The Euroguidance Network

April 2010

In this edition:

Interview with Professor Tony Watts

"Transnational projects must build upon each other and link to public policy"

Professor Tony Watts was asked about his vision regarding development of career guidance in the coming years: “I think the vision must be lifelong guidance, ranging from early learning in primary school to supporting older workers in active aging and managing their transition out of the labour market. I also believe in the strengths of all-age services and in the transformational potential of ICT”.Tony Watts

Professor Watts is a self-employed consultant, based in Cambridge, England. He is an expert consultant to the European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network and a member of the Board of the International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy. He is also a professor at the University of Derby and Canterbury Christ Church University.

He did not originally plan to become an expert in guidance:
“I wanted to be a school or academic teacher but I felt that first I needed to spend some time outside education. So I worked for a publishing company which happened to publish career publications. In 1964, two of us founded the Careers Research and Advisory Centre (CRAC), as a non-profit organisation, to build closer links between the world of education and the world of work and to support the development of career guidance in schools and beyond."

"After a few years, I decided to go back to university to take a research degree in sociology - my first degree had been in history at Cambridge. Then in 1975, we set up the National Institute for Careers Education and Counselling (NICEC), as a joint activity of CRAC and Hatfield Polytechnic, which I directed from 1975 to 2001. Subsequently I worked one year for OECD in Paris and after that I came back to Cambridge as a self-employed consultant. So, I never became a teacher,” Professor Watts concludes.

When asked about personalities or special moments that have strongly influenced his professional life, Professor Watts mentions Donald Super and Peter Daws, both of whom had a strong influence on him in his early years. Later on, his colleagues at CRAC and NICEC influenced him greatly, although they sometimes had very different approaches to guidance.

One hour of counselling made a difference

Professor Watts was asked whether he had ever used any career guidance services in his life: “Yes, three times. The first two, at school and university, were of limited value.  But the third, when I was thinking of moving towards research, was enormously valuable. I spent an hour with a counsellor, who helped me to realise what I really wanted to do and to develop the confidence to do it”.

When asked whether current theories in career guidance were applicable/applied in guidance practice and what he himself believed in, he says: “I have been strongly influenced by developmental theories, which underpin the concepts of career education and career management skills. More recently, I have been attracted by constructivist theories, which seem appropriate in a world where people increasingly construct their career rather than ‘choose’ it. But I still believe that matching theories have a role to play, if a more limited one than in the past”.

I was tempted to ask him which one book related to guidance he would take with him if he had to stay on an abandoned island: “From the field of guidance, Donald Super´s The Psychology of Careers (1957) and Martin Katz´s Decision and Values (1963) both influenced me, and I would enjoy re-reading them. But for pleasure and enlightenment, George Eliot´s novel Middlemarch is a book I could read again and again. For me, it is the greatest novel in English, and illuminating about almost everything – including career development!”

Moving from studies towards a policy

Professor Watts’ first involvement with guidance in an international perspective was when he was asked to co-ordinate some comparative studies of career guidance systems within the EU in the 1980s. But for him, the big change came with the advent of the Single European Market and the need to promote mobility. He was a consultant to the Petra II programme, which was the launch-pad for what is now the Euroguidance network.

Following the Lisbon goal of 2000, Professor Watts became a member of the European Lifelong Guidance Expert Group, which paved the way for the European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network. The role of the EU has thus moved from studies and projects to a more substantial policy profile for lifelong guidance at both national and European levels.

According to Professor Watts the current economic crisis has increased the importance of career guidance, but has not fundamentally changed its nature. “Career guidance is always mediating between individual dreams and the realities of labour markets. At times of recession, the realities become more limiting. But it is still important to help individuals to clarify their aspirations and to find realistic ways to achieve them”.

For Professor Watts, a long-term weakness of the field of career guidance is that in the past it has been too dominated by psychology, and has not paid enough attention to sociology and economics. He also feels that there is more to be done in developing models of professionalisation that are appropriate to the field of career guidance.
The last, but perhaps most difficult, question was about projects concerning guidance. Does he see any impact of these projects in practice? Could he mention one project from these which should not be forgotten? “Transnational projects have enormous potential value but are often not used effectively. The most recent project in which I took part was on ICT skills, excellently managed by ASTER in Italy. In general, more attention is needed to ensure that transnational projects build upon each other and are linked more strongly to public policy”.

Silvie Pychova, Euroguidance Czech Republic