‘Evolving Education and Careers’ virtual conference: Key takeaways for those interested in the current state of career guidance #EducationandCareers #CareerChat

Over the course of last week, I attended the ‘Evolving Education & Careers’ virtual international conference hosted by DMH Associates and sponsored by the Edge Foundation. Networking and session delivery were handled through a dedicated app called Whova.

This conference comes at a time when careers work is undergoing rapid change. Well, to be fair, careers work has always been about adapting to change! But this year has been particularly unpredictable. Career practitioners, researchers, and policymakers have had Covid-19, Brexit, and technological advancements to make sense of, and they’ve had to do so very quickly. Meeting virtually at the ‘Evolving Education & Careers’ conference gave everyone the opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved so far as a global career development community and envision what we can do next. There was a sense of camaraderie and positivity about the future amongst attendees as they shared their interpretations of emergent trends and how they’ve overcome challenges brought on by the pandemic.

To do the whole conference justice would require a very, very long blog post; rather than aim for complete coverage of the event, I am opting here for a blogging format that introduces an overview of the three days and then moves on to a compact collection of action points and outcomes. This blog post will therefore be split into two sections: ‘Conference overview: Schedule, speakers, themes’ and ‘Key takeaways’. I won’t judge if you jump to the key takeaways 🙂


Conference overview: Schedule, speakers, themes

There was an excellent line-up of international speakers bringing forth some very important issues for discussion along three main themes: ‘Career learning in a changing world’ (Day 1), ‘Digital transformation’ (Day 2), and ‘Achieving inclusion and diversity’ (Day 3). Here is a summary of sessions per day:

Day 1

09:00 – 10.15 – Welcome and Introduction: 1st Plenary Session and keynote speakers

Speakers: Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE (DMH Associates director), Lord Victor Adebowale CBE (Chair of the NHS confederation), Olly Newton (Executive director of the Edge foundation), Sareena Hopkins (Executive Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation)

Key questions: What career development issues are we faced with today? What is the role of career development in managing change?

10:45 – 11.45 – Career-related learning in childhood

Speakers: Anuradha J. Bakshi (Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Human Development, Nirmala Niketan College of Home Science), David Carney (Executive Director of the Career Industry Council of Australia), Dr Mary McMahon (Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Education at The University of Queensland, Australia), Nick Chambers (founder and CEO of ‘Education and Employers’, an independent UK based charity)

Key questions: How does career-related learning in childhood happen? How can career-related learning provide hope and help families envision optimistic futures?

12.45 – 13.45 – Careers in the curriculum – Towards an integrated approach

Speakers: Olly Newton (Executive director of the Edge foundation), Paula Philpott (Head of South Eastern Regional College’s Learning Academy, NI), Rudaba Osmani-Edwards (Head of partnerships at ‘Big Education’), Ryan Gibson (National System Leader for Careers at ‘Academies Enterprise Trust’), Lauren Monaghan-Pisano )Senior producer and departmental lead, Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning), Yasmin Hemmings (Schools Engagement Manager for Barbican Guildhall Creative Learning)

Key questions: How can careers education become a core component of the curriculum?

15.30 – 16.30 – Lessons from lockdown: Innovative approaches to careers education

Speakers: Ella Bujok (Managing Director, CASCAID – part of Xello), Karin Smith (Academic consultant, Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin), Reno Palombit (Workforce Development Specialist, Johnston County Public Schools, North Carolina), Sophie Hope (Greater Manchester Apprenticeship and Careers Service programme lead)

Key questions: What successes have we had when switching to remote careers education delivery? What new ways of working have we adopted?

Day 2

09:00 – 10:00 – Welcome and Introduction – AI and the future of work

Speakers: Dr Naeema Pasha (Director of Careers & Professional Development and Founder of ‘World of Work’, Henley Business School, University of Reading), Marie Zimenoff (CEO of ‘Career Thought Leaders’ and ‘Resume Writing Academy’), Prof. Fusun Akkok (Emerita professor, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey, who also works with ILO and CEDEFOP), Honorary Associate Professor Graham Atwell (Director of PONTYDSGYU and co-founder of ‘Careerchat bot’)

Key questions: What new developments in AI can be identified and what are their implications for the world of work? How can education and career support systems best respond to change and technological innovation??

10:30 – 11.30 – Apprenticeships and VET

Speakers: Fiona McBride (Managing Director, Kaplan Professional ME), Joanne Reynolds (Early Careers Operational Lead, Emerging Talent, HSBC Bank Plc UK), Monique Malcolm-Hay (ICAEW Chartered Accountant, PwC), Richard Marsh (Director of Apprenticeships and Vocational Education for Kaplan Financial), Sarah Gifford (Head of Banking, Finance & Management Design, Kaplan Financial)

Key question: How can we widen access to apprenticeships?

