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Learning to “Drop Your Tools” in Uncertain Times: A Call for Career Educators By Michael J. Stebleton
October 23, 2019
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You must unlearn what you have learned” – Yoda,  The Empire Strikes Back

In times of urgency or transformation, career educators must examine the tools in their toolbox and “unlearn” previous frameworks, theories, and strategies that no longer serve clients. In 1949, in the Mann Gulch fire, 13 firefighters died at the bottom of a ravine in Montana. Due to a shift in winds, the foreman instructed the smokejumpers to unload their heavy packs, including their tools, so that they could run faster. Most of the fire fighters did not drop their tools, and they perished in the fire. Had they unloaded the equipment, they would have likely survived (Weick, 1993, 1996).

Karl Wallenda, daredevil high-wire artist, fell to his death while clinging to his balance pole. Releasing the pole would have allowed him to grab a support wire and survive (Kuh, 1998). So, how do these two stories relate to career development? In this column, I argue that career educators can learn from the Mann Gulch and Wallenda tragedies, and subsequently alter our own practices. Specifically, we can slowly relinquish old strategies and tools—and develop new approaches to serve our students and clients.

Shifting Context of Future Work

The constantly shifting world of work demands that we explore innovative strategies and tools to support our clients as they prepare for the uncertainty of seismic changes in the workplace. Educational consultant Heather McGowan argues that we should be preparing students to lose their jobs, and lose their jobs regularly (Morgan, 2017). In a report by New Work Mindset, students entering the workforce today can expect to have as many as 17 different jobs in at least five different industries. Job change and job loss will serve as the new normal (Harman, 2019). Rapidly increasing technological advances require us to turn our attention to “learning agility” and the ability to learn and re-learn constantly (Levine, 2018).

Career development educators play important roles in supporting clients for these dramatic changes, and this shift requires us to re-examine our own vocational tools, even when experienced practitioners may exhibit reluctance to change. Weick (1996) refers to this as overlearned behavior. As higher education scholar George Kuh (1998) explained: “Dropping one’s tools is an analogue for being adaptable and flexible, for unlearning what we know that is no longer relevant or useful, for giving up what we believe and do when beliefs and preferred activities conflict with what present circumstances require” (p. 17). In other words, just as our clients need to prepare for change, so do career development professionals.

Three Ways to Innovate your Approach

To prepare for adaptation in the world of work, I suggest three significant shifts paired with some recommended resources. This list is not exhaustive; it serves as a starting point to pick up new tools and expand on some old practices.

1. Expanding from local to international: Historically, we have relied on primarily Western, White perspectives in terms of career theory and assessment. International and non-Western perspectives merit further inclusion in scholarly literature and practice. A Comprehensive Guide to Career Assessment (7th ed.), a new resource published by NCDA, offers a revamped title and approach (Stolz & Barclay, 2019). The online resource includes diverse perspectives on assessments from around the world. Purchase this new product in the NCDA Career Resource Store. A second new resource, “Contemporary Theories of Career Development: International Perspectives” by editors Arthur and McMahon (2019), includes several newer contemporary theoretical perspectives, including culture-infused perspectives, psychology of working theory, chaos theory, and a cultural preparedness framework, among others.

2. Moving from specialists to generalists: In the past, key career messages encouraged students to pick a major or career focus, and doggedly stick to it; this message merits challenge. Given the trends of future work, evidence suggests that some employees will become more agile, and more successful, by becoming generalists rather than specialists. David Epstein (2019), in his new book Range, set “out to explore how to capture and cultivate the power of breadth, diverse experiences, and interdisciplinary exploration” (p. 289). I highly recommend this book, particularly because it challenges the message of hyper-specialization at an early age. That said, there will continue to be professions that require specialization (e.g., pharmacists need to know specifically about drug interactions).

3. Incorporating Quantitative and Qualitative Interventions: The narrative approach to career development continues to grow, yet traditional test and tell approaches remain popular. One way to expand beyond traditional approaches is to move from scores to stories (Savickas, 2012; Stebleton, 2010). I recommend OneLife Tools (Franklin & Feller, 2017) because it aims to integrate narrative models with practical applications. Within the curriculum, individuals experience a narrative-based gamified tool called Who You Are Matters!, a peer-to-peer storytelling activity that builds the key career readiness competencies articulated by NACE. Additionally, users can efficiently reflect on jobs, volunteering and educational experiences using a narrative assessment web application called Online Storyteller, which also allows integrating results from traditional assessments. The curriculum allows for group interaction, meaningful self-directed career management technology, and blended delivery. Moreover, the philosophy aligns with the HEROIC mindset approach (Hope, self-Efficacy, Resilience, Optimism, Intentional exploration, and Clarity and Curiosity) which Feller (2019) advocates for navigating a lifetime of career transitions.

In conclusion, the future of work will inevitably consist of ongoing tumultuous change that will influence our clients and us. Although career educators rarely face situations as tragic as forest fires or high-wire acts, the analogy should be clear: older theories, models, and tools may need to be dropped to make room for new and innovative strategies that will meet the shifting needs and concerns of our clients. Gradually letting go of tools that may be holding us back may involve uncomfortable shifts in identity and skills. Yet, the efforts made to embrace these newer approaches ideally will better serve our clients, and us as career educators.

