Career Matters Reflections


For me, one consolation in the current crisis has been the opportunity, paradoxically, to both slow down and to catch up. Since I started freelancing in 2011, I have never really stopped working and travelling until now. This is also the first time I’ve got around to blogging in about the last six years.

My first priority after lockdown started, I decided, was to completely revamp my office. In the words of my wife Carolyn it had become a hovel. The job took me four days to complete and involved throwing out many box-loads of obsolete information, but the end-result is that it’s no longer an embarrassment, I now enjoy working in it again and I’m much more organised than before.

The second thing I did was deciding to resurrect a writing project that I have wanted to do for several years. I also decided to continue with my ongoing analysis of higher and degree apprenticeships, but with a post-coronavirus twist. More reflections about these will hopefully follow in the weeks ahead.

The third thing I decided to do was to skim-read my entire collection of all 28 issues of the CDI quarterly journal ‘Career Matters’. The fact that every edition survived my otherwise ruthless office cull is testament to Alison Dixon’s outstanding editorial skills throughout this period (and her editorial board too). However, whilst I have kept every issue, I never really found time to read them thoroughly nor reflect on them properly. Belatedly I’ve now put this to rights and this is a summary of my reflections, which I decided to compile as evidence for my CPD record in the Members Area of the CDI website.

Seven years on, much of the material has obviously now dated. Nonetheless I’ve found it really helpful to reflect back on the various narratives that have ebbed and flowed throughout this period. Three of the first four reflections were about my own early contributions, but then it moves on to more serious observations.

Issue 1.1 (June 2013):

There’s a photo of me at the CDI annual conference on page 4. I’d forgotten about that!

Issue 2.2 (April 2014):

My article on ’18+ student options: a new landscape’ headlined this edition. I’m still fairly proud of what I wrote in it. In the ensuing years, the content of it has continuously evolved and has remained the central core of the ‘Options in a Changing World’ talks that I’ve been giving at schools and conferences ever since – or at least up until last month.

Issue 4.2 (April 2016):

This edition featured an article by executive career coach Linda van Valkenburgh on ‘Why candidates need to prepare for video interviewing’, referring to it in her conclusion as ‘the future of recruiting’. Prophetic words.

Issue 4.4 (October 2016):

I wrote the ‘Last Word’ feature in this issue. It reflected on my 40 years as a guidance practitioner under the subtitle ‘Tickets to the future’, which is what Year 12 student Keira once called the diagrams and flowcharts I would draw for her in our occasional meetings. I still quite like this article too and maybe I’ve still got one more in me before I ‘retire’.

Issue 5.3 (June 2017):

Gill Sharp doesn’t know that she’s my favourite careers writer, but she’s getting two mentions in my blog. In this issue her article entitled ‘Make news, not fake news’ reflected on an interview with Viv Regan who founded the Young Journalists’ Academy. The extract that especially resonated with me was the text box that summarised Viv’s ‘Top Tips’ for aspirational young journalists, especially the following:

  • Anyone can write but it’s not solely about that: be curious, be relentless, be brave.
  • Stop thinking that anyone is interested in your opinion. It sounds brutal, but your point of view doesn’t matter. Evidence, facts and research do. That’s what journalism is about. Those who’ve grown up with social media need to distinguish commentary and individual perspectives from hard data.
  • Read, read, read, write, write, write…
  • Be informed. Know what’s in the news; tell me what’s happening in the world. It doesn’t matter if you want to specialise in fashion, sport or whatever, you still need to be interested in what’s going on elsewhere.
  • Show me what you’ve done and what you can do. Create a blog … set up an online school newspaper … and harness social media for your writing.
  • Have a favourite journalist(s) and follow them, learn from them.
  • Innovate!

Great advice in my view. And, as always, the article was presented in Gill’s individual style, which never fails to engage me.

Issue 6.1 (January 2018):

Two articles especially stood out in this issue. Firstly, there was Jonathan Lightfoot’s ‘Last Word’ essay on ‘Is the careers book dead’. I fully agreed with his argument that it isn’t. In fact, I would also take the argument a stage further and commend Alison Dixon as Editor, and Jan Ellis and colleagues at CDI HQ, for maintaining Career Matters itself as a physical journal rather than an online one. If it were online only, I would never get around to reading it. Perhaps it’s because I’m old and past it, but I still want to use a mixture of media.

And secondly, there was another Gill Sharp classic on the subject of ‘Myths about law’, which I found informative, entertaining and balanced in equal measure. Eight myths were discussed, including the pros and cons of studying Law as your first degree and the realities about whether you will earn lots of money as a lawyer. Like any article, it will gradually become obsolete over time, especially with the new SQE proposals starting to move the goalposts and with the rise (and fall?) of higher and degree apprenticeships also being added to this equation. Perhaps an updated article from Gill will soon be needed. But for me, it was definitely one of the most memorable articles in all 28 issues and worthy of copying and passing to any interested students or parents. It didn’t exactly tell me things I didn’t know, but it reinforced what I thought I knew and gave me some valuable evidence on which to base my perceptions. For example, I found it especially helpful to read that the proportion of graduates joining the legal profession with non-Law degrees is apparently ‘more than 40%’ and I especially liked Gill’s careful explanation of Myth 4, in which she argued the case regarding whether or not creative arts degrees would be acceptable preparation for postgraduate Law. The article also highlighted one of the great strengths of Career Matters, which I feel is the way a wide variety of content is always brought together, including articles like this one which help to consolidate our ‘occupational knowledge’. I rest my case!

