I was recently in Bangalore undertaking a graduate employability research visit. The highlight of my trip was a meeting with colleagues from The Promise Foundation – a not-for-profit organisation involved in some ground breaking careers work in India. The ‘Promise’ team is made up of behavioural scientists who examine theory to develop careers interventions that are relevant to the Indian context. We spent time learning about the Jiva project and observed elements of the programme being applied in a local school.
I had a fascinating discussion with Sachin Kumar a fellow ‘Theories Geek’ and the Jiva Programme’s Project Manager about the concept of a career in the Indian context. I understood from Sachin that a major difference between the east and west in regards to career decision making is the notion of individualism and collectivism. In the west career planning focuses on the individual, his or her interests, skills and aptitudes; this coupled with the mobility across occupations gives the individual a sense of freedom with their career decision making. Where as in India, family and the wider society are very much intrinsic to the individuals career beliefs, aspirations and decisions. For example, divergence from family and parental directions could be taken as disobedience. A further layer of complexity within India was its caste system where the work one was expected to perform was based on the caste you were born into.
Abilities and talent were no longer important. Although discrimination by caste has been abolished; a subtle but strong influence on work behaviour continues to underpin the Indian work situation. The discussion with Sachin and his colleagues got me thinking. Within Higher Education, a large proportion of clients seeking careers support are increasingly representing diverse cultural perspectives and need us to deliver guidance that incorporates their beliefs, values, and worldviews.
In a separate meeting, one of our Alumni commented when asked about their experience of their UK University Careers Service, “The adviser was very nice, she asked me lots of questions about my career decision making and made me think about what had led me to my career choice. I did at the end of the interview feel very sad. Although she made me think I knew I couldn’t change my social situation or career decision. I guess although we spoke the same language we ultimately didn’t understand one another”
I have as a result started questioning my role as an International Careers Adviser as my knowledge and understanding of different cultures and socio-economic challenges faced by the students I see doesn’t even scratch the surface. As a result of meeting with alumni and colleagues from The Promise Foundation, I do believe that to be effective, we as guidance professionals must adapt our traditional, individualistic approaches to careers guidance and incorporate culture-specific variables. But the question is how do we do this?
If you have any suggestions or examples of good practice I will be very keen to hear your comments.
The Promise Foundation is organising the first Careers Conference in India in October. Further information can be found at www.jivacareer.org
Career Counselling – A Handbook by Gideon Arulmani and Sonali Nag-Arulmani. Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, 2005
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