Worker should have Good Career Information

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What is important in the career-choice process is the necessity for the individual to know enough about occupations and the world of work to narrow the list to those few possibilities that truly are the most appropriate. Just as the misunderstanding or misinterpretation of personal attributes such as aptitude, interest, motivation, or opportunity can lead to poor choices that result in serious consequences, so too can the lack of accurate career information result in poor choices that lead to disaster, disappointment, or discontent.

Counselors, teachers, parents, and individual clients, too, sometimes assume that, because an individual has lived for several years in an environment surrounded by people at work, he or she has absorbed a fairly comprehensive picture of what many different occupations involve. Common sense should be sufficient to recognize the fallacy of this assumption. Most occupations are not generally performed in the public view. Among those jobs that are easily and widely observed, there are many aspects of the work that are not so easy to see. Further, most individuals are not seeking specific insight into the components of the occupation, and hence form only vague stereotypes of what, how, and why the worker does whatever he or she does. Even well-developed insight into a few occupations that may come from various sources (such as family involvement or incidental but frequent contact) may be distorted and inaccurate because the specific worker observed was not representative of the occupation generally.

Recognition of the need for increased effort to assist students in gaining a broader and deeper understanding of the world of work and their ultimate involvement in it, has led to the increased emphasis on career education programs in elementary and secondary schools.

Brief consideration of the world of work and how the counselor acquires and organizes such information has been reviewed. Most counselor preparatory programs include more thorough study of this area in courses with such titles as "Career Theory," "Career Development," or "Occupational Information." Typical references that treat this subject from a counselor's viewpoint include books by Hoppock (1976), Isaacson (1977), and Norris et al. (1979).

The client needs to have sufficient self-awareness and self-understanding so that distortion and misunderstanding can be avoided and individual strengths and weaknesses can be properly related to demands made by various occupations. Although a great deal less than the exhaustive and comprehensive result of prolonged psychoanalysis, it is sufficiently extensive for the person to make appropriate and satisfying choices. Similarly, our concern in the area of career information is not for the client to become encyclopedic, but instead to have a sufficient amount of accurate and dependable information about occupations so that he or she neither erroneously discards options worthy of further study nor retains items that are not appropriate for additional consideration. This fundamental approach assumes that the individual may need only broad, general information during the early part of the exploring and narrowing phase, but as the process continues there will be a need for more comprehensive information. Thus the client will usually move through three types of career information as he or she progresses toward a choice.

As the client begins the narrowing phase, he or she may often have sufficient information about some occupations on the list to make the first sort. However, there are likely to be many titles for which present information is entirely too scanty for an informed decision. Since the first sort is frequently based on such factors as a combination of two or more important personal attributes, or such self-oriented items as self-imposed training time limits or geographic preferences, the client often needs only a little additional information to complete the first review. Fortunately, a wide array of information is available that provides enough information to facilitate the first elimination. We will look briefly at a few examples of the various kinds of information. Our primary purpose is to emphasize the existence of many categories of information so that the counselor can select or suggest that type most useful for a specific client.

The most obvious type of career information is printed matter. Since the educational system and many other aspects of society rely primarily on printed materials, it is entirely logical to think first of this way of learning more about jobs. Those clients who read well and understand what they read can use this approach effectively; others may have difficulty. Most career information libraries and resource centers use printed material as their basic source and supplement this with the other kinds of material we will consider briefly. At first, the client will usually find brief general descriptions most useful. Later in the process, more detailed information may be desired such as monographs or even books. Typical examples of the materials useful at the beginning of the narrowing phase include the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Guide for Occupational Exploration and the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, all published by the U.S. Department of Labor. Other examples of helpful beginning materials are the brief occupational descriptions published by commercial companies such as Chronicle Guidance Publications and Science Research Associates. Appropriate materials that are useful at this stage are available from many different sources, including government agencies, commercial companies, schools and universities, professional or industrial societies, and other sources.

A second type of career information that is helpful in the early part of the exploring and narrowing phase is available through use of audiovisual media. An old proverb states that one picture is worth a thousand words, and this is often validated in learning about occupations. The recent emphasis on career education in the public schools has increased the amount and quality of AV materials related to occupations. Although most of the items were developed for use with groups, they are equally appropriate for individual clients. Well-stocked career resource centers or AV centers will offer many options that range from general overviews to specific and detailed presentations of single occupations. Materials include films, filmstrips, slides, slide sets, audiotapes, and videotapes. The major advantage of AV media is that the client can see and/or hear "reality" and thus more is usually learned than can be acquired from the printed page. The primary disadvantage accrues from the picture that is seen, since it may be dated, atypical, or incomplete. Further, AV materials usually require special equipment, so accessibility may be limited. In addition to media developed for educational purposes, there are many entertainment-oriented AV materials that provide information about occupations. These include radio and television programs and movies. The likelihood of distortion or misinformation is greater, but entertainment media can still be used advantageously.