References

Arthur, N., & McMahon, M. (Eds.). (2019). Contemporary theories of career development: International perspectives. New York, NY: Routledge.

Epstein, D. (2019). Range: Why generalists triumph in a specialized world. New York, NY: Riverhead.

Feller, R. (2019, June). Work trend boot camp: Evaluate how trends will impact you and your clients. Presentation at NCDA Career Conference, Houston, TX.

Franklin, M., & Feller, R. (2017). Using the One Life tools framework: From clarification to intentional exploration with an East Asian female. In L. Busacca & M. Rehfuss (Eds.), Postmodern career counseling: A handbook of culture, context and cases (pp. 273-284). Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Harman, J. (2019). The future is learning with Heather McGowan. Retrieved from: https://www.leadinglearning.com/episode-130-future-of-learning-and-work-heather-mcgowan/

Kuh, G. D. (1998). Lessons from the mountains. About Campus, 3(2), 16-21.

Levine, A. (2018). The “just in time” learner and the coming revolution in higher education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 50(3–4), 27–29. doi:10.1080/00091383.2018.1507376

Morgan, J. (2017, Dec. 4). The future of work podcast [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from: https://thefutureorganization.com/preparing-students-lose-jobs-future-learning- evolution-work/

Savickas, M. L. (2012). Life design: A paradigm for career intervention in the 21st century. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90(1), 13-19. oi: 10.1111/j.1556-6676.2012.00002.x

Stebleton, M. J. (2010). Narrative-based career counseling perspectives in times of change: An analysis of strengths and limitations. Journal of Employment Counseling, 47(2), 64-78. doi: 10.1002/j.2161-1920.2010.tb00091.x

Stolz, K., & Barclay, S. (Eds.). (2019). A comprehensive guide to career assessment (7th ed.). Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.

Weick, K. E. (1993). The collapse of sensemaking in organizations: The Mann Gulch disaster. Administrative Science Quarterly, 38(4), 628-652. doi: 10.2307/2393339

Weick, K. E. (1996). Drop your tools: An allegory for organizational studies. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41(2), 301-313. doi: 10.2307/2393722


Michael Stebleton

Dr. Michael J. Stebleton is associate professor and coordinator of Higher Education in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.  His research and teaching interests focus on college student development and career development with an emphasis on the undergraduate experience.  Recent projects focus on the impact of career planning courses and college student success.  His work has appeared in numerous venues including:  Journal of College Student Development, Journal of College and Character, Journal of Career Development, and the Career Development Quarterly. Stebleton is a recipient of the 2017 NCDA Merit Award. The author would like to thank colleague Lisa Kaler for her thoughtful feedback on this article.  He can be reached at steb0004@umn.edu

Take Charge of Your Career, or Someone Else Will
October 2, 2019
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The link below will take you to a LinkedIn article written by Dave Ulrich.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/take-charge-your-career-someone-else-dave-ulrich/

Apprenticeship v University: What Course to Take?
July 16, 2019
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Remember that moment when the school careers adviser leant over the desk and asked: “So what are you planning to do next?” 

It’s a daunting decision when you’re 17. 

A university degree costs tens of thousands of pounds, although the evidence suggests it can boost your earning potential later. 

On the other hand, an apprenticeship lets you earn as you learn, but life gets serious pretty fast. 

Apprenticeships are shaking off a reputation for low-paid drudgery and there are more higher-level apprenticeships coming on stream. But competition for the best opportunities is as fierce as it is for the top university places.

So if you’re leaving school, does it make sense to aim for one of those coveted places? Or are you missing out if you don’t go for the campus experience? Recent apprentices and graduates have shared their experiences with us.

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‘School was very anti-apprenticeship’

When Matt Carpenter left school at 17, a lot of his classmates were aiming for university. He could have joined them.

“I was the only person in my class who didn’t go,” he says. 

Matt Carpenter (r) and fellow Merchant Navy apprentices at sea
At 21 Matt Carpenter (r) is already qualified to drive ships and tankers

Instead, he took up a three-year apprenticeship with the Merchant Navy, spending half his time at college and half his time at sea on oil and gas tankers, passenger ships and bulk carriers.

“School was very, very anti-apprenticeship – even when I had the place, they were very against it. Up until the last day, they were still asking, ‘Do you really want to do this?'” 

For him, the choice was clear: no student debt and pay of £175 a week. Now, at 21, he’s on an annual salary of £37,000 tax-free and qualified to drive the world’s largest ships.

He admits the social life didn’t compare to what his friends were up to, though. “When you’re at sea, you’re quite cut off. There’s no internet. You’re working every day.”

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‘It made me who I am’

Amy De Friend, 25, did a degree in fashion promotion and communication. She now works in recruitment, but doesn’t regret her decision to study first.

“I went to university, because at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do.” Amy started her degree the first year that fees went up from £3,000 a year to £9,250.

“My parents said: ‘Do you really want to spend £9,000 on this?'”

And at the end of the three years, she discovered that to get into the fashion industry, she would still have to take unpaid internships. So she worked for Carphone Warehouse instead.

