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Establishment of Career Resource Services
at a Christian College (or Organization
)
Gray Poehnell
gray.poehnell@vocationall.ca

WHAT IS A CAREER RESOURCE CENTRE (CRC)?

What is the role of a career resource centre at a Christian school or college today? To express it simply: to serve God’s people and the world around by equipping them with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed (in a biblical sense) in life, especially with respect to the world of work. (Note that while this article is focused on Christian schools and colleges, these thoughts could also apply to Christians organizations who have the vision to develop their workers in the area of calling.)

A career resource centre can offer information, resources, and services to students (and potentially to alumni, staff, faculty, and employers) who are seeking to discern and follow God’s call upon their life in its vocational aspect. It can help students acquire the skills necessary to effectively craft a career and then can help guide them through a career development process in preparation for the day when they will leave the school and step out into the real world. It can help them integrate their Christian faith with the practical areas of career and everyday work.

God’s call upon the lives of His children is first and foremost a call to Himself and then, secondly, a call to work with Him. Therefore, all aspects of work, whether vocational or avocational, must build on a living relationship with God Himself through Jesus Christ. Many of a Christian college’s goals have direct application to career issues viewed within a Christian context. For example, two relevant goals are to develop Christian perspectives on all fields of study and all aspects of personal and professional life and to prepare men and women from all walks of life to serve Jesus Christ effectively in their varied vocations, in the home, the marketplace, and the church.

THE NEED FOR CAREER SERVICES AT CHRISTIAN COLLEGES

The need for effective career services at Christian schools and colleges is clear for several reasons.

First, consider that that many who come to Chrisitan colleges come to find themselves and to explore God’s call upon their lives; they come looking for concrete answers not just to the primary call but also to the secondary call. They want to know how their faith relates to the real world. For some this means a desire to seek God for vocational guidance in an increasing complex world of work.

Second, consider this new world of work. Global economy, competition, downsizing, high underemployment, increased part-time work, career change, transferable skills, retraining, entrepreneurship, career anxiety, hopelessness, opportunity–such is the vocabulary and the reality of the rapidly-changing world of work today. In the midst of such change, students need practical help as they ground themselves personally and vocationally on the unchanging God who dynamically rules and reigns.

Third, consider the lack of practical career skills on the part of many. Many people, including students, feel lost and confused within this changing labour market. Some struggle with knowing who they are and what they are capable of doing. Some are unaware of or not equipped in the skills needed to craft a career in this new work world. Some are unaware of the educational or career options before them or conversely feel overwhelmed by all the options. Some do not know how to transfer what they are learning in a college context to the “real” world of work. Some have personal beliefs or habits which hinder them in making effective career decisions and in conducting an effective job search.

In this context, many students struggle with indecisiveness about their future and often, as a result the relevance of their current studies. The lack of a clear goal to work towards or a lack of a sense of how to get there is one of the top reasons why some students leave school. Studies have shown that effective career services can have a positive impact on student retention.

It is for this changing work world that the Christian college prepares its students. Many students look to the Christian college to provide practical answers and direction.

Next, consider the need for the commitment of Christian solleges to the holistic development of its students and the broader Christian community. A college today should do more than just prepare its students for a career; the challenge is to go the second mile and equip its students to discern and pursue a work life which will most certainly encompass many careers and even more jobs. The college today which can equip students to go out into today’s labour market with the knowledge and skills to know who they are, to make wise career choices, to plan realistic career goals, to know how to actually find and maintain a job, to be flexible and creative in the solving of countless problems that will arise, and to know how to do all this in relationship with the living God (Eph.2:10;John 5:17, 19) will be a college that will have something powerful to offer. However, when this does not happen, it is possible for a student to leave a Christian college and then to question the value of what they learned and of the school itself because he/she was unable for some reason to effectively take the steps just listed.

But offering effective career resources and services will help ensure that alumni look back to the college as the place where they learned to integrate their Christian faith with the practical challenges of career development in today’s market place. Such services could also be an aid to alumni as they face career transitions throughout their lives; this could provide a long-term practical connection between the alumni and the college. In addition, if alumni are equipped with the necessary career skills and Christian perspectives for today’s labour market, they can use these effectively to help others in churches and in the world around who are struggling with career and employment issues.

