India has long been a land of opportunity for the capable, career-minded individual to make a name for her or himself. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, those that have managed to get ahead in the search for jobs have done so of their own endeavors and sheer strength of will.
Guidance or counseling for careers simply have been a way to slot those with the relevant marks into vacant spots to fill seats, and nothing more.
Thankfully, this is changing, as the country wakes up to the modern age of technology, revolutionizing all aspects of life as it has been traditionally lived in India, including the previously untouched sphere of career guidance in education.
At first glance, it may appear strange that the importance of career guidance and counseling as a means of assisting students has been overlooked as something pro forma. It has been perceived as a sort of need that is met with the bare minimum effort from those who have always claimed to provide these services.
It is too bad that there has been a traditional over-reliance on a number of things that have passed for career guidance, such as the friendly advice offered by peers, parents or well-meaning members of the faculty.
Also common are the attempts to turn into formulas the success of professionals who have built careers out of years of hard work, in addition to going solely on the word of those who have made placements their field of expertise.
However, with recent innovations in technology, and the ease with which it is being incorporated in the field of higher education to assist students in making the career choices that will see them through to the success that they wish to achieve, the news is far more heartening than it has been for career aspirants from a period of time as recent as a decade ago.
Career assessment tools are increasing in number and the detail in the reporting that they do, offering a well-rounded idea of the capabilities that are present and those that need to be built up, in order to match dreams with opportunities that exist, or are appearing on the horizon.
Examining multiple areas to help match career aspirants to their career paths of choice, such as personality, aptitude, interest and work value preference, the career planning of this day and age is precisely the revolutionary impetus needed to address many of the ills of the process of career counseling that has existed until now.
Career Planning in the Past; Focus on “Jobs”
A combination of relying on standardized tests, which were in essence just examinations that focused purely on subject matter knowledge, and pigeonholing graduates into those vacancies that remained unclaimed used to be the extent of career guidance offered to people in India. For those still studying and approaching the end of their college lives, the campus recruitment efforts of potential employers was seen as the holy grail of getting a perfect start for the chosen few who managed to secure an entry-level position with a reputed organization. Those who were not able to access this opportunity, generally on the basis of the marks they had received in the subject areas in question had to rely on job hunting by going out into the market and trying their luck.
There was always the third group of candidates whose families were willing to spend the money required to try and access further education opportunities at top schools in India, if they failed to secure a job within three to six months of finishing their course of undergraduate education. Candidates not able to afford anything more than a basic high-school education, however, ended up having to look for opportunities at the lower end of the job pyramid.
Surely there have existed top notch education institutions that offered a bevy of services catered to matching their graduates to the prime job opportunities that were available at the time. Yet, not only were these generally not affordable to the average Indian student, but being able to afford such an education in the first place usually meant that not finding career placement during the final year selection would usually result in employment somewhere. The reason for this was the reputation of the college that issued the degree certificate.
Interestingly, this played out both within the country, and also outside of it. The existence of numerous such educational opportunities meant that it was, in many cases, easier to find courses that would lead to jobs of choice abroad by first completing a course of study abroad. Still, however, the focus was on the job, and not a sense of career.
Worse still was the fact that most students essentially ended up being forced into the zone of safe career bets by enrolling for courses that were popular at the time, like medicine, engineering, or law. This was a sort of popularity that was the unfortunate result of peer pressure and parental pressure to have them gain access to a job that seemed to be what everyone else was doing.
No thought was paid to the essential difference between being on a career path and having a job. This is something that is most gratefully being phased out as the focus has now shifted from enabling career aspirants to better understand how they shape up against the careers of their choice. Once this has been identified they are then able to address any potential gaps that may exist between where they are currently and where they wish to be.
In addition to being given a more thorough understanding of where they stand, the advantage that proper career guidance has for the student is enabling them to see a larger picture with opportunities to pursue a career in related fields of their preference. It would perhaps even be possible to consider fields that they had never known existed and therefore failed to think about as being something that they could willingly do for a significant part of their lives.
