Tag Archives: web

Transform your career by shifting: Shift 8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

Shift: Transform your career by shifting: Shift 8: From Informing To Informing And Transforming

What is easier – working with a person to understand the limits and biases in their thinking and then helping them change their thinking, or giving them  leaflet?

Is it easier to listen to a person’s career story, and help that person discern the emerging fractal patterns in the story, or point them towards a list of occupations on a website?

Do careers professionals want to be seen as a carbon equivalent of this machine on the Embarcadero in San Francisco that dispenses copies of the Chronicle – is that all that is needed?

Shiftwork is the work we have to do to manage, thrive and survive in a world where shift happens.  I’ve identified 11 shifts that we have to make (see here), so far I’ve addressed the first seven, and in this post, I address the eighth shift.  The earlier ones you can read by following these links:

  • first shift Prediction To Prediction And Pattern Making (see here)
  • second shift From Plans To Plans And Planning (see here)
  • third one From Narrowing Down To Being Focused On Openness (here)
  • fourth shift From Control To Controlled Flexibility (see here)
  • fifth shift  From Risk As Failure To Risk As Endeavour (see here)
  • sixth shift From Probabilities To Probable Possibilities (see here)
  • seventh shift from Goals, Roles & Routines to Meaning, Mattering and Black Swans (see here)

 

Career counseling is the single most effective career intervention that produces the greatest gains for clients in the shortest time (Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Whiston, 2000). The superiority of career counseling over more constrained approaches such as workshops, classes and computer programs is due in no small part to the flexible, contingent and personal nature of the counseling process.

And yet, why is it, that it is much more likely that most people who have access to careers services are more likely to be given information as a substitute for counseling?

Part of the answer is that information provision is relatively easier and cheaper to provide than counselling.  The web is a perfect medium to provide accurate, easily updatable and localised information at next to zero cost per individual.  These are the sorts of benefits that get the attention of Politicians and funders.  And this in part explains the increasing trend toward information provision being seen as the be all and end all of career development services, at least for those populations dependent upon government-funded programs such as high school and college students, graduates, the unemployed, and to a lesser extent those in rehabilitation programs

Sadly there are also “practitioners” who through laziness, apathy, or circumstance are content to simply distribute leaflets, as it suits their workshy tendencies, or for the more enlightened, they reason, correctly, that they have not been adequately trained to do any significant counseling.

This reinforces social inequality as access to quality counseling tends to be reserved for the wealthy (Pryor & Bright, 2006).  Ironically, a fact that is often not addressed by those who seek to criticize the use of testing in career development claiming it to be expensive and driven by profit motives, is that testing can often be significantly cheaper to provide than counseling.  However both of these methods are significantly more expensive than information provision.

What is happening is that increasingly careers services are being encouraged or coerced into making career information their primary purpose.  This creates significant distortions because any other service, like counseling, then stands out as extremely resource instensive and expensive, making it vulnerable to cuts.  Staff get hired without the capacity or interest in counseling, and budgets are trimmed to a printing allowance and a few subscriptions to on-line information sources (for the well resourced centers!).

Information provision is implicitly being presented as a proxy or alternative to counseling. The implicit assumption is that most clients need only to access the correct information, and that through some process of “true reasoning” will synthesize this into a coherent and effective career decision.  It is almost as though there has been a process of transference of Parsons’ “true reasoning” from the counselor to the client over the last 100 years.

However little or no evidence is presented in support of the view that clients do process the information in an effective manner.  In other words it takes more to make an appropriate career decision than good or plentiful information.   For instance clients with self-limited self-views are likely to select limited information and then make limited decisions on the basis of that limited information. It is a recipe for failing to reach personal potential and continuing or exacerbating their underlying career issues.   It also represents lost economic capacity, social mobility and workforce flexibility when considered from a labor market (ie a Politician’s) perspective.

 

My concern is, increasingly the transformation element of the career development role is being cut, displaced and outsourced to our clients with no evidence to suggest that those clients or those that surround them like family and friends have the ability to do this aspect of the work effectively.

Career development is not solely about information and never has been.  Transformation is at the heart of what we do. Transformation is a not an automatic process. It is not something that all of our clients are able to do by themselves.  Indeed, as web access becomes close to being universal, it is information that is available to all, and as digital literacy improves, it is career information that most can access with little or no external support.   At a time when career services are being forced, encouraged or choosing to arrange themselves primarily around information provision, they risk offering a service that is less and less required as the information they convey is readily accessible directly at home via the web.   Careers services run the risk of trying to become a newspaper at a time when newspapers are going out of business for the very same reasons.

We need to make the shift to not only provide information, but to also provide transformation.  And that means investment in training and hiring qualified counselors. It means beefing up standards and training courses to offer much more in-depth counseling training than is currently available.  It means offering, in Dan Pink’s (2005) words, high-touch services, as well as high tech services.