Finally, at another level, consider the role Christian colleges could play in developing Christ-centred career counselling theory and practices. It has already been stated that the world of work is undergoing rapid changes. These changes are very dynamic and fluid; the result is a growing climate of uncertainty in which people are looking for practical answers. They are also looking for “spiritual” answers. In light of the increasing loss of any sense of job security and even personal career identity and meaning by many today, people are being told to draw on their “inner spiritual resources” for the strength and stability which they once derived from outside sources, such as employment or the “company”. This renewed interest in spirituality is being seen even in the practical matters of career counselling. At career counselling conferences today, it is possible to attend workshops in which attempts are made to integrate many different forms of spirituality with career counselling. There is a need today for those who will integrate a Christian perspective with the practical areas of career counselling. A career centre on a Christian college can provide stimulus and direction for research not only into the theology of work but also into a practical theology of career development and job search. Such an influence will go beyond just helping people find jobs to calling for the consideration of God’s principles, purposes, and values in all aspects of career counselling. A Christian college has the opportunity to bring a Christian perspective to this needy area.

A MULTI-LEVELED APPROACH

The general objective is to develop career resources and services to assist students as they explore their call. Such services should be delivered in a consistent, practical, relevant, yet cost-effective manner. While presenting a larger picture of what is possible, it is important to recognize the potential need to have such services introduced in incremental stages.

The actual selection of services and the timeline in which they are implemented would be determined by balancing a number of factors: the mission and goals of the college, the current needs of the students, the funding available, and the availability of qualified staff.

One possible approach is a multi-leveled approach to career services based on several concepts.

First, it is understood that all career services should be presented with an integrated Christian perspective.

Second, since not all students need the same level of service, a multi-leveled service approach would most effectively match individual needs with the resources available. The level of service any individual student may need will depend upon his or her own understanding, experience, and ability in dealing with career matters and the complexity of his or her own career situation. For example, students who have a good knowledge of themselves, the world of work, and the skills and processes involved in career decision making and job search, won’t need as much as those who lack such knowledge.

Third, a multi-leveled approach provides opportunity for students themselves and appropriately equipped peer counsellors to be actively involved in the process. Ideally students would be encouraged to utilize resources independently to the level of their capability and then access other services only as needed. Not only would this reduce the budget for paid staff but it also has the benefit of equipping people to provide career assistance within the contexts they will find themselves upon leaving college. Finally, such an approach could utilize less expensive resources. For example, the use of qualitative assessment methods (such as analyzing a student’s accomplishments) could be the foundation of the approach rather than costly qualitative methods (such as interest, personality, or aptitude tests). Such qualitative tests are not only expensive but also usually require certified counsellors; as a result, they could be reserved for those who need more specialized assistance.

There are three possible levels of services which can be offered.

Level 1: Self-help

Self-help career services could be made available through the establishment of a career resource centre and/or an internet site which would provide information and resources to students who can effectively use career resources with a minimal amount of assistance.

Level 2: Brief Assistance

The next level of service – brief assistance - builds on the first. Staff or volunteers would help students who need only a minimal amount of personal interaction. This could occur in several contexts:

First, someone in the career resource centre could help to guide students in the use of the career resources available.

Second, career courses or workshops could be offered to large groups of students. In a context of large-group interaction, students are provided with the information and resources they need to do self-assessment, to explore career options, to make career decisions, and to conduct an effective job search. Assignments could be given which assist students in this process. Students who need additional assistance could be identified as these are evaluated.

Another possible strategy at this level is that of small career groups. These groups may take different forms but the basic idea is that students can come together to support one another while working out their own career issues. These could be facilitated by peer counsellors who have been equipped to lead such groups; this would be an opportunity to equip Christian workers with some practical career counselling skills. Such groups could meet regularly for a semester or for the entire school year. These could be coordinated with a series of large-group workshops which could cover a sequence of career topics. The foundations could be set out in the workshops and the practical applications could be worked out in the small groups.

Finally, another possibility could be setting up a guided process for developing career portfolios whichcould be used throughout the career development and job search process.

Level 3: Individual and In-depth

The third and final level is the level in which individual counselling is needed by those who require a high level of assistance to work with available career resources or to work through their own career situation. Such counselling could be conducted by staff or volunteers equipped to do career counselling or could be conducted by an outside counsellor to whom students are referred.

This multi-leveled approach has the advantage that a large number of students can benefit from available career resources and services without requiring everyone to be in an individual counselling situation. This is both time and cost effective.

POTENTIAL SERVICES OF A CRC

In order to understand something of the scope and value of a career resource centre (CRC) on a college campus, it is important to set forth some of the services which could potentially offered.

1. Marketing

The centre can promote itself by providing information about the resources and services available. This may be accomplished through varied means such as brochures, web site, newsletters, presentations.

