Career counselling is a type of advice-giving and support provided by career counsellors to their clients, to help the clients manage their journey through life, learning and work changes (career).
This includes career exploration, making career choices, managing career changes, lifelong career development and dealing with other career-related issues. There is no agreed definition of career counselling worldwide, mainly due to conceptual, cultural and linguistic differences. However, the terminology of ‘career counselling’ typically denotes a professional intervention which is conducted either one-on-one or in a small group. Career counselling is related to other types of counselling (e.g. marriage or clinical counselling). What unites all types of professional counselling is the role of practitioners, who combine giving advice on their topic of expertise with counselling techniques that support clients in making complex decisions and facing difficult situations.
There is considerable variation in the terminology that is used worldwide to describe this activity. In addition to the linguistic variation between US English (counselling) and British English (counselling), there are also a range of alternate terms which are in common use. These include:
- Career guidance;
- Career coaching;
- Guidance counselling;
- Personal guidance;
- Career consulting; and
- A range of related terminologies.
This frequently leads writers and commentators to combine multiple terms e.g. career guidance and counselling to be inclusive. However, care should be exercised when moving from one terminology to another as each term has its own history and cultural significance. An alternate term is ‘career guidance’. This term is sometimes used as a synonym for career counselling, but can also be used to describe a broader range of interventions beyond one-to-one counselling.
Brief History and New Approaches
Career counselling has a long history going back to at least as far as the late nineteenth century. An important defining work for the field was Frank Parsons’ Choosing a Vocation which was published in 1909. Parsons was strongly rooted in the American progressive social reform movement, but as the field developed it moved away from this origin and became increasingly understood as a branch of counselling psychology.
While until the 1970s a strongly normative approach was characterised for theories (e.g. of Donald E. Super’s life-span approach) and practice of career counselling (e.g. concept of matching), new models have their starting point in the individual needs and transferable skills of the clients while managing biographical breaks and discontinuities. Career development is no longer viewed as a linear process which reflects a predictable world of work. More consideration is now placed on nonlinear, chance and unplanned influences.
This change of perspective is evident in the constructivist and social constructionist paradigms for career counselling. The constructivist/social constructionist paradigms are applied as narrative career counselling that emphasizes personal stories and the meaning individuals generate in relation to their education and work.
Postmodern career counselling is a reflective process of assisting clients in creating self through writing and revising biographical narratives taking place in a context of multiple choice from a diversity of options and constraints. The shift moves from emphasizing career choice to empowering self-affirmation and improving decision making. Recently this approach is widely applied in Australia such as in Athlete Career and Education (ACE) programme by Australian Sports Commission and Scope for artists by Ausdance.
While career counselling has its origins in the USA and the English speaking world it has now spread to become a worldwide activity that can be found to some extent in all countries.
Related Professional Activities
Career counselling includes a wide variety of professional activities which help people deal with career-related challenges. Career counsellors work with adolescents seeking to explore career options, experienced professionals contemplating a career change, parents who want to return to the world of work after taking time to raise their child, or people seeking employment. Career counselling is also offered in various settings, including in groups and individually, in person or by means of digital communication.
Several approaches have been undertaken to systemize the variety of professional activities related to career guidance and counselling. In the most recent attempt, the Network for Innovation in Career Guidance and Counselling in Europe (NICE) – a consortium of 45 European institutions of higher education in the field of career counselling – has agreed on a system of professional roles for guidance counsellors. Each of these five roles is seen as an important facet of the career guidance and counselling profession. Career counsellors performing in any of these roles are expected to behave professionally, e.g. by following ethical standards in their practice. The NICE Professional Roles (NPR) are:
- Career educators “suppor[t] people in developing their own career management competences”.
- Career information and assessment experts “suppor[t] people in assessing their personal characteristics and needs, then connecting them with the labour market and education systems”.
- Career counsellors “suppor[t] individuals in understanding their situations, so as to work through issues towards solutions”.
- Programme and service managers “ensur[e] the quality and delivery of career guidance and counselling organisations’ services”.
- Social systems intervener and developers “suppor[t] clients (even) in crisis and works to change systems for the better”.
The description of the NICE professional roles (NPR) draws on a variety of prior models to define the central activities and competences of guidance counsellors. The NPR can, therefore, be understood as a state-of-the-art framework which includes all relevant aspects of career counselling. For this reason, other models have not been included here so far. Models which are reflected in the NPR include:
- BEQU: “Kompetenzprofil für Beratende” (Germany, 2011).
- CEDEFOP “Practitioner Competences” (2009).
- ENTO: “National Occupational Standards for Advice and Guidance” (Great Britain, 2006).
- IAEVG: “International Competences for Educational and Vocational Guidance” (2003).
- Savickas, M.: “Career Counselling” (USA, 2011).
Benefits and Challenges
Empirical research attests the effectiveness of career counselling. Professional career counsellors can support people with career-related challenges. Through their expertise in career development and labour markets, they can put a person’s qualifications, experience, strengths and weakness in a broad perspective while also considering their desired salary, personal hobbies and interests, location, job market and educational possibilities. Through their counselling and teaching abilities, career counsellors can additionally support people in gaining a better understanding of what really matters for them personally, how they can plan their careers autonomously, or help them in making tough decisions and getting through times of crisis. Finally, career counsellors are often capable of supporting their clients in finding suitable placements/ jobs, in working out conflicts with their employers, or finding the support of other helpful services. It is due to these various benefits of career counselling that policy makers in many countries publicly fund guidance services. For example, the European Union understands career guidance and counselling as an instrument to effectively combat social exclusion and increase citizens’ employability.
