Several years ago, I paid to have a Telegraph pole removed from my driveway. The workman knocked on the door and asked me if I wanted it cut up or left in one piece. I replied that it would be lovely if he could cut it into a couple of chairs and a table for the garden. Strangely enough, he declined. I was only joking but I was reminded of it by an article in the press yesterday. It seems that often others ask us to do things that are outside our job role or skills set.
When is a teacher not a teacher?
Yet again, a report blames poor careers guidance for the lack of interest in apprenticeships. It said that teachers were interested only in sending children to university. Maybe that’s because they are teachers, and not careers advisers. A teacher’s job is largely to get educational results. A career adviser’s job is to help an individual choose the best option, given their personal circumstances – as my old Chief Exec used to say, a career is a path through life. An adviser will help you plan the route and decide on the destination.
I don’t ask my plumber to bake cupcakes for me. I don’t ask my mechanic to come and do my decorating. So why are teachers expected to be fully skilled and what is a different profession? It is hardly fair on either the teachers or the students. It is also very, very old news. There is nothing new here. What is new, perhaps, is the increasing level of frustration of schoolteachers and careers professionals who have been facing the inability of the authorities to get to grips with the issue.
Managers suffer too
It’s not just teachers that are expected to be skilled careers guidance professionals while doing a different job. Many managers suffer the same fate. “Nearly two fifths of UK employees have never discussed their career plans with their line manager leading to a lack of engagement” (People Management 5 Nov 2012, quoting research by Fairplace)
“But only 13 per cent of staff who had talked to their manager about their future with the organisation found it helpful”. There are no surprises here either! I would probably be disappointed with my plumber’s cupcakes as well.
Of course teachers also have responsibility that children get the best education and go in the right direction. It’s not my profession, but it does hit a raw nerve with me when they are constantly faced with demands that expect them to up their game both in depth and breadth. Schools are now responsible for careers advice, and using existing staff is an attractive option when budgets are tight. Except that plumbers aren’t great at cupcakes…
The Challenge for managers
Back to managers, which is more my field. They do have some responsibility for career issues in the staff that they manage, and many do attempt to coach and mentor so that their staff can progress. Some of the difficulties here include:
• Objectivity. Professional Advisers help you work out what is best for you. A manager’s job is to get results through people – which means he will have his own ends, or those of the company, in mind. Is it fair to expect him to be completely objective?
• Knowledge. Does your manager have breadth of knowledge about career paths and options, including outside the company or industry? Why should she? She is probably much more interested in developing knowledge about her own field, which is relevant to her role.
• Skills. Getting to the heart of the matter, exploring options, challenging misconceptions, generating action…. it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Advisers are skilled in their roles just as teachers and plumbers are (And yes, I know there are duff advisers out there. There are pretty awful teachers, plumbers and managers too.)
But most of all…
It’s true that for the self employed have to be everything in the business- marketing, accounts, technology. It can be hard knowing when to rise to the challenge and learn a new skill, or when to let go and hire someone to do it for you. Business owners face this challenge of knowing their boundaries of competence daily.
It seems that boundaries are blurred in larger organisations too, but the same principles apply. If the job needs to be done well, and will have a lasting impact, let someone do it who knows how to do it properly or suffer the consequences.
By Julie Cooper
Author of Face to Face in the Workplace
“If you deal with people you need this book” Buy your copy here