Computer-Based Career Information Systems. ERIC
by Imel, Susan
The adage "information is power" can certainly be applied to the marriage
of career information with computers. In an era that is characterized by
a rapidly changing employment and occupational outlook, the ability to
access computerized career information has been empowering to both youth
and adults (Bloch 1989; Tice and Gill 1991). Defined as "all that people
need to know to make choices and take action...in relation to their paid
or unpaid occupational activities and in relation to their preparation
for these activities" (Bloch 1989, p. 120), career information includes
knowledge about occupational areas and specific jobs; information about
career preparation and where to obtain suitable education and training;
facts about employment, including work environments and appropriate job
behavior; job-search skills; and self-knowledge such as individual interests,
values, and needs. Computers are an ideal medium for delivering career
information because they can present current information objectively in
an interactive format that is appealing to many clients (Harris-Bowlsbey
Two classes of computerized systems that provide information for career
planning are computer-based career guidance systems (CCGS) and computer-based
career information systems (CCIS) (Harris-Bowlsbey 1992; Mariani 1995-96).
Although CCIS and CCGS share some common features, they differ in two important
ways: CCIS provide local labor market information, whereas CCGS teach career
development concepts online (Harris-Bowlsbey 1992). Guidance counselors
frequently use CCIS in conjunction with clients, but youth and adults frequently
access CCIS independently to obtain career information. This digest focuses
on CCIS. Following an overview of computer-based career information systems,
it describes some current applications. Predictions about the future of
CCIS are presented in conclusion.
CAREER INFORMATION SYSTEMS: AN OVERVIEW
The best known computer-based career information systems are the
state-based career information delivery systems (CIDS). Serving over
9 million customers yearly at more than 20,000 sites, CIDS operate in 48
states and provide information about occupations and educational programs
within that state (Mariani 1995-96; National Occupational Information Coordinating
Committee 1996). Although CIDS have been developed by a number of different
vendors and customized for particular audiences, they share the following
core features (ibid.):
--ASSESSMENT. Most CIDS now have one or more online tools that help
users assess their values, interests, skills, aptitudes, or experiences
as well as the characteristics they expect from a job. These assessments
help users learn about themselves and the qualities they might prefer in
a career. A relatively new feature of CIDS, skills assessments have proven
especially helpful to experienced workers who need to find a new career.
--OCCUPATIONAL SEARCH. The occupational search feature allows users
to match personal characteristics with compatible job and career possibilities.
Some occupational searches are based on the results of the assessments,
but, in others, the user selects and rates search variables that are then
used to generate a list of occupations. Users may also simply access an
index of occupations and retrieve descriptions of those that are of interest.
Regardless of the approach, the result is a list of occupations that match
the user's personal interests.
--OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION. This CIDS feature allows users to retrieve
information about the occupations identified through their occupational
search. Most systems contain descriptions of 300-500 occupations, including
information on the nature of the work, working conditions, numbers employed,
education and training requirements, earnings, related occupations, and
common career ladders. Many systems allow for side-by-side comparison of
two occupations, and, increasingly, include local, state, and national
--EDUCATIONAL INFORMATION. This feature of CIDS provides users specific
information about educational programs and institutions that will prepare
them for a career. Information on vocational and technical schools, 2-
and 4-year colleges, and graduate schools is included. Criteria such as
geographical location, tuition limit, and course of study are selected
by clients to establish search variables for locating suitable educational
information. For each institution, CIDS usually contain information on
admissions requirements, types of degrees offered, tuition and fees, financial
aid, community setting, and so forth.
In addition to the four elements described here, systems also contain
such features as online orientation to the system, instruction in the career
decision-making process, information on scholarships and financial aid,
tools for resume writing, and online user questionnaires (Mariani 1995-96).
In short, just like the computer technology on which they are based, CIDS
are constantly changing and evolving.
CCIS IN USE
A significant characteristic of computer-based career information systems
is their versatility. Located in many different settings, they are regularly
used by youth and adults working independently or in groups and with or
without professional support. The three examples that follow demonstrate
some of the many ways in which career information systems are used.
