Professionals under pressure : a consideration of the experience of careers guidance professionals post-privatisation
The recent privatisation of careers guidance provision in the United Kingdom has resulted in major cultural change in the organisation of guidance companies. This research examines the effect this external change has had on the quality of working life for professionals engaged in the practice of careers guidance. The intention of the policy was to improve service delivery not the quality of careers guidance. Nevertheless, the implementation of the policy has had a discernible effect on the way professionals experience work and on the guidance they give. Questions of professional ownership and protectionism arise and are addressed with reference to guidance and ethical frameworks. Field research was undertaken with careers practitioners working in the South East and in the North of England. The data collection comprised a questionnaire administered to these two groups, followed by focus groups conducted with some respondents from the South East sample. The concern was to understand how these careers professionals are finding their way in changed circumstances; the approach was phenomenological and interpretative (Huberman & Miles, 1994). The findings demonstrate that guidance professionals are feeling under pressure from targets introduced after contracting out. Practitioners are struggling to satisfy the individual needs of their clients against policy requirements for standardised outcomes: a tension familiar in the professionalism and managerialism debate (Friedson, 1994; Edwards, 1998 and Becher, 1999). This pressure is exacerbated by the anticipation of further policy changes for careers guidance delivery. Where the organisation sees the strategic imperative as contract compliance, commercial success has been at some cost to guidance professionals and their practice. A more explicit consideration of ethical practice during strategy formulation might be a way forward in the management of change in careers companies. There is evidence that policy fails fully to understand how careers guidance works.