A chaotic approach to integrating ICT into careers practice

The theme for the Career Development Association of Australia (CDAA) National Conference in Sydney in May 2013 was “leading career development in uncertain times”. Looking over my notes from the sessions that I attended there was also a focus on implementation of information technology and social media in career development practice. I think these two themes are really important as technology at this point in time is driving rapid change in our society in a way that challenges the way we think about communicating with each other; the way businesses make (or lose) money; and even debates over access to information (such as Wikileaks; and the current unfolding story in the USA over government agencies recording and storing electronic communication of its citizens).

Whilst information technology has been around for a long time, the last decade has seen a remarkable transformation in use of technology from desk-bound systems to mobile devices that have us connected to our virtual world all the time. One could argue that no-one is an expert. Everyone is learning. As technology and social media applications  rapidly develop, we are encouraged, perhaps even forced into innovation, experimentation and development of socially constructed solutions. When Twitter was first developed the hash tag came about as a way for users to find information and to create conversations for many people rather than for a single user to push out messages to his or her network. The hash tags weren’t built into the system by the developers, they were adopted by users so they could better connect with a community of people.

In careers, the use of ICT is relatively underdeveloped, even though the profession has used technology at least since the 1960s for establishing databases of occupational and labour market information. Tannis Goddard noted that at present the most utilised area of ICT was in providing resources online – that is, static information that clients access on a self-serve basis. The use of social media is in the embryonic stages with the profession and many practitioners are perhaps unsure how to engage in this area, or perhaps prefer face to face interactions with clients. Online career interventions such as online programs and e-counselling are only being used by a small proportion of careers professionals.

Goddard provided some suggestions on how to bring ICT to clients:

  • Consideration of the needs of stakeholders is very important (clients, employers, education providers, parents, etc).
  • Career practitioner skills and capacity need to grow in relation to the social, cognitive, and technical aspects of technology use
  • We need to have a good strategy and plan for using ICT
  • Don’t lose theory of practice, technology needs to support our practice not determine it
  • Some clients like to write and reflect on their career issues rather than talking to someone – we should design interventions and services that meet their needs

With so much technology around, why is it that careers practitioners are either reacting slowly to use technology in their practice, or avoiding it? Jaana Kettunen provided some insights. Her research into perceptions of social media by career practitioners, lead to her and her colleagues identifying five distinct categories of career practitioners’ in relation to their conception of social media:

  1. Unnecessary 
  2. Dispensable
  3. Possibility
  4. Desirable
  5. Indispensable

So whilst practitioners may be well trained in the use of particular technologies, Kettunen argues that their attitudes towards using the technology needs to be taken into consideration as well. Personally I think it is very important that as a profession we are actively engaged in social media and ICT. Our clients and potential clients are already out there finding information (quality unknown). We need to be operating in the same space providing our expertise. Because the technologies are changing and evolving so rapidly, it is easy to see why some practitioners may see the use of ICT as unnecessary – or that a new social media app may just be a passing fad. For some practitioners, they may see the possibilities that an app may provide in reaching a new audience, but they aren’t sure how to engage with it.

Another presentation at the conference resonated with me – and it had nothing at first glance, to do with technology. This presentation was about Chaos Theory of Careers but the take home message was about failure. Robert Pryor noted that in evolution, failure is the norm, not about survival of the fittest – most of the species that have ever existed on this planet are now extinct. Pryor challenged us to be working with clients to normalise failure. We should try new things with the knowledge that some will fail, which in Chaos Theory of Careers is the ’emergent perspective’, or alternatively the ‘convergent perspective’ is that you make failure survivable. We should work with clients to address fear of failure; identify self limiting behaviours; help them to tolerate the imperfect; and to develop contingency plans.

So what does this have to do with how you implement technology or social media into your career development practice? One of the great things about engaging in social media is that you can try something and gauge the response. If it doesn’t work the way you intended (failure) then you can modify your message and try again. In my own practice, I regularly publish messages on Facebook or Twitter, usually with a link to an article or website. Recently I changed my approach. Rather than just saying “here is something interesting”, I instead gave the link some context and meaning. For example I posted the following link on Facebook with a link to a newspaper article:

“With exams soon approaching, you might be wondering if all this study is worth it. Research shows that most graduates will earn more income over their lifetime than those that didn’t go to uni.”

The response I got to this message was huge in comparison to the way I previously would have communicated – more likes and comments and people clicking through to the article.

This example highlights two important messages:

  1. You can learn as you go. You don’t need to know everything about the technology – experiment, take the feedback, try a small change (iterative learning), and see how that works.
  2. Using the technology enables you to reach out to your clients at a time you know they may need this information. This is very different to waiting for them to come to your office when they need help.