC report on financial literacy provides a useful summary of the value of financial literacy and its benefits. The report says:

‘Financial literacy is a skill for life, with significant benefits for everyone no matter what their age or income. It affects the opportunities we can pursue, our sense of security and our overall emotional—and often physical—health. In the United Kingdom, for instance, it has been estimated that moving a person with a relatively low level of financial literacy to an average level of literacy improves their psychological wellbeing by about 6% (compared to an 8% deterioration in wellbeing associated with being divorced or a 10% deterioration from being unemployed).’

‘Financial literacy also contributes to the economic health of society. More capable consumers and investors offer the prospect of improved household savings performance, reduced dependence on government allowances and lower levels of problem debt.’

‘Good financial literacy skills help individuals and families make the most of opportunities, meet their goals and secure their financial wellbeing. They are essential for social inclusion.’

‘More broadly, improved financial literacy can increase economic participation, drive competition and market efficiency in the financial services sector, and potentially reduce regulatory intervention.’

The ASIC report on financial literacy drew on surveys that found that overall the lowest levels of financial literacy are associated with:

  • those aged 18 to 24 years and people 70 years and over;
  • females, particularly aged 70 years and over;
  • people with lower levels of education (Year 10 or less);
  • people not working (for a range of reasons) or in unskilled work;
  • people with lower incomes (household incomes under $25,000 p.a.);
  • people who speak a language other than English at home; and
  • people of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

The report noted that ‘the survey also showed that members of each of these groups are also included among those with the highest levels of financial literacy.’ Overall, the report found that ‘people seem to be more knowledgeable and confident about simple and familiar finance topics such as budgeting, credit, savings and debt; and less knowledgeable and confident about more complex and unfamiliar topics such as investing, superannuation and saving for retirement.’

Also noted is that: ‘It is also clear that people don’t always know what they don’t know. Studies show a significant mismatch between what people say they know and what they do know.’

Such issues may impact clients seeking help with career choices and transitions.

Financial literacy is relevant to teaching courses in career management skills. Teaching kids about money is important. As the government’s SmartMoney website points out, ‘if kids develop good financial skills from an early age they’ll be ready for the financial challenges of adulthood… Showing children the basics such as how to budget, spend and save will establish good money habits for life.’

Canadian research into financial independence and well-being for the next generation suggests there is a need to shift how finances are discussed and found support for financial literacy education. At the roundtables participants noted the importance, and the growing inclusion, of financial literacy education through post-secondary programs. There was also widespread agreement that young people should start learning about managing their finances at school, because those with a higher level of education are more likely to plan for their retirement

While most financial literacy programs focus on the management and allocation of financial resources, some participants noted that young people want financial education programs to pay more attention to helping them earn money, instead of assuming they already have it.

Financial issues are rated amongst Australians’ top causes of stress. As reported by the ABC, many people across all industries, income levels and job roles are feeling financially stressed. Such people are likely to be less satisfied with their lives, less engaged at work, and ultimately underperform.

Wesley Mission research found a growing number of people living with financial hardship. The charity also found that 38 per cent of households were spending more than they earn. Financial stress takes its toll. There are links with mental and physical health issues, family breakdown and substance abuse, and it can lead to social disengagement and isolation.

Career practitioners working with sections of the community may also need some financial literacy. Take women as an example.

The Women’s Economic Security Statement focuses on the barriers that might limit women in building their financial security and on practical measures to effect positive change. These include increasing financial literacy and helping with getting a job, returning to work, establishing a business, and improving economic recovery following life changing events, such as separation or domestic violence.

The website points out some specifics about women’s economic independence, including that:

  • women are more likely than men to face financial hardship following separation and divorce.
  • women who are lone parents are most likely to report financial stress
  • women affected by domestic and family violence may be especially vulnerable to financial stress.
  • many women, especially young women, find the idea of self-employment highly appealing, but lack the confidence, know-how or financial backing to pursue it.

The Women’s Economic Security Statement makes clear that financial literacy is not an isolated, stand-alone factor. When it comes to a person’s overall wellbeing, a range of factors are at work, feeding off each other.

A 2018 study of higher education accommodation and financial stress found that around half (53%) of students reported a moderate to high level of financial stress in relation to being able to afford study and living costs. The researchers found that high levels of financial stress were significantly associated with receiving government benefits, having a disability, and being on a low income. They also found that more than half of students (55%) reported that financial stress impacted at least one area of study.

The report states that: ‘There is a growing body of evidence on the link between undergraduate student poverty and adverse student outcomes, and this study contributes to this evidence base, which, taken together shows that a significant number of Australian domestic and international undergraduate students experience unacceptable levels of poverty.’ Part of the recommendations concerns providing better financial supports. While financial literacy is not specifically mentioned, consideration could be given to including this in support services to help with avoiding traps and scams, such as unscrupulous employment practices.

