The Promise Foundation

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Livelihood versus Career


Over the recent past, the notions of career and livelihood have been increasingly juxtaposed.  Common beliefs about these fundamental human activities are that livelihood is related to survival needs and largely practised by those who are in lower income brackets such as farmers, vendors, artisans and skilled workers, and mainly in rural areas.  Career on the hand is seen as something more linked to urban contexts, to middle and higher social classes, with greater potential for better opportunities and higher incomes.  Academic (school and college) education is viewed as concomitant to career, while traditional, non-formal forms of skills transmission are linked to livelihood.  Career carries stronger connotations of prestige than livelihood.  Indeed, the drive to abandon rural livelihoods and move toward a “better future” in the city is a rapidly growing one.

The livelihood planning approach makes the point that while the notion of career is becoming increasingly widespread, it must be acknowledged that the nature of its manifestation, the meaning attributed to it and the manner in which individuals and groups engage with career can vary from one context to another.  In one setting the focus of career guidance may be to help an individual discover in which occupational area (e.g., commercial art or law) he/she should specialise.  In another, career guidance may be to help a community identify and gain modern skills to manage their traditional, rural occupations in a viable manner. 


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Livelihood Planning

The Role of Career Guidance

What is the role of contemporary career guidance?  Would career guidance be relevant to the farmer, the cobbler, the silk worm producer, the weaver, the traditional toy maker, the basket maker, the potter, the fisherman, the traditional healer and the shepherd?  Or to their children?  Such questions have a bearing on the contemporary practice of career guidance.  Should career guidance be offered at all to the practitioners of traditional occupations, and more importantly to their children?  Does career guidance become relevant only when economic development is such that non traditional, non livelihood oriented occupations begin to appear within that economy?  Is career guidance a replacement for traditional mechanisms of occupational role allocation?  Finally, does career guidance in these contexts imply replacing livelihood with career?  It is here that the notion of livelihood planning and a livelihood planning approach to career guidance could be discussed further.

An acultural approach to career development could transpose definitions of career that are not indigenous to the local context and displace already present, culturally grounded orientations.

The Livelihood Counsellor


In the past, the allocation of work roles seems to have been characterised across cultures by a high degree of automaticity.  Skills and trades ran in families or within groups and expertise related to a particular profession was transmitted from the adult to the young within the family or through apprenticeships offered through guilds of professionals.   The more modern idea of career seems to foster an orientation to work that implies a movement away from the older notion of livelihood. 

Within the Promise framework, livelihood planning is seen as an application of the principles of career guidance at the broader level of facilitating individuals’ traditional engagement with work such that it gains contemporary relevance.  Within such a system would be a livelihood counsellor: a career counsellor who has the skills to allow the context to define the meaning of career along with the capability to understand and optimize traditional occupational structures for modern work environments.

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