What is our output?

Audio by Sergiu Bacioiu

So, do your dials go up to 11?

I’ve been having some very interesting conversations lately on LinkedIn groups.

In one discussion, a Canadian career service manager described how his team had been increasingly using the term ‘career literacy’ to describe what they were trying to develop in their students. He asked what we thought of the term.

Part of me really likes the idea of literacy as a set of skills that enables you to interact with information. According to the UNESCO definition, literacy involves “a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society“. That fits rather well with the aims of a careers service.

My reservation with the term is that, in a university setting, literacy could be interpreted as rather a basic level of learning. By the time students have reached university, they should have gone beyond literacy and be operating in the realm of analysis and critical thinking. Would it have face value with the academic community?

So, what other terms could we use and what would they imply? Can we come up with something which appeals to those who are looking at immediate solutions as well as giving a strong message about developing an ability to deal with issues over the entire course of your career?

This kicked the random word generator in my brain into overdrive and I tried to come up with a range of phrases to describe what we are trying to nurture in our clients.

Past and current outputs

There have been a few terms used in the history of career guidance which could be used to define our output.

  • Vocational maturity — An important term in Donald Super’s developmental theory, working with vocational maturity involves assessing and developing clients’ ability to cope with the demands of their particular developmental stage. It’s a bit patronising.
  • Career decision-making self-efficacy — Based on Social Cognitive Theory, this describes the client’s belief in their ability to perform the various activities of career decision making. It’s a bit of a mouthful, and why the obsession with decision making.
  • Career management skills — The trouble with this is, the emphasis on skills often reduces down to the lowest common denominator of CVs and interviews.
  • Career learning or Career development learning — This provides a strong link to the learning agenda of universities but it sounds a bit detached from the real world of getting a job.
  • Employability — This is the current buzzword in the UK government and has therefore been embraced by university leaders, having been given added weight by the increased demands of graduate employers, the current economic downturn and the introduction of higher student fees. The difficulty I have with this term is that it could easily be interpreted as merely making graduates attractive to employers so that they don’t end up on the unemployment statistics.

More possible outputs

I’ve blogged previously about a few more recent possibilities.

  • Career adaptability — I like the idea of promoting adaptability, but is that the only thing?
  • Career resilience — This could be an important quality for the challenging job market, but it smacks of pessimism to me.
  • Career shift — Too obscure.
  • Careercraft — Personally, I like the image, but it’s not going to appeal to the quick fix seekers.

Here are a few more words to play with in combination with ‘career’ or ’employability’.

Career Intelligence or Employability Intelligence — This could follow the trend of emotional intelligence, cultural intelligence, etc. It could give the message that we are developing smart thinking about careers.

Career Awareness or Employability Awareness — This is an essential element of any output, but awareness on it’s own it doesn’t imply capability.

Career Critical Thinking — Again, I often end up working on this with clients, and it does put it on a more of a par with academic learning. But it doesn’t have immediate appeal.

Career Wisdom  — This sounds quite profound. It’s a bit like vocational maturity but less judgemental. (A downmarket version could be ‘Savvy’.)

Career Competence or Employability Competence — As an alternative to ‘skills’ this sounds a bit more all-encompassing.

Career Capability — Quite similar to Competence, but that doesn’t work so well with Employability.

Career Effectiveness or Employability Effectiveness — Again, similar to Competence.

Career Capital or Employability Capital — This is quite a front runner for me. I like the image of building up resources to enable you to do what you want. It also makes it an easy link to Human Capital (skills, knowledge, education) and Social Capital (connections, relationships, support).

Career Identity — This is an element of one of my favourite models of employability. I like the fact that it introduces the notion that we are not just getting people into jobs, but helping them to build their future identities.

Career Vision or Envisioned Employability — I like it, but it could be too rarefied.

Career Confidence or Employability Confidence — This is linked to the idea of self-efficacy and is often what I do end up aiming to develop in my clients. However, it does sound a bit like an advert for toothpaste.