Having the knowledge necessary to make financially responsible decisions is not about understanding complex balance sheets or having expertise in wealth management. It’s about knowing how credit cards work, particularly how the high interest rates affect accumulation of debt if the card balance is not paid, figuring out how to stay out of serious debt, understanding how purchasing decisions impact your budget, figuring out how to pay for education.

This knowledge directly and indirectly impacts career decisions and choices:

  • When selecting a career, how do pay scales, industry growth, unemployment rates affect that choice?
  • What impact will career choices have on income, financial stability, goals and dreams.
  • Will an applicant that understands how businesses and companies work and how they contribute to their success be more attractive?
  • A person with fewer financial worries will have less stress and possibly better relationships.
  • A financially literate person has a better chance of being prepared for retirement.
  • Interpreting labour market information accurately depends on some understanding of economic factors at play, and what statistics actually mean.

Building financial resilience

In 2016 the Centre for Social Impact wrote a report on financial resilience, the ability to access and draw on personal skills and external resources and supports in times of financial adversity.

The financial resilience of the Australian population was determined through an online survey weighted to be representative of the Australian population. The research found that overall, around 2 million people experience severe or high financial stress/vulnerability. This means that more than 1 in 10 adults in Australia are likely to be facing financial issues.

The research also established that almost half of the population is vulnerable in regard to financial knowledge and behaviour, with close to 48% of people reporting that they only have a ‘basic understanding’ of financial products and services and more than 9% reporting that they have ‘no understanding’.

The researchers established that financial resilience is about access to four groups of resources:

  • ‘Economic resources (savings, debt management, meeting costs of living, raising funds in an emergency, income level);
  • Financial products and services (access to and demand for financial products and services);
  • Financial knowledge and behaviour (knowledge and understanding of financial products and services and ability/willingness to apply that knowledge); and
  • Social capital (family, friend, community, and government networks and supports).’

While it is not the role of career practitioners to provide these resources nor advise on them, they can be alert to the potential impact of a lack of these resources, refer clients to authoritative websites, and qualified professional specialists, thereby contributing to clients’ financial resilience. Given the uncertainty we’re currently facing from the economy, climate change, international politics, to name but three issues, contributing to people’s financial literacy is a critical role for career development professionals.

Resources

Skillsroad, an initiative of the Business chamber movement in Australia (NSW, Vic, WA, SA) includes a section on money. Young people can do a quiz to learn their money type, and watch YouTube videos on money matters.

The eSafety Commissioner’s eSafetywomen website provides advice on scams, online banking and online shopping.

Information on scams can be found at the beconnected and scamwatch websites, on cyber security at the staysmartonline website

The moneysmart website provides teacher resources.

Many libraries offer eSafety resources on their websites, such as Kalamunda in WA.

State and Territory governments have useful websites on business literacy essentials, as does the Australian government.

Resources on attitudes to money are available at a BBC website, a discussion on the ABC, and the UK’s Money Advice Service.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Including financial literacy in career services

While career practitioners are not experts in finance, unless they have the relevant qualifications, there are good reasons for integrating some financial literacy into their services. The subject of financial literacy receives considerable attention from governments and financial authorities, interested in how to help people avoid mistakes and manage finances across the life span.

As has been pointed out in the Australian Financial Attitudes and Behaviour Tracker, released in early 2018 by ASIC, ‘Financial decisions are a part of everyday life − whether looking for ways to save, deciding which credit card represents the best value, choosing a home loan, comparing insurance policies or planning for retirement. Whatever the decision, being confident and informed can make a difference to your financial wellbeing and peace of mind.’

Financial literacy is rapidly being recognized as a core skill for consumers. The Australian Government has a financial capability strategy to help build financial literacy. Some areas of concern include:

  • close to 1 in 5 struggle with credit card debt
  • 3 in 5 don’t understand the investing concept of diversification
  • 2 in 3 don’t know the exact value of their superannuation.

To explore the what, why and how of this topic, let’s look at three questions:

  • What is financial literacy?
  • How is financial literacy relevant to careers?
  • How can financial literacy be applied in career development practice?

What is financial literacy?

Financial literacy is a combination of awareness, knowledge, skill, attitude and behaviour necessary to make sound financial decisions and ultimately achieve individual financial wellbeing.

Recent definitions of financial literacy include three components:

  • Financial knowledge
  • Financial behaviour
  • Attitudes.

An OECD study has found relationships between these components. For example, there is a positive association between financial knowledge and behaviour. People with higher financial knowledge show more positive behaviours, and people with positive attitudes towards the longer term show more positive behaviours than those with a strong preference for the short term.

