Career Development and Climate Change: Where to From Here?
Dr Ann Villiers is a career coach and Fellow Member of the Career Development Association Australia (CDAA). She was awarded Life Membership in 2019, and the President’s Award for Professional Leadership in 2015.
This year started with multiple webinars on climate change, the future of work, green careers, and sustainability. These are timely explorations and updates, particularly given UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ response to the IPCC’s Synthesis Report that “… our world needs climate action on all fronts -- everything, everywhere, all at once.”1
Now is a good time to expand the scope of our discussions. Climate change is more than an environmental risk, and it acts as a multiplier, exacerbating other, interconnected risks. We face multiple challenges, or what Julian Cribb calls the catastrophocene period, the “interaction of ten mega-threats that could bring about the end of human civilisation”.2
How we react and respond to these threats may vary depending on age, viewpoints, location and circumstances, yet expanding our focus on climate change is essential for our own wellbeing3, that of our clients, as well as the wider community.
The webinars raised several matters that impact our profession and practice. I outline four of them here for practitioners to ponder, assess, and explore. Combined, I see our responses as further positioning our profession and practice for increased influence and effectiveness as we face this climate emergency.
1. Acknowledging our biases
A question was raised in two webinars asking how career practitioners could remain unbiased, impartial, and neutral in their work in the face of climate change impacts. While presenters claimed this could be done by facilitating clients to discover their career paths, the underlying premise remained unchallenged.
The Professional Standards and Code of Ethics do not require practitioners to be unbiased, impartial, neutral, nor to be apolitical.4 Rather, they ask practitioners to refrain from consciously dictating choices and to allow clients to make independent choices.
Webinar presenters advocated that practitioners see the relevance of sustainability goals to their work, and adopt social justice and decent work perspectives. Adopting any perspective or theory positions a practitioner as ‘biased’ and ‘political’. For example, if we support people having decent work, how do we respond given many people experience work that is unsafe, uncertain, and makes them unwell?5
Dr Brian Hutchison argues that ‘career work is justice work’, and that career development is complicit in maintaining social injustice, such as the hierarchy of prestige attached to different types of work.6 As he explains, social justice is a concept that needs closer examination, along with the range of levels we may choose to exercise our influence.
Questions we might explore about our biases include:
- Where do we sit along a continuum from individualised practice, with a focus on the self, through to contextualised practice, that explores not only factors impacting a person but also the wider, collective effort for system change?
- Should practitioners make clear to clients their views on climate change?
- Do practitioners have a responsibility to help clients understand the impact of climate change on careers?
- How can practitioners respond to clients who hold inaccurate views about changes to work, transitions, or career choices?
- What are the inbuilt biases of career work (such as theories subscribed to, disciplines favoured/ignored, client group emphases) and what impact do they have?7
2. Specialising in environmental careers
An internet search will readily deliver mountains of material on environmental, sustainability, and green jobs. Rather than being biased, surely there is value in positioning a career practice as specialising in the environment, just as other professions do, such as law, engineering and medicine? Doing so raises ethical and practical issues such as:
- Would services include practices that question what is considered ‘normal’ about work and careers?
- Is there a risk of ‘green-washing’ or ‘climate-washing’ some careers, and if so, how do we respond?8 ‘Green jobs’ is itself a contested concept.9
- What professional development do career practitioners need to support people facing climate change-related transitions and emotional challenges associated with life-threatening emergencies?
- What practitioner support is needed to sustain this specialisation? (For example the Australia Psychological Society has an interest group for psychologists that are more aware of climate anxiety.)
- How do we frame climate change issues for different audiences so we are heard and are influential?11
3. Researching change-supporting practice
Now is a critical time to influence organisations, governments, businesses, and peak bodies to change behaviour, adopt new policies and programs, and support people affected by climate change.12 Essential to this influence is research evidence that backs the impact of career development practice and clarifies disputed claims.
The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) identified problems with government funded service evaluations in a sample of 20 Federal Government programs. Ninety-five per cent of these programs were found not to have been properly evaluated.13 The Australian government has announced funding for a new evaluation unit to be established in the Australian Treasury.14 Career service providers would certainly benefit from a repository of results and lessons drawn from quality evaluation studies.
Various reports have expressed generalisations about problems with career information in schools. A nameless ‘they’ is guilty of providing limited or dated advice. It is not clear whether this ‘they’ is teachers in general, specific subject teachers, career counsellors or someone else. Nor is it clear whether these comments are simply based on anecdote.
