Missouri Career Center The University of Missouri Career Center is about twenty-five years old. The Career Center offers walk-in services for the following career-related issues: how to choose a major or career path; what to do with a particular major; assistance in finding an appropriate graduate school; job search strategies; finding experiential learning opportunities such as a part-time job, an internship, a co-op, a volunteer position, or a summer job; and job search preparation, such as resume and cover letter reviews and interviewing assistance. The Career Center has a half-time director and four program directors. They direct the job development program, technological aspects of the center, the paraprofessional program, and the literacy program, called “A Way With Words” The Career Center in previous years established its identity separately from the University of Missouri Testing and Counseling Center where it had been historically located. This resulted in the Career Center relocating to a separate building, creating a new staffing pattern, a new mode of service delivery, and new alliances with other units on campus. The Center adopted a paraprofessional staffing pattern, involving undergraduates from all academic units on campus, and initiated an intensive training program. Services were offered on a drop-in basis. The Center created new alliances that would redirect much of its staffing efforts. The Center made a major commitment to recruiting exceptional undergraduate students to deliver services. These were volunteers at first. The staff role became that of teachers, trainers and supervisors of others rather than service providers. The Center developed a paraprofessional training program, hired paraprofessionals, and developed new instruments for them to use in providing services. The Center reexamined its traditional ways of working with the career concerns of students, focusing on providing accurate career information and promoting what students can do for themselves. It advertised the availability of career information rather than career counseling. The Center sent students out to deliver services, which in turn brought more students in for services. The Center set up collaborative efforts and formed alliances with other programs on the University of Missouri campus: financial aid; extension and correspondence study programs; the public schools These alliances made The Center stronger with regard to services and budget. In February 2000, at the University of Missouri annual conference for Career Centers, six ideas about changes that are transforming career centers emerged from group consensus. 1. The emergence of new career theories; 2. Acquisition of new customers; 3. Empowerment of students through technology; 4. New thoughts about accountability; 5. Changing staffing patterns for Career Centers; and 6. New ideas about what constitutes a career, leading to new ideas about services. Everyone has a personal career theory. John Holland, in the recent revision of his text (Holland, 1997), called attention to what he called a new theory of career intervention and change (page 205). It could incorporate current theories, but it also opened the door to acknowledging that many clients have their own unique way of dealing with career planning, or personal career theories. The professional Career Center staff, in preparation for this newer student with a personal career theory, will need to examine prior assumptions about what an individual brings to the Career Center, and be prepared to help people put together something quite unique that will better serve their needs. Career Center customers will be more diverse. How do both theory and practice need to be amended to apply to the newer, more diverse student population? In the Midwest, colleges and universities now attract significant numbers of minorities, people of color, first generation college students, international students. The changed role of the family, church, community, elders, loyalty, success, relationships, authority, and institutions in general are all impacting career counseling. Technology is redefining the Career Center’s role and its way of providing services. Information technology is impacting student expectations and career services. “Information” is now instantly available from multiple sources and from sources that often can’t be identified. It is not unusual to have clients come empowered with information and ideas. Contradictory information from non-reliable sources; ever-changing information arriving at the speed of the Internet; and the well-known credulity of the young, all make it difficult for them to distinguish good from bad information. Such information overload can be a good reason for them to be confused. This makes technology appear as the culprit. But the real issue is the tremendous job of sorting the wheat from the chaff. Career Centers must find people who can interpret the wealth of “facts” flowing into our students’ minds. The role, training, and eventual emergence of such service providers will determine the effectiveness of Career Centers. Much of this “information” is now available outside of the Career Center’s office. Those who are stepping forward as interpreters capture the students’ imagination. Career Centers will need to recapture that role and once more be known as the credible knowledge providers they were before the electronic explosion of information. The new Career Center services, staffing and training must produce two outcomes: • Good and attractive information on the Career Center Website. • Credibility as interpreters of that information. The University of Missouri’s initial response to this idea includes six major changes: • The Center has a different staff: Twelve computer science-type students now staff the Center. • One of the Center’s full-time professional staff [technology manager] spends nearly all of his time overseeing the computer science-type students’ efforts; • The technology manager also creates new programs on the web site that will require more staff to maintain. • Computers and related programs now are the Center’s biggest budget item. • The Center’s staff training focuses on using and maintaining computers. These provide the Center’s best sources of information and many of its most popular interventions. • Career Center accountability is changing and becoming more complicated. The benchmarks have changed. More clients contact the Center via the web than directly. They access the web site twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Center staff will have to learn how to evaluate what they want, whether they are getting it, and how the Center can make it more useful. Clients will help the Center redefine its services. New clientele and new services will require change in the Center’s methods of accountability. Different people will staff the Career Center. Clearly technologically sophisticated people have already assumed a more important role on the Center staff. Undergraduate paraprofessionals have and will continue to be the Center’s front-line service providers. Professionals with planning skills will become more important. Career coaches will be significant. Career planners will forecast and plan for new opportunities that people will be trying to imagine and anticipate. Doing this in collaboration with others, including student affairs offices, academic departments and faculty members, will make the Career Center look and work in quite different ways. As the Center is seen to provide training and to help clients find training for skills needed to move to new opportunities, this changed image can make the Career Center become more closely linked to the University of Missouri educational mission. The meaning of career has changed, thus redefining career services. Tremendous changes in what the Career Center does to help people deal with their careers will radically alter what are its core services. “Career” is different, business is different. Time in preparation for a career has changed, as has expected time with a career. Skills that are needed are different. Preparation for many careers, rather than a single career, is common. Working on a new career while employed at another is expected. Transferable skills will take on new and more important meaning. As people plan for these changes, the Career Center can expect to see them on a more on-going basis. Relationships with clients will change as well. Implications for Career Counseling in the 21st Century Will all these changes provide new meaning to the old ways in which the Career Center operated? Will the increased attention to providing services using high tech, and new attitudes about change as a means of survival, give new meaning to the place of listening and counseling with clients? Will the Center’s ability to collaborate with others become even more important? Will the maturing of the Internet and acceptance of the role of the paraprofessional change the role of the professional career counselor? Will professional training change and reflect the new skills necessary to function as a professional counselor? The University of Missouri now has a two-year, 48-hour master of science program in career counseling, and a doctoral program in Counseling Psychology, where such training is incorporated. It has strengthened the attention given to career theory, diversity, technology, and the training and supervision of paraprofessionals. The University requires that students spend a minimum of half-time as graduate assistants while taking their course work. They will serve as assistants in one of several settings where career services are being provided on an on-going basis. Emerging in the 21st century is a well-educated career counselor with a newly-defined role that should make the profession more attractive to those looking for a career that must deal effectively with change and help others do the same.
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