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JUNE 2021 Newsletter

Change Is Possible: A Discussion of Leadership In Professional Career Counseling

Latara Jones, M.S., CCE Global Career Development Facilitator

My name is Latara Jones and I have dual membership with the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and Pennsylvania Career Development Association (PACDA). Currently, I serve on our PACDA Communications Committee as the Editor for the Power Update newsletter. Debra Franke, PACDA VP, Volunteer Engagement & Special Projects and I collaborate with our Communication Committee, Executive Leaders and Chairpersons to publish the newsletter. We developed a questionnaire that went to active PACDA members, who provided their expertise on the best practices of career counseling. In my essay, I will discuss the topic Leadership in Career Counseling, and strategies that can help job seekers achieve tangible results. The focus of this essay is how career professionals are growing within their organizations, making adjustments during this year 2021 and preparing for the New Year 2022. 

We are living in a historic and unprecedented times. Many families were experiencing financial challenges prior to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and are facing more severe hardship through no fault of their own. My own purpose is to make a difference in the lives of families. I believe that career counseling professionals can serve as a catalyst for change by helping jobseekers obtain gainful employment opportunities. The choices we make at the start of each day determine our future.  I begin my day with mediation and prayer such as the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr. 

Career counseling professionals are leaders who assist job seekers with obtaining their professional goals in the workforce. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary the word counseling is defined as “advice and support that is given to people to help them deal with problems, make important decisions, etc.” As leaders, career counselors are in a key position to help jobseekers make decisions that can change the trajectory of their lives. Self-care is important and practicing it daily allows us to serve people though our work in a greater capacity.

We know that stress is a part of life. Developing coping skills to deal with stress can help us in all areas of our lives. Per Amy Morin, LCSW, “coping skills help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations in life. Managing your stress well can help you feel better physically and psychologically, and it can impact your ability to perform your best.” Coping skills can consist of prayer, mediation, deep breathing, yoga, walking, exercising, journaling, self-reflection, talking to someone, etc. Taking time for self-reflection allows you to identify your thoughts, speech and actions that trigger stress. Also, this provides you with more insight into your strengths and weaknesses. This can improve your mental health and resilience. The way you show up for work can enhance or hinder the jobseeker, client, or student. Also, practicing self-care, developing coping skills, and having an awareness of triggers can improve your relationships with family members, friends and loved ones.   

According to an online Healthline article, “in mental health terms, a trigger refers to something that affects your emotional state, often significantly, by causing extreme overwhelm or distress. A trigger affects your ability to remain present in the moment.  It may bring up specific thought patterns or influence your behavior.” Jobseekers come to career counselors with their own personal narratives and life experiences that lead them to utilize career services.

From my observation, career counseling professionals need to be skillful listeners with keen discernment to ascertain the knowledge, skills, and abilities of jobseekers. Through active listening, career counselors can draw upon the personal stories of jobseekers to help them create personal and professional career goals to achieve their vision. Building a rapport with our clients/students creates an environment where they can share confidential information with us.

For example, during our counseling sessions we may learn about personal matters concerning families, finances, health, trauma, barriers to employment and more. Equity is defined as “the quality of being fair or impartial: fairness: impartiality” or “something that is fair and just.”  By establishing trust, we can become champions who advocate for equity in the hiring, recruitment, and retention of qualified job candidates. As career professionals, we can make a difference and transform lives through employment.  

Jobseekers consist of clients/students from different social, economic and cultural backgrounds. It is important to understand the inequalities that existed prior to the pandemic and how these conditions are now exacerbated by it. Historically, urban renewal policies such as gentrification have had a negative impact on low-income city residents. Gentrification continues today. The Urban Displacement Project defines gentrification as a “process of neighborhood change that includes economic change in historically disinvested neighborhood-by means of real estate investment and new higher-income residents moving in – as well as demographic change-not only in terms of income level, but also in terms of changes in the education level or racial make-up of residents… While increased investment in an area can be positive, gentrification is often associated with displacement, which means that in some of these communities, long-term residents are not able to stay to benefit from new investments in housing, healthy food access, or transit infrastructure.” 

Dr. Delorese Ambrose shares in her book Leadership The Journey Inward, “as leaders, we promote change more effectively when we draw on both personal power (lessons learned from resolving life struggles) and organizational power (our position, expertise, and knowledge).” As we continue to work with our clients/students, here are some things that we can reflect upon.

    • What impact do inequalities (such as inadequate income, education, skills, and housing) have on job seekers?
    • What are the social and economic conditions that cause inequality in education and employment opportunities?
    • Are we assisting job seekers who have mental health issues, substance abuse disorders or experience challenges that are related to the court system such as probation?

Fran Arvan, PACDA Membership Committee, shares that “I have spent a great deal of time researching and understanding the ongoing changes due to COVID-19. I have a PowerPoint presentation dedicated just to this topic that I have been presenting to groups and going over with individual clients as well so that they are prepared. The other group I am focusing on are women who are displaced from the workforce due to COVID-19.” (4/13/2021).

Career counseling professionals can advocate on behalf of jobseekers by meeting with hiring managers to learn more about an employer’s recruitment, interview and hiring process for open positions in Pennsylvania. Representatives from the human resource department can provide us with more insight into their company’s core values, guidelines for employee retention and professional development, key performance indicators (KPIs) for an entry level position vs. an administrative position, and non-discrimination policies.