Many reports have highlighted mental health issues associated with the pandemic and climate change, particularly among young people. Commentators express mixed views about how hopeful or optimistic people are about the future.
There is a wealth of research based on positive psychology, wellbeing, resilience and action-oriented hope. While hope fosters individuals to take action around their goals and planning, how well does fostering hope fit with the reality of climate change and other threats?
The influencing field is crowded with competing voices and contested evidence. Credible research evidence is vital to support practice changes and government action, including answers to these questions:
- How do we support practitioners to further strengthen the evidence they produce of their impact?
- What evidence do we have and need to support or refute comments, such as those made about schools?
- What research do we need to inform submissions to career-related inquiries?
- What do we expect and need from research and articles published in career development journals that will be of practical use to our advocacy?
- How do theories, such as hope-related theories and models, work in the context of climate anxiety?
4. Advocating for action
What advocacy should we expect from our peak career development organisations? Many issues impact people’s careers that invite advocacy15, but let’s stick with climate change. Should a stand be taken, like the Australian Psychological Society, which states that ‘Climate change is the biggest health threat of the 21st Century’, advocates for specific government action, and offers useful resources?16 Given the threats we face, having a united, consistent voice that takes an action-oriented approach is critical for practitioners, our clients and communities.
Being heard amongst many competing voices is arguably our profession’s greatest challenge. It takes resources to advocate, but we don’t always have to produce original material. There are plenty of think tanks, peak bodies and research institutions to partner with on career-related issues.
- What do we wish to see in a statement on climate change?
- Whose views, beyond the career development profession, do we wish to hear to encourage wider, inter-disciplinary collaboration?
- How well do career development courses equip us with the knowledge, skills and understanding to work on climate change issues, such as transition services and how decent work theory works in reality?
Australians’ careers, including our own, are affected by climate change. Where to start in expanding the scope of our discussions? A first step is to raise them with your local division and discuss them with colleagues. Together we can chart a route forward.
2https://www.humanfuture.net/. These threats include increasing inequality, international geopolitical tensions with heightened risks of nuclear war, continuing pandemic threats, and uncontrolled development of new technologies.
3See Macleod, E., Curll, S., Walker, I., Reynolds, J., Lane, J., Galati, C., Greenwood, L., Christensen, B., & Calear, A.L. (2023). Australian Psychologists in the Context of Disasters: Preliminary Report on Workforce Impacts and Needs. Australian National University, Canberra. https://doi.org/10.25911/MNW1-7712. This study explores the impact of multiple disasters on psychologists and offers suggestions for professional development to help them prepare for future disasters:
5The state of the future of work, https://www.work-futures.org/publications
6Dr Brian Hutchison, Career work is justice work. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/career-work-is-justice-work/id1492964074?i=1000467198876. NCDA provides a range of resources on social justice at https://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/social_justice.
7For further exploration of impartiality see https://careerguidancesocialjustice.wordpress.com/2023/02/28/green-careers-and-impartiality-framing-the-debate-with-socio-political-ideologies/#respond
8Laura Schuijers, Capitalising on climate anxiety: what you need to know about ‘climate-washing’. April 3, 2023
9Nesta, Green jobs: rapid evidence review, https://www.nesta.org.uk/report/green-jobs-rapid-evidence-review/
11Resources on communicating about climate change include: Australian Psychological Society, The Climate Change Empowerment Handbook, https://psychology.org.au/for-the-public/psychology-topics/climate-change-psychology/climate-change. Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, CRED Communications Guide, http://cred.columbia.edu/guide/. National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, Enhancing climate change communication: Strategies for profiling and targeting Australian interpretive communities, https://nccarf.edu.au/enhancing-climate-change-communication-strategies-profiling-and-targeting-australian/
12The Australian government has announced the establishment of a National Net Zero Authority which will support workers in emissions-intensive sectors to transition to new jobs and learn new skills. https://theconversation.com/australia-finally-has-a-net-zero-authority-heres-what-should-top-its-agenda-205029
13https://www.ceda.com.au/ResearchAndPolicies/Research/Government-Regulation/DD3, p. 9
15Issues include poverty, gender inequality, homelessness, cost of living, low incomes, precarious work, discrimination, temporary immigration.