 

There is still a role for information, hence the Shift to Informing AND transforming.  As Bright & Pryor (2008) point out, career information continues to be a vital element in career development, however career information is merely an ingredient in career transformation. Shiftwork eschews reifying information and recognises how new information technologies can free us up to be more effective. The counseling process itself can also benefit from the use of information technology and some such as Lewis and Coursol (2007), Chester and Glass (2006) and Gredge (2008) report on already
developed effective models that harness podcasting and email in career counseling. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube are already
being used by job hunters to advance their credentials, and possibilities exist using these technologies and others such as Voice Over Internet Protocols to develop
internet-based individual and group counseling sessions for minimal costs. Such approaches may overcome some of the cost and distance barriers to accessing
affordable and effective career counseling.

 

References

Bright, JEH & Pryor, RGL. (2008). Shiftwork.  A Chaos Theory of Careers Agenda for Careers Counselling. Australian Journal of Career Development, (vol 17, Number 3, Spring 2008, 63-72.

Chester, A., & Glass, C. A. (2006). Online counselling: A descriptive analysis of therapy services on the internet. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 34(2). 145–160.

Gredge , R. (2008). Online counselling services at Australian universities. Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Student Services, 31, April, 4–22.

Lewis, J., & Coursol, D. (2007). Addressing career issues online: Perceptions of counselor education professionals. Journal of Employment Counseling, 44(4), 146–153.

Oliver, L. W., & Spokane, A. R. (1988). Career-intervention outcome: What contributes to client gain? Journal of Counseling Psychology, 35, 447–462.

Pink. D. (2005).  A whole new mind. Allen & Unwin.

Pryor, R.G.L. & Bright, J.E.H. (2006). Counselling the Australian Perspective.  Applied Psychology an International Review.

Whiston, S. C. (2000). Individual career counseling. In D. A. Luzzo (Ed.), Career Counseling of College Students. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

 

Web-based careers services 2: the bicycle, the bells and the whistles

I wanted to follow up on the very popular post on web-based career services to explore the usability of web-based career services. My recent experience of participating in webinars and similar e-meetings brought home to me just how much variation there is in the usability of the systems.  So to my two questions for this post:

  • Are we considering usability sufficiently in current generation web-based careers systems?
  • How can we best develop user friendly web-based career systems?

Are we considering usability sufficiently in current generation web-based careers systems?

To put it simply, many of the web-based careers systems currently available have a lot of work to do to get acceptable levels of usability.  With the increasing awareness and in some markets dominance of Apple products such as iPod, iPad, iPhone and Macs, the bar for usability has been set at a very high level.   We expect digital communication products that “just work”.  We expect to be able to have them just work straight out of the box.   This means we expect intuitive interfaces that we can use without reference to a training manual, even if we are naive I.T. users.  If the systems are not easily and intuitively usable by even the I.T. challenged, this significantly reduces adoption rates and raises equity issues for those who do not understand the systems.

The high levels of usability found in Apple products is consistently reflected in lower IT support costs and quicker resolution of issues.  For instance, Nucleus research conducted a survey of 1700 employees in a mixed PC and Mac environment and found there were 3 requests for PC technical support for every 2 for a Mac.  Furthermore the Mac requests were resolved 30% faster.  Summary of results here.

I do not want to get into the Mac/PC thing here, both are great platforms, rather the point is that Usability is directly linked to the costs of supporting the IT infrastructure and this has to be a relevant consideration for Policy makers and Purchasing Managers considering implementing web-based careers services.  Systems that rely on training and I.T. support are more expensive solutions and therefore present a greater risk as they are dependent on greater levels of on-going maintenance and funding.

Some of the current web-based systems are not that intuitive.  The current crop of webinar systems often require users to be trained prior to using them.  People get confused, and cannot easily interact with the systems.  The users also probably do not use all of the functions available to them.

Functionality is a hot topic when considering web-based systems.  Often in discussions of the potential of web-based systems the discussion focuses on the possibilities of such systems, highlighting the amazing features and potential of such systems to do incredible things.   Less often are the probable uses of the system considered sufficiently.  In other words what is more important, a reliable, comfortable, usable bicycle, or a bunch of fancy bells and whistles?  What do you do more often, pedal or ring the bell?

The reality is, if pedaling is difficult, it doesn’t matter if the horn plays Yankee Doodle Dandy, you ain’t gonna use that bike.  While it is exciting to be told of what these systems are capable of doing, the reality is, that outside of the geeko-sphere, people rarely use these functions.  And this is not an age-based thing either.  Do not assume that young/more tech savvy people use a fuller range of features – they probably use different features not a wider range.

For instance consider the world’s most popular word processor, Microsoft Word.  That program is packed with different commands, nearly all of which are rarely if ever used.  A survey by Microsoft (link to summary here) found that the top five most used commands in Word 2003 were:

  1. Paste
  2. Save
  3. Copy
  4. Undo
  5. Bold

Together, these five commands account for around 32% of the total command use in Word 2003. Paste itself accounts for more than 11% of all commands used, and has more than twice as much usage as the number 2 entry on the list, Save.

