American citizens enjoy a relatively large number of educational and career options from which to choose. Thus, planning for career entry or change can require individuals to engage in a number of relatively complex and interconnected career-related tasks and activities. Many individuals elect to facilitate their progress in career planning by participating in career-planning workshops, group-based, psychoeducational services offered by most agencies that provide career-related assistance.
Career-planning workshops typically involve a limited time commitment on the part of participants. Most workshops range in duration from just a few hours to a day or two of structured meetings and activities. From a practitioner perspective, career-planning workshops can be one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways to help adults address their career concerns. They generally have the overarching goals of (a) assisting individuals in taking more personal responsibility for their career paths and (b) helping individuals become more intentional in their career behavior so that (c) participants are more likely to identify, implement, and, ultimately, achieve career goals.
The first few hours of career-planning workshops typically focus on helping participants identify and explore a range of career and educational opportunities. Because career development theories are predicated of the idea that a good fit between an individual and his or her career will result in positive outcomes, a notion termed career congruence, many, if not most, career-planning workshops include at least one assessment-related activity. These activities help individuals discover congruent career or educational possibilities or confirm the congruence of options already under consideration. Such assessment-related activities probably will include the administration and interpretation of a paper-and-pencil or computer-based career interest inventory; however, some workshops may include less formal career assessment activities, such as career card sorts, career time lines, or narrative methods. Many practitioners believe it is important to augment career interest information with measures of participants’ values, personality styles, and abilities. The workshops that these practitioners deliver may be more psychologically oriented and spend relatively more time helping individuals come to know themselves. The availability of self-scoring versions of paper-and-pencil questionnaires such as the Strong Interest Inventory, the Self-directed Search, and the NEO-Five Factor Inventory make it possible for workshop participants to complete, score, and have the results of their inventories interpreted during the course of the workshop. However, because completing these assessments is time-intensive, practitioners may consider providing assessment materials to participants in advance of the workshop, so that face-to-face time can be focused on interpreting participants’ results.
Only after participants have achieved a clear understanding of themselves and their situations and have identified a few congruent career or educational choices do workshop activities typically move to a focus on helping individuals implement their choices. At about this point in a workshop, some participants may come to understand that either personal or environmental factors complicate their identification of viable career alternatives. For example, personal factors, such as being indecisive with regard to important life decisions or having trouble making a commitment to a plan of action, can complicate career planning. Similarly, environmental barriers, such as child care or elder care issues or economic difficulties, can also present challenges. In such cases, referrals for individual career counseling or other supports can often be helpful.
Career implementation pertains to the steps that are necessary to realizing a career-related choice. Depending on participant characteristics such as age, employability, and previous work history, career implementation activities may involve teaching individuals to thoroughly investigate the local job market or to explore educational opportunities such as apprenticeship programs, trade or technical schools, community colleges, or colleges and universities that offer formal educational degrees. Career workshops often teach participants skills such as how to search for jobs and how to write job applications, cover letters, and resumes. Many participants can also benefit with behavioral rehearsals (i.e., role plays) focused on how to communicate with potential employers, including how to conduct a successful job interview. Workshops offered for educationally bound participants may focus, in parallel fashion, on how to select an appropriate college or other educational program and, again, help participants enhance their interaction during the admission process. Such skills are especially important for individuals who have not historically had access to educational experiences.
Because personal characteristics can affect career choice and adjustment, it may be important for practitioners to consider the target audience for any given workshop. Although some degree of heterogeneity among workshop participants can be useful, from a clinical perspective it may be difficult to meet the needs of a group whose lives are vastly different. For this reason, practitioners sometimes find it useful to offer workshops for individuals who have similar needs. Examples include workshops for undecided college students, students of nontraditional age who are returning to school or work, individuals returning to work after beginning a family, individuals returning to work after an accident or illness, midlife career changers, and individuals transitioning to the workforce after incarceration. Career-planning workshops are often a mainstay of agencies offering career-related service because the group-based, structured nature of these interventions makes them extremely adaptable. However, practitioners will need to anticipate, as much as possible, the needs of their clientele and target workshop tasks and activities accordingly.
Finally, in terms of the efficacy of career-planning workshops, meta-analytic investigations suggest that this treatment modality is, indeed, an effective way of helping individuals. Perhaps more important, meta-analytic findings suggest that five components of career intervention appear to contribute significantly to their effectiveness. These include written or reflective career-related exercises, offering clients individualized interpretations and feedback of career-related assessment, providing access to up-to-date work-related information, offering clients opportunities to model from successful individuals, and helping clients build or access social support for their career choices. Practitioners may wish to ensure that these components are in place as they design their career-planning workshops.
- Brown, S. D. and Krane, N. E. R. 2000. “Four (or Five) Sessions and a Cloud of Dust: Old Assumptions and New Observations about Career Counseling.” Pp. 740-766 in Handbook of Counseling Psychology, 3d ed., edited by S. D. Brown and R. W. Lent. New York: Wiley.
- Halasz, T. J. and Kempton, C. B. 2000. “Career Planning Workshops and Courses.” Pp. 157-170 in Career Counseling of College Students: An Empirical Guide to Strategies that Work, edited by D. A. Luzzo. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.