In Notus, Idaho, fourth-grade students are introduced to the Idaho Career
Information System by a guidance counselor, who uses it as a building block
for future career education activities. During the fourth and fifth grades,
the counselor talks to students about future course selection, relating
these courses to the work they may want to do, and also uses occupational
printouts from the system to encourage career exploration. Because the
school has only the high school version of the program, the students do
not usually work on the computer directly, but use a worksheet to select
occupations that interest them. This "exposure to the information primes
the students to use the system themselves in the career exploration courses
they take in the seventh and eighth grades" (Mariani 1995-96, pp. 19-20).
Oregon has adapted its career information system to deliver tech prep
information by developing a new software program titled Career Path Planner.
The project was designed to create a computerized guidance tool that would
help students explore and make decisions about Oregon's new career strands
(Certificates of Advanced Mastery or CAMs) and the tech prep programs available
in their high schools. In Oregon, tech prep is a regional program and how
it is conceptualized varies according to region. Since the Oregon CIDS
could not accommodate regional variances, the Career Path Planner software
was developed. In addition to allowing for flexibility for regional descriptions,
it has helped to convey the changes in education to students, parents,
and educators by connecting familiar concepts--occupations and programs
of study--to concepts that are new--tech prep and CAMs (Buhl 1995).
Employees at Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation in upstate New York use
a computerized career information system for their personal career management.
The system, which is accessed through personal computers, has proven to
be an effective tool for permitting employees to access career and educational
information. In addition to information about local college and university
programs and distance education opportunities, the system includes descriptions
of nearly 750 of the corporation's management jobs as well as union positions.
Formal training requirements for all of these positions are part of the
descriptions. Employees can request copies of the most recent posting of
any job and review the qualifications (Phelan 1994).
As shown by these examples, the potential uses of CCIS are vast, but,
unfortunately, little is known about their effectiveness (Mariani 1995-96).
Two early studies of CCIS use report favorable client outcomes. At-risk
youth who accessed computerized career information, for example, were "amazed
at the opportunities" presented and felt that using the system gave them
hope (Bloch 1989). Among the benefits mentioned by adults who used CCIS
in public libraries were the following: expanded awareness of career options,
types of jobs, and related education and training opportunities; increased
self-confidence in themselves and their ability to make career decisions;
and improved job-seeking skills (Tice and Gill 1991). To understand more
fully the potential of CCIS, however, "research into the effective use
of systems with different populations under differing conditions" is needed
(Mariani 1995-96, p. 25).
THE SKY'S THE LIMIT
What does the future hold for CCIS? Some indications of future applications
can be seen in current trends. Developers are already moving toward multimedia
versions of CCIS products using CD-ROM technology. In addition, at least
one product already on the market offers users the options of requesting
more information from colleges electronically and of applying to colleges
online (Mariani 1995-96). This linkage to the Internet can only be viewed
as a harbinger of future developments in computer-based career planning
systems. If current systems connect to educational institutions, why not
also to employer information databases, a number of which already have
homepages on the World Wide Web (Allen 1995) or to the many other career-related
websites (i.e., salary guides that estimate salary ranges for various jobs:
<http://www.espan.com/salary/salary.html>) ("Web Sites Link Job-Hunters
with Career Possibilities" 1996).
The client base for CCIS will continue to change. Mariani (1995-96)
speculates that, in the future, adults in settings other than schools and
colleges will account for large increases in state CID system use. Part
of the increase will result from the implementation of one-stop career
centers that will provide a full array of career services to adults. In
the 16 states funded thus far, "technology is the centerpiece of the one-stop
plans" (Dykman 1995, p. 37), and CIDS are an integral part of the plans
At least two issues are affiliated with the future of CCIS. As CCIS
become part of the information highway, users will have to exercise information
management skills to understand how to access and select the most appropriate
information. Also, despite their growth into the public sector through
one-stop career centers, access and equity issues may materialize: will
those most in need of services have access and will the type of information
they need be available?
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