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Virginia and Randall Richards

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Friday, August 1, 2008

Career Exploration Interventions

This is the fourth article in a series of articles that will discuss the literature on the predominant career theories; history of and theory behind interest inventories; a discussion of the prominent interest inventories; the best use of interest inventories in the career development process; conceptual additions applicable to the study of interest inventories; the literature that has focused on career indecision in adolescents; and educational interventions with additional focus placed on middle schools. All of these articles come from dissertations by Virginia Robinson Richards, EdD, and Stephen Randall Richards, EdD, both copyrighted 1998. These articles are presented as a quick refresher for professional guidance counselors, an introduction to these theories for the non-professional, and as a starting point for students of the many disciplines related to career development theory. The bibliographies are purposely missing. If you choose to copy our work (shame on you), you will at least have to go to the library to find the work and maybe touch the covers of these works. We appologize for the non-academic format, but in a blogging forum it is not possible to keep the work as originally presented.

Traditionally, counselors have followed the matching of individuals to jobs as originally suggested by Parsons (1909). A variety of aptitude and interest measures were administered to individuals and then interpreted by the counselors with respect to implications for further education or vocational training. Typically, these individuals were self-referred, i.e., choosing to come for counseling. This traditional approach (Osipow et al., 1984) was based on the idea that careers move in a straight line with individuals identifying their personal career paths early in life and remaining in the same content area for the remainder of their working years. But, in our current era, this assumption may no longer be valid.

New approaches focus on critical choice points, or life-stage transitions, that most people experience. For example, the period of early adolescence when children transition from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school has been frequently identified as a transition point with implications for career choices and education (Osipow et al., 1984; Super, 1990). Herr and Cramer (1979) stated this time frame is a transition period not only between a general and a specialized education, but also between childhood and adolescence; thus, values, personal responsibility, and choice consequences can have real implications for individuals.

Studies conducted by the National Science Foundation and the Committee on Financing Higher Education during the 1950s concluded that schools needed to improve their testing of student aptitude and to identify student potential earlier in the students’ educational careers. Schmidt (1993) stated having the knowledge and ability to make informed choices about career direction is essential for self-development and fulfillment in life with school counselors having the responsibility of assisting students with this endeavor.

As adolescents enter middle school, exploration of themselves and of their interests should be stressed in order to provide needed experiences and knowledge to begin internalizing and drawing initial conclusions about themselves as they relate to possible life careers (Drier, 1973; Super, 1990). This exploration provides additional information and experiences with key figures that will lead the adolescent to develop interests in some activities and a lack of interest in other activities. Both the planned and unplanned experiences that adolescents have help them further develop a sense of self, setting them on the road to planfulness (Super, 1990) and decision making.

Before adolescents are able to plan, information must be provided, motivation in terms of interests and activities must be present, a feeling of control over their own future, and an idea of what that future might be, must exist (Sharf, 1992; Super, 1990). As these concepts are developing within adolescents, they are not yet able to make career choices that are planful, but can express an interest in occupations based on information they have at this point or based on a role model (Sharf, 1992). Ginzberg et al. (1951) determined that by age 11 children cease to make fantasy choices and, in fact, young boys would comment on whether they would or would not want an occupation like their father. Nine-year olds were found to be able to state interests in activities and occupations (Miller, 1977) with girls better able to do this than boys. Phillips (1995) found that 8 to 11-year olds could clearly state what they wanted to be when they grew up and why. Additionally, a study conducted by Blustein (1987) showed community college students with access to many of the antecedents leading to the development of planfulness, such as relevant part-time jobs, extracurricular activities and opportunities for systematic vocational exploration, were better able to maintain effective progress in the their career development.

Assessment instruments available for use both in schools and for individual counseling are for the most part not appropriate for use with middle school students. Of the “Big Three” (Borgen, 1986) interest inventories, the Kuder Occupational Interest Survey) is suggested for adolescent use no earlier than grade 11, and the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory no earlier than grade 9. The Self-Directed Search may be used with those as young as age 8, but like the other two, is primarily a list of occupations and occupational activities which may not be easily understood by adolescents. Of other assessment instruments, the Vocational Interest Inventory requires a 12th grade reading level. While the Jackson Vocational Interest Survey and the Career Assessment Inventory can be used with grade 7, both measure in terms of vocational roles and vocational styles.

By appropriate interventions, such as guided activities, recognition of achievement, interest and aptitude assessment, and feedback, students can be provided additional experiences that will offer them a strategy for facilitating meaningful career exploration (Gottfredson, 1986; Tennyson, 1973). In a study conducted with high school students, Bloch (1989) stressed the importance of long term career development programs for those who might be at risk for leaving school early. Blustein, Devenis, and Kidney’s (1989) study indicated high school students engaged in exploration activities were more likely to be seeking information relating to their identities. Research conducted by Grotevant and Cooper (1986) with 102 middle-class, high school seniors upheld their hypothesis that the broader knowledge adolescents have about the content of occupations from which they may choose, the better equipped they are to make a choice consistent with their own personality, interest styles, and abilities.

Virginia R. Richards, EdD
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