'Career Planning: Signposting The Future' conference

  • Brian Donnelly

As Associate Minister of Education, I welcome you all to this international careers conference
'Career Planning: Signposting the Future'. I particularly welcome those international presenters who
have travelled a large distance, and for many hours - thank you.

I also extend a warm welcome to those local speakers who have agreed to share their skills and
experience with career professionals involved in this rapidly developing industry. For a conference
to attract more than 200 people shows the increasing importance that career planning is playing in
people's lives and the demands that are being placed on those working in the careers field.

I applaud the Career Services for taking the initiative to host such a conference. This gathering is
timely and fits well with Career Services' position as the leading provider of career information and
planning services for New Zealanders.

The Prime Ministerial Task Force on Employment in 1994 highlighted career information guidance
as a critical factor in the decision making of individuals and for the further development of the New
Zealand workforce. It called for enhanced provision.

This conference provides the first opportunity in New Zealand for all sectors of the careers
information and guidance industry - which includes career practitioners, educators, human resource
practitioners, personnel and placement firms, trainers and researchers - to meet and discuss key
issues for the further development of the range of services available to New Zealanders.

Career development and planning are issues that affect us all. Gone are the days when you could
leave school with no qualifications and pick up work very readily. Gone are the days when there
was a strong demand for unskilled workers. Today's economy demands a more trained workforce
- a workforce that continues to train, to become better educated and qualified, and to have a plan
that guides them through their own lifetime.

Having a plan with set goals, which can be altered as one's career progresses, gives an individual a
strong framework on which to build their life. It allows a person to develop a fullness in their life
that can cope with the unexpected, as well as enjoying the benefits and joys.

From my point of view, my current position as Associate Minister of Education is another step on
my own personal career path. Until October I was principal of Whangarei Intermediate School,
before that I worked for the Education Review Office and was Principal of Tauraroa Area School,
also in Northland. My 25 years in teaching has been a steady progression along the well
established career path that exists in teaching. Of course, being a Minister is a major diversion, and
certainly one I would not have predicted when I became a teacher.

During that time, like most teachers, I have seen the effect that background and environment has on
achievement. Some of you may be acquainted with the work of Pierre Bourdieu. It is to Bourdieu
we owe the concept of cultural capital. What Bourdieu is saying is that because of the set of values,
expectations and understandings learned from the home environment, some people have an
educational and vocational advantage over others.

That advantage is not just a matter of monetary differences. The most important difference lies in
the amount of cultural capital. There are various critical points in a person's life development where
such differences have an impact - one of these is in the choice of educational and vocational paths.

In other words, because the home environment does not provide adolescent students with the full
range of possibilities or the confidence to pursue certain paths, those from an environment with a
paucity of cultural capital invariably choose pathways of minimal opportunity. Those who believe
that New Zealand is the land of equal educational opportunity need to look at the work of
educational sociologists such as Hugh Lauder. His research would validate Bourdieu's theories.
Which gets us back to the career's advisors. It would appear to me that you have an extremely
important role in the equalisation of cultural capital by providing the disadvantaged, not only with a
range of opportunities and alternatives that cannot be provided through the home, but also with the
confidence to pursue realistic goals. Your role is more than one that prevents leakage in the social
investment in education - it is also one that assists in the delivery of social justice.

I would also like to broach an ambiguity facing careers advisors in a time of relatively high
unemployment. Pretty obviously, your goal is to guide people into making career choices that will
best match the individual's abilities and interests. The danger in this process in that it may raise false
hopes. On the one hand, you will be attempting to guide people into careers from which they will
derive personal satisfaction. If you are successful, the individual is more likely to be focused, happy
and productive.

On the other hand, you need to be able to get across the message that, especially when first
entering the job market, there is not a lot of room to pick and choose. Young people need to
establish a work record and, with the paucity of available positions, initial work may well not be in
a preferred area.

I make this point because of my experience in an area school which for years had a record of one
hundred percent placement of school leavers in employment of post-school training that led directly
to employment. A very good career guidance programme existed, but it was the ethic of the
community that created the record.

In essence, there was a community expectation that school leavers would get a job, even if it was
one they did not particularly like.

We combined the ethic of the community with the careers system by delivering the message, "If
you have to, take a job you might not like until the opportunity arises to obtain work in your
preferred field". Given the existing economic predictions, this dilemma is going to be with you, in
your roles, well into the next century.

I am pleased to see that this conference has been called 'Career Planning: Signposting the Future'.
A successful career, and I acknowledge that there are difference criteria for success, depends on a
plan. A plan sets out goals and the process to achieve those goals. A career plan is indeed a
signpost to the future.

You have a big three days ahead of you. I wish you well and have much pleasure in declaring the
conference open.