Amy De Friend
Amy De Friend says one of the new experiences she gained through university was learning to scuba dive

Amy accepts she could probably have got the recruitment job she’s in now without a degree.

“I wouldn’t say it was a waste of time,” she says. “The experience I had was fantastic, it helped me develop as a person.”

At university, Amy joined a diving club and qualified as an instructor, something she wouldn’t otherwise have tried.

“I don’t think it’s all about getting a job. It’s about what you gain from the experience. It made me who I am.”

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‘I was itching to start work’

Nick Martin, 20, has just been head-hunted for a £22,500-a-year job in sales. He puts that down to his work experience as an apprentice with a telephone networking equipment company.

“Before I got my last job, I went through a lot of interviews. Every single agency and company loved the fact I had done an apprenticeship, because it shows you know what it’s like in a fast-paced office environment.”

Nick Martin cycling
Nick decided he could pursue his ambitions as a semi-pro cyclist alongside an apprenticeship just as easily as through a university team

At 17, Nick was “just itching to get into work”.

The apprenticeship scheme he joined was new and he felt he was a “guinea pig”, often left to get on with things unsupervised, which meant a lot of responsibility very quickly. 

“By the time most people my age come out of uni, I’ll have had three to five years’ experience. On the flipside, I haven’t spent that time getting the extra qualifications.”

“At the time, I didn’t have doubts. Now, to be honest, I think about it a bit more. The main reason for that is a bit of ‘Fomo’ – fear of missing out – missing out on the social aspect of being at uni. You get to live in halls or housing with flatmates. I’m still living at home.”

Then there’s the snobbery. “I still get that feeling from some people – people I know who are at uni who think they’re better – there can be a smugness. But there’s nothing guaranteed. They’ll have a degree, but they’ll still have to find a job, which is hard.”

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‘To learn about something I loved was brilliant’

Jenny Willbourn, 29, joined engineering firm Atkins after gaining undergraduate and post-graduate degrees in geography. The firm has a well-established apprenticeship programme, but she says that wouldn’t have been the right route for her.

“I believe there’s something valuable in academic study – the opportunity to understand a particular area of knowledge.”

Jenny Willbourn at her desk
Jenny Willbourn joined Atkins after studying for five years at university

“To push your communication skills is one thing, but to critically evaluate – that’s a skill that university teaches. I value that as second to none.”

She works in a highly specialised team at Atkins looking at spatial data, including mapping the locations of badgers and bats as part of the HS2 planning process.

“I needed a degree to tell me what the options were and give me the skills I now have. For me, the ability to hone my skills at an academic level was very important.”

But above all, she enjoyed the experience: “To learn about something I loved was brilliant.”

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‘I feel really proud of myself’

Joy Shepheard-Walwyn, 19, had a place at Durham University to study philosophy and Russian. She rejected it in favour of a management consultancy apprenticeship with accountancy firm PwC.

Moving to Leeds on her own just a few days after her 18th birthday was nerve-racking, she says. But PwC has helped provide a community for her in and out of work. She’s joined the firm’s netball team and teaches English to refugees. She loves the work, managing change in the public sector, adult social care, local government and schools.

“I feel really proud of myself in terms of what I’ve achieved.”

Joy Shepheard-Walwyn
Joy Shepheard-Walwyn turned down a university place to take up a PwC apprenticeship

She thinks university can be about putting off adult life a little longer. “My friends are out partying a lot, but I’m earning a salary.” 

“I don’t feel I missed out. I just went it about it a different way.” 

By Lucy HookerBusiness reporter, BBC News

Survey Shows Careers Guidance for Young People has Improved Over the Last Two Years

Careers guidance for young people has improved over the last two years, according to a large-scale survey of schools.

The research points to the successful early establishment of a new cohort of senior ‘Careers Leaders’ with responsibility for driving a whole school approach towards careers support.

The survey of 750 Careers Leaders reveals that they feel positive about the future of careers provision and the impact they’re having on young people, and have the backing of their senior leadership teams.

Previous research from Education & Employers has shown high quality careers support and employer engagement has a positive impact on young people’s gradesemployment prospects and future earnings.

In 2017, the Government’s Careers Strategy set an ambitious plan for every school in England to appoint a named Careers Leaders with ’the energy, commitment and backing from senior leadership’ to deliver a comprehensive careers programme. 

The research – carried out on behalf of The Gatsby Foundation and The Careers & Enterprise Company – represents the first comprehensive survey of Careers Leaders.

It reveals they are overwhelmingly positive about the approach set out in the Careers Strategy and the outcomes for young people:

  • 88% say their role is having a positive impact on young peoples’ outcomes
  • 81% feel positive about the future of careers provision
  • 75% think careers provision has improved since the Careers Strategy

The Careers Strategy called on schools and Careers Leaders to work towards meeting all eight of the Gatsby Benchmarks of Good Careers Guidance – a set of standards based on international best practice.

The survey reveals that 94% of Careers Leaders said the Gatsby Benchmarks had helped to improve careers guidance. This follows findings published last year showing schools across the country improving against the Benchmarks.

