As careers leaders we have a wonderful opportunity to develop careers work in our schools, showcase all the amazing initiatives and programmes students are involved in and, importantly, to highlight the impact careers is having on students’ aspirations and future careers. But how can we hone our leadership skills to ensure that we are continually learning and improving on what we do? In my February blog article I briefly mentioned the benefits of learning from others as a way of reducing feelings of isolation, but there are many additional benefits to being part of a network. This article outlines these as well as some practical ways to expand your network.

Should I join a network?

For some, networking is viewed as time consuming and perhaps a little awkward. Joining or setting up a network does require a degree of motivation and interest in being part of a group of people that may, or may not, have similar interests and needs as you. It goes without saying, networking might not be at the top of every careers leaders’ list particularly when you have so much to juggle: trying to ensure that you meet the eight Gatsby Benchmarks, creating careers resources, liaising with middle leaders to encourage them to embed careers in the curriculum all whilst  providing one-to careers advice in schools, or balancing your role as a senior leader, teacher or middle leader. However, networking is not merely collecting other careers leaders’ names and contact details, swapping resources or asking for advice. It is a way of developing and fostering  meaningful professional relationships that are mutually beneficial to all those involved. Connecting with other careers leaders can help you develop in your role and has a number of other benefits:

  1. Learning from others and sharing resources

It is undoubtedly a huge benefit to join a network in order to learn from others and share resources. Quite often through conversations with other careers leaders you may become aware of recent publications that may affect the way you work or initiatives that you may be able to benefit from. Being part of a network helps to raise awareness of resources and initiatives that might be useful in carrying out your role. Without those prompts from other careers leaders there is a possibility that you could miss out. Or put another way, those prompts could create opportunities for you to learn more and transform the careers education programme in your school.

  1. Asking for help and advice

Joining a network can lead to greater opportunities and open doors for you that may not have been possible if you were merely working independently in your own school, on your own projects. Moreover, being part of a network can give you another perspective to a problem you may be experiencing and by simply sharing with others you may be able to identify a number of solutions that could be applied.

  1. A way to get others onboard

Certainly in speaking with many careers leaders over the last three years, one of the greatest challenges they experience is getting the support of SLT. This is a significant challenge that can make or break careers work in your school and the attention, and funding given, to support the work that you do. Joining a network can help you explore other careers leaders’ actions to address or overcome this challenge. One of the greatest ways of winning the hearts and minds of SLT is to show impact, particularly by involving young people in celebrating what the careers provision in your school has done for them. In light of COVID-19 and the lack of face-to-face contact with others through assemblies, there is an opportunity for you to share and celebrate the successes with SLT through the use of video clips. Sometimes small changes must take place from the bottom up. What better way of doing this than to visually demonstrate the impact careers work is having by empowering students to tell their story.


So, what should I do next and which network should I join?

There are many ways to join a careers leaders’ network. You are probably already part of a network but might not consider it to be a formal one. Below are my three tips for joining a network and how these can help you develop the expertise that you need to excel in your role.


Tip 1: Reach out to others you already know

Building your network does not have to be complicated. Everyone that you have met and will meet in the future can form part of your professional network. With budget cuts and lack of funding available to deliver your careers programme, it is a good time to reach out to people you already know, or those closest to you, to find out creative ways of delivering your programme. This is also a good starting point for building your network. It is just important to be proactive and remember that the professional relationships you develop ought to be two-way. Therefore, look for opportunities to share good practice, resources and advice as well as seeking the same from others.

Tip 2: Join a professional association

Joining a professional network or association, such as The Career Development Institute (CDI), has a number of benefits. Firstly, careers leaders are able to connect with other careers leaders who are working towards the same or similar goals, namely to achieve the eight Gatsby Benchmarks; offer an outstanding careers programme in their schools; and, to empower young people to be aspirational and achieve the career pathways that match their skills, interests and qualities. Being a member of the CDI provides careers leaders with an ethical framework, which outlines how careers leaders are to operate in their roles. There are also CPD opportunities to develop your leadership capacity through webinars, online training courses and mentoring.

Tip 3: Attend careers leaders’ conferences or online conferences

There are a number of careers leaders’ conferences, such as The National Careers Guidance Show and the NICEC Conference . These give careers leaders the opportunity to present findings to their research, learn about new research relating to careers guidance and advice, and present the opportunity to network with other careers leaders and professionals. Attending will ensure you become familiar with key people in the careers field. Others are also more likely to remember you as a result of meeting you at a conference and this may lead to collaboration on a future project.