ERIC Identifier: ED347478
Publication Date: 1992-12-00
Author: Harris-Bowlsbey, JoAnn
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
Building Blocks of Computer-Based Career Planning Systems. ERIC
Computer-based career planning systems have been a reality in the United
States for 25 years. They had their genesis in the late 1960s, funded by state,
federal, and foundation grants. Their development was forged by a handful of
significant developers who learned how to harness the technology of interactive
mainframe computing to assist individuals with career development and decision
Over the span of the 25 years, the technology that delivers computer-based
career planning systems has changed dramatically--from very expensive, slow,
low-storage mainframe computers to low-cost, fast, high-storage microcomputers.
Similarly, the presentation made possible by the technology has advanced--from
screens without color packed with text to screens with color, high-resolution
graphics, and less text. Indeed, the decade of the 90s offers the capability of
full multimedia presentation, combining text, audio, graphics, still pictures,
and full-motion video.
While the technology has continued to expand in capability and decline in
cost, the populations receiving service from computer-based systems have also
continued to expand. The original systems were designed and delivered for high
school and community college students. Later development expanded such systems
to the middle school years and to the university years. Even more recently,
developers have released systems for the adult years, both for career transition
and development in the middle adult years, and for retirement planning in the
later adult years. Currently, some developers are working on systems for the
elementary school years. With the completion of these, systems will exist which
offer assistance across the total life span to individuals as they face and make
choices related to school, work, and other life roles. With the diversity of
systems has also come diversity of settings in which they are placed. In
addition to schools, colleges, and universities, computer-based career planning
systems are now also commonly used in private counseling settings, military
posts, libraries, organizations, and homes.
While both technology and setting for computer-based systems have changed
tremendously over their relatively-short lifespan, the basic content of systems
has changed far less. If each of the comprehensive systems currently available
were analyzed in regard to content, four distinct components could be
identified. A computer-based system for any age level, provided in any setting,
or delivered by any technology is a unique blend of these four components.
COMPONENTS OF COMPREHENSIVE COMPUTER-BASED CAREER PLANNING SYSTEMS
The first component is a hidden skeleton, or outline, of the
system which expresses the developer's concept of what individuals need in order
to accomplish developmental tasks or make informed career decisions. Complex or
simple as this outline may be, it usually involves activities designed to assist
the user to learn more about self (interests, abilities, and/or values); to
relate this self-information to available occupational options; to teach and
apply good decision-making principles to the making of choices; and to provide
significant databases that represent options for further education, job
placement, or other implementation steps. A study of the main menu of a
computer-based system, or of the sequence of activities in it, will reveal the
theory of the developer about how people make decisions or can be helped to do
The basic outline of a system is often embroidered by a significant amount of
instructional material which is needed to support the theoretical structure.
Such material may include instruction about how occupations are organized, how
planful decisions can be made, how life roles interact with each other, how
transitions can be mastered, or how jobs can be found. This content is delivered
by presentation of text or by structured exercises.
The second component of computer-based career planning systems is assessment
tools. These are necessary in every system as a way to acquire data about the
user (interests, abilities, experiences, personality type, and/or values) in
order to create the linkage between that user and possible occupational options.
The assessment data may either be acquired by taking inventories on-line, or by
entering the results of having taken them in print form. Given a well-researched
organizational structure for occupations and a sound research base on assessment
tools, it is possible to take into a computer system results from a very wide
range of interest inventories, abilities measures, and values inventories. The
system then applies algorithms that serve as a common denominator to link
characteristics of the user to characteristics of occupations in general, or
positions in a specific organization.
The third component of computer-based career planning systems is databases.
These are files of frequently-updated and accurate information about objects of
the user's choice--occupations, schools, military programs, programs of study,
financial aid opportunities, apprenticeships, and employers. They are simply
structured files of elements of data that people need in order to make
well-informed decisions. They are presented in organized topics, via text and
graphics in the past, complemented with audio and visuals in the future.
The fourth component of computer-based career planning systems is search
strategies. The challenge of decision making is to reach into a pool of options
and identify those that are worthy of further investigation and perhaps choice.
If users of computer-based systems can identify and prioritize those
characteristics that they value most, search strategies can allow users to
identify options that qualify quickly. The difficult part is to identify
meaningful characteristics and to code options accurately by those
characteristics. Search variables are needed for all of the databases in the
system so that users can identify options as well as get detailed information
MAKING NEW SYSTEMS OUT OF COMPONENTS
The previous section
defined four basic components of a computer-based career guidance
system--structure, assessment tools, databases, and searches. By modifying any
or all of these, substantially different systems can be assembled for a broad
variety of populations and settings. Using the basic structure of a
comprehensive career planning system, the author has developed unique systems
for specific organizational settings, such as the United States Postal Service
or the State of New York; for other countries, such as Canada and Spain; and for
diverse settings, such as military posts and universities. This is possible
because the basic structure, or process, of career guidance is the same
regardless of setting or user age. Thus, the basic logic and flow of the system
can be maintained while the text that surrounds or explains that process can be
written at different reading levels within different contexts, and in different
languages. Further, the graphics that enhance the text can be modified to adapt
to the age level, setting, and graphic boards of the end-user sites.
The second component--assessment instruments--can also be adapted for
different settings and cultures if research is performed to link the results
into a common organizing principle, such as ACT's World-of-Work Map (Prediger,
1981). The latter is a system for classifying all occupations, positions unique
to an organization, and programs of study. Thus, if the result of any interest
inventory, abilities measure, or work values inventory can be linked to the
World-of-Work Map, "regions" of occupations, positions, or programs of study can
be suggested to the user for serious consideration.
Given, then, the World-of-Work Map as a generic organizational structure for
user self-information and user options, the assessment instruments of choice in
a given setting, organization, or country can be substituted in the generic
career guidance system to make it uniquely useful in that setting, organization,
The third component--data files--can be modified for a specific population in
number, reading level, topics addressed, quantity of data about each entry in
the file, and/or language. This fact provides a great deal of versatility in
system content and makes systems unique to a particular setting. Due to the ease
of changing this component, position descriptions unique to an organization can
be easily added to a system and accessed by means of user self-variables
(interest, skills, job preferences, etc.) due to the common linkage of
assessment results and positions to the World-of-Work Map.
Finally, the fourth component--search variables--can also be modified to meet
the needs of a particular target population or database. For example, employees
in an organization requesting a customized system may benefit from searching a
file of positions in the organization by interests, skills, experience level,
salary grade, location of work, and projected demand. As another example, a
customized state career information delivery system (CIDS) might need the
addition of state-specific files of apprenticeship sponsors, financial aid
opportunities, and career technology schools. Search variables for such files
need to be identified which will both be helpful to the user in searching the
file and supported by available data.
In conclusion, a computer-based career guidance
system built on a sound structure that supports career choices and development
can be a many-splendored thing for multiple settings, populations, and cultures.
This is accomplished by the ability to change its text, graphics, assessment
inventories, databases, and search variables, thus creating systems with
significantly different content and appearance delivered by a common "engine."
Prediger, D. J. (1981). Mapping occupations and
interests: A graphic aid for vocational guidance and research. Vocational
Guidance Quarterly, 30, 21-36.