Careers Leaders are a relatively new part of the school workforce, with two-thirds appointed within the last two school years. But the research finds that school leaders are backing the reforms and their focus on ensuring Careers Leaders are senior or have senior access in schools – 83% of Careers Leaders are either part of their school’s senior leadership team or report directly into senior leadership

The research also finds that Careers Leaders spend twice as much time on careers as ‘careers-coordinators’ did a decade ago, underlining the increased prioritisation of careers by schools.

Claudia Harris, Chief Executive of the Careers & Enterprise Company, said:

“According to this major survey across 750 schools, Careers leaders are overwhelmingly positive about the direction of careers support in schools. The significance of this lack of cynicism should not be underestimated. They value what they are doing and see the benefits for their students.

“The survey finds that Careers Leaders are in senior positions or report into the SLT, representing a marked shift in the profile of careers to central in school agendas. High quality careers and enterprise support is increasingly being used by schools as a core pillar to ensure excellent long-term outcomes for their students.

“We see it in the progress every day: across the country careers support is improving in schools, and particularly in the most disadvantaged communities. This is down to the commitment of Careers Leaders and the school leaders that back them.”

Sir John Holman, Senior Adviser to the Gatsby Foundation and author of the Good Career Guidance report, said:

“The pilot of the Gatsby Benchmarks in the North East of England showed us that the key success factor is having an effective Careers Leader, with access to the senior leadership of the school or college.

“It is very encouraging to see that schools are truly making this role a priority, and that those in post feel so confident about the future. This research gives valuable insight into how Careers Leaders can be best supported and enabled to do their job, which is critical to the future of every young person in the school.”

The survey was carried out by independent research organisation SQW, on behalf of The Gatsby Foundation and The Careers & Enterprise Company. 750 Careers Leaders responded to the survey, and results were weighted to be representative of schools across the country.

Field work took place between 4th March and 5th April 2019. The survey achieved a response rate of 22% and 750 schools. Responses were weighted be representative of region, type of school and size of school.

The Role Of Assessment In Guided Career Intervention
July 10, 2019
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Exploring why career practitioners use assessments, as well as how they can select the appropriate tools and effectively interpret client results

By: JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey

Assessment has played an important role in career guidance since its beginning in the early 20th century. According to the Joint Committee on the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing of the AERA, APA and NCME (Joint Committee on Testing Practices, 2004), the definition of assessment is “Any systematic method of obtaining information from tests and other sources, used to draw inferences about characteristics of people, objects, or programs.” This article uses the term “career guidance” to refer to interventions with young people and adults related to educational and vocational choices. The purpose of the article is to review with career development facilitators and counsellors the purposes, options and guidelines for use of assessment in career guidance and counselling.

Purposes of assessment

It is possible to view the plethora of assessment instruments available in our field in three categories: a) those that support career exploration, b) those that identify career development needs, and c) those that measure accomplishment in areas related to educational or career development goals. Let’s look at each of those separately.

The purpose of the first segment of assessments available in our field is to help individuals find focus for exploration. This segment includes inventories of interests, skills, work-related values and personality characteristics. The number of occupational options is vast, with 974 groups of occupations defined in O*NET (the National Occupational Classification [NOC] system categorizes jobs in Canada), each of which can be broken down into many more defined occupations. The National Career Cluster Framework (Advance CTE, 2019) defines 16 industry-related clusters, which can be divided into 79 groups called pathways.

To find focus for exploration

The Holland classification system (Holland, 1997) defines six work environments, under which hundreds of occupations are categorized by educational levels in the Dictionary of HollandOccupational Codes (Goddfredson & Holland, 1996). It is impossible for individuals seeking to choose an occupation to learn about all of these options. Thus, one very valuable use of assessment inventories is to find focus for exploration.

ACT’s World-of-Work Map (Prediger, 1981) arranges hundreds of occupations by Holland work environments and 26 Career Areas. There are assessments whose results direct individuals’ focus to options in each of these four organizational schemes, allowing them to identify groups of occupations that align with their interests, skills, values and/or personality traits. Career explorers can then identify specific occupations they are interested in and “reality test” (using Donald Super’s term) this manageable set by reading, job shadowing, course work, etc.

To identify career decision-making and development needs

Though it sounds easy to administer an interest inventory, interpret it and shepherd career decision-makers through exploratory interventions, a significant proportion of career explorers have intrapersonal challenges that need to be removed before they are able to follow a logical process to a well-informed choice. Theorists define these barriers differently. Super (1957) describes a poor self-concept or the lack of completing specific development tasks as barriers. Krumboltz (1991) focuses on negative career beliefs. Sampson and his colleagues (1996) refer to negative career thoughts. Dinklage (1968) emphasizes ineffective decision-making styles.

The assessment tools in this category measure such intrapersonal challenges. The results may be used to work with individuals on specific identified problems or, for example, to assign members of a career planning course to different levels and kinds of intervention.

To measure progress in desired learning or attitudes

Similarly, such assessments may be used for research or for program evaluation. For example, a measure of career decidedness may be administered to two matched groups: one that has not had a course in career planning and one that has had such a course. The hypothesis is that the group that has completed the career-planning course will have a higher mean score on career decidedness than the group that did not have the course. Such an assessment could also be used with one group prior to taking the career-planning course and again afterward. The goal in this case would be to measure change in specific career attitudes or behaviours triggered by the content of the course.

