ERIC Identifier: ED389881
Publication Date: 1995-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Adult Career Counseling in a New Age. ERIC Digest No. 167.
The changing workplace--a by-now familiar litany of economic, demographic,
organizational, and social changes--has made ambiguity the only certainty in
work life. Many adults had little or no career education, guidance, or
counseling when they were "in school" and often seek such help now, making job
or career changes spurred by their personal stage of development or by the
"postmodern" workplace. Although career development is a continuous lifelong
process, "media and some scholars continue to dramatize crisis in midlife" (Lea
and Leibowitz 1992, p. 8). Crises and transitions can occur at any period,
however. Hoyt and Lester (1995) found that the career needs of adults aged 18-25
are particularly not being met. The issues and implications of career counseling
for adults in the kaleidoscopic context of today's workplace are the focus of
AN ADULT PERSPECTIVE ON CAREER COUNSELING
In this era of
organizational restructuring and technological change, individuals can no longer
plan on spending their entire working lives with one organization. Life no
longer follows a linear path: schooling, work, retirement. Career paths, too,
are no longer a linear rise up the ladder to the top. Some analysts proclaim the "new rules of work": everyone is self-employed and the concept of "job" is
disappearing (Hall and Mirvis 1995). Such fundamental changes mean that people
need more help than ever with career issues. However, a recent survey of 1,046
adults (Hoyt and Lester 1995) showed that 40% would turn to family or friends
first; 37% to counselors. Only 30% had discussed career choices with school or
college counselors; only 36% had made a conscious career choice or plan; and,
for 47%, the primary sources of career information were television, magazines,
Unlike counselors of high school or traditional-age college students, adult
career counselors deal with an extremely heterogeneous population who are at
vastly different stages of life (Lea and Leibowitz 1992). Their clients' career
issues are complicated by family responsibilities and work and life experiences
that color their attitudes, values, and decisions. Some may already have made
the decision to change, have a great deal of self-knowledge, and need
information or assistance in coping with the new context of job search. Others
may have drifted into their jobs with little planning or guidance, have
difficulty making decisions, and lack awareness of their skills, abilities, and
interests. Some may be self-directed learners who just need to be pointed in the
right direction; others may want to be given the answer to their career
conundrum in a structured way.
Clearly, counselors must be familiar with adult development and adult
learning theories and need varied approaches for these different types of
clients. They can guide adult clients in mining their life experiences as a
source of career information. For experienced clients who already know what they
don't want, traditional resources such as the DICTIONARY OF OCCUPATIONAL TITLES
or OCCUPATIONAL OUTLOOK HANDBOOK may be of little help. Washington (1993)
suggests broadening their occupational horizons by identifying the special
knowledge and technical skills they already possess, using job families instead
of traditional clusters (e.g., outdoor jobs, jobs with exotic locations, jobs
that use certain skills), and writing results-oriented resumes that describe
work projects and results.
GENDER ISSUES AND DUAL CAREERS
Because careers are integral
to identity in this culture, adult career counseling becomes an exploration of
personal identity and meaning (Davidson and Gilbert 1993). These issues are
different for men and women; in this culture, "having a career is a consequence
of being male" (ibid., p. 150). Often, men make other life choices to
accommodate career requirements, and job loss can be a blow to their identity.
Despite recent social changes, women's career development remains entangled with
family issues, role conflict, sex discrimination, and harassment (Lea and
Leibowitz 1992). Counselors must recognize what is unique about women's career
development and help them expand options, remembering that individual women
differ from one another as well as from men (ibid.). Men's choices are also
constricted by gender role restrictions. Counselors can help male clients
examine their gender and career socialization and find other ways to validate
their identity than traditional narrow definitions (ibid.).
