Career Counseling in Organizations

Career counseling in today’s work organizations reflects career development’s dynamic history in North American business and industry during the 20th century. A 21st-century prospective on this counseling specialty encompasses the practitioners, the places, and the procedures of career counseling in organizations.

20th-century Foundation

Industrial Era

The dawn of 20th-century North America witnessed a continued decline in the agricultural-based economy as the Industrial Revolution advanced. The burgeoning economy, with its need for selection and assignment of personnel to an ever-expanding array of jobs, promulgated the first vocational programs. With the influx of immigrants and veterans into the labor force following World War I and World War II, corporate giants such as Ford Motor Company, R. H. Macy and Company, and Western Electric’s Hawthorne Plant initiated industrial-based programs with a mental health emphasis. Psychiatrists, personnel or industrial psychologists, as well as social workers commonly staffed the vocational programs of this era.

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Information Service Era

Toward the middle of the 20th century, the industrial era peaked as an information-based and then a service-based economy emerged by the final quarter-century. Unprecedented geopolitical, socioeconomical, and biotechnical advances culminated in the restructuring of the North American corporate landscape (e.g., divestitures, mergers-acquisitions, downsizing, and outsourcing jobs offshore).

The postindustrial economy brought with it an increased focus on workers’ mental health. Corresponding to growth in individual psychology, there was added appreciation for the role of individual career choice in contrast to employer selection of individuals. Consequently, to the litany of career service providers, were added occupational psychiatrists, vocational-career psychologists, and employment-career counselors.

Organizational Settings

The career specialties were not the exclusive domain of business and industry. A number of governmental entities shared the mission of counseling for career development, or career management—the preferred term of reference outside of the educational arena. These included military bases, with an emphasis on the translation of military to civilian occupations, as well as rehabilitation settings, which focused on the employment needs of persons with physical and/or mental disabilities. Correctional facilities and the U.S. Employment Service carried the charge of facilitation of skill acquisition, as well as securing continuous employment.

Beyond corporate and governmental agencies, there were civic or public settings where career counseling occurred. Prevalent among these were mental health and/or substance abuse centers. These settings targeted mediation of the effects of psychological and substance abuse issues on employability.

Contemporary Perspective

Professional Identity

Providers of career counseling in organizations are divisible into two general categories: professional counselors and nonprofessional counselors. Professional counselors, those possessing counseling and/or counseling-related graduate degrees, licenses, and certifications, most often have as their primary professional identity, counselor or psychologist. As such, their main professional affiliations are the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American Psychological Association (APA). Career, as a professional specialty, may be indicated by membership in ACA and APA divisions promoting careerism:

National Career Development Association and National Employment Counseling Association, both divisions within the ACA, and the Society for Vocational Psychologists, Division 17 (Counseling Psychology) of the APA

Career practitioners who deliver counseling and/or counseling-related activities but who are not professional counselors/psychologists may carry the following titles: career development facilitator, career adviser-specialist, career management consultant (outplacement), employment-workforce development specialist, job-search trainer, job developer, and career coach. Those paraprofessional counselors frequently hold membership in the following professional affiliations: Association of Career Professionals International, Society of Human Resources Managers, American Society of Trainers and Developers, Career Planning and Adult Development Network.

Role and Function

Organizational Perspective

Career practitioners provide counseling services via internal and external relationships with organizations. Career professionals who are employees are often a part of the human resource function. Practitioners external to organizations, by contrast, provide services on a contingency or contractual basis. Both internal and external career professionals perform a variety of roles: from the organizational to the individual level. At the system or organizational level, career professionals target the organizational structure by programmatic design, implementation, and staffing and evaluation of career services.

In general, the role and function of career practitioners varies by the organization’s location on the business life cycle. For example, an employing organization at the start-up phase requires a wide range of highly skilled workers, those who will immediately drive production and create a market presence. Then, as the organization moves to the establishment phase, there is a corresponding need for consistency of production or service delivery, to demonstrate the organization’s earned place among its competitors.

As the organization reaches the advancement phase of the business life cycle, the need shifts toward more innovation and distinctive products or services—that which differentiates the organization from its competitors and defines its market niche. As each phase requires unique general characteristics from its workers, so change the role and function of the career practitioner in helping identify and develop the workforce.

Career Counseling Interventions

The counseling methods used to effect career enrichment, advancement, and transition vary across the historical eras. During the industrial era’s vocational guidance movement, intervention strategies-of-choice were individual interviewing, history taking, and test administration and interpretation. These methodologies were particularly driven by an explosion in psychometric testing and individual counseling techniques advanced by the then leading theories of counseling (e.g., behavioral, developmental, and existential).

The information-service era added computer-assisted career guidance systems as a convenient intervention for the administration of assessment tools and the delivery of occupational, educational, and company information. A second strategy of this era was the accelerated use of group guidance (e.g., information, general direction) and counseling (e.g., self-knowledge and self-change) as cost-effective interventions for the greatest number of workers in an organization. In addition, this period saw assessment centers and corporate universities, with their emphasis on self-assessment, self-guided learning, and skill training, reach a zenith.

Future Prospects

Historically, the ebb and flow of societal change directly influenced the nature of work in organizations. Consequently, as the workplace evolves, there is a need for ongoing application of emerging counseling strategies and techniques to the confluence of organizational and individual needs. The contemporary workplace suggests the following as the individual and organizational issues for career counseling’s future:

  • the influence of work-life issues on career decision making and adjustment;
  • the public health movement will embrace career fitness (e.g., career adaptability, career resilience);
  • the positive and negative impact of corporations without walls on workers’ well-being;
  • redefinition of career—individual adopts multiple work roles/styles (e.g., free agent, contingency worker, employee, and entrepreneur) across the life span;
  • the application of cybercounseling techniques to the stages of career development (i.e., entry and establishment, maintenance, and advancement and the transition and disengagement);
  • movement beyond focus on recruitment and retention to psychological engagement as the litmus test of stellar performers;
  • transformation of organizational cultures to one that is values-driven and developmental (e.g., emotionally, spiritually, and culturally); and
  • increased demand for retirement counseling that integrated the role of leisurite with meaningful work during late-adulthood (age 65 and older).

Whatever the structure of work organizations in the future, whether physical or virtual, career counseling is positioned as an intervention-of-choice for individuals and groups of individuals confronted by the challenge for effective entrance into, adjustment within, and separation from work organizations.


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