Developing self reliance and resilience in enabling social mobility

It is the behaviours and skills of self-regulation and self-management that will be critical in individuals being able to make the most of their careers in a constantly changing labour market. The careers profession has branched out beyond the perceived traditional role of providing information and advice to individuals in helping them to make informed decisions about learning and work. Increasingly it has come to terms with the fact that “career” is no longer a choice made early in life and pursued for the remainder of one's working life; this concept, if it was ever the norm, has given way to the realisation that a career is a varied journey that will have many changes in direction, even U-turns, and individuals need to learn the skills to adapt. For most people career is viewed as being on a vertical trajectory; the acquisition of skills, qualifications, and experience all go to enabling people to move up the career ladder. This aspect has not changed, but the concept of a ladder can usefully be replaced by a climbing frame in the modern labour market, where individuals can advance through lateral as well as through vertical career progression.

The best laid plans of mice and men often go astray.11
One of the ways the careers profession has broadened its approach in the way it supports individuals to manage change is the adoption of tools designed to assess, and then help to develop, a young person's character and capacity to adapt. The “traditional” components of successful career management, such as access to good careers and labour market information and analysis of abilities and aptitudes are important in making choices, but the careers adviser must be increasingly aware of the personal capacity of the individual to use these to their advantage; this includes relating career planning to personality factors that can enhance personal effectiveness. It is not necessarily sufficient to enable informed planning; we must also equip individuals with the skills and awareness they will need to see the plans through. Key to this is supporting the development of internal drive and determination to succeed.

One way this is being tackled is through the application of mental toughness and, in particular, the use of the MTQ48 psychometric test as a complementary measure in helping individuals to increase their effectiveness when making career decisions and following career plans.

The MTQ48 psychometric measure

Commitment and challenge

When it comes to helping people succeed there is a clear correlation between the mental toughness of individuals and their subsequent performance. Mentally tough people demonstrate greater tenacity in setting and achieving goals; this is measured in MTQ48 on the commitment scale. They have the confidence to make plans and to navigate their way forward even when they face obstacles to progression or setbacks. Commitment is something that young people who are faced with choices must master as they learn to discriminate between those opportunities that have a long-term benefit over those that may bring more immediate satisfaction or reward, but are short-lived. Where goals or rewards are distant it is often more challenging to stick at a plan or a task.

Putting the timeless nature of handwringing and angsting about feckless youth aside, there may be some legitimacy to contemporary anxieties that our instant-gratification culture is having an adverse
affect on young people's ability to defer gratification and develop an ability to work towards goals over longer periods. Certainly, it is the case that they are socialised into a more immediate results lifestyle, whether through the interactive and spectacular returns from online and modern gaming technology or the ability to use search engines for instant answers to questions or problems. Learning the benefits of long-term commitment and its rewards and how to achieve this can be the key to success in managing one's career. MTQ48 has been used to identify levels of commitment in individuals as they start to think about and plan their careers. One way that the results have been used has been to undertake goal setting. Individuals low on commitment often find goal setting difficult, which induces behaviours that avoid this. It is commonly found to be associated with a lack of ability to focus or concentrate for any length of time, which is another aspect of low commitment on the MTQ measure. By showing individuals how to concentrate longer and to break down goals in to measurable tasks with timescales it is possible to help them to become effective planners. This in turn helps to motivate individuals who can see the steps to be taken and as they are achieved to benefit from the sense of wellbeing and achievement. Young people who have taken part in exercises using MTQ48 have commented positively on its effect on them:

'I thought the mental toughness sessions were very good. It taught me to think about how I organise my time better. I told my friend about it because I think it will help her'—Danielle, aged fifteen.

'I liked learning how to get more organised with my time'— Kirstie, aged fifteen.

'The mental toughness programme helped to improve my confidence—it made me feel stronger. I really enjoyed the brain training activities and learnt to do things step by step. My friends should do it too'.—Scott, aged fifteen.

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