The rise in the number of dual-career couples has given a new focus to
counseling approaches. Traditional counseling had an individual focus; now,
counseling is incomplete if it fails to take into account the link between work
and family life for both men and women. Career assessment for couples must
include evaluation of the influences of gender-role beliefs, consideration of
the interaction between the partners, and recognition of social policies that
still favor the separation of work and family and the gendered division of
labor. In "conjoint" career counseling (Lea and Leibowitz 1992), the individual
career stage of each partner and the family stage of the couple must be
COUNSELING FOR THE THIRD AGE
Another trend affecting career
counseling is the expansion of life choices for older adults. The phenomenon of
early retirement, especially among white males, the recognition that many older
adults still want to work, and longer life spans and better health that make
them still able to work necessitate preparing for the "Third Age"--"that period
of life beyond the career job and parenting which can last for anything up to 30
years" (Curnow and Fox 1993, p. ix). Midlife and older adults must deal with a
number of concerns, such as skill obsolescence, age discrimination, and lack of
experience with current technology. They may have to cope with feelings of loss
and change, whether their job change or retirement is voluntary or involuntary.
Counselors can help them envision and plan for their future life style and keep
them open to new opportunities. One strategy that has proven effective with
mature job seekers is the job club. Rife and Belcher (1993) found that positive
social support for the job search increased the intensity of the search for
unemployed adults over 50; more important, the support of other unemployed
friends had a more positive effect than that of family or employed friends. The
job search club thus serves as an effective network of information exchange and
social support for others adrift in the same boat of midlife transition.
CAREER COUNSELING AND DIVERSITY
Greater attention is
finally being given to cross-cultural issues in career counseling. The life and
work experiences of ethnic minorities, including immigrants, may have been quite
different from the mainstream, and minorities (as do women) experience
culture-specific constraints and barriers that affect career development
(Marsella and Leong 1995). The meaning of work and career are social and
cultural constructions, not universal concepts. Counseling diverse clients
should take into account three factors: similarities across cultures, unique
aspects of cultures that influence members, and individual characteristics. The
application of Western career development theories and norms to non-Western
persons may lead to erroneous assumptions and ineffective practice.
Marsella and Leong recommend locating the individual client on a continuum of
ethnocultural identity, identifying the relative importance of personal or
cultural characteristics to an individual. For example, for a fully acculturated
person, personality may be more relevant to career development, whereas for a
more traditional individual, the cultural dimension has more influence. Prince
et al. (1991) offer some guidelines for working with multicultural clients: (1)
assess comfort/familiarity with counseling and how it is viewed in client
culture; (2) consider cultural attitudes toward authority; (3) is the culture
group or individually based?; (4) how are people socialized toward gender,
family, and work roles?; and (5) be sensitive to such barriers as
discrimination, lack of nontraditional role models, and limited information
Just as adult educators must be
cautious in selecting tests for adult learners, counselors must ensure that
career assessment instruments used with adult clients are appropriate.
Counseling of high school or college students typically concentrates on decision
making and career choice. Although adults may be dealing with these issues, the
new workplace context confronts them with the additional problems of career
adaptation, and the focus of adult counseling is on identifying the problems and
assessing coping responses (Savickas 1992). Career assessment often emphasizes
quantitative measures that evaluate interests, abilities, and traits and
objectively identify realistic occupational alternatives. With adults at
transitional points in their lives that have caused them to seek counseling,
counselors act as interpreters of "lives in progress rather than as actuaries
who count interests and abilities" (ibid., p. 338). Adding subjective
information derived from examination of life themes takes into account adults'
multiple, nonwork roles that are highly influential on and interdependent with
career. Qualitative methods include autobiographies, early recollections, and
structured interviews on vocational and educational experiences.
Appropriate assessment also has gender and cultural dimensions. Many measures
normed on high school students may not be appropriate for adults; similarly,
those normed on whites only or white males only may be invalid for women and
diverse populations. Studies are beginning to test the validity of such
instruments as the Self-Directed Search and the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory
across different groups (Marsella and Leong 1995). Other considerations are the
language of the instrument (some have been translated, but the validity of the
translations must be evaluated) and test-taking response or attitude (is the
client responding according to cultural norms or expectations?) (Prince et al.