Issue 6.2 (April 2018):

It was a joy to rediscover Peter Nickell’s article ‘A career in high-vis’ about his experience of working in the gig economy. It resonated in more ways than one, firstly because Peter is one of my dear old friend and colleague Hilary Nickell’s sons, and secondly because of the way it highlighted my own view that every experience is good experience, even if at the time it might seem like bad experience. I loved the way Peter compared his time on the Basingstoke hedge-cutting team with his earlier travels in Australasia and how he valued them equally. I could say the same myself when I look back on my own experiences of working in the pork pie and sausage industry in Shropshire or queueing up unsuccessfully for casual work at a Hove car wash when times were desperate. Most of us have been there, haven’t we?

Issue 6.3 (June 2018):

I picked out Kathryn Davis’s article on ‘How does GDPR affect you?’ from this issue, as it was aimed at the growing band of private practitioners like me who need to stay abreast of practical issues like this. It’s a very helpful summary with useful links. Simple as.

Issue 7.4 (October 2019):

I’m at that stage in my career (i.e. quite near to the end) where I don’t feel that I need to get too stressed about the Gatsby benchmarks. However, I forced myself to read Ruth Broome’s article ‘Gatsby 4: What’s the problem?’ and found it very engaging. One paragraph that made a substantial impact on me was this:

  • “The structure of the secondary school curriculum provides very little opportunity to link relevant career learning into subject teaching both because it is already too constrained and because the content bears little relevance to the 21st century world of work. Without addressing these factors, there is a danger that the education system will continue to fail to equip young people adequately with the skills required to manage their career in a constantly changing future.”

Arguable perhaps, but what a damning indictment of the way governments have shaped the school curriculum. I seem to remember Tristram Hooley also nailing this in one of his blogs or articles a few years ago.

Issue 8.1 (January 2020):

I was especially drawn in this issue to Corinne Holden’s article entitled ‘Careers practitioners and their attitudes to weight’. I think what I liked about it is that it highlighted something that I’ve observed or been conscious of in many different settings, but I’ve never taken on board how I actually respond to it myself. I liked the whole article, from its very engaging opening image (“being bombarded with cake and chocolate whilst working in schools”) through to its non-judgemental conclusion which just urged us to “consider the issue of weight discrimination with regard to our own practice”.

Issue 8.2 (April 2020):

And finally, I mentioned Alison Dixon’s editorial prowess at the start of this blog, and I’ll say it again here. The country only started to lock down in response to the coronavirus pandemic on 23rd March and yet here we were in early-April receiving a very topical edition of Career Matters that already started to acknowledge and confront the challenges that Covid-19 has inflicted on us as practitioners and especially on our clients. It has also given me ideas for a new article to submit myself for an upcoming issue.


With the world in turmoil, have I just completely wasted a few valuable days re-reading all this stuff when, from now on, everything is going to change anyway? For that matter, have I been wasting my time – and worse still misleading a generation of students – by advising and speaking about a post-18 landscape that is now likely to change radically? Well actually I don’t believe I have. To understand something about where things might go depends, I think, on also understanding how we got to where we are in the first place.

Skim-reading 28 issues of Career Matters also reinforced the strong feeling of community that exists in our profession. I love it that, amongst many unfamiliar names and faces, a significant proportion of contributors are people I know and/or network with. It’s one of the main reasons why, at the age of 69, I might want to change the way I work but I certainly don’t want to leave the Careers community any time soon.

10 thoughts on “Career Matters Reflections

  1. Great article – I agree about Gatsby 4. I really believe curriculum should be careers led; give young people a basis to link curriculum to. They can then understand WHY they are learning different topics, how to link to a careers idea and also link to other subjects.

  2. Super stuff, Alan. Esp the Gatsby & Journalism comments. Endorse your fulsome praise for the CDI editorial team too.

  3. Hi Alan, as usual you have made me laugh! Thank you for your excellent powers of precis and skim reading. Both are very useful skills in the careers world and your useful summary of predictions that have materialised. Careers Matters and Careers advisers are often asked to comment on and be just like Mystic Meg ! I really like your conclusion about being part of a careers community and I am so pleased you are not leaving it any time soon

  4. Hi Alan
    are you happy to have this shared on the Community of Practice for both Career leaders and Career professionals?

    • If you think it’s worthy of it Kath, please do. I’m not used to blogging and I did it as a bit of a self-indulgent experiment. But if you think there might be a bit of genuine interest, then I’m fine with that. Many thanks, Alan

  5. You’ve nailed the blog Alan, but we just need a few photos of your smiling face to keep us all positive!

  6. Thanks for the blog Alan, an excellent read. Also glad to hear you won’t be retiring too soon!

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