Paste is also far-and-away the number one command in Excel and PowerPoint, accounting for 15% and 12% of total command use, respectively.

Beyond the top 10 commands or so, however, the curve flattens out considerably. The percentage difference in usage between the number 100 command (“Accept Change”) and the number 400 command (“Reset Picture”) is about the same in difference between number 1 and number 11 (“Change Font Size”).

My concern with discussions of web-based career services is that too much emphasis is placed upon the possibilities of the bells and whistles and insufficient attention is given to the banal topic of getting the basic mechanics – the pedaling system – right.

It may surprise some to know that Apple rarely produce products that have more features than their competitors.  Rather they take a less is more approach and only include those things that are most used and useful.   In this way the learning curve to use the technology is less steep, and the potential of the technology is more fully realized. Overburdening your bicycle makes it harder to pedal.

In recent months I have attended webinars where whole presentations failed to work and where participants could not hear or see what was going on.  These problems were not due to communications drop outs, quality of internet connections and so on. Rather they were related to computers not having the correct software or hardware installed, users failing to understand and/or follow the instructions, and users who did not understand how to use the interfaces.

All of these problems can be overcome (as they were in the instances above) with very patient, skilful and helpful technical assistants.  However this human intervention must be a limiting factor in terms of costs, time, and availability, if we are to maximise the potential of web-based services.

Maybe we need some usability studies to understand what features are really required and what are the bells and whistles, so we can then focus on getting the usability of these systems optimized.

Ease of use, and the “it just works” philosophy is also reflected in smartphone usage and the number and nature of apps downloaded to these phones.  Market research firm Nielsen surveyed over 2000 users and found some major differences in usage patterns.  the State of Mobile Apps report available here.  They report that:

  • 14% of mobile subscribers have downloaded an app in the last 30 days
  • Average number of apps downloaded in previous 30 days: Smartphone: 22, Feature phone: 10
    • BlackBerry: 10
    • iPhone:37
    • Android: 22
    • Palm: 14
    • Windows Mobile: 13

Despite the fact that Blackberry and Android phones have a large number of Apps available, iPhone users accounted for almost more downloaded apps in the previous 30 days than Android, Blackberry and Windows Mobile combined.

One of the reasons for these differences is likely to be to usability factor.  iPhone has a “walled garden” policy so that the Apps available are appropriate, consistent and quality checked.  They just work.

Do we need to code our own discussion boards, video conferencing systems, online testing systems, instant chat systems and the like, is this the best use of our time and resources?

How can we best develop user friendly web-based career systems?

What is the career development community doing developing online careers systems? We all use computers in our work, but I’ve never heard of any of us going out and designing a new laptop computer especially for careers.  Why are we not piggybacking and leveraging off the mainstream commercially developed solutions where possible?

For instance those working with young people could leverage of Facebook and MySpace and Twitter. In an age where the Queen of England (and Australia and elsewhere!) has a facebook page, why not use this technology?  There are of course many careers professionals doing just that, but there are also many who do not, including a lot of schools that have policies blocking such sites.   The opportunities lost to harness the high levels of usability, stability and ease of access of these services are being lost.  Plus the development costs to keep these services up-to-date are borne entirely by the commercial concerns.

The cost of developing high quality web-based material is very high from a technical point of view (that is not including the content, articles, research, tests, training packages etc) and investment in these costs is on-going and probably rising as new tools and technologies become available.  Add on top of that the importance of usability and all the costs associated with getting that right, and it is easy to see the benefits of outsourcing this work to people who specialise in it, leaving us free to concentrate on what really matters and that is the nature, quality,  content and relevance of the material and services we want to provide.

Conclusions

Web-based career services are the future as well as the present.  It is timely to ask the question we ask a lot with our own clients – what do we want that future to look like?  Do we want to continue as we are in the present?  How can we improve these services and systems?  What developments should be focusing on?  How can we make these systems more usable and therefore more useful and available to everyone who stands to benefit from them?  What is the most appropriate use of our Professional time in working with these systems – in training people how to get on and use them, or being able to devote more of our time to complimenting and enhancing the services delivered by web-based systems? Who should be doing the development of these systems? Are we comfortable in leveraging commercially available products as the platforms for our services?  Are we seeing the birth of a new type of Careers Professional – the I.T. careers specialist – a Careers Professional who specialises in developing systems, delivering services and training other professionals in how to harness web-based careers services to maximal advantage.  Are we going to focus more on the pedaling, the journey and the destination, or more on the noise we can make with the bells and whistles? Over to you.

I also want to thank Tristam Hooley at ICEGs and Ed Colozzi for their thoughtful comments on the first article to be found here.