1991). Fouad and Spreda (1995) offer the following guidelines for using interest
inventories with women and minorities: (1) increase counselor self-knowledge to
avoid interpretation bias; (2) avoid making assumptions--there are individual
variations in ethnic identity, acculturation, and worldview; (3) include the
client in interpretation; (4) test clients in languages they know; and (5) use
ADULT CAREER COUNSELING IN PRACTICE
centers" being developed in 16 states with federal funding are intended to bring
together comprehensive, integrated career services--such as information on job
training, education programs, and financial assistance; local labor market
information; skills assessment and counseling--in accessible locations such as
libraries and malls (Dykman 1995). State-of-the-art technology, such as CD-ROMs
and computer networks, is emphasized. Community outreach and technology are also
important features of Oakland University's Adult Career Counseling Center, which
provides free computer-assisted career guidance and counseling services using
such tools as System of Interactive Guidance and Information Plus and DISCOVER
for Adults (Splete and Hoffman 1994).
In summary, adult career counselors should be aware of the following:
new conditions of work and the impact of constant change and uncertainty
systems theory and the relationship between family and work
development and adult learning
approaches for different client groups--dual career couples, older adults,
women, ethnic groups
and use of appropriate career assessment instruments
They should recognize that the "new career contract" (Hall and Mirvis 1995)
signals a shift from organizational to individual careers and strive to help
adults develop internal criteria for success that enable them to achieve
self-fulfillment in any domain, paid or unpaid.
Curnow, B., and Fox, J. M. THIRD AGE CAREERS.
Brookfield, VT: Gower, 1994.
Davidson, S. L., and Gilbert, L. A. "Career Counseling Is a Personal Matter."
CAREER DEVELOPMENT QUARTERLY 42, no. 2 (December 1993): 149-153.
Dykman, A. "One-Stop Shopping." VOCATIONAL EDUCATION JOURNAL 70, no. 8
(November-December 1995): 34-38, 68.
Fouad, N. A., and Spreda, S. L. Use of Interest Inventories with Special
Populations." JOURNAL OF CAREER ASSESSMENT 3, no. 4 (Fall 1995): 453-468.
Hall, D. T., and Mirvis, P. H. "The New Career Contract." JOURNAL OF
VOCATIONAL BEHAVIOR 47, no. 3 (December 1995): 269-289.
Hoyt, K. B., and Lester, J. N. LEARNING TO WORK. Alexandria, VA: National
Career Development Association, 1995.
Lea, H. D., and Leibowitz, Z. B., eds. ADULT CAREER DEVELOPMENT. 2D ED.
Alexandria, VA: National Career Development Association, 1992.
Marsella, A. J., and Leong, F. T. L. "Cross-Cultural Issues in Personality
and Career Assessment." JOURNAL OF CAREER ASSESSMENT 3, no. 2 (Spring 1995):
Prince, J. P. et al. "Using Career Interest Inventories with Multicultural
Clients." CAREER PLANNING AND ADULT DEVELOPMENT JOURNAL 7, no. 1 (Spring 1991):
Rife, J. C., and Belcher, J. R. "Social Support and Job Search Intensity
among Older Unemployed Workers." JOURNAL OF EMPLOYMENT COUNSELING 30, no. 3
(September 1993): 98-107.
Savickas, M. L. "New Directions in Career Assessment." In CAREER DEVELOPMENT,
edited by D. H. Montross and C. J. Shinkman. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas,
Splete, H., and Hoffman, K. ADULT CAREER COUNSELING CENTER 11TH ANNUAL
REPORT. Rochester, MI: Oakland University, 1994. (ED 382 761)
Washington, T. "Career Counseling the Experienced Client." JOURNAL OF CAREER
PLANNING AND EMPLOYMENT 53, no. 2 (January 1993): 36-39, 67-68.