Assessments of this kind can also be used to measure the attainment of skills, such as behavioural skills or academic skills. After individuals receive training and retake such tests, an increase in these skills can be measured. Similarly, students’ achievement toward mastering specific standards or goals can be measured by instruments in this category.

Types of assessments

Assessment tools in our field are typically divided into two categories: formal and informal. Formal assessments have these characteristics: a) their content, specific items, scoring algorithms and score reports are developed with scientific rigour; b) this fact results in the publisher being able to state their reliability and validity; and c) the combination of the first two makes it possible to compare the score of an individual to that of another or with those of a group with a high degree of scientific accuracy.

On the other hand, these characteristics – scientific rigour, known reliability and validity, and capability for comparison with others – are not central to informal assessments. They are tools such as card sorts, checklists, career fantasies, questionnaires and structured interviews. They own a legitimate space in our field and are used skillfully by many counsellors. They cost far less to develop and acquire, and they can be administered with far less advance planning.

Scientific rigour includes the careful completion of tasks such as the following:

  • Clearly defining what is to be measured
  • Clearly defining the component parts of what is being measured
  • Developing items that measure the component parts
  • Testing these items with members of the target population and modifying or replacing those that do not function well
  • Choosing a norm group that mirrors the target population for which the assessment is developed
  • Developing norms for various ages or grade levels
  • Designing score reports that can be readily understood by counsellors and those who took the assessment
Methods of administering assessments

Informal assessments are typically administered by a counsellor or career development facilitator face-to-face in an office or classroom setting. For example, students or clients are asked to sort a set of cards, each of which contains the description of a value, into three stacks: those that “highly appeal to me,” those that are “somewhat appealing” and those that “I’d like to avoid.” In a different setting, a counsellor or career development facilitator may ask students in a career planning class to relax, close their eyes and imagine an ideal day at work – its location, work tasks, co-workers, degree of independence, length, concomitant lifestyle, etc. In yet another approach, a counsellor who has detailed knowledge of Holland’s theory may conduct a structured interview around the six work environments. In each of these cases, a trained counsellor is able to help a student or client draw inferences from the informal assessment that sheds light on potential career choices or changes.

Formal assessments are administered in print or digital forms. If they are standard tests in print form with right or wrong answers, they are administered under controlled conditions usually involving standard instructions, specified time limits, security of testing materials and test monitors. Such tests may also be administered in a computer lab, requiring that individuals prove their identity to access items that are delivered through a secure website. Some achievement or aptitude tests are adaptive, meaning that the computer selects items at increasing levels of difficulty until it finds the examinee’s general level of knowledge and then presents items only at that level. This type of test varies both in items used and in length of testing for different students.

Technology has revolutionized assessment in many ways, offering capabilities such as the following: adaptive testing; the use of videos, graphics and audio; administration to large numbers of people nationwide at their selected time; immediate scoring; online personalized interpretation of results; electronic transfer of results to counsellors; and the ability to easily share results, where appropriate.

Guidelines for selecting assessments

Following are some guidelines that may be helpful when selecting assessments to use with clients or students:

  • Define clearly what you want to measure and why. Possibilities for what you want to measure could include interests, skills, aptitudes, personality traits, values, academic achievement, learning style, decision-making style and self-efficacy, to name a few. Reasons for measuring these might include to design career guidance interventions for individuals or groups of individuals, to define segments of your target population to receive different sets of interventions, to measure the effectiveness of your program, to determine whether students have achieved the goals set forth in a specific set of standards, etc.
  • Develop a list of assessments designed to measure what you want to measure. Using a resource such as NCDA’s publication, A Counselor’s Guide to Career Assessment (Wood & Hays, 2019) will be invaluable. It describes assessments designed for various purposes and the 7th edition uniquely gives you online access to expert reviews in order to make an informed choice.
  • Gather as much information as you can about the assessments you have identified. It is essential for you to determine whether each assessment has been developed and tested with individuals like those in your target population. For each, learn about its reliability, validity and theoretical base. Take the assessment yourself and administer it to a few students/clients. Study its score report to see if it is presented in a language and with graphics that will make it understandable to your population. Talk to or read reviews from counsellors who have used the assessment. Importantly, determine if the results of the assessment are compatible with other components of your program. For example, if your school’s occupational information is organized by Holland work environments, use an interest inventory that provides results by Holland types. Last, but certainly not least, assess the quality of the publisher. This involves the credibility of the author, the professional reputation of the publisher, the training offered to assure that the assessment is administered and interpreted properly, and the quality of customer service provided.
  • Determine its practicality for your setting. This criterion includes how the assessment is administered (print or electronic) and scored, how counsellors can get training, length and requirements of administration, and cost.
Guidelines for interpreting assessment

Here are some guidelines for providing interpretation:

