This article presentsof the relationship between Labour Market Information (LMI) and career guidance. We will particularly explore the underpinning theories which are used in the field to discuss LMI and how these relate to social justice. For the purposes of this article, we will define LMI in the same way that Esbrogeo and Melo-Silva (2012) do as ‘data from the occupational world’ which helps people with their career decisions. This creates a broad definition for LMI which incorporates everything from economic forecasts, sector trends, job-specific information, educational training, recruitment processes and beyond. As the wider literature shows, Labour Market Information (LMI) has a crucial relationship to career guidance. Parsons (1909) foundational description of career guidance saw a need for individuals to bring together a right knowledge of self with a right knowledge of opportunity. Parsons conception of a ‘right knowledge of opportunity’ can be seen as a precursor to the concept of LMI as described by Esbrogeo and Melo-Silva (2012). Parsons conceptions has been developed through a range of understandings of career guidance most notably in the DOTS (Decision learning, Opportunity awareness, Transition learning, Self-awareness) model (Watts, 1977) which similarly draws attention to the place of ‘opportunity awareness’ in career guidance. This has been developed into a long standing tradition where career guidance recognises the importance of engaging clients with information (Bimrose & Barnes, 2006). In light of its centrality to the field of career guidance this article will conduct a critical examination of LMI. The purpose of this will be to explore the theoretical understandings of LMI currently in circulation in the field. This article will therefore be significant for the field of career guidance by challenging existing understandings of LMI and then proposing a new theory of LMI linked to current understandings of the importance of social justice for the field of career guidance.
This paper has contributed to the field’s understanding of LMI in relationship to careers enactment in a number of ways. Firstly, by mapping the existing themes inside the careers literature we were able to develop an overview of research in this arena. Six themes were developed from this analysis; adaptability, constructivist, contact, nomad, rationalism and social justice. Through this, we uncovered the dominance of rationalistic understanding of LMI. Our analysis shows that this position LMI was linked to rationalism and matching theory. Though we have not primarily taken a ‘gap-spotting’ approach in this paper we still feel that the careers literature could evidently be improved by adopting other theoretical positions (for example constructivist or adaptability based positions) to explore LMI. We hope that by drawing attention to these theoretical positions future authors in this area can be clearer about their own positions and will be encouraged to explore different theoretical relationships to LMI. In many ways, this relationship remains under-theorised in the careers literature and is in need of investigation.
The central contribution of this paper has been to explore the underpinning assumptions which have been made in the career literature to date. The assumptions that we identified in the literature was that ‘learning about the labour market involves building canonical, objective, knowledge about a subject which is neutral, unproblematic and safe for individuals.’ We have developed an alternative assumption which is that ‘learning about the labour market involves constructing personally situated knowledge about a subject which is politically and ideologically contested.’ The advantages of this assumption are that it opens up the field to be built on in a wider range of theoretical directions and that it asks more challenging and provocative questions about the relationship between LMI and career which can be developed in more interesting directions. We hope that thinking about constructivist epistemologies and social justice, especially when linked to pluralism, as a critical lens on LMI can move the discussion in the careers literature to more fertile ground.
Finally, the ideas set out in this paper create challenges and opportunities for practitioners. Specifically, they open up important questions for practitioners who want to explore more socially just practice, namely that the relationship with LMI needs to be explored from a social justice perspective. The paper also creates a series of theoretical observations which practitioners could use to move practice forward, for example how non-rationalistic understandings of LMI could underpin careers practice.
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