14:00 – 15.15 – Recap and 2nd Plenary Session and keynote speakers

Speakers: Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE (DMH Associates director), Minister Jamie Hepburn (Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills), Professor James Sampson (Emeritus Professor, Department of Educational Psychology and Learning Systems, Florida State University), Alice Barnard (Chief Executive, Edge Foundation)

Key questions: What is the role of ICT in career interventions? What new practitioner roles have emerged as a result of developments in social media?

16:00 – 17:00 – Leaderhood and equality: where next?

Speakers: Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE (DMH Associates director), Dame Ruth Silver DBE (President, Further Education Trust for Leadership), Amarjit Basi (Co-founder, Black FE Leadership Group), Dr Ebun Jospeh (Career Development Consultant, Royal College of Surgeons, University of Medicine and Health Sciences, Dublin, Ireland), Professor Jenny Bimrose (Emeritus Professor, Warwick University, IER)

Key questions: What is ‘leaderhood’? How can we act with compassion and show social solidarity as leaders?

Day 3

09:00 – 10.15 –Welcome and Introduction: 3rd Plenary Session and keynote speakers

Speakers: Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE (DMH Associates director), Dr Anthony Mann (Senior Policy Analyst, OECD), Sandra Cheyne (National CIAG Policy & Professional Practice Lead – Skills Development Scotland)

Key questions: How can we best prepare young people for a turbulent labour market?

10.45 – 11.45 – Professionalisation of the career development workforce

Speakers: Jan Ellis (CEO, Career Development Institute), Dr Mary McMahon (Honorary Associate Professor in the School of Education at The University of Queensland, Australia), Dr Siobhan Neary, RCDP (Associate Professor and Head of the International Centre for Guidance Studies, Institute of Education, University of Derby)

Key questions: Is career development a profession? What is the professional identity of career development practitioners?

12:45 – 13:45 – Why inclusion is integral to reskilling Britain and our long-term recovery

Speakers: Patrick Cavern (Director – Strategic Partnerships, Policy and Stakeholder Engagement – City & Guilds Group UK), Kieran Gordon (Executive Director, Careers England), Morenike Ajayi (Founder of ‘Career Nuggets’), Danny Matthews (Apprenticeship & Community Resourcing Lead, Co-Op)

Key questions: The reskilling agenda has emerged as a critical solution to economic recovery, but how can we ensure that the principles of inclusion are not left out as we rush to implement initiatives?

14.45 – 15.45 – Mental toughness, health and wellbeing

Speakers: Debbie Braid (Head of Business Improvement, WISE Ability), Dr Reinekke Lengelle (Assistant Professor, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, University of Athabasca, Canada), Jennifer Tardy (Career Success Coach, USA), Liane Hambly (Director, Liane Hambly Associates, UK)

Key questions: What are the pillars of mental toughness? How can we foster resilience in ourselves and others?

16:15 – 17:15 – Final Round-Up: Where Next? Future implications for policy, research and practice

Speakers: Chris Percy (Director, CSP Resources, London), Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE (DMH Associates director), Jennifer McKenzie (Director, NCGE), Jon Chase (Science communicator, Author, Science Rapper), Meeta Zakharia (Head of HR and Inclusion, McDonalds UK & Ireland), Nikki Lawrence (Chief Executive, Careers Wales), Pedro Morena Da Fonseca (Technical Specialist, ILO), Simon Hepburn MA FRSA (Founder and Managing Director of Black Star Inc)

Key questions: What have we learnt from this conference? How can conversations be converted into action?


Key takeaways: Career development is a superpower

Sareena Hopkins, our first keynote speaker, kicked things off on an inspirational note and set the tone for the remainder of the conference by proclaiming that career development is a superpower. We all like the sound of that! But why is it a superpower, you might ask?

Career development provides tailor-made solutions to help guide people through complex and unpredictable life transitions. It is our front-line of defence to change and it is guiding us through this pandemic, too. Given what an impactful profession this is, we need to be proactive and use our powers for good. Sareena Hopkins suggested that there are 7 lessons from superheroes that we can apply in our practice:

  1. Know your purpose
  2. Know your impact and make it visible to others
  3. Know your unique powers
  4. Use your powers for social justice
  5. Go to where the action is
  6. Band together so the hero doesn’t go down
  7. Strike the power pose

What Ella Bujok from Xello said about career development at the beginning of her session was also quite inspirational: we need to acknowledge how hard we have been working this year and be proud of having maintained a continuity of career education and support throughout the last five-or-so months. With resourcefulness and resolve, we have done five years’ worth of growing and innovating in five months.

With that being said, the pandemic isn’t over yet, and we don’t know when we will return to full normality, so we have a lot more work to do! For all the busy professionals and researchers out there, I have compiled a summary list of action points (sorted by theme rather than by session, speaker, or order of appearance) entitled ‘Calls to action’ – see below!

Key takeaways: Calls to action

The Covid-19 trio: issues exacerbated by the pandemic

Inequity. Working class children are overtaken by more privileged children at the age of 7. For career decision-making in young people to be rational and effective, they need to be looking inward at their interests, strengths, and values, and outward at what opportunities are available. What we don’t want is for them to be making decisions due to a lack of awareness or access to opportunities.

