• Fraser Harper

Just Imagine

Everyone who enters the workforce embarks upon a career of some sort. It may start with a relatively simple role that progresses to a managerial or technical role. Or it may start with a training role, like an apprenticeship. It may even be a series of routine roles. No matter what, entering and sustaining working over a 40-50-year period means everyone has a career. What can make a real difference is the degree of choice and the level of recognised professional regulation of the career path.

Making a career choice is both complex and random. But need it always be so?

What if you could plot and plan your career choices multiple times and multiple ways? What if you could explore career options many times when you are at school, or at university? Or perhaps, after having had 20 years in one career (say in the armed or emergency services)? And, what if you can do this at a level of detail which allows for career bridges and transitions to be developed – and developed exactly for your needs.

Well, all of this is possible with a little thought using the best available and reliable occupational data.

Let’s take just one case to illustrate the point, starting with the graduate decision-making career path. Usually, students embarking on A levels will make an initial career choice (however broad) to decide which A levels to take. In part, this will be part dependent on their success at GSCE level. At this stage the career choices can be very broad or very specific. For example, for those students wanting to study medicine or veterinary science, there is a set of key enabling subjects which must be successfully taken at A level. Most of the others, though, will take some grouping of arts, science, social sciences, music and performing arts and so on.

Once at university, then the real career choices begin – or are postponed – by studying a series of mandatory modules and a larger number of selected ones. This is where using an effective occupational information database comes into its own. Each of the modules has a series of learning objectives and outcomes, and these can be directly linked to work-entry and work-based competencies. This process may use general, sector-specific or even career-specific competency models. Having some initial ideas of the career pathway, however broad, helps to make the decisions as to which modules to undertake and how best to piece together the beginnings of a portfolio of capabilities derived from study and assessment (exams, projects, exercises, experiences etc.). It also starts to highlight the potential gaps in the portfolio. And, by using detailed competency matching linked with examples as to how best to acquire them, students can then begin to plan their extended curricula of personal development. This may mean, for example, seeking an internship or a volunteer role at a charity. Or perhaps something that enhances their existing curriculum, such as leading a project.

Piecing together experiences and achievements at the level of the taught module and the individual (full or part) competency has been shown to be valuable and of high potential1 and has been tested in a UK-based pilot project2. The UK pilot derived a series of Competency Intensity Indices for a range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree programme and built on the work of both the Science and Engineering Research Council, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, and the Royal Academy3. Perhaps this is a service which should be provided by all universities for their student populations.

The same is true for those who have already had part or full careers. Here, individuals can map their current competency profiles and then select a career with its own profile. Once this is done, they can start a process of plotting the transition steps they will need in order to seek entry into their new, chosen career path. Invariably this will mean acquiring additional academic, professional or other qualifications and experiences, although some form of recognition of prior learning and experience may reduce the amount of additional study.

In both examples, career choice is broken down into manageable and achievable elements, forming a plan which individuals can progress and develop over time. This way, the barriers to entry for many careers can be overcome. At the same time, the approach also shows the scale of the challenge to be undertaken. Running parallel to both examples is the option to explore ‘related career paths’, which can be created at the same time. For example, a health and science career path can show how practical health roles can lead to research roles, and vice versa.


  1. BMI (2018) Learning Outcomes, Competencies and Employability: Exploring the Links. BMI Sapphire Working Paper. 59 pages

  2. BMI (2018) Sapphire Pilot project (BMI, 2018)

  3. Burton, T. (2017) An Analysis of the Generic and Subject-Specific Skills in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences based on 36 QAA Subject Benchmark Statements. Report for the British Academy. 27 pages;

  4. Toland, A. (2011) HE STEM Employability Skills Review. National HE STEM Programme. University of Birmingham. 16 pages

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