  • Provide interpretation as soon as possible after students or clients have taken an assessment. Begin interpretation by reviewing why the person took the assessment and what it was like (eg, “you responded to 60 items by selecting one of five answers – like very much, like, neutral, dislike, dislike very much”). If true, be sure to indicate that there are no “right” or “wrong” answers.
  • Provide the score report to the examinee and explain each section simply and in detail. If you conduct interpretation in a group, use an attractive PowerPoint presentation with a sample score report that students/clients see while having their own report in front of them.
  • Provide an opportunity to students/clients to ask questions, and try to make sure you answer all questions immediately or within a reasonable timeframe.
  • Be sure that you apply the results on the score report to the specific career concerns that the student or client is facing at the moment. This, of course, is the real reason for having taken the assessment. Its interpretation should be used to guide course selection, the tentative selection of an occupation or job, or whatever career concern the student or client has brought forward or your program of services is attempting to support.
Summary

This article has provided a general overview of the purposes of assessment, types of assessment, methods of administration, and guidelines for selecting and interpreting assessments. Understanding these concepts is just the beginning of preparation for informed use of assessments in career counselling and guidance. In-depth investigation of the effectiveness of specific assessments in various work settings and with members of various populations is essential.

JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey, EdD(bowlsbeyj@kuder.com) is an international authority in the areas of career development and counselling and a pioneer in the development and use of computer and web-based career planning systems. She has served as a high school director of guidance, university professor, career counsellor, executive director of the ACT Educational Technology Center, vice-president for development at Kuder, Inc., and president of the National Career Development Association. Dr Harris-Bowlsbey is the author of numerous print-based curricular materials, is widely published in academic journals and texts, and has delivered hundreds of workshops to counsellors at conferences and universities around the globe. She is the author of numerous versions of web-based career planning systems, of curricula for training of career development facilitators, and co-author of a leading textbook for the training of master’s level counsellors.

References

Advance CTE. (2019). National career clusters framework. Silver Spring, MD: Author.

Dinklage, L.B. (1968), Decision strategies of adolescents. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Harvard UniversityCambridge, MA.

Goddfredson, G.D. & Holland, J.L. (1996). The dictionary of Holland occupational codes. Odessa, FL. Psychological AssessmenResources.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: a theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd edition). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Joint Committee on Testing Practices (2004). Code of fair testing practices. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Krumboltz, J.D. (1991). The Career Beliefs Inventory. Menlo Park, CA: Mind Garden, Inc.

Prediger, D. P. (1981). Aid for mapping occupations and interests: A graphic for vocational guidance and research. Vocational Guidance Quarterly, 30, 21-36.

Sampson, J.P., Petersen, G.W., Lenz, J.G., Reardon, R.C., & Saunders, D.E. (1996). Career Thoughts Inventory. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers. New York, NY: Harper.

Wood, C. & Hays, D.G. (2019). A counselor’s guide to career assessment instruments. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.


To Tackle Our Mental Health Crisis, Career Guidance Could be Surprisingly Important

Being unemployed tends to be bad for your mental health.

We know this from long-term studies which show that people’s mental health often deteriorates when they become unemployed and can improve when they get a new job. It can be a vicious circle, since people with mental health difficulties can also struggle to get hired.

When you don’t have a job, it tends to reduce your access to things that nourish mental well-being: a sense of identity, a sense of purpose, structure to the day, contact with other people and opportunities to use skills. Not to mention money, which is a big source of anxiety if you don’t have a decent supply coming in.

Young people are particularly at risk here, since they tend to be among the hardest hit when the labour market takes a dive. Indeed, it’s hard enough for them to find work when the employment market is buoyant. And this group have more than their fair share of other threats to their mental well-being. They have to deal with the worst of social media, early heartbreaks and combustible friendships. Many will be experimenting with drink and drugs, getting into conflicts with their parents and struggling to have enough money to stand on their own two feet.

In the UK, for example, around one in six people aged 17-19 have some kind of mental health condition, and the incidence among young people more generally has been steadily climbing. In the US, the suicide rate among 18- to 19-year-olds is up 56% in a decade.

Living with the scars

While many big categories of illness, such as cancers or heart problems, tend to present in mid to late adulthood, mental health conditions often appear when people are teenagers or in their early 20s. In many cases, they recur, and the consequences can multiply over someone’s lifetime.

Though most young people experience only passing phases of unemployment, for those who experience longer periods, there is emerging evidence that it can lead to what has been described as “scarring”. They are more likely to struggle to hold down jobs throughout their lives, for instance, and to earn less. There is also recent evidence from Sweden and the US of health effects well into mid-adulthood. From a broader perspective, this is a serious problem for the economy. It means lost productivity, lower tax revenues, and higher sickness-related benefits and medical/social care costs.

If this makes it obvious that we should do whatever we can to minimise youth unemployment, it’s easier said than done. This is a complicated problem that doesn’t lend itself to quick fixes. Yet one area that deserves much more attention is career guidance. People can sometimes be sceptical about its value, based on vague recollections of adolescent conversations with a career adviser that didn’t seem to make much difference to them.

Yet we mustn’t let this blind us to the potential. Like any kind of one-to-one help, career guidance provides a safe space to share worries and concerns. It helps people to review and recognise their strengths, injects hope by giving them a sense of their possible study and work options, and motivates and equips them to take action. Career guidance can help you figure out who you are, what your goals are, and how to get there – and this kind of clarity can act as a buffer against stress and uncertainty.

