Unpacking "emancipatory careers" - what skills do our clients really need?
The heart of emancipation is freedom from bondage, oppression or restraint – it’s a wide open idea, a huge agenda. It includes being free from many of the oppressions and restraints faced by hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who feel restrained, oppressed or disengaged at work, or are disturbed at the scale and rate of change.
At the 2018 CDANZ Symposium, Professor Ronald G. Sultana (University of Malta) suggested that an emancipation agenda should feature more strongly in the future of career practice. He framed it in terms of helping clients better understand their social and political context. But what does this mean in practice? What are the fundamental skills that enable a person to progress such a big agenda? Are career practitioners in a position to teach, coach or train clients in these skills?
If we accept that career practice should further the emancipation of our clients – and most of us would agree – then there is a great deal to be done. We approach this issue by asking ourselves “What in our practice is addressing skill development at this level?”
While clients come with specific immediate needs, problems to be solved, situations to be resolved, it is in how we work through these that we can teach the skills they need to develop for quality decision making going into the future – that is, it’s in ‘how’ we help clients resolve today’s puzzles that we can be training them to be stronger in the face of tomorrow’s. This includes developing interpersonal skills, self-management, problem solving, and building support networks (including social media). Interestingly, client needs in these areas appear to be largely independent of level of seniority, status, experience and age.
Many of the skills needed are ‘meta-skills’: skills for learning skills, for finding out what needs to be found out, for keeping on long after their engagement with us is past. These are also entrepreneurial skills, strengthening capacity for initiative taking.
There are four skill sets we frequently introduce to clients. First, a framework for thinking about shifting perspectives between content (the ‘what’ of careers) and context (the ‘how’). Both are important. We call this the ‘On The Wave’ framework – it’s a visual metaphor that enables a client to move between an overview perspective of their situation (‘on the wave’) and the details of the content of their situation including their career direction specifics (‘in the trough of the wave’).
The second is a critical thinking framework that opens up a wide range of problem-solving skills, enables prioritising and improves decision making quality, not just to understand what ‘decision quality’ means, but more significantly, how to improve it. While used in the room on today’s issues, these skills can be used repeatedly in the future. Once used, never forgotten. This framework creates space for innovative thinking, gives flexibility and a sense of freedom.
The third is a set of communication skills. We focus on developing confidence with conversation, relationship building and gravitas. For example, skills for how to listen so the other feels heard, building trust by not just showing interest but by being interested, how to question effectively, and how to link to contacts and future-facing information. These skills help clients access the higher quality information necessary for making robust decisions.
The fourth area, self-management, covers the wide range of skills and behaviour that impact a client’s focus, performance, vitality, effectiveness and engagement at work. For example, the ability to prioritise, plan results-focussed time-use, form micro-teams, try/review/adapt new behaviours, act with integrity (building trust) and many others.
While there is a lively interest in how career practitioners can leverage digital technology in career practice (rightly so), we must also ensure that essential thinking skills, behavioural and people skills are strengthened – they are the very core of emancipatory career practice. These are tough skills for any of us to develop but they are central to enabling clients to manage their work and careers in the face of persistent, unpredictable levels of change – and there is no foreseeable future in which artificial intelligence will reduce the premium we need to place on these skills.