Canadian reports on financial literacy among millennials suggest the nature of the relationships between financial knowledge, financial habits and positive financial outcomes remains contested. The authors point to people who have argued that the attention to objective knowledge has failed to differentiate what knowledge is actually relevant to the decision-making of individuals in different financial circumstances and at different times. Furthermore, thanks to behavioural economics, there is ample evidence that individuals are not always rational agents acting to maximize their own self-interest. In addition to research on financial literacy, many authors are now calling for attention to broader measures of financial well-being or financial health.

How is financial literacy relevant to careers?

Financial literacy is relevant to a person’s career across the lifespan in multiple ways. Money is part of most major career decisions. To ignore money and finances in career decision-making is to do clients a disservice. There are multiple client groups that need some financial literacy.

Students working part-time who are unaware of their entitlements or potential money traps can find themselves in difficulty.

People entering the workforce.

Apprentices can face financial challenges, particularly in the early years when salaries are low.

People facing redundancy or retrenchment may need to consider their financial position when looking for other work.

People facing retirement also need to consider their financial position.

Women face specific challenges when it comes to managing their money. Many women take time out of the paid workforce to care for others, which reduces their retirement savings. With a longer life expectancy than men, this often puts women in a particularly vulnerable position when it comes to their finances.

People with disability need to know their consumer rights. Under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), people with disability can now choose their own goods and services to support their needs.

Self-employed people need knowledge and skills to manage a business.

Student loan debt is now a permanent fixture in higher education financing not only in England and the US, but in dozens of countries around the globe

Already, more adults are delaying life events such as getting married, starting a family, and purchasing a home. High debt burdens relative to earnings threaten to further erode these trends and handicap a generation of young adults. These consequences extend to other life events as well, including physical and mental health, career choices, and the decision of whether to pursue postgraduate education.

Apart from being aware of our own attitudes to money, there is the question of how much should career practitioners explore money matters with clients, those starting work, in transition, facing retirement, and have referral options, such as to reputable financial advisors [if you can find one].

How important is it to build clients’ financial literacy skills as part of their preparation for work. There’s literature on what schools could or should be doing in this area. While people transitioning from education to work are less likely to want to consider the longer term for their finances, there’s plenty of good reasons for at least raising some aspects of financial literacy, particularly if clients place a high value on money as a condition of work.

How can financial literacy be applied in career development  practice?

Depending on a practitioner’s context, there are several options available as to how financial literacy can be included in services.

  • Build financial literacy and tap credible resources: Career practitioners need at least some rudimentary knowledge and understanding of finances and be aware of their own attitudes to money. Keeping current on available resources will also be part of a service and knowledge-base.
  • Establish links with credible financial experts so reliable referrals can be made for in-depth services.
  • Provide access to or create financial literacy programs in schools or as part of career services. This page provides a variety of international and Australian research that will inform the development of financial literacy education programs and support educators to implement innovative teaching practices in the classroom. More research can be found on the Financial Capability website.
  • As part of career programs, both individual and group, ask questions about the role money plays in career decisions. For example, how important is salary compared with other job-choice factors?

Changing the finances narrative

In 2017, the Public Policy Forum (PPF) partnered with the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (FCAC), the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), and Vancity credit union to launch a project to better understand the personal finances of Canadian millennials.

Two 2018 Canadian reports on Financial independence and wellbeing for the next generation, i.e. millennials, provide useful ideas based on public discussions. The authors, Dr. Jennifer Robson and Andrée Loucks, suggest that there is a need to shift the narrative around discussions on finances. They write:

‘Far too often, discussions about finances are framed—explicitly or implicitly—in a “you’re in serious trouble” narrative. This simply doesn’t work – in fact, it repels millennials. As one roundtable participant said, “There is a major stigma to this [narrative]. Students are embarrassed to talk and they’re worried about being nagged or shamed.”’

Further, ‘Naming and shaming is not an effective approach, and there is movement to shift the language to “financial well-being”, which makes it clear that financial literacy is a skill that contributes to independence and security. This addresses the “why” instead of the “what”, which is an established best practice.’

‘Financial literacy also needs to be exciting and empowering, with central messages focused on independence, having control over finances, being able to achieve dreams, and understanding that planning and saving are required to achieve both short- and long-term financial goals. … The tone of the narrative and discussion is important; there cannot be too much emphasis on consumerism being inherently evil, nor can it unduly focus on a far-off retirement. It seems that there is too much time spent talking about hard work, rather than goals.’ [Page 4]

Such ideas open the door for career practitioners to be leaders in how these discussions are introduced and explored.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.