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Youth culture, identity, ICT and guidance

May 21st, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Another in the occasional series on the use of the internet for Careers Advice, Information and Guidance. This series is based on research undertaken by Jenny Bimrose, Sally Anne Barnes and Graham Attwell for the UK based trust CfBT. If you are interested in reading more, the full report can be downloaded for free from the CfBT web site.

The proliferation of the use of ICT has combined with other factors (like changes in family structure and decline in manufacturing industries) to bring about profound shifts in how young people make sense of themselves. For example, the traditional move from identifying with the family to a single peer group has now been replaced by identifying with family to multiple peer groups, many of which are virtual. ICT also ensures that young people now have access to an instant, international, dynamically-shifting and vast range of stories and forms of knowledge that can inform their identity management. These identities are rarely unified, but rather multiple in nature and increasingly fragmented (Murakami, 2008).

All of this has relevance for young people’s transitions into and through the world of work. The availability of technology influences the way that clients’ access and use guidance services. It also has the potential to support transitions, for example, by helping young people identify transferable skills, help connect them to the job market and support the development of the critical analytic skills for negotiating their way through both their virtual and physical worlds (Riley, 2008). To perform any of these tasks successfully, however, young people are likely to require support from a technologically confident and effective facilitator. It is also suggested that they will also need help with learning how to engage with technology without getting lost or overwhelmed, as well as protection from bullying facilitated by technology, invasion of privacy and advertising (Riley, 2008). Even where the role of ICT expands to respond to the needs of young people in transition there is, therefore, a continuing need for professional support for Careers Personal Advisors

This professional support will need to adapt and accommodate the different requirements that young people have of technology. A fourfold typology that emerged from recent research helps us appreciate the levels of differentiation that occur in the engagement with ICT amongst young people. These four types of relationships comprise:

  • Digital pioneers – advanced and innovative users of the potential of technology;
  • Creative producers – building websites, positing movies, photos and music to share with friends and family;
  • Everyday communicators – making their lives easier through texting and MSN; and
  • Information gatherers – typically Google and Wikipedia addicts, for whom cutting and pasting are a way of life.

(Green & Hannon, 2007, p.11)

These styles that young people have of interacting with technology need to be considered when designing and implementing internet-based services for young people, though a crucial factor in implementing effective guidance services will be the Personal Advisors and their managers. They typically see the world very differently from their clients and yet it is often these adults who mediate the type of ICT used in guidance and the ways it should be used. The relative lack of impact of technology in education to date highlights not only the importance of providing young people with a more active and central voice in determining the nature and role of ICT in their learning experiences, but also the need to shift away from focusing too much on hardware and more towards relationships, networks and skills (Attwell, Cook and Ravenscroft, 2009; Green and Hannon, 2007; Riley, 2008).


Attwell, G., Cook, J., and Ravenscroft, A. (2009). Appropriating technologies for contextual knowledge: Mobile Personal Learning Environments. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the Second World Congress on the Information Society.

Green, H., and Hannon, C. (2007). Their Space: Education for a digital generation. London: Demos. Retrieved 3 August 2009, from

Murakami, K. (2008). Re-imagining the future: young people’s construction of identities through digital storytelling. London: DCSF/Futurelab. Retrieved 4 August 2009, from

Riley, S. (2008). Identity, community and selfhood: understanding the self in relation to contemporary youth cultures. London: Futurelab/DCSF. Retrieved 4 August 2009, from

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