There is a sense in the digital era that the concept of a distinct professional calling or, to use a more spiritual term, a personal vocation in life, has a reduced relevance. Young people are now taking on average 4 jobs by the time they are 32, according to LinkedIn, and Forbes advocates ‘job hopping’ to maximise salaries. Indeed, at Northampton High, we use our Inspiring Futures careers programme to help prepare our students for portmanteau careers, on the back of a skills-focused curriculum.
In the words of Fiona Monfrooy, Executive Director of Human Resources at ING DIRECT, ‘From an individual perspective, there’s an increasing need for transferrable skills; to be more adaptable. […] A flexible work approach also means, in some cases, multiple jobs’.
Yet, perhaps counterintuitively, careers advice and the pathways to further and higher education, apprenticeships and courses, often appear to focus in on highly specific areas, whether that might be in traditional domains such as medicine or engineering, academic avenues like Maths, Languages and History, or within so-called vocational areas that generally support access to certain health, sporting, technical or business roles.
Still, perhaps the system works anyway. The UK, in spite of its Brexit travails, university fees, exam-heavy education system and supposedly class-ridden society, manages to remain flexible and competitive in an international setting. According to a recent IMF report cited by the Evening Standard, the UK has a bigger growth forecast for 2018 than any other major country. Indeed, there seems to be nothing inherent in our educational programme preventing young people with passion and energy from finding their way through the multifarious permutations of the modern workplace. So, it could be argued that we are right to signpost our students to the future by tapping into their vocational predilections and to see this approach as fully in line with our skills-based educational outlook.
Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus at Christ Church, Oxford, has described vocation as being where a person’s ‘particular deep joy’ or deep-seated interests meet society’s deep-seated needs, whether religious or not. While the idea of vocation may have become more fluid in terms of the actual jobs many people end up doing, Tilby’s suggestion seems to be that there is huge emotional and practical value in trying to find the direction that speaks most to us as individuals, so that our actions have a level of authenticity that will satisfy both ourselves and the people we serve when carrying out our roles in society.
We introduced a formal skills education programme in 2012 with five main strands that we considered to be relevant to a modern career path, cutting across curriculum areas and at all age groups, Junior to Sixth Form. I feel our assessment of the areas covered continues to be relevant, although the emphasis has shifted because faculties and teachers have become more adept at building skills-specific activities into strategic planning, increasingly expecting pupils to know instinctively which skill set is needed to achieve a given task. We realised that what was then required was actually a deeper knowledge of what drives our students as individuals, their own understanding of personal values and beliefs, as well as an awareness of how to develop these attributes in life; what one might call their vocational antennae. We introduced the concept of 360 Degrees Me in 2015 to tackle this head-on, initially via the KS3 skills and challenge days I have written about in the past.
Our aim now is to help the girls enunciate, collate and illustrate their lives, their educational and other achievements as well as their personal ambitions, in the form of a 360 Degree Me Portfolio. This is an ePortfolio, or personal website, initially private and only available within the Girls’ Day School Trust network, that can be refined and developed over the years to become a living résumé for future employers or universities, to give a real insight into each girl’s potential. At the heart of the Me Portfolio is a belief that harnessing the power of technology in this way will have the added benefit of encouraging students to think critically about their wider online lives. By actively managing their digital footprints, they can avoid falling into the dangers that social media sometimes present to young people.
Our guest speaker at the Lower Fifth (year 10) 360 Degree Me Portfolio creation day on Friday 7 July, is Alice Gividen, an alumna of the school who now works managing the social media presence of large organisations. Alice says that the scare stories about employees losing jobs because of indiscretions online are not the exaggerations of a judgemental establishment, pointing out that most companies now engage the services of professional social media investigators before employing new staff. However, she also suggests that the savvy applicants are using this fact to their advantage, curating their social media presence carefully to show they have engaging personalities, and to highlight their positive attributes and willingness to contribute to society beyond their immediate friends and family. This is doubly important since simply deleting a dubious social media history can not only be difficult to achieve, but also counterproductive, with many employers seeing the lack of an online presence just as much a cause for concern as an unattractive one.
360 Degree Me Portfolios may not in themselves inspire anyone to develop a vision for life, they are after all just personal websites, repositories of information. However, with our help, I am confident that they will provide a stage where the spotlight can fall selectively and productively on our students, as individuals. A place where vocation can start to materialise, and flourish.
Mr Henry Rickman, Deputy Head