Målgruppe: Undervisere

Sustainable career guidance for adults in transition

Sustainable career guidance is: “A career guidance practice that supports a career development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.“

Sustainable career guidance

Af Miriam Dimsits

04 - Kvalitetsuddannelse, 08 - Anstændige jobs og økonomisk vækst

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company but lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy Bruce Springsteen 1979, The River

Helping adults in transition through non-individualistic approaches

In these four lines, Springsteen expresses the precarious situation of the low- or unskilled labour force.

Maybe you were laid off, maybe your workplace relocated, maybe you had an accident or are on sick leave due to stress or burnout. Either way, being an adult in work transition, can be an alienating and anxiety filled experience. Especially for low skilled or unskilled adults, as Springsteen here depicts, we are dealing with a group of people whose vocational future is depending on structural conditions such as economy, global trends, global crisis, such as COVID -19 and the sustainability crisis (Cedefop 2016, ILO Monitor 2021).

Since this target group is the most sensitive to changing economic conditions, this is also the group that politicians, legislators, career guidance practitioners and teaching professionals want to reach out to. Often this target group, however, is met with individual approaches in helping them finding new job opportunities or short term courses (Hooley, T. and Sultana, R. 2016).

Individualistic approaches can be necessary means, since it is the individual who has been struck, nevertheless we should not lose sight of the fact that the individual may be powerless to the structural situation they are in. Individualistic approaches are at their best potentially empowering yet insufficient in terms of supporting the individual, but at their worst they become oppressive instruments individualizing structural conflicts of society and labour market (Ibid.). Actually, if we truly as educational professionals want to provide justice for this target group we owe it to these adults to open our practice to other kinds of approaches where the individual is not the only one to be “fixed”.

Be inspired to participate in changing the world – “yes, you too are important!”

Danish philosopher Søren Kirkegaard, who has made an enormous contribution to our concepts and understanding of human existence and morality, asserts that what happens in human life, the situation you are born in, the conditions you were raised under, the societal development may not be your fault, but indeed your responsibility (Hjortkær 2020). A neo-liberal reading of this statement would be to toughen up, and “be the best you” and “make your own success”. Inspired by Danish philosopher Christian Hjortkær and his usage of Kierkegaard another truth can be found in this statement, which is that even a person in the most deprived situation has importance and the potential power to change these circumstances, maybe not alone, but together with other people in the same situation.

This quote could inspire e.g career guidance practice in finding appropriate methodologies, that seek out the balance between individualistic and structural approaches, that does not put the blame on the individual for its unfortunate situation, but moreover empowers the individual to see what they are a part of, and how they themselves could play a part in changing the world. Several scholars are working with collective and power challenging frameworks within career guidance which are very helpful perspectives in illuminating what is at stake, and what can be done (Hooley,T.,Sultana,R.,&Thomsen,R. 2019).

Sustainable career guidance – how to practice this with adults in transition

We are now standing on the threshold for a new transition in the labour market, the green transition. Again, the low- or unskilled labour force in the most precarious situation should be the focus of our attention. This transition will have an impact on the labour market, some jobs will disappear, new ones will arise (Montt, G., Fraga F, Harsdorff, M 2018). If we furthermore want to make this transition a truly sustainable one, not exposing our target group further, policy makers, educational professionals, career guidance practitioners could prepare and plan out appropriate methodologies that are in fact helpful for these adults in transition.

I therefore propose a practice called sustainable career guidance, that builds on the defintion of sustainable development put forward in the UN Report, Our Common future, also know as the Brundtland Report (UNWCED 1987). The defintion „sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising future generations to meet their own neets“ (Ibid.) has inspired me to work out a career guidance ethos, where you link the individual to its societal and global context by having overtly normative and ethical disscussions as part of the career guidance practice.

Sustainable career guidance therefore is: „A career guidance practice that supports a career development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.“

By adding the concept of career, the indvidual can be brought to see that their individual career trajectory is connected to the societal and global trajectory, and that „I too“ through my education, work and career can contribute to the actual creation of a sustainable future – „these circumstances that I am in, may not be my fault, but it is my responsibility to help do something about this“.

Here is a three-phase model I have designed for practising sustainable career guidance. The framework is especially designed for career guidance in groups or group oriented career education activities . The three phases are 1) Imagining the world, 2) Learning about the world, 3) Changing the world.

Imagining the world

Inspired by the decision making framework Positive Uncertainty designed by American counselling psychologist and researcher H.B. Gelatt, I propose a first phase, where you engage your counsellees in imagining the world. Gelatt poses, that to work with career decision making in modern society you have to teach counselles to challenge deterministic accounts on how the future will be, the reason being that these accounts often will be flawed, but also because they nourish the conception that individuals have no shaping power over their own and their shared collective future in society. As Gelatt puts it „the future does not exist and cannot be predicted. It must be imagined and invented (Gelatt 1989.)”.

Exercises as „What would be the most preferred scenario for our future society“ and „Brainstorming the perfect state of the world“, then working out values and more specific details for nature, labour market, consumption, making room for utopian and far out innovations, will serve as a good foundation for a future worth hoping for and believing in.

