Career Counseling Rationale

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Helping individuals develop realistic and satisfying career plans has been an important human service since Frank Parsons started his work in Boston over seventy years ago. His attention was focused primarily on the disadvantaged orphans and school dropouts; today, in contrast, there is general acceptance of the universality of the need for career counseling. In spite of this wider acknowledgment of the need for expert help in career planning and development, such assistance is sometimes difficult to obtain and less helpful than desired.

Parsons' personal experiences in the world of work undoubtedly exerted great influence on his view of the need for what at that time was called "vocational guidance." A college graduate in mathematics and engineering at age eighteen, he first accepted employment as a civil engineer for a railroad, but the company failed before he reported to work. He then worked for almost a year in a rolling mill. Next he obtained an elementary teaching position, later advancing to a high school teaching assignment. At the urging of a friend he began to "read" law, preparing for the bar examination that he successfully passed a short time later. Because of health problem Parsons moved to New Mexico and for three years engaged in rigorous outdoor work. Following this, he returned to Boston and the practiced law; six years later he joined the faculty of a local university law school, but was an unsuccessful candidate for mayor of Boston. He subsequently moved to the mid-west, becoming a professor at an agricultural and applied science college, and later became dean of the College of Liberal Arts at another institution. He returned to Boston in 1905 to organize the Breadwinner College as part of the program of a social settlement house called Civic Service House. While in that position he organized the Vocation Bureau and based upon his experiences there he wrote Choosing a Vocation. He died in 1908 and the book was published in the following year.

The introduction to that book summarizes the principles discussed by Parsons. Although we might want to change some of the words used, the ideas presented are worthy of consideration. The principles proposed by Parsons (1909) include:


  1. It is better to choose a vocation than merely to "hunt a job."

  2. No one should choose a vocation without careful self-analysis, thorough, honest, and under guidance.

  3. The youth should have a large survey of the field of vocations, and no simply drop into the convenient or accidental position.

  4. Expert advice, or the advice of men who have made a careful study of men and of vocations and of the conditions of success, must be better and safer for a young man than the absence of it.

  5. Putting it down on paper seems to be a simple matter, but it is one of supreme importance.
The need of youth for assistance in career planning as recognized by Parsons has been reconfirmed by numerous research studies throughout the years. Studies by Laycock (1942) and Mooney (1942) were among the earliest extensive research projects reporting concern by youths about their educational and vocational future. Near the end of that decade, Froehlich (1948) reported that the problems brought to a free community counseling center consisted of approximately 29 percent educational topics, 60 percent vocational topics, and 11 percent personal problems. Based on an established, periodically conducted poll of high school students, Remmers and Shimberg (1949) noted that 40 to 50 percent of their group of teenagers expressed a concern for the future. Further, about 50 percent of the ninth-graders said they were already worried about how they would earn a living after high school.

Two extensive studies during the 1970s revealed no substantial change in the situation. Flanagan (1973) reported that only 13 percent of the Project TALENT sample of boys reported the same occupational choice in 1966 as they had chosen in 1960 as eleventh graders. In both 1960 and 1970, half of the eleventh grade boys indicated plans to graduate from a four-year college, although college graduation records confirmed that fewer than half of those expecting to graduate would succeed. Similarly, Prediger, Roth, and Noeth (1974) sampled eighth, ninth, and eleventh graders, both boys and girls, in thirty-three states. They found that 78 percent of the eleventh graders reported a need for more help in making career plans, with 30 percent stating a need for help with personal problems. Among the eighth graders, 73 percent wanted help with career plans and 39 percent needed help with personal problems. In the eleventh grade group, 20 percent revealed very low involvement in career planning and another 50 percent were below a desirable level of career planning.

Although these studies concentrate primarily on adolescents, one should not conclude that the need for career planning help is endemic only to youth. Research on worker alienation, decreasing worker productivity in the United States, and increasing emphasis upon midlife career change all underscore the existence of career uncertainty among a large percentage of adults.

The preceding paragraphs are not intended to suggest that every person in our society needs career counseling and that, if provided, our societal problems would melt away. Rather, an attempt has been made to suggest that we do have many individuals who express a need for such help, and that the absence of help is costly to that individual and to the rest of society as well. Ginzberg (1971) has endorsed a similar view in the following words:

Everybody is confronted repeatedly with the need to make decisions with respect to education and work. These decisions can be facilitated if people have relevant information about the shorter and longer consequences of alternative choices.

Better decision-making with respect to career development also requires the clarification of goals, the development of plans, and their implementation.

People need help in learning to negotiate complex and changing institutions- the educational system, the Armed Forces, the labor market.

While informal advisers such as one's peers and especially one's family help young people to define their goals and initiate them in the ways of the institutions of our society, they frequently do not have important information or objectivity.

Attempts have rarely been made to gauge the economic and psychological costs sustained by both individuals and society as a result of inadequate or ineffective career planning. Certainly, the figures would be mind-boggling. Human labor is a highly perishable commodity: in an economic sense, work not done today is lost forever. The differential between what a given worker produces in goods and/or services and what he or she might produce in a particular time unit if working at the most effective level is similarly an economic loss that never can be recouped. In a parallel framework, unemployment, underemployment, or misemployment carry psychological costs borne by the individual in dissatisfaction, alienation, and lack of self-esteem, and by society as it is affected by these characteristics.

The thesis that career planning will enhance the likelihood of the individual accomplishing more of his or her life plan, find greater satisfaction in what he or she does, and self-actualization does not imply that planning will ever give the individual the total control over life. The poet Robert Burns long ago recognized that the best laid plan can often go awry; similarly, each of us knows individuals whose lives are totally unplanned yet filled with bits of good fortune.

The Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (1976) had developed a position paper that speaks directly to the point we discuss. This document contends that all students and adults should be provided with career guidance opportunities to ensure that they:
  1. Understand that career development is a lifelong process based on an interwoven and sequential series of educational, occupational, leisure, and family choices.

  2. Examine their own interests, values, aptitudes, and aspiration in an effort to increase self-awareness and self-understanding.

  3. Develop a personally satisfying set of work values which lead them to believe that work, in some form, can be desirable to them.

  4. Recognize that the act of paid and unpaid work has dignity.

  5. Understand the role of leisure in career development.

  6. Understand the process of reasoned decision making and the ownership of those decisions in terms of their consequences.

  7. Recognize that educational and occupational decisions are interrelated with family, work, and leisure.

  8. Gather the kinds of data necessary to make well-informed career decisions.

  9. Become aware of and explore a wide variety of occupational alternatives.

  10. Explore possible rewards, satisfactions, lifestyles, and negative aspects associated with various occupational options.

  11. Consider the probability of success and failure for various occupations.

  12. Understand the important role of interpersonal and basic employability skills in occupational success.

  13. Identify and use a wide variety of resources in the school and community to maximize career development potential.

  14. Know and understand the entrance, transition, and decision points in education and the problems of adjustment that might occur in relation to these points.

  15. Obtain chosen vocational skills and use available placement services to gain satisfactory entrance into employment in relation to occupational aspirations and beginning competencies.

  16. Know and understand the value of continuing education to upgrade and/or acquire additional occupational skills or leisure pursuits.
Many of these items are already being dealt with in some educational systems in a logical and methodical fashion in order to maximize the career development opportunities for students in those schools. On the other hand, many individuals encounter little, if any, conscious and deliberate attention to most of the items. Recently, a thrust has developed toward providing more effective assistance in dealing with these aspects.
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