Career Empowerment or Employability Empowerment — Again, this is often how I think about what I do with clients, but it sounds a bit worthy.

Career Autonomy or Autonomous Employability — I quite like this one. We are trying to equip clients so that they can take charge of their own career.

Career Self-Determination or Self-Determined Employability — Emphasises the element of choice and control. I don’t think it will catch on.

Career Ambition or Employability Ambition — This could fit in well with a social mobility agenda.

Career Initiative — I very much like the idea of our role being to encourage clients to take initiative with their career development, rather than waiting for the world to hand them job satisfaction.

Career Creativity — The danger with this is that it only attracts people who think of themselves as creative, when what we want is to help everyone to be creative in how they approach their careers. Again, it doesn’t work with the E word.

Career Enterprise and Career Entrepreneurship — Both of these carry the idea that your career is something you initiate and you control like a start-up company. Is it valid any longer for us to be preparing people to become ’employees’? Maybe we need to be encouraging students to see themselves as small businesses and employers as customers in a rapidly changing market.

Career Innovation or Employability Innovation — Carrying on the theme of entrepreneurship, this involves helping clients to think more creatively about their career in a world where new job roles are being invented by the day.

Career Invention or Employability Invention — Another one emphasising the creativity angle.

Career Sustainability or Sustainable Employability — Now, this one I think could really go somewhere. The word ‘sustainability’ prevents the focus drifting to merely immediate concerns. It’s not just about if you can get any old job now, it’s about whether you have the ability to keep your skills up-to-date and respond to whatever changes may happen in the employment market. There is also a bit of an angle to talk about social and environmental impact of career choices. I hope this one catches on.

What’s your favourite term?

Do you have any better suggestions?

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  1. #1 by darrenmjones on 1 July 2011 - 16:58

    Much as I admire your random word generator, I think you write off ‘literacy’ too quickly. It requires much more than a basic level of learning. For literacy to be effective you need to recognise that you need something, source and develop strategies to find what you need (or think you need), evaluate anything you find, and be able to use it effectively for problem solving/critical thinking. These notions are well-developed in theories of information literacy in library circles, along with newer notions of digital literacy and transliteracy. Mind you, there are also debates about whether the term literacy might put people off. However, I would like to stick up for its intellectual veracity at least…

    • #2 by David Winter on 9 July 2011 - 09:53

      Don’t get me wrong, I like the term ‘career literacy’. However, if I put myself in the shoes of an academic, I can’t help but see ‘literacy’ as a lower level learning outcome than those normally achieved through university teaching.

      I’m very keen that career education is seen as being just as advanced as any other education that happens in universities.

  2. #3 by Bill Bell on 2 July 2011 - 16:46

    I would be thrilled to find that the majority of university graduates have a level of mastery in this area that goes beyond literacy as you have defined it. Unfortunately I doubt that even a minority do, at least in Canada. Although I am not in a position to conduct surveys that would support my position I do come into contact with many young people who have completed at least one degree without the slightest idea of how this might fit into a viable career. I find it very disturbing.

  3. #4 by Arlene S. Hirsch on 3 July 2011 - 18:45

    The term literacy implies a level of competence…..following the metaphor of language that might lead to Career Proficiency or Career Fluency.

    I prefer building off the Emotional Intelligence idea because EQ addresses both interpersonal and intrapersonal factors. From a career counseling perspective this dovetails with the need for constant self-assessment and self knowledge along with a growing understanding of how to interact with people in a way that is effective and satisfying. Applied to the career arena, it works perfectly.

    As much as I’d like to take credit for that idea, I believe that there is a Canadian career counselor/author named Barbara Moses who wrote a book on the subject.

    • #5 by David Winter on 5 July 2011 - 22:21


      I like the idea of Career Fluency as an extension of Literacy. I wonder what Career Bilingualism means?

      I’m quite fond of Career Intelligence too for the same reasons.

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