Two internationally renowned business leaders in Pennsylvania, who implemented non-discrimination policies are the late former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, and Giant Eagle Incorporated Chief Executive Officer Laura Shapira Karet. The Rooney Rule is utilized by the National Football League. Giant Eagle, one of the largest employers in our region, has taken specific actions to stand up to racism and social injustice. Also, Giant Eagle offered to hire people who are unemployed due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Four major issues were prominent during the pandemic.

    • First, politics such as voting and advocacy. In terms of voting, how are the elected officials in Pennsylvania addressing the needs of their constituents?
    • Second, economics such as unemployment, and evictions. What tangible resources are available for jobseekers in our region?
    • Third, healthcare which includes personal protective equipment, social distancing, and mental health services.
    • Fourth, services such as education and childcare.

A career counselor who understands the social-economic conditions referenced above, is better equipped to help jobseekers reach their goals in a manner that leads to tangible results. Beth Wilson shared, “I have been a career counselor for many years. I love collaborating with clients to complete a self-assessment and generate ideas for career direction and planning. Advising diverse individuals on job search strategies and tools is rewarding, especially when the result is an offer of a great job. While challenging, coaching clients on workplace dynamics is fascinating.” (4/14/2021)

As leaders, we are representatives of our organization’s values, mission, and vision. Dr. Ambrose, James Kouzes and Barry Posner in their book, The Leadership Challenge, make the point that the difference between managing (maintaining a stable organization) and leading (creating a new state) is that managing aims at “getting people to do,” and leadership inspires people, “to want to do.”

Career counselors can serve as mentors to our clients/students and provide them with the tools to achieve their goals with tangible results.  In my opinion, taking time for self-reflection by asking ourselves the following questions can help us grow as professionals.

    • What barriers do jobseekers have in obtaining employment opportunities?
    • Are the jobseekers facing discrimination?
    • Are career professionals aware of the employer’s policies on fair labor practices?
    • Is there training available to assist career counselors with identifying barriers that exist in the hiring decisions of employers?

Many PACDA members are participating in ongoing training and learning. Per David Novick, PACDA Membership Committee Co-Chair, “I am attending internal company (Right Management) continuing certification classes, as well as PACDA offerings. Also, reading books on coaching. Considering ICF [International Coaching Federation] certification as well.”

Training Resources for career counseling professionals include PACDA, Eagles Autism, NCDA, CTL (Career Thought Leaders), and MACCA (Middle Atlantic Career Counseling Association).

As career counselors we need to empower our clients to take ownership of their re-entry into the workforce. For example, a jobseeker could utilize some of the following questions at a career fair or in discussion with a recruiter or hiring manager.

    • What positions do you currently have open in your company?
    • What knowledge Skills and Abilities (KSA) are you seeking in job candidates?
    • If a job candidate has experience, and does not have a bachelor’s degree, will they still be considered for a position by the hiring manager?
    • Once a job candidate applies for a position, what is your internal process for reviewing the resumes or curriculum vitae for the open position that you are seeking to fill?
    • What is the next step in the interview/hiring process?
    • How long does your recruitment process usually take?
    • What are the company’s values?
    • What characteristics do you look for in employees in order to represent those values?
    • Is there anything in a job candidate’s background or resume that will make you question whether they are a good fit for a position in your company?
    • Are there opportunities for professional development? If so, what do those look like?
    • Do you have a learning and development program?
    • It’s crucial to have a deep understanding of how an employer measures success. What are the key performance indicators (KPIs) for an entry level position vs. an administrative position? How, and how often, are they measured?
    • Could you go into more detail about the company’s culture? How would you describe the overall style of management at the company? What do you/employees like the most about working here?

Change is possible

One day I was working with a client and asked for their feedback about a presentation. Their response was, “Change is possible.” I became excited because my client’s mindset was changing in a more positive direction. Through career counseling, we can encourage our clients/students to exercise their leadership skills and plan action steps that will lead to a permanent job, thereby earning a living wage with benefits. The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour. A worker who earns the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour makes just $15,000 a year.

In the City of Pittsburgh, there is an affordable housing shortage, and the cost of rent has increased exponentially. Low-income families need access to affordable housing. Depending upon the location of a two-bedroom apartment, the rent is $900 - $3,800 per month ($10,180 - $45,600 annually). This does not include the cost of food, clothing, healthcare, childcare, transportation, and other expenses. A worker who earns minimum wage is forced to working more than one job. The conditions mentioned earlier existed prior to the pandemic. Living in the city provides you with access to public transportation, food stores, healthcare services, schools, jobs, social services, mental health services, etc.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, there are 22 labor Workforce Development Boards in our state. Career counselors can provide first-hand knowledge about the challenges our jobseekers experience and recommend services to address their needs. The Pennsylvania Housing Alliance, Pennsylvania Women Work, and PA CareerLink are resources we may utilize during career counseling sessions.

Here are some reflections from our PACDA members about the best practices of career counseling:

Kim Neubauer, PACDA President, describes her motivation with jobseekers: “I am motivated by the awareness that what I do helps others be more successful in what they want to do. Clients/students are often deeply appreciative and feel more confident, having strengthened their chances of getting interviews and landing jobs. I can see tangible barriers being removed as well as improved strategy, attitude, and marketing materials, among other elements necessary for a successful career transition. In other words, I am not only motivated by the impact I am able to make on my clients' and students' results, but their appreciation and gratitude make me feel good about myself.”

Neubauer explains further how the pandemic transformed her own career: “Initially I lost my entire career, which was exclusively