The First “Career Aptitude Tests”
The early 2000s saw the advent of some of the first formally categorized career aptitude tests, which as the name suggests went beyond the traditional focus on marks and other forms of academic record, and in essence, helped pave the way for the kinds of career guidance services that are available today.
These tests were focused on offering up a slightly different experience to those seeking jobs, but still relied on those who attained the highest scores, or the fastest times. It was a move away from the earlier reliance on academic results to identify suitability of an individual to a career role.
Essentially, however, it simply replaced the school and college transcripts with another score card that gave no real insight into other key aspects of the person being tested. One of these key indicators as the potential employers liked to put it, was whether the candidate was the right fit for the role that she or he was being considered for.
Approximately a decade later, the word “employability” began to pop up in discussion between companies that wanted to continue having access to the human resources that they needed, and the educational institutions and placement centers that they were dealing with for this purpose. It necessitated a shift away from the usual methodologies employed, and any sort of simplified score sheet that indicated how proficient a potential job seeker was.
No longer were English Grammar, or Logical Reasoning, or some other previously defined metric the primary tools that were being used to identify one person as being more suitable for the job than another person. This trend did eventually pave the way for some of the more holistic career assessment tools that we have today. Yet, they were still far too rudimentary in their approach and had an overall reliance on identifying aspects of knowledge, and sometimes skill, which had no direct correlation to the overall job profiles that candidates were being professionally tested as suitable for.
In some ways, the only explanation for this basic step in what we can now say was a step in the right direction was the fact that it was easier to mark a candidate as suitable or not based on the near-tangibility of the psychometrics that were being offered as tests. Being able to arrive at yes-or-no decisions based on scores proved to be a case of it being easier to say one way or another, whether a candidate was suitable, or not.
However, this was a far cry from the layers of understanding that the career-profiling of people attempting to make careers out of qualifications and work experience should have really entailed. Namely, what was needed was the ability of a test or assessment to offer the test-taker the opportunity to identify aspects of her or his overall professional acumen and also the potential that could be developed by proper, conscientious career guidance.
Modern career assessments, or career aptitude tests as they are known, look at a range of metrics and focus on multiple areas to provide a comprehensive view on the candidate as an individual, an attempt at providing more than just a snapshot of what she or he can do.
They tend to explore what capabilities exist, and how these are best brought out and developed to offer the best possible chance of creating a career of her or his choice, while also helping the business or organization achieve its primary objectives by hiring such a person.
Scientific, Conscientious Career Guidance
In countries other than India, the focus on a job seeker’s profile tends to go beyond the basic qualifications and educational backgrounds that freshers out of college are generally subjected to in this country. There is especially the focus that looks beyond the mandatory project work that is often attempted to be passed off as professional experience when it is really an obligatory part of the coursework that the candidate had to complete in order to receive the educational qualification that they were pursuing.
For example, in Sweden and by extension other Nordic countries as well, the European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network (ELGPN), a body that was established in 2007, focuses on the issues and means with which education at all levels addresses the needs of the market and the individuals seeking to create lifelong careers. It looks at competences as a key indicator of the individual’s potential to succeed professionally, and defines career competence as being the “combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the context.”
This holistic focus on the three key areas means that an overall picture of what an individual knows, is capable of doing with this knowledge, and thereafter, what she or he is able to address becomes a part of understanding where she or he stands at the moment. Finally, the individual is able to ascertain what is needed to be done to get to where she or he wishes to be in future.
In essence, one of the frameworks that such a body brings to the fore as a means of understanding profession as a combination of all three areas of an individual’s career competence looks at:
1) The experiences that an individual career aspirant has gained over the course of life,
2) What learning has been derived from this experience, or these experiences, and
3) The application of this learning, which in turn gives rise to new experiences that will start this process all over again.
