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Developing internet based careers guidance

March 25th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

Last year, together with my colleagues Jenny Bimrose and Sally Anne Barnes from the Institute for Emplyment Research at the University of Warwick in the UK, I ran a number of focus groups with young people on the use of technology for Careers Advice, Information and Guidance. The focus groups were part of research comissioned by the CfBT, a UK based educational charity. The main aim of the resaerch was to examine the skills needed by Personal Advisers working in the publicly funded Connexions service to deliver internet based guidance.

The full report is not yet published. But the executive summary of the report is now available for free download from the CfBT web site.

Whilst obviously the report is focused on the UK careers  advice,  information and guidance services, the issues raised are pertinent far further afield.

Here are two excerpts from the summary report.

Demand from young people for internet-based guidance

Progress towards achieving widespread access to advanced internet based services through phones and / or mobile devices seems unstoppable, with young children exposed to new technologies from birth. Internet-based devices now offer a range of functions way beyond basic phone-calls and SMS text-messaging with social interactions unrestricted by time or space. Young people use information and communications technology (ICT) not just for accessing information, but for creating and sharing knowledge.

All of the young people who participated in our study were able to access the internet either at home, school or college, on a daily or weekly basis. They also accessed the internet using various means (for example, mobile devices and games consoles as well as personal computers). Although many parents / carers were monitoring young people’s level of ICT usage, the nature of internet access was not being restricted – irrespective of age group.
Overall, we found a high level of ICT usage by young people, with internet-based services an integral part of their social networking, communication and entertainment. Findings from our study also indicate how young people think that internet-based services could be an effective way of delivering guidance services more flexibly and effectively in the future.

However, the importance of shaping these services in a way that reflects the current usage by young people is clear. So, for example, the majority of young people in our study use technology to gather information. This suggests an increase in the use of online multi-media to develop personalised information, together with increased access to different types of high quality, online information. Additionally, it indicates the need for P.A.s to coach young people in how to distinguish amongst reliable, unreliable and biased sources of online labour market information. Other ways young people in this study felt their current usage of internet-based services should shape guidance services in the future related to chat rooms; online, multi-media; personalised information; and email communication.

Despite high levels of ICT competence and the trend towards more openness, collaboration, peer communication and user-generated content, the young people still highly valued their face-to-face contact with P.A.s, because of their professional expertise. However, where P.A.s are accessed on-line, they will need to demonstrate a level of proficiency in internet-based technologies at least equal to those of the clients accessing their expertise to maintain their respect.

Internet-based guidance

There is a strong policy steer for organisations delivering guidance services to young people in England to make greater use of internet based services to deliver guidance, despite there being much still to be learned about this aspect of professional guidance practice. For example, reliable evidence on the impact of introducing internet-based services is currently lacking and the potential for cost savings is unknown.

A range of internet-based services are, or could be, used to deliver guidance, including for example, email, web chat, SMS messaging, mobile phones, website, software and video conferencing. An important first step in delivering effective and efficient internet-based guidance services would be agreement about a common, up-to date language to describe exactly what it comprises. Not only is there a lack of consistency in the terms currently used to describe this area of practice (e.g. web-based guidance; e-guidance; internet-based guidance), but the types of services listed under these terms vary. Once Connexions organisations are able to specify which internet based services they wish to offer to clients, then the training support required will be easier to identify. For example, one Connexions organisation may decide to increase its offer of guidance to young people via a telephone helpline, whilst another wishes to develop guidance by email and yet another decides to concentrate on supporting P.A.s to develop multi-media labour market information resources to deliver as part of group work with young people. Training requirements for each of these methods of delivery would be slightly different.

Where guidance organisations have already embraced technology in the delivery of services, there seems to be a tendency to invest resources in training a group of practitioners to specialise in particular areas of practice. For example, Career Services New Zealand has trained one group of practitioners to work on a telephone helpline service alongside their face-to-face work, whilst another group has been trained to offer e-mail guidance.

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