Above all, career guidance can prevent unemployment. It enables people to access life opportunities in work and education, and opens up all the benefits of participation. Some government initiatives put pressure on unemployed people to take the first available job, irrespective of its quality or relevance to their lives. But career guidance is about long-term planning based on what motivates an individual. Done well, it sets people on a path that can sustain them in the long term.

Room for improvement

The quality of career guidance varies considerably from country to country. Yet a recent OECD study found common problems around the world, including insufficient resources, inadequately prepared staff, and poorer services for students from disadvantaged areas. The study pointed to a number of problems in England, with students demanding “more and better” advice, while concluding that the service in Scotland was “well developed and comprehensive”.

Across the board, there’s much room for improvement. We need to recognise the role that career guidance can play as a public health intervention. It can potentially reach all young people through the school system, and has good access to the most vulnerable groups. It might help build resilience if combined with teaching young people important life skills, such as career management and stress management.

Career guidance may feel far removed from health, but we need to understand that illness has socioeconomic causes, and at least to some extent, socioeconomic remedies. I find that professionals in this field are slowly waking up to the mental health needs of their client base, but this has yet to filter through to many of those in charge of policy. They need to get the message that properly resourced and consistently delivered career services have the power to improve our mental health – both now and for years into the future.

Harnessing the Power of Systematic Career Exploration
June 7, 2019
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Such exploration should happen early and often, writes Rebekah Layton, director of professional development programs in the Office of Graduate Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who gives tips on how to get started

I am a career professional in higher education. I absolutely love, well, pretty much everything about my job.

Yet I would not have given it a second glance had I come across the job ad a year before experiencing a personal career crisis as a postdoc, simply because it didn’t come with a faculty label in its title.

In retrospect, this experience profoundly moved me and shaped my own perspective and professional choices. In fact, I am especially passionate about helping ensure that others never have to go through a similar experience to reach a career pathway they love; hence, my passion for providing opportunities to help trainees explore career pathways early and often, rather than waiting till late in their graduate or postdoctoral training. Harnessing the power of career exploration to seek a tailored-to-fit career match can be a transformative experience.

I was a postdoctoral trainee who had been pounding full force down the tenure-track career pathway for years when I realized I was going to be off cycle in the academic calendar year and was therefore unable to apply for academic jobs. I panicked. I had no idea where to start without the faculty career path as my centrepiece. In addition to navigating a changing professional identity and mourning for my lost identity as a future faculty member (which has been likened to a grieving process), I also had to balance a number of imminent competing priorities. Those included concern for meeting immediate financial and family needs, as well as managing the anxiety about the pending transition into the unknown, among others. It was obviously not the optimal time to approach career exploration with the clear mind, calm energy and careful logic needed to systematically apply myself, yet the situation demanded that I do so. The important lesson I learned was that systematic, logical exploration of career options early on can prevent the kind of panic that trainees feel when professional transitions arise unplanned or professional challenges cause a reconsideration of career goals.

As a career coach and workshop leader, I now provide guidance for trainees navigating through this process — hopefully before they get to the point where the process feels like an acute identity crisis. I encourage all trainees to go through the process of examining what they love about the careers they choose to pursue, including those on the academic track. For those planning on following academic career pathways, this process may simply reconfirm that a faculty career is absolutely right for them, and they may go on to do just that. Nonetheless, if later on, life events impact career choices, priorities change or job preferences shift, early career exploration ensures that they’ll be already prepared to handle questioning their professional identity with resilience.

But, you may wonder, how do I start a systematic personalized career exploration plan? Here are some starter pro tips, developed in collaboration with my colleague Patrick Brandt over the course of many years of collaboratively running career-planning workshops.

It’s not about the title. Erase any expectation of job title — and instead look up keywords of interest to see what job titles pop up. Do some research to identify any new job titles that may be of interest. Learn about how various organizational cultures in industry, government or academe might be similar or different. Do parallel roles with different titles exist in different settings? Don’t limit yourself.

Start with what you like to do. Not sure what keywords to start with? Consider: What parts of your training and research do you like to spend your time on? What skills in your training do you most enjoy using? Use these as a guide. Capitalize on transferrable skills you’ve developed during doctoral training (relevant for a multitude of careers), not just scientific, technical skills or discipline-based skills — although, of course, those can be important, too. (You can also visit MyIDP or ImaginePhD — online tools that provide career interests, skills, assessments and potential career matches and titles if you prefer a more structured approach than self-reflection alone).

Use career exploration to make an informed career choice or choices. Learn what possible titles might be a good fit for you. In our career planning workshops, we like to refer to such career options as Plan A and Plan A-Prime, indicating that there is value in being aware of multiple career pathways that you could be excited about, in contrast to a backup Plan B. You can ultimately decide to pursue one or many of them, but by preparing to be a good candidate for a few career possibilities, you ensure that you will have options and choices. No panic button needed here! Feeling stuck about what options are out there to find your Plan A or A-Prime? Read on.