If there is a difference in knowledge that results from the brief analysis of what has happened and how it has affected the individual career aspirant, then the career aspirant, or candidate is now capable of bringing out the necessary changes in her or his own life, with minimal further guidance.
A more scientific view of career planning was proposed in 1999 by Bill Law and Tony Watts from the National Institute for Careers Education and Counseling in the city of Willaston in the UK, called the DOTS model.
This acronym was a focus on the four stages of career planning that were:
1) Decision learning, where a person understands what decisions need to be made regarding a career and thereafter, how to live with the decisions being made, and also make new decisions if there are any changes that necessitate the need to do so in a dynamic world,
2) Opportunity Awareness, where the person explores the field or fields of choice and understands what opportunities exist, particularly those of interest to them,
3) Transition Learning, where the person understands and learns the necessary knowledge or skills that will help them make the necessary transition, whether it is from an academic life to a professional one, or from being an executive in a firm and moving into management, for example, and
4) Self Awareness, an understanding that the person is able to gain of herself or himself that includes strengths, areas of development, abilities, personal qualities and character traits, and aptitudes, to name a few, so as to be able to deal with the information derived from the previous three stages and go about creating a cycle of self-aware, continuous changes that will foster the creation of a career for the rest of her or his life.
Approaches and focuses such as these have existed for decades now, as you can see, and while things in India seem to be catching on a little slower than elsewhere in the world, the importance that they play in career counseling for students is slowly driving this focus to the center of the career guidance that is being done in this country. With the advent of technology, the ability to gain critical insights into the key aspects of the individual career aspirant has become greatly enhanced, particularly due to the accessibility of technology offered by today’s mobile technology and the app-driven lives that most of us lead. Also, a better understanding of and ability to analyze the opportunities that exist in the market, and the means to address the gaps that may exist in being able to be eligible for them, are all positive moves that have helped propel the market for career guidance, and for those professionals who offer these services, in India.
New Solutions in Career Planning
There are numerous career assessment tools and career aptitude tests that are currently on offer in this country, offered by a variety of institutions and organizations, some by the very colleges that seek to promise a career that will result as a direct consequence of pursuing an education with them, for example.
However, the most important thing to keep in mind is not just what any of these assessments tells the individual about her or himself, but also how actionable the results are in assisting the individual realize the career that she or he picks out after careful consideration of the information that there is on the present opportunities in the market as well.
Of particular note in this regard is the Lead Career Assessment Test (LCAT), developed by the team at vLEAD Eduventures, professionals from some of the most prestigious centres of education in India and abroad.
The LCAT is a comprehensive assessment that addresses the key areas of professional aptitude, in conjunction with the analysis of the candidate’s personality, professional and career interests, and finally, the work value preference, or the motivation that drives the candidate to seek out a meaningful career.
While being able to provide a well-rounded image of the candidate and where she or he stands at the moment in terms of the knowledge, skills and attitude that has been developed after a complete course of formal education, the team at vLEAD also provides a summary of career fields that are best suited to the individual career aspirant. This is done not only from the point of view of the assessment and the metrics across the various aspects that were tested, but also through the guidance that they are able to offer in person, assisting the individual to understand what to make of these suggestions. There is also the presenting of what actual opportunities exist in the market that will afford the candidate the best possible way to start a career of their dreams, without having to resort to any kind of dreaming really.
Feedback on the results of LCAT is carried out by career guidance professionals, and the overall aim is of equipping the career aspirant to become a lifelong learner who is able to pick up the requisite knowledge and skills for any profession. This is in addition to being able to do the necessary analysis through the self-awareness that has been gained, and is really the true benefit of being a part of this process. LCAT is truly one of the more well-rounded kinds of career aptitude tests that is currently available in India.
Furthermore, with a view towards constant improvement of the services that it offers, vLEAD Eduventures is pushing the envelope and bringing to students across India the means to realize the aspirations of a career that will offer meaning to their lives, and continue making them the kind of professionals that any organization will want to bring on board.