One of the major challenges associated with career counselling is encouraging participants to engage in the process. For example, in the UK 70% of people under 14 say they have had no careers advice while 45% of people over 14 have had no or very poor/limited advice.
In a related issue some client groups tend to reject the interventions made by professional career counsellors preferring to rely on the advice of peers or superiors within their own profession. Jackson et al. found that 44% of doctors in training felt that senior members of their own profession were best placed to give careers advice. Furthermore, it is recognised that the giving of career advice is something that is widely spread through a range of formal and informal roles. In addition to career counsellors it is also common for psychologists, teachers, managers, trainers and Human Resources (HR) specialists to give formal support in career choices.
Similarly it is also common for people to seek informal support from friends and family around their career choices and to bypass career professionals altogether. In the 2010s, increasingly people rely on career web portals to seek advice on resume writing and handling interviews and to do research on various professions and companies. It has also possible to get a vocational assessment done online.
There is no international standard qualification for professional career counsellors, although various certificates are offered nationally and internationally (e.g. by professional associations). The number of degree programmes in career guidance and/or career counselling is growing worldwide. The title “career counsellor” is unregulated, unlike engineers or psychologists whose professional titles are legally protected. At the same time, policy makers agree that the competence of career counsellors is one of the most important factors in ensuring that people receive high quality support in dealing with their career questions. Depending on the country of their education, career counsellors may have a variety of academic backgrounds. In Europe, for instance, degrees in (vocational/ industrial/ organisation) psychology and educational sciences are among the most common, but backgrounds in sociology, public administration and other sciences are also frequent. At the same time, many training programmes for career counsellors are becoming increasingly multidisciplinary.
Professional Career Guidance Centres
There are career guidance and counselling centres all over the world that give advice on higher studies, possibilities, chances and nature of courses and institutes. There are also services providing online counselling to people about their career or conducting psychometric tests to determine the person’s aptitude and interests.
Assessment tools used in career counselling to help clients make realistic career decisions. These tools generally fall into three categories:
- Interest inventories;
- Personality inventories; and
- Aptitude tests.
Interest inventories are usually based on the premise that if you have similar interests to people in an occupation who like their job, you will probably like that occupation also. Thus, interest inventories may suggest occupations that the client has not thought of and which have a good chance of being something that the client will be happy with. The most common interest inventory is a measure of vocational interests across six domains: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional. People often report a mixture of these domains, usually with one predominant domain.
Aptitude tests can predict with good odds whether a particular person will be able to be successful in a particular occupation. For example, a student who wants to be a physicist is unlikely to succeed if he cannot do the math. An aptitude test will tell him if he is likely to do well in advanced math, which is necessary for physics. There are also aptitude tests which can predict success or failure in many different occupations.
Personality inventories are sometimes used to help people with career choice. The use of these inventories for this purpose is questionable, because in any occupation there are people with many different personalities. A popular personality inventory is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It is based on Carl Jung’s theory of personality, but Jung never approved it. According to Jung most people fall in the middle of each scale, but the MBTI ignores this and puts everyone in a type category. For example, according to the MBTI, everyone is either an extrovert or an introvert. According to Jung, most people are somewhere in between, and people at the extremes are rare. The validity of the MBTI for career choice is highly questionable.
Counsellors in Select Countries
In the United States
In the United States, the designation, “career counsellor” is not legally protected; that is, anyone can call themselves a career counsellor. However, CACREP, the accrediting body for counsellor education programmes requires that these programmes include one course in career counselling as a part of the coursework for a masters in counselling.
The National Career Development Association (NCDA), the credentialing body for career counsellors, provides various certifications for qualified career counsellors. For those university-trained counsellors or psychologists who have devoted a certain number of years to career counselling and taken specific coursework, it offers a Master Career Counsellor (MCC) credential. The National Career Development Association is the only professional association of career counsellors in the United States that provides certification in career counselling.
In Australia, career counselling may be provided by professionals from various disciplines (e.g. psychology, education, guidance, and counselling). The Professional Standards for Australian Career Development Practitioners provide guidelines about appropriate qualifications and competencies for career counselling. There are a range of postgraduate degrees (e.g. Master, Doctor) that are endorsed for career development practice according to the Professional Standards. The Career Industry Council of Australia (CICA) endorses career development programmes in Australia. There are other relevant qualifications but these may necessarily not be endorsed under the provisions of the Professional Standards by CICA. A Diploma of Counselling and a Certificate IV in Career Development are offered at TAFE colleges and other registered training organisations throughout Australia.
In India, career counselling is a vast area of professional service driven by factors like huge talent availability in the country and huge higher education network comprising Graduation, Post Graduation and multiple professional courses. There are many leading career guidance centres in India like. Leading bodies in India that drive policy level initiatives for students and working professionals are: Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), University Grants Commission (UGC), All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE), National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) among others.
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