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The changing role of the HE careers practitioner

September 2019

An Australian study found that training for careers and employability practitioners doesn't always reflect the skills they actually need for their job - echoing a similar phenomenon in the UK. Claire Guy explores what's being done to change this

During her time in Wonderland, the Caterpillar asks Alice, 'Who are you?' She replies, 'I knew who I was when I got up this morning, but I've changed a few times since then.'

Lewis Carroll's work contains many fantastic quotes, but this one features regularly in my curricular delivery. It has multiple applications to careers. It brilliantly illustrates how quickly we can change in response to things that we experience, but also how rapidly our career ideas can alter. Lately, I've been thinking about the quote in a new way. I think it is also pertinent to the changing role of careers professionals within higher education.

Some weeks ago, I attended an excellent webinar by our colleagues from the Career Development Association of Australia, sharing some research carried out by Jason Brown, Michael Healey and Tessa McCredie, titled 'Career services in Australian higher education; aligning the training of practitioners to contemporary practice'.1

The support, training and resources provided within the profession failed to reflect the skills careers and employability professionals were expected to demonstrate

For their study, they gathered four years' worth of vacancies for careers and employability professionals and analysed the job descriptions. They also held focus group discussions with careers professionals to explore the key tasks they found themselves engaged with in their roles. Analysis revealed that increasingly the focus for careers professionals was on curricular design and teaching, project management and leadership, and less on delivering one-to-one guidance.

When they compared these findings to the content of the careers qualifications that professionals undertake, they found a discrepancy. The support, training and resources provided within the profession failed to reflect the skills careers and employability professionals were expected to demonstrate in their evolving roles.

I am certain we are experiencing a similar phenomenon here in the UK. Recently I was fortunate enough to be part of the inception of a new AGCAS task group, set up to support AGCAS members to deliver career management learning within the curriculum. We felt strongly that our professional community would benefit from practical resources that support a move from a traditional delivery model, which was predominantly one-to-one, towards a one-to-many-model. I need not go into detail here about the multiple external and internal factors that are driving this change, as it is a frequent topic within our profession. I know many of us are united in the challenges of 'doing more with less'.

In order to address these issues, the AGCAS Curriculum Design Task Group aims to launch a digital toolkit in November 2019. The toolkit will be an evolving and dynamic resource of articles and case studies, provided by the group but also the wider AGCAS membership. It will be hosted on the AGCAS website and will comprise of three sections:

  1. Mapping existing careers and employability content and creating a plan for a programme/module/session.
  2. Using pedagogy and empirical approaches to create a quality learning experience.
  3. Monitoring, evaluating, measuring impact and reviewing curricular interventions.

We also plan to deliver a learning event during the summer of 2020 - a course covering the process of curricular design, aimed at both new and experienced professionals.

As careers and employability professionals, the skillset expected of us is increasingly varied, complex and multifaceted

At the end of August I joined the newly formed AGCAS Academic Alignment Working Party, to ensure that the work of the Curriculum Design Task Group complements this new AGCAS strategic theme. At our first meeting, we talked again about how careers and employability professionals might be supported to apply their expertise when influencing the employability community within academia. We acknowledged the unique knowledge and experience of AGCAS members, which we believe is key in driving the academic alignment agenda forward, allowing us to inform HE policy and impact graduate outcomes within our own institutions.

As careers and employability professionals, the skillset expected of us is increasingly varied, complex and multifaceted. Evidently it is necessary for us to be increasingly flexible and agile in our response to the changing nature of HE. However, I am hugely confident that the learning and development resources currently being created by AGCAS members will guide our progress, no matter how many times we might look back to this morning, and feel like we've changed since then.

Claire Guy is co-chair of the AGCAS Curriculum Design Task Group and a member of the Academic Alignment Working Party.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of HECSU/Prospects


  1. Jason L. Brown, Michael Healy, Tessa McCredie & Peter McIlveen, Career services in Australian higher education: aligning the training of practitioners to contemporary practiceJournal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 41:5, 518-533, 2019.

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