Is it time to revamp career guidance in schools?


As a corporate management and organizational development consultant with over 25 years of hiring, firing, training, coaching and development, I find a mixed population when it comes to people with clear, passionate career direction and those without that clarity and passion. My observations and various academic, corporate and government surveys suggest more people fall into the latter category. Yet those in positions of authority within the secondary and higher education career guidance field seem satisfied with the status quo.Is it time to revamp career guidance in schools?

What has changed over the past 30+ years in career counseling in most schools can be summed up in three letters: WWW. Schools are now offering students an online portal to career information. Most of these programs offer personality assessments that point the student to Holland codes.  So if that is an appropriate assessment for students, how many employers use Holland code type assessments to match people to jobs? My informal scan came up with zero. 

Why revamp career guidance in schools?
I’ve listed some reasons (goals and rewards) that support an effort to revamp career guidance in schools.

  • Higher student self-esteem
  • Higher academic achievement across all student populations
  • Better choices for higher education
  • Shorter time in higher-ed (a change in majors delays a student by at least one semester)
  • Lower student loan debt
  • Higher quality workforce
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Improved society
  • Higher personal income
  • Higher quality of life
  • and greater employability in a passionate career

Career Guidance redefined.

Career guidance starts with bringing self-awareness to the student. This is minimized by schools, or, if attempted, counselors use personality assessments with relatively low validity and reliability. The typical public school administrator thinks they do not have the budget to consider highly reliable, valid assessments and properly conduct counseling or coaching with each student. As one administrator explained, “we need to leave something for the parents to do”. Colleges and universities are found to have very few resources as well. Many continue to use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator as the tool of choice for expanding students’ self-awareness.   

With solid self-awareness, a valid connection needs to be made to career possibilities. Most students get off the train at this point. They didn’t find the “personality assessments” valid (face validity is critical) and found the career suggestions from the assessment report made no sense. The reality is that making the talent-to-career connection requires the help of a professional career coach or a well-developed career coaching program that guides the student through the process.

From initial investigative research to in-depth career analysis, the ability to research careers has been improved drastically thanks to the Internet. However, left on their own, students find the Internet is a rather large, disorganized information bank that has the potential to get the researcher distracted or totally lost and confused. Students don’t need a Google list of Internet resources or school marketing website disguised as a career guidance site. Internet resources need to be found, evaluated, vetted and categorized in a way that allows the student to stay focused with their research and avoid chasing links to questionable or low-value content.

Career research can’t be defined by Internet resources. At some point, the student must meet people in careers of interest, interview these people, go on job shadowing ventures and get internships working for companies that employ people in his career of interest.  There are several other strategies students can take to learn and identify career choices. Most students don’t complete any of these steps. A very few might do some of this.

Researching ideal careers is half the battle. Today’s students lack skills such as decision-making. Life skills that are learned early support students as they go to college or enter the work world. Life skills are just that, skills learned by experiencing life. However, our culture has changed significantly in the past 30 years. Students do not live in an environment that enables them to develop these life skills the way kids did 50 or 100 years ago. Yet school administrators and parents seem unaware of programs they can use to introduce students to key skills required for success. What are the key skills found in highly successful people? Here is a short list of 18 skills. Which of these aren’t needed to be highly successful? 

  1. Continuous Learning (try this one!)
  2. Personal Accountability
  3. Self Management
  4. Decision Making (Conceptual Thinking, Theoretical Problem Solving, Role Confidence, Balanced Decision Making)
  5. Goal Orientation
  6. Proactive Thinking
  7. Initiative
  8. Project and Goal Focus
  9. Planning and Organizing
  10. Flexibility
  11. Problem Solving
  12. Persistence 
  13. Creativity Innovation
  14. Futuristic Thinking
  15. Influencing Others (Conveying Role Value, Gaining Commitment, Understanding Motivational Needs)
  16. Interpersonal Skills (Evaluating Others, Personal Relationships, Persuading Others)
  17. Written Communication
  18. Personal Drive

What are the chances the typical high school student is being developed in these skill areas? I think it is time to revamp career guidance in schools? Please leave your thoughts in the comment box.

Carl Nielson is the developer of Career Coaching for Students™, the premier career exploration program for high school and college students. Nielson is the founder of Success Discoveries (www.successdiscoveries.com) and The Nielson Group (www.nielsongroup.com), an international corporate organizational management consulting firm. Prior to consulting, he served over 20 years in corporate human resources management. He holds a degree in organizational psychology from Texas A&M University. Find Carl on LinkedIn.   Carl speaks to groups on request and offers parent webinars and seminars for communities.

If you are looking for true career guidance for a student, check out http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net. Are you past the high school and college years? Check out resources and services at Success Discoveries. Professional career coaching services offered.   

Copyright © 2010 Success Discoveries, LLC
Career Coaching for Students™ is a trademark of Success Discoveries, LLC
Life Skills for Students™ is a trademark of Success Discoveries, LLC

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