Equality and diversity. We need to widen participation for everyone, regardless of what their background is. Age, disability, being a carer, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, faith shouldn’t matter when looking to access education, training, and work.

In addition, child labour is still a big problem in developing countries that needs to be tackled. The statistics are grim: 64 million girls and 88 million boys worldwide are forced into child labour. They don’t get to pick a profession – their profession is picked for them very early on.

Mental health. We need to make a distinction between mental health and mental illness. Career development professionals needn’t shy away from helping people with mental health conditions because they think they’re not qualified to advise them. They are still in a position to help. Mental health indicators should be recorded in employability assessments.

The technology trio: technology is here to stay, so let’s make the most of it

Career practitioners should engage with social media and distance counselling and use these to supplement other forms of career support. A lot more video information and social media information is coming through and impacting career decisions, so we need to keep up. The anonymity of distance counselling encourages client engagement and the slower pace of asynchronous communication is good for some clients. There can be improved efficiency, accessibility, and safety through technology.

The career practitioner will not be replaced by AI anytime soon, though AI is increasingly present in the world of work. Holistic guidance and personalised support will always require human intervention.

But also, we need to be aware of the limitations of ICT career interventions. Career practitioners should monitor how people access and use ICT for career learning and help them understand what information is relevant and how they can best use this. There is illegitimate, outdated, and misleading information online, and there is often insufficient context to decide if a piece of information is verifiable and relevant. In addition, there may be intentional or unintentional bias in how information is presented and interpreted. Popularity bias and similarity bias can easily impact judgments.

We have to think about digital inclusion – How can we support those who have limited access to technology or don’t have any access to technology at all? We now have virtual apprenticeships and digital mentorships – but can everyone access them?

People in rural areas may have bad internet connections or may be sharing utilities with others, only being able to use the Internet very late at night. Half of the world’s population has no online access, including 360 million young people (UNICEF, 2020). That means that we have to build digital infrastructure and think up smart solutions – and fast. Parking school buses with free Wi-Fi in key areas is an ingenious solution, albeit perhaps only an interim solution (to put this another way, of what use is a band-aid if bigger infrastructural matters and inequalities are not addressed?).

The career guidance trio: let’s supercharge career education

Career education should start as early as possible. At ages 3-5, children begin to fantasise about what they may be when they grow up, but by ages 6-8, they start to internalise fixed gender roles and societal norms and disregard occupations that are not appropriate for their gender or social status. Although more rational decision-making kicks in by adolescence, by the time career education is delivered, young people have already unintentionally ruled out several viable options. Earlier interventions make later interventions more effective.

Some conference attendees suggested that we need career education that is a core component of the curriculum. Career education shouldn’t be an extra – it should be a given. Career training would be good to implement into teacher training programs as well, so that new educators enter the system with a careers lens on whatever subject they teach.

According to the OECD, good career guidance is built on broadening understanding. You cannot become what you cannot imagine. Teachers already know this and do whatever they can on the ground to educate children about different careers – be that through games or props.

We need to provide trustworthy labour market information in the classroom, challenge information asymmetries about specific professions, and make sure that we organise opportunities for young people to have experiential engagements with the world of work. During the pandemic, some teachers have been doing industry tours with GoPros so that they can demonstrate equipment and skills in an engaging way. This is an idea that many more schools could be stealing.

What we should be doing more of in general

We need to listen to young people’s voices when shaping the services that we are providing. They know what they need best. We work in groups as career practitioners, so we should also listen to the group youth voice.

We need to look at the big picture. We need more than a skills agenda. We need policy. Why? Complex socio-economic challenges are irreducible to skill deficits. Moreover, many initiatives are not a case of either/or but a case of and/and. For instance, universities should not be eschewed in favour of vocational education and vice versa – both are equally important to promote. When an initiative becomes vogue, let’s not forget about other initiatives.

We need to know what we are trying to achieve as a field and prove that our work has impact through longitudinal employability data. To do this, we need employability indicators and data points compared at initial employability assessments and progress assessments so that we can build a comprehensive data story and show the impact of our career services.

Let’s keep asking the hard questions. For example, what does an educator and career development have to offer when there are few or no jobs in certain geographical areas? Thanks to technology, the world is becoming smaller and new opportunities open up. But these opportunities may not look anything like what we’re used to seeing and the career guidance we provide will need to change to take advantage of new developments.

Let’s keep creating spaces for conversation. We have taken many steps in the right direction and will continue to do so by collaborating, co-creating, and sharing good practice across practice, policy, and research domains.


On that note, and in closing, there are several upcoming careers conferences in 2021 that we can all look forward to:

Virtual Cannexus 2021: Canada’s Career Development Conference

IAEVG, Riga, 2021

Tech Fest conference, 2021 This one sounds great – it will cover digital skills for career development.


Image credits: DMH associates (conference banner) and Sareena Hopkins (superhero comic images)

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