2. Instruction

The centre can provide instruction to students at many different levels:

  • assisting individuals in using CRC resources and materials;
  • offering courses, seminars and workshops on various aspects of the career development process (e.g. self-assessment, career exploration, job search, resume writing, portfolio development, job interviewing);
  • developing peer support groups (led by peer counsellors) in which career activities may be carried out within a supportive context.

3. Counselling

Career counselling may be offered in many forms: scheduled or drop in, individual or group, staff or peer or outside referral. Such counselling can assist students to explore personal issues related to career development and to apply the information and skills they have acquired.

4. Assessment

The centre can assist individuals in assessing and understanding their personal experiences and gifts (e.g. skills, interests, values, personality, etc) from a Christian perspective. Such an understanding is foundational to developing a healthy self-image, to making realistic career choices, and to effectively marketing oneself in today’s competitive labour market.

This assessment may be accomplished through the administering and interpretation of a variety of formal and informal measures and techniques (e.g. qualitative approaches such as examining personal achievement or quantitative approaches such as standardized tests for aptitudes, interests, personality, etc.

5. Career/Occupational/Educational Information

Information is made available through a career resource library which may contain a variety of resources including computer-based, print, and multi- media materials. Much information could also be made available through a career-oriented web site with relevant links.

These materials should offer current, practical information or instruction on all aspects of career development and job search (e.g. self-awareness materials that help users discover their skills, interests, values, personality, etc,; career exploration materials such as information about specific careers or jobs; educational opportunities such as school catalogues; job search instruction, such as finding employers, resumes, cover letters, networking, job application, interviewing, and follow-up; integration of faith with career issues).

Computer-based resources could include simple lists of relevant computer software (e.g. resume writing programs) and web sites (e.g. career information, online job banks, etc.) or the presence of computers which are set up to access these

Print materials could include resources such as relevant journals, brochures, booklets, workbooks, instructional books, directories (occupational, business), school catalogues.

Multi-media resources could include instructional tapes and videos.

6. Placement

A career centre can assist students to connect with employment opportunities. Employment opportunities may be on campus or off; temporary or permanent; part-time, summer, or volunteer. The centre can also help connect students with co-op or internship opportunities.

Varied approaches may be utilized such as job postings, online job banks, job fairs, on-campus employer visits, resume bank (print or web-based), or job banks

7. Consultation

The centre can be a resource centre not only for students but for others as well. This has the potential of expanding the career resources available to students by providing guidance and information to others who may be able to support the students in practical ways. This consultation may be accomplished through a variety of means, such as brochures, web information, presentations, or workshops.

8. Referral

It is important that services for students be provided by qualified personnel. When necessary, students should be referred to qualified outside individuals or organizations who can provide expertise beyond that of the career resource centre itself. The centre should develop a network of relevant contacts with which the centre may offer additional services needed by students.

9. Follow-Up

The centre could establish and maintain long-term contact with alumni in several ways. For example, through print and online resources, the centre may continue to offer support to alumni. Alumni may also provide support to the centre and the students it serves; they could be asked to volunteer to advise current students and other alumni about their career fields, to serve as career coaches, to supply career information, etc.

PRACTICAL ISSUES IN DEVELOPING A CRC

Once a decision is made to establish a career resource centre, it will be necessary address several practical issues, such as those listed below. This will involve a process which may be guided by either a staff person or persons or by an outside consultant working with a current staff person or persons.

1. Staffing

  • secure the necessary qualified staff needed to develop, manage, deliver, and support the services. Depending on the size and scope of the career resource centre, this may be several people or one person, full-time or part-time, staff, volunteer, or contract worker; staff may be added as funding allows.

2. Planning and Organization

  • determine which student needs are to be met by the CRC;
  • clarify the existing services and programs in order to ensure proper coordination and avoid unnecessary duplication;
  • decide upon which resources and services will best meet these student needs;
  • prepare a mission statement and specific goals and objectives;
  • establish a plan of action for establishing the centre;

3. Facilities and Resources

  • set aside space for the centre;
  • acquire the materials and equipment necessary for the effective delivery of the CRC services.

4. Funding

  • secure adequate funding for the centre.

5. Promotion and Implementation

  • promote the centre among all relevant parties (administration, staff, faculty, students, alumni, broader constituency, etc.);
  • evaluate the effectiveness of the centre.


Copyright © 2002, Gray Poehnell
All rights reserved

Last modified 3/20/03