Computer-Based Career Support Systems

Computer-Based Career Support SystemsComputer-based career support (CBCS) systems are information and communication technology (ICT) applications aimed at assisting individuals in their careers through the provision of online career support services. CBCS systems include a mix of career support services that correspond to four general functions of “social support”: informational, appraisal, instrumental, and emotional support. Informational CBCS is provided through information on occupational and career-related topics. Appraisal support consists of feedback from personality and skills assessments. Instrumental support includes, for example, e-learning, job vacancies, and career decision-making support. It has also been recently shown that emotional support can be provided through online communication functions, such as e-mail, chat, and discussion forums.

CBCS systems can be either (a) intraorganizational, with a restricted access, or (b) publicly available, Internet-based, or intraorganizational. CBCS can be offered as an independent career management application for employees or as part of an organization-wide e-HRM system. Public Internet-based career support is often associated with independent online recruiting and career counseling sites. Most Internet-based career support services are offered for free or at the cost of basic registration. Although both forms of CBCS are concerned with finding the best possible person-job fit, the key objective of intraorganizational career support is to maximize individuals’ performance. The key objective of Internet-based career support is to improve users’ careers.

Integrated CBCS systems are a fairly recent development. Thus far, few empirical studies have reported on such systems’ usage and effects or on users’ and providers’ perspectives. The available studies point to an underutilization of integrated or all-inclusive career support systems. CBCS, no matter how sophisticated or integrated it may be, is often merely used as just another online recruiting service. The studies that focus on examining single CBCS functions, such as career counseling, career decision making, recruiting, and so on, however, report quite the opposite results. Some studies, for example, report a high popularity and positive reception of a Web-based career advisor application for medical students. Other empirical studies have demonstrated students’ increased career decidedness after the use of an Internet-based interactive career-planning system and computer-based career guidance system. Also, there is evidence of an increase in the quality of selection outcomes and hiring, as well as job search process efficiency. Thus, current key questions in regard to the practice and research of the integrated CBCS are as follows: Why does the provision of all-in-one career support appear not to be accepted by its intended users? How should the integrated provision of a CBCS be reconceptualized to get the system accepted and used effectively in the future?

Recent literature on the effective provision of interactive professional services, such as CBCS, distinguish two approaches. One takes a sociotechnical perspective, and the other takes a social perspective. The sociotechnical perspective suggests that career support belongs to a range of professional services that are currently difficult to provide through the Web. Services of this group require high customization of highly advanced technologies that are only emerging. Recent literature notes the importance of gender, age, language, and ethnicity issues in the customization of such services. However, much more research is needed to identify all critical areas for CBCS customization.

The social perspective, however, is not constrained by technological developments and offers vast opportunities for new social science research. For example, studies of online communities suggest that CBCS may be conceptualized as a virtual social structure of relations or a virtual community, rather than a mere source of career service provision. From this perspective, the studies of CBCS would need to include the design principles of a traditional community. As several researchers note, virtual communities succeed not because of flashy graphics, but because they contain a number of requisite elements for a successful community, such as identity persistence, a coherent sense of space, and a sophisticated set of rituals. The incorporation of social network research on the various ways people operate within social networks may also determine who will use the CBCS and how it can be used effectively.

The social perspective calls for consideration of further study of social career support processes for making CBCS usable and effective. Recent empirical investigation of integrated CBCS systems suggests that the current process of virtual career support is quite different from what is provided by career counselors. The current CBCS systems allow selective usage of career support functions, or “cherry-picking,” while the process of traditional counseling is more guided and prescribed.

Further research on the effectiveness of CBCS will need to question whether a single source of career support that includes career counseling services, on the one hand, and recruiting, on the other, does not undermine the trust of users. If so, that could be a reason for poor usage of a CBCS. The basic idea behind this assumption is that very few users would be willing to expose their career uncertainties to a CBCS if it were part of an online recruiting agency’s or an employers’ e-HRM system and might be a vehicle to new career or job opportunities in the future.

In sum, CBCS is a novel and sprawling phenomenon that, in theory and practice, offers large potential efficiency gains. The efficiency gains to be had from a CBCS (at individual and organizational levels) appear obvious and perhaps, therefore, have not received much serious research attention. In terms of the perceived intrinsic value of the content of the offered support, much more research across both users and those who design and sustain the support will point to new ways of designing more effective and better used systems. Approaching CBCS from multiple and interdisciplinary research perspectives, including both the sociotechnical and social perspectives, would help to make it more accepted and effective.

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