Engage in career exploration through combinations of passive and active actions, as you feel ready. Look at career outcomes nationally to get started, if you’re not sure what career sectors, types and functions are out there for Ph.D.s. Check out career outcomes published by your institution to see what others in your department go on to do. Or explore alumni career profiles on LinkedIn — you might even connect with a few for informational interviews. Listen to podcasts (like HelloPhD) where you can hear from scientists in a variety of careers and positions about what they do in their role, field, company and the like. Another method is to look for career panels, professional development events, career symposia or other professional networking events in your area. Get excited about all the career possibilities out there!

Systematically review skills, experiences and job requirements for careers/positions of interest. First collect a set of representative job ads (usually three to five per job field is a good start) for one or more career fields, and group similar jobs. Pick one career field at a time to gather together each job ad pile and take a look at what you notice about the set. We advocate for something we like to call a Skill Profile Analysis — our fancy way of asking trainees to look for patterns in the data, putting already well-developed research skills to use to collect and analyze them. You can repeat this with as many careers as you like, but to avoid running out of steam or feeling overwhelmed, start with your top one to three careers of interest. (You can always go back later to add a new career field.)

Compare current skills with those needed. Pick one career pathway of interest and move on to identifying which of those patterns you fit well with. We refer to this as conducting a Skill Gap Analysis. Then it’s time to go point by point: identify skills, keywords, experience requirements and so forth that you found in common across job ads in that career field, and then take stock of how you measure up. In what areas, can you metaphorically knock the ball out of the park? In what areas can you possibly score a run but could use more practice and development? And in what areas are you still in the dugout? Now you’ve created a snapshot at the intersection of you at the current time point with one possible career pathway and have developed an important tool to use in your next steps.

Find your fit, make the match. Use the skills and experiences you’ve identified as standout strengths to build a résumé that is tailored to showcase your current skills and experience as it best matches with your chosen field(s). And, yes, that means building multiple versions for each career option you are considering. Take some time to reflect on areas where you’d like to grow more and make a plan of action to build skills in the ones you’ve identified. As you work your way through a few career options, you may also realize that you aren’t as interested in a particular pathway that isn’t a great fit, or that you are a better fit than you first thought for another position that is unexpectedly a great fit.

Going through the steps of career exploration can help you identify and prepare for the personalized career of the future you. An exciting career awaits you! But first you have to go out there and find it. Don’t wait to get started. Today is the day.

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Free Handbook – “Enhancing the Quality of Career Guidance” by Ronald Sultana
March 6, 2019
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This Handbook is one of the products of the MYFUTURE Erasmus+ project. It offers educational leaders and career guidance staff practical ways for improving the quality of career guidance products and services in their secondary schools (ages 11-16), with a special focus on career education.

The goal of the Handbook, and the frameworks, resources and tools it provides, are meant to be useful in catering more effectively for all students. However, a special emphasis is placed on the needs of those who, for different reasons, have disengaged from formal learning, or are in danger of doing so. Career guidance is one of the ways we have of re-igniting motivation in such students, especially when the service offered by the school is robust and fit for purpose.

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ViewPoint: Adventures in Career Development
January 14, 2019
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The following blog is by  Tristram Hooley.

Where are we now? Reflections on career guidance policy and practice at the start of 2019

Towards the end of 2018 it felt like a lot of people were getting a bit frustrated with the speed of progress on career guidance in England. The State of the Nation report tells us that things are improving, but that there is a long way to go and that at present the progress isn’t particularly quick. Partially as acareer-pop-artresult of this, and partially in response to long standing concerns and grievances, some people started sharpening their knives on the current careers policy settlement. Robert Halfon gave an important and highly critical speech setting out what he though was wrong and many in the careers sector piled in behind him. Things are not good enough they argued, there is a need for change, let’s pull down the current system and get it right this time.

I’m in total agreement that the current state of provision in careers is not good enough. I also agree that things need to change. Where I break with some of the critics of the current order is that I believe that within the current system there are the seeds of a genuinely great career guidance system.

I wanted to spend this blog post reviewing where we are and considering what is good and bad about the current system, before going on to propose some ways forwards. But first two caveats. (1) I’m just going to talk about the career guidance system that exists in the secondary education system. I have written numerous times that I believe we need a cradle to grave, lifelong career guidance system. At the moment, this isn’t on the cards and so I’m going to park this part of the discussion until another blog post. (2) I know that no one is really making policy about something like career guidance until after Brexit is resolved – but let’s just pretend for now that it is possible that we will get a government again at some point. Read more

House of Commons Library Briefing Paper
October 12, 2018
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This House of Commons Library briefing paper looks at the requirements on schools, colleges and universities in England to provide careers guidance, the quality of the advice provided, and also the organisations working to provide careers adviceImage result for house of commons library

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This briefing applies to England only.

State-funded schools

Since September 2013, local authority maintained schools have been under a duty to provide impartial careers guidance to pupils from years 8 to 13 (ages 12-18).

The Department for Education has published statutory guidance(most recently updated in January 2018) for maintained schools on their duty to provide careers guidance.

Many academies and free schools are subject to the duties relating to careers guidance through their funding agreements, including those which opened from September 2012 onwards and those which have moved to an updated funding agreement. Academies without the requirement are encouraged to follow the guidance as a statement of good practice.  There is also separate non-statutory ‘good practice’ DfE guidance on this issue.

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