Leverage careers educators’ academic expertise to improve careers education

Careers-focused learning can benefit when careers educators bring their academic expertise into the equation. Anna Branford and Luella Leon of RMIT explain how


RMIT University
19 Dec 2023
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The work of careers educators in universities is increasingly focused on supporting academic educators to embed careers-oriented learning into their courses. This strategy complements co-curricular career development activities, such as drop-in careers services and volunteer work.

This approach to careers education has resulted in some interest in the careers expertise of academics. For example, a recent University of Wollongong study titled “Career development learning in the curriculum: What is an academic’s role?, explored roles for academics as “curriculum and career connectors”, “career cartographers” and “career allies”. Here we take the inverse approach, exploring the role of the careers educator as a contributor to academic curricula. What might be the outcome of leveraging our academic expertise?

Working on a small team of careers educators at RMIT, we have benefited from a workplace culture in which diverse ideas are encouraged and explored. Anna Branford holds a PhD in sociology and Luella Leon is currently pursuing a PhD in psychology – and we are both passionate careers educators. Here’s what we’ve learned about enriching our work by treating our disparate disciplinary backgrounds as strategic assets.

Encourage multidisciplinary critical thinking

Leveraging diverse expertise can help careers educators to see around corners as new developments emerge. For example, the use of career enrolment data (known as Career Registration Data in the UK) offers insights through annual reports of students’ career readiness. This is a recent innovation in Australian higher education and is used at RMIT. Previously, data relating to student employability had been based on employability outcomes that were known only after students had left university. The shift represents an important new approach to understanding students’ career development before graduation.

Carefully considering a range of perspectives is a useful strategy for strengthening critical engagement with data. Luella’s expertise in psychology has enabled her to explore the possibilities and limitations associated with any data reliant on self-reporting. With the new dataset so strongly connected both to the employability agenda and an increasing culture of metrics and auditing of academics’ work, Anna’s expertise in sociology has helped her to anticipate concerns associated with neoliberalism. This has allowed us to make best use of the innovative new dataset.

Connect with ideas across disciplines

Diverse expertise held within a team of careers educators also enables useful connections to form between the resources they develop and the courses of study they support. There can be significant value in making these connections explicit.

At RMIT, careers educators have developed a range of teaching resources focused on careers-oriented learning experiences, such as mentoring partnerships and industry guest speakers. These resources support the use of these experiences and inform career planning and job applications.

Recently, the team uplifted them by including theoretical components, supporting dialogue between theories of careers education and academic disciplines. For example, a course in international studies considers the influence of neoliberalism on notions of career and explores critiques based on careers education theories. A media-focused course is currently exploring parallels between the “design thinking” used in students’ practical projects and similar strategies in careers. This approach is well represented in resources developed by RMIT’s careers educators.

These connections, supported by diverse theoretical and academic knowledge, can support a more tailored and contextualised learning experience for students.

Embrace diverse influences on your approach to careers education

Careers educators’ diverse expertise can also be leveraged to address challenges, such as ensuring equitable student access to careers-oriented learning. Factors include time constraints, social barriers and different abilities, as well as students’ self-efficacy. Further insights into barriers may be gained by harnessing diverse knowledge. At RMIT, we have the benefit of our career educator’s expertise in developmental psychology.

Luella regards attachment theory as an area with potential to support deeper understandings of access to careers support. Attachment theory posits that a carer’s consistent responsiveness to a child’s needs creates the foundation for the adult’s attachment style. Students with insecure attachment styles, holding positive self-views but negative views of others, may be less inclined to seek careers support. Those with anxious attachment styles may be more inclined to seek assistance. Greater insight into attachment theory may help those providing students with careers services and resources in higher education.

Diversity among careers educators reaches well beyond additional qualifications in disparate areas. Many theorists in the field hold a surprising array of qualifications, expertise and specialised insights. The sector includes people with backgrounds and orientations of many kinds, perhaps with potential to intersect usefully with aspects of our work. Let’s leverage these benefits to support diverse cohorts of students in building their future careers.

Anna Branford is a careers educator at RMIT and holds a PhD in sociology; Luella Leon is currently pursuing a PhD in psychology at RMIT.

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