Learning about the world

Once you have imagined the world and discussed in groups which kinds of careers the future will be made of, it is time for the phase where you follow the steps backwards from the imagined future and see the steps preceding this future. This will spur you to track down which education paths we have in the present that could be shaping the imagined future.

Here we can find theoretical and methodological backup from british career guidance theoretician Bill Law, who has sketched out a taxonomy for handling knowledge about education, jobs and careers. This taxonomy will take you through a systematic processing of the things you observe and learn about in order for you to build your own opinions of the world (Law in Watts et al 1996).

A good career guidance exercise could be looking at the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (UNORG 2015), and asking „who are the people, who are going to solve these goals?“ Then the 17 goals are transformed into career themes or career interest areas, who all will include many kinds of professions in order for this specific goal to be achieved. The next task is to pick out either goals of specific interest or randomly chosen, and then to explore which professions hold the key to solving this particular goal.

Changing the world

After building a solid foundation of knowledge about education, work and careers, the road for a tentative choice making has been paved. When you know how to connect to future objectives from present pathways, it is time to connect the individual career trajectory to the societal and collective trajectory. Inspiration for good methodologies here can be found in the work of Danish counselling philosopher and researcher Finn Thorbjørn Hansen. He argues that to live a life with ethical self-care we need to live and act in congruence with our life philosophy, which to me is another way of stating the importance of a an ethically aware connection between the individual and societal trajectory. Hansen states that a first step here is to familiarize ourselves with our touched not-knowing, which is an existential knowledge rooted in each individual containing existential notions of goodness, truth and beauty. The next step then is finding out which kind of life expressions this requires from the individual (Hansen 2008).

British professor in career guidance, Tristram Hooley, has put forward five career questions, which he argues should be at the core of every career guidance service. These questions could be helpful for the individual to see themselves in context as people who have been shaped by structures, but also as people with power to potentially change structures. The questions are 1) Who am I, 2) How does the world work, 3) Where do I fit into the world? 4) How can I live with others? 5) How do I go about changing the world? (Hooley 2015).

Exercises building a dialogue between these five questions and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, can support reflection on identity, community and existential rootedness. Particularly the fifth question in Hooley’s taxonomy has the power to empower and help the individual to connect to the world and see “how my individual career path” is contributing to changing the world. Perhaps counsellees are able to seek out one or two of the goals, as a tentative choice making on a sustainable development goal to pursue and to help achieve, which will serve as beacons of a career path leading towards continuing education, improvement of basic skills and/or industry change.

Next steps

Sustainable career guidance should work as a means of empowering the powerless in times of transition, where each individual could be able to align their career path with collective goals of a sustainable development. However, a decent career guidance methodology does not do the trick alone. Besides national and transnational policies to support the green transition in terms of new ways of producing, farming, trading etc., educational professionals and career guidance practitioners also rely on good structures and frameworks for continuing education and career guidance in order to support this precarious target group. The low- or unskilled adults are the first to be struck in times of transition, but if we want to, they could be the first ones to be part of the solution in solving the sustainability crisis.

Now sometimes tomorrow comes soaked in treasure and blood.
We stood the drought, now we’ll stand the flood.
There’s a new world coming, I can see the light .
I’m a jack of all trades, we’ll be all right
Bruce Springsteen 2012, Jack of all trades


Cedefop (2016). Future skill needs in Europe: critical labour force trends. Luxembourg: Publications Office. Cedefop research paper; No 59.

Gelatt, H. B. (1989). Positive uncertainty: A new decision-making framework for counseling. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 36(2), 252–256.

Hansen, Finn Thorbjørn (2008). At stå i det åbne. Dannelse gennem filosofisk undren og nærvær. Gyldendal

Hjortkær, Christian (2020). Utilstrækkelig. Hvorfor den nye moral gør de unge psykisk syge. Klim

Hooley, T. (2015). Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery: self-actualisation, social justice and the politics of career guidance. Derby: International Centre for Guidance Studies, University of Derby

Hooley, T. and Sultana, R. (2016). Career guidance for social justice. Journal of the National Institute for Career Education and Counselling, 36, 2-11.

Hooley, T., Sultana, R., & Thomsen, R. (red.) (2019). Career guidance for emancipation: reclaiming justice for the multitude. Routledge. Routledge Studies in Education, Neoliberalism, and Marxism

Montt, G., Fraga F, Harsdorff, M (2018). The future of work in a changing natural environment: Climate change, degradation and sustainability. International Labour Office – Geneva: ILO, 2018

International Labour Organization, ILO Monitor (2021): COVID-19 and the world of work. Seventh edition

UNORG (2015). Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

UNWCED (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future – A/42/427 Annex – UN Documents: Gathering a body of global agreements.

Watts, A.G.; Law, Bill; Killeen, John and Kidd, M (1996). Rethinking Careers Education and Guidance: Theory, Policy and Practice. Routledge

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Undervisningen på den nye linje handler ikke altid kun om bæredygtighed, men det indgår i alle fag, og alle lærere har selv ønsket at undervise netop denne klasse.



Undervisningen på den nye linje handler ikke altid kun om bæredygtighed, men det indgår i alle fag, og alle lærere har selv ønsket at undervise netop denne klasse.

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