Yes, we’ve all had that experience where “free” turned out to be the most expensive option. When the risk is low, it is a great first strategy. When the stakes are really high, taking the free approach may not be the best way to go. When it comes to student career exploration, that free career counseling received in high school and college has generated some interesting statistics for those adults now trying to reap the benefits of that career counseling. To be certain, while these offerings may be free to the student and parents, there is a cost for the time and resources assigned. In addition, student feedback and national data suggest traditional career counseling strategies used by most high schools and colleges are not effective.
US Job Satisfaction Trend
According to The Conference Board, as reported January 5, 2010, of 5,000 households, finds only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted. “While one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy,” says Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board. “Through both economic boom and bust during the past two decades, our job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend.”
The drop in job satisfaction between 1987 and 2009 covers all categories in the survey, from interest in work (down 18.9 percentage points) to job security (down 17.5 percentage points) and crosses all four of the key drivers of employee engagement: job design, organizational health, managerial quality, and extrinsic rewards.
Satisfaction Trend by Age
“Challenging and meaningful work is vitally important to engaging American workers,” adds John Gibbons, program director of employee engagement research and services at The Conference Board. “Widespread job dissatisfaction negatively affects employee behavior and retention, which can impact enterprise-level success.” In fact, 22 percent of respondents said they don’t expect to be in their current job in a year. “This data throws up a big, red flag because the increasing dissatisfaction is not just a ‘survivor syndrome’ artifact of having co-workers and neighbors laid off in the recession,” says Gibbons.
Chart 4 on the left makes a strong statement. Those in the workforce under age 25 (group most recently having received career counseling as a student) are the most dissatisfied with their job. That was the case in 1987 as well but the amount of dissatisfaction has changed dramatically. Is there a correlation between job dissatisfaction of the younger adults and career counseling strategies being used by high schools and colleges? All age categories show drastic shifts downward in job satisfaction. Yet, we can assume that within all age groups it is likely there are people that are experiencing very high job satisfaction. Is there a common denominator for those that are experiencing high job satisfaction? The short answer is “YES”. Everyone with high job satisfaction have found the job and career that matches to their passions and talent.
Is the economy to blame or is the cause more stealth?
Looking at the different Bureau of Labor Statistics’ data, earnings were flat for most of 2009. That might explain a dip in job satisfaction in 2009 but not in 1987 – 2008 (Chart 1 above). A closer look at hourly compensation, manufacturing output and business output do not show a correlation between economic indicators and job satisfaction.
Real Hourly Comp Business 1987 - 2010 BLS
While the 2009 recession could be “predicted” by some of the previous year data, it doesn’t seem to matter what is going on economically. Job satisfaction is dropping. The only data that might give some correlation to the economy is Real Hourly Compensation. From 1987 to 1998 there were wide swings both up and down. Those wide swings could explain a level of job dissatisfaction. From 1998 to 2009 the Real Hourly Compensation shows a steady drop.
We could easily make a correlation between dropping compensation and job satisfaction. In 2005, we see a high point
Output per Hour Mfg 1988 - 2010 BLS
for job satisfaction in the first decade of the 21st century that contradicts the correlation between compensation and job satisfaction. We also see a spike in manufacturing output in 2005 that might suggest that is “the” driver of job satisfaction.
So with contradictions in the data, we are left searching for better explanations. Those of us working in the organizational development and human capital management field like to point to the intangibles of work. Within that realm, there is a body of knowledge and hard data that suggests “job fit” is the real “controlling factor” for job satisfaction. This implicates high school and college career counseling programs as not only being ineffective but perhaps detrimental to future job satisfaction.
- Output per Hour Business 1987 – 2010 BLS
So back to the point about “free is the most expensive option”. When it comes to career exploration, there are three possible ways to receive free career coaching as a student:
- in high school
- through the government’s military recruitment program
- at college/post secondary school
The first free opportunity comes in high school.
High Schools are signing “career Internet portal site licenses” with companies like Kuder, Bridges by XAP or Naviance to meet state graduation requirements related to career exploration and career planning. Teachers or counselors are providing guidance to the students that ranges from a PowerPoint presentation on how to use the career portal to one-on-one meetings to “guide” the student in choosing AP classes and taking the SAT or ACT exams. English teachers may assign a writing assignment to focus on career exploration. Some high schools like Eugene Oregon’s school district have a comprehensive suite of tangible offerings and a career coordinator to coordinate the offerings. For most high schools, the counselors will say the last thing they have time for is to provide quality individualized (or even group) career coaching. Carol Christen, coauthor of What Color Is Your Parachute? For Teens: Discovering Yourself, Defining Your Future states, “Academia seems to be stuck in the 19th century. They have polarized the discussion into parts that are nearly irrelevant. Research shows that all students do better when they have a plan. A detailed and well vetted plan is as necessary as good grades for success, and that students with a plan go on to and graduate from higher education in greater numbers.”
ASVAB is the Dept of Defense's Military Entrance Exam
The second free opportunity is the Department of Defense ASVAB Career Exploration program.
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a timed multi-aptitude test, which is given at over 14,000 schools and Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) nationwide and is developed and maintained by the Department of Defense. The military is offering free career exploration that includes the ASVAB assessment and a full personal debriefing of the ASVAB assessment results. The people providing the assessment debriefing are not career coaches. They are Recruiters working for the military. If you are already considering or want to look at careers in the military, take advantage of this free offer. To access a wider student population (top students), the military has dressed this program up as a “taxpayer benefit that everyone should use”.
The third free opportunity is the college career placement and counseling office.
Every college or university has an office of Career Placement and Counseling. Trade schools and “for profit” institutions also have a similar office. The “for profit” organizations use the name to cover their true purpose to use the “career counseling” for recruiting new students.
Like high school, universities and colleges have more of an advisory system in place that is offered to students. Unfortunately, most of these institutions use similar assessments used by high schools – not the kind of assessments used by companies to match people to jobs. Advisors in colleges and universities rely on the student to come to them. Based on college staffing of career advisors, less than 5% of the student population actually utilize the services. The services utilized look much more like a high school offering than actual career coaching. But lately, colleges are introducing classes like those listed at Cleveland State University. An example of a Law School career counseling services video go here. Watch the Career and Job Fair video to see the typical college student admit they did no career planning before choosing a college major or delayed thinking about career and jobs until their graduation year.
The best advice I can offer to teens or parents is “find and enroll in a credible career exploration program that takes a career coaching approach”. Do this before you leave high school. Do this before you choose a college. Do this before you choose a college major. Pay for it unless you know someone that will provide it to you for free. If you can’t find a local program, consider Career Coaching for Students™ Home Study Personal Edition. With parent assistance, students who seriously pursue career planning using credible methods can gain an advantage that impacts academics now and avoids missteps down the road.
The second piece of advice is for students. Take your high school “career” writing assignments seriously. Take full advantage of any career counseling that is offered if you feel it is credible and helpful.
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.
If you are looking for true career coaching for students, look at http://www.careercoachingforstudents.net. Are you past the high school and college years? Check out free resources at Success Discoveries. Professional career coaching services offered. See what a real career coach looks like.
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