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Internet based Careers Information, Advice and Guidance in New Zealand

May 6th, 2010 by Graham Attwell

nzcareers

I have been doing a lot of work over the last year looking at how Information and communication Technologies can be used for Careers Advice, Information and Guidance, both in terms of providing direct services to young people and adults and in terms of supporting careers advisers. New Zealand seems to be leading in this work. This post is taken from a report I produced earlier this year, along with Jenny Bimrose and Sally Anne Barnes.

‘Career Services’ is the name by which the national organisation that delivers careers guidance support is known in New Zealand. It is a government funded organisation that regards itself as ‘New Zealand’s leading provider of independent career information, advice and guidance’. It aims to provide all people living in New Zealand with ‘access to the best careers information, advice and guidance to achieve their life goals’.

The Career Services’ website (http://www2.careers.govt.nz/home_page.html) is well used and has become a focal point for service delivery. Internet-based guidance is currently being integrated into mainstream service delivery, via the telephone, chat-lines and email, with the face-to-face service remaining available as an option. Telephone guidance is a particular feature, with text-based services being developed alongside this facility. Internet-based services are described on the Careers Service website as follows:

Advice line
Our Advice Line is a small team of trained career advisers located in central Wellington. We’re here to help you with your career planning. When you contact us (by phone or online via web chat or email), we’ll assess your situation and suggest career options suited to your needs. If you need more in-depth support, we’ll make an appointment for you to talk to one of our guidance staff either over the phone or in person. We’re open from 8am – 8pm weekdays, and on Saturday from 10am – 2pm.

Following the successful pilot, the advice line (contact centre) team has grown to 15. This team currently offers a service to clients of all ‘ages and stages’ all around the country, both by telephone and face-to-face. Careers practitioners have had ‘significant training and coaching in asking more open questions, making greater use of the interactive tools on the website with the client, identifying client need and referral processes’. The practitioners actively involved in delivering this new service have indicated how the conversations they have with clients are more direct than those they have face-to-face. The pace is more intense, with pauses and silences amplified, and rapport is being built up throughout the call (rather than at the early stage of the interaction). Practitioners have also reported that this method of delivery is more demanding on their energy. Supporting practitioner self-care has consequently become more of a priority for the service.

The Quality Standards Manual for the Careers Guidance Services is currently being re-written with sections on telephone guidance and online guidance being developed. This manual contains minimum quality measures for service delivery by telephone (e.g. total delivery time will not exceed 1.5 hours per client, including administrative tasks); an outline structure for a phone career guidance sessions (that is, a six stage model of guidance); and the key skills required (micro-counselling skills; excellent listening skills; solution focused counselling skills and the ability to use scaling questions).

Text-based guidance options are advertised on the Careers Service website in the following way:

Chat online about your career options

Looking for information or want some personal help? Chat online to a career adviser, who can give you independent advice to help you with career planning. Our advice line is open from Monday to Friday, 8am to 8pm, and on Saturdays from 10am to 2pm.

Use the form to the right [on-line questionnaire] to ask us a question. We’ll respond within four hours if you email us between 8am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

The Careers Service has also recently piloted a curriculum vitae (CV) feedback service, from October, 2008 to January 2009. As part of this pilot, young people (under 25) were offered an email based feedback service on ‘starter’ CVs, which were created using a particular CV tool. The feedback was provided by a team of four practitioners with different levels of expertise in guidance and one team leader in the advice line. The offer of e-mail feedback came at the end of the CV tool, as a client saved their CV. The response from pilot clients was overwhelmingly positive, with clients reporting how they felt more confident about putting together their CV as a result of the feedback received. Professional practice observations, detailed in the internal evaluation report on the pilot, included:

  • the importance of shared team values;
  • the advantages of combining the skills and expertise of staff at different levels in the organisation;
  • the ability to adapt practice to a more condensed and intensified medium than face-to-face or telephone guidance;
  • The introductory pilot for the telephone guidance ran from July 2007 to end of February, 2008. It involved one experienced consultant who was based at the Careers Services’ advice line. During the pilot year, the practitioner dealt with 226 clients. The process of introducing this telephone service highlighted potential advantages for clients together with challenges it poses for practitioners. Flexibility emerged as the key advantage of this service for clients, with practitioners needing to use already acquired skills in slightly different ways as well as develop some new skills (England, van Holten and Urbahn, 2008).

  • the impact on delivery of not having background contextual information about clients;
  • working with a client within an advice context rather than a full guidance context; the shift required by the pilot team around comfort levels with the final product being a starter CV and the service delivered being about learning;
  • the value of quality monitoring and peer feedback.
  • An important feature of the shift towards internet-based guidance was the introduction by the Career Services in New Zealand of a needs assessment model, based on the client’s self-efficacy, confidence with self-help via the web and level / complexity of need. As part of their change management strategy, the Careers Service created a blog for staff, where careers practitioners could express their feelings, ask questions and have debates around the use of technologies in service deliver The animator placed the following question on the blog:E-mail may be the most important, unique method for communicating and developing relationships since the telephone.’ (John Suler, The Psychology of Cyberspace, 2004).

    Most career practitioners agree that one of the career profession’s foundational and ongoing principles is that a face-to-face, facilitative relationship is an essential component for effective career counselling. There is also an unwritten assumption that visual clues and non-verbal communications are superior to written text in forming and maintaining an affective relationship.

    Do career practitioners believe that face-to-face interactions are deemed more effective than online ones, and John Suler and other online advocates are talking nonsense?’One response is typical of the views expressed by P.A.s who participated in the research undertaken for this study.

    “I’d have to say I sit firmly in the face to face camp here. So many cues are picked up at both a conscious and subconscious level that just can’t be gained otherwise. I focus a lot on interview techniques in my work, and relationship building, body language, eye contact etc. is best learned while it is being demonstrated. Sure there’s some great on-line tools, but counselling involves all the senses (…except maybe taste!)”

    ’The other response provides a more measured viewpoint: “Surely it’s about the needs of the client? For some, yes face to face is always going to be the preferred option for some but having an OPTION of telephone guidance or online or self help or group planning or a combination of these surely means that we are more responsive to the needs of our clients. One of the real beauties of having this flexibility is that someone who lives in a remote area is still able to access services.”

    For some people it might be that they start in a face to face environment and then move to telephone or email, or perhaps it’s the other way – they start with email and as they develop their confidence and trust they may feel ‘ready’ to meet face to face.’

    Whilst this service’s engagement with flexible methods of delivery, including internet-based guidance, is relatively new, it provides an illustration of a large, national service addressing the staff capability issues that this venture implies, in a measured way. From this and other respects, it can be regarded as an interesting and excellent model practice.

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