Programmed materials constitute a third type of career material that can be used by clients in the narrowing process. Typical examples include workbooks, prepared exercises or assignments, and sequenced materials. Numerous workbooks related to career planning are presently available. Most of these deal with the whole process of career choice and many give major attention to the self-evaluation phase. There are some workbooks now on the market that have been prepared for career-awareness activities in career education programs. These are most likely to be useful for the individual client who needs to develop a broader view of the occupational world.

Mechanized systems of career information have become quite common in the last decade. Probably the most common example of this material is the VIEW system that has been adopted by about three-fourths of the states. This program has evolved from the Vocational Information for Education and Work system originally developed by the Department of Education in San Diego, California. In that evolutionary process the system has acquired a variety of names, most of them using the original VIEW acronym. Basically the system uses a set of microfilm aperture cards that include national and also regional or local information about occupations that are found in the geographic area. The cards are prepared, revised as needed and distributed by a central state office, often in the state office of public instruction. It is an inexpensive system that provides regional and local data that often are difficult to acquire otherwise, and this system maintains the currency of those data. The Occupational View-Deck and the Worker Trait Keysort can also be considered examples of this type of career information.

A final illustration of secondary source information is seen in the several computerized systems that have gained wide usage in recent years. One of the first of these was the Computerized Vocational Information Service (CVIS) developed at Willowbrook High School and described by Harris (1968). Several states now have statewide systems that serve high schools, postsecondary schools, hospitals, and other state institutions. Most of these programs are essentially information retrieval programs that also permit the user to incorporate various restrictors, often including the kinds of factors we have considered earlier such as interest, ability level, amount of education, and lifestyle. Two more advanced computerized systems are now in use; both permit a more complex transaction between user and machine. These systems include Project Discover and System of Interactive Guidance and Information (SIGI).

The various types of career information identified are all used extensively in career-development activities at all educational levels, in classroom and group activities as well as in individual counseling. When they are used in teaching and guidance activities, the focus is usually on helping individuals acquire a general knowledge of many occupations during the awareness and exploration stages of career education. Each type of information is equally applicable in an individual counseling relationship where the focus is on the narrowing phase.

Primary sources of career information the first screening of the expanded list is intended to remove those options that relate to one or more personal attributes but nevertheless clearly are contradictory to other significant attributes, goals, or values. That sorting process is usually completed rather quickly because the conflicts are often apparent. Subsequent screenings are intended to remove from the list those tides not so obviously in conflict but that offer less likelihood of goal satisfaction than others on the list. The objective, ultimately, is to reduce the list to a small number of tides, all of which have high possibilities of meeting the criteria established by the client. During the early reviews, the client needs sufficient information to make informed decisions, but usually does not need extensive knowledge about any of the items. Most of what is needed during this early part of the narrowing phase can come from secondary sources such as those described just above. As the process continues, however, the client generally needs more information than can be acquired easily from secondary sources. At this point the client may want counselor help in identifying individuals who can answer many of the specific questions being considered by the client. Conversations or interviews with workers, super-visors, employers, or those who prepare workers may provide a dimension not easily obtained from the most extensive reading lists. Each of these may view the occupation from a slightly different perspective and may have special information not generally perceived by the others.

The worker can help the client understand the occupation from the viewpoint of the actual job holder. This includes what the task is really like, what one does, and why and how each step is completed. The worker is in the best position to describe what the work setting is like, what the work actually requires of the worker, how workers feel about themselves, and the rewards and satisfactions that workers receive from the work. They can also describe the negative aspects of the occupation-what they don't like, what worries or displeases them, and the dangers that are inherent in the job or work setting.

Supervisors and employers often view occupations from a wider perspective than the individual worker. They are in a better position to see the different ways in which similarly prepared workers are used and to make comparisons between these subsets within the same occupation. They may have a clearer picture of the opportunities for advancement and the different tracks followed by workers to gain advancement and the options available to workers after such promotions are won. Often they are in a better position to assess the rewards that are available to workers, or likely to be available in the future. They also may be able to describe future conditions in the occupation, including the impact of technology, anticipated changes, long-run opportunities, and likely future requirements for admission, retention, and advancement.

Those who prepare workers, either in formal educational programs or other settings, have a perspective that also provides useful information. They are likely to be most knowledgeable about the levels of ability or preparation needed for admission to employment, differential standards in various settings, the numbers of potential workers available or in the process of being prepared, and the characteristics of that group. They can best describe the various training or preparatory programs, the requirements for admission to those programs, and the placement opportunities related to each.

Counselors, especially those who are related to counseling centers in secondary educational institutions, have found it advantageous to develop and maintain a community resources file that includes the names of individuals from the above groups who can and are willing to talk to those who would like such help. Although one can never anticipate all of the fields about which questions will be asked, one can predict a great many of those for which inquiries are sure to arise. Advance identification of possible resource persons enables the counselor to help the client more effectively.

Direct contact sources: Those opportunities that put the client in direct touch with the work itself are likely to be the most enlightening experiences. Because they also involve the greatest amount of time and effort, they can be justified most easily if they are used primarily in the final screenings of the narrowing phase.

Site visits permit the individual to observe the worker in his or her actual setting. One can see what the worker does, how the activity is related to the efforts of other workers, and through the senses of sight, hearing, smelling, and feeling acquire a deeper insight into the total nature of the occupation. The advantage of developing a better understanding is clear. There are also some possible disadvantages in using this technique. One of the more serious is the chance that the site visited and the workers observed are not typical of the occupation generally. Another disadvantage may occur even when a representative setting is visited, if the visitor does not observe accurately, or fails to understand what he or she has observed.

Recent attention has been given to a special type of extended site visit often referred to as shadowing. There are several variants of this technique. However, the most common pattern assigns the client to an individual worker for an extended period, typically a full workday. During that time, the individual remains with or near that worker, following him or her in all activities and going in and out like a shadow. Although the observer does not usually participate in any of the activities conducted by the worker, it is possible to watch closely, to question the worker and fellow workers, to see all the tasks performed in that time period, and to form impressions of processes, skills, and other components of the job. In general, the advantages and disadvantages listed above for the site visit also apply to shadowing.

Work samples are most likely to be available for those skilled occupations and crafts for which workers are prepared in vocational or technical schools. Counselors who work in other settings will usually encounter difficulty in finding opportunities for clients to use this technique.

Tryout experiences are difficult to obtain for those occupations that require lengthy educational or training programs, complex skills, or judgment and responsibility. This restriction eliminates essentially all of the professions and many of the skilled occupations. For example, there is no way that someone interested in law, medicine, structural steel erection, or law enforcement can be given an opportunity to try out the real thing. Nevertheless, in almost every case one can find other occupations with lower skill levels within the same work setting where work participation will put the individual in close proximity to the occupation being explored. Many secondary and postsecondary schools have developed work experience or cooperative programs in which the individual can be employed in closely related occupations while completing preparation for a more advanced one. Opportunities for informal experience of this type are limited, for the most part, only by the degree of occupational diversity within the geographic area.

Making the Choice

Essentially, the choice process is simply the end product of the continuation of what we have called the narrowing phase. The individual starts with the list of occupations developed by him- or herself and the counselor, and gradually narrows the list through the process of eliminating less suitable possibilities. Throughout this stage the client is using a very complex set of criteria as the basis for keeping or discarding tides on the list. These criteria include his or her perception of self, including all of the personal attributes and propensities that we have discussed above, and his or her perception of what we have called external factors that emanate from the client's present or anticipated future environment. Early eliminations are usually based on relatively gross estimates of these factors, but as the process continues finer and finer evaluations must be used.

When the client has narrowed the list to the final few possibilities, it is usually appropriate to stop again, review carefully perceptions of self and situation, match them with the priorities for self identified earlier, and determine if any further adjustment or revision is necessary. The client is then ready to consider the advantages and disadvantages that might result from each of the items remaining on the list.

Once the pro and con points for each remaining possibility have been reviewed, the client should consider whether there are existing or latent factors that might enhance opportunities in any of the tentative fields. In other words, the client should address the question "Do I have anything extra going for me or can I start something going for me in any of these occupations?" The "something extra" can cover the entire gamut of possibilities, but typical examples would be unusual personal characteristics, special skills, personal or family contacts or acquaintances, and economic or social factors. If such bonus points can be obtained, their value should be included in the final evaluation.

In the next step the client is asked to rank the final list, keeping in mind the major factors that have so far been considered. Although this task is seldom easy, the client has at hand the data needed to establish priorities.

It is helpful to clients to label the highest-ranked item as "tentative" and to suggest that they think about their rankings for a few days before proceeding further. This provides an opportunity for "breathing space" and a chance to test the choice a little more before feeling committed. Further, using a label such as "tentative" may help clients keep in perspective that career choices are exactly that. As individuals and conditions change, later revision and adjustment will undoubtedly be necessary and should be considered a likely event.

After clients have had a few days to "try on," "live with," or "adjust to" the tentative choice, they usually will have begun to integrate the choice into their self-concepts. The result is a more positive view of themselves, a feeling of satisfaction, and eagerness to move ahead. Many clients are inclined to feel that the career counseling process has been completed, and there is some risk that clients may terminate prematurely at this point.
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