Almost a new academic year, and a period of frantic planning here in the cowshed. On the slate this autumn – said with relief rather than smugness – there are auditors, financiers, media business types, politicians and unemployed graduates. All wanting psychological services of one description or another. But it is the unemployed graduates that are most pressing.
At the university, we are setting up a programme on Employability. As usual, this is a collaborative process and begs more questions than it answers. First one being : are there general Employability skills regardless of sector targeted? And could a wannabe lap dancer share learning needs with an astrophysicist? ( a degree being no guarantee that you do not want to be rude*).
We make an assumption that all participants will have failed so far to sell themselves…but this does not feel very constructive. We consider that Employability may be just another big abstract significant noun like Love, or Power, or Authority. Which means a heck of a lot of different things to a heck of a lot of people. And yet…
Now what happens usually at this point is that all involved champion our favourite psychological models which have worked well for us in the past. We cobble together something that seems semi-coherent, will get accredited, satisfy the interested parties and – hopefully – be of some help to our unemployed punters.
So far then our marks out of 10 on this? 5, at best. And just not good enough for the start of term. Judgement: we must try harder. We try a different approach where we:
imagine we know nothing at all
Imagining all of us involved know nothing about work psychology, clears us to focus completely and utterly on our workshop attendees. We have to confront what we would want in their shoes and how would we be feeling. If we really go for it here, we can take ourselves to places the writer , composer and artist inhabit. How do I feel in detail when my hopes are being repeatedly dashed? Does no job mean that I feel unlovable? Psychometric tests may help with this, but not entirely…
Unconsciously, we may start to collaborate having converted what we’ve learnt into What We Know, which must be propagated and defended at all times. And others involved may be doing the same. What We Know may have been hard won by us, and the cost may be we adopt it as our orthodoxy. Heavens above: there is even the remote possibility we may not be right!
So we try and meet as unlearnt versions of ourselves, to focus solely on creating some common understanding about the territory we operate in. Then we move to consider who has stakeholding in what is going on , and what they need and want.
Now , finally , we can let What We Know out of his mental kennel then: but rather than barking loudly over the other dogs, he will know the territory and be able to play helpfully. He can collaborate with the pack , rather than destroy it.
remember all projects are experiments
And experiments involve frequent checking in on progress via most useful questions. These may include embarrassing but vital matters like: how are we all working together? And is one person’s approach prevailing to the detriment of other possibilities?
For those whose power is closely linked to their held and defended knowledge – and they often have job titles like Director, Distinguished Professor or Head Consultant – the web with its capacity to help we unlearnt thrive, will threaten. But even top heads can roll. A 2005 report on key employability requirements includes motivation, flexibility and the capacity to learn.
*Today’s Sun newspaper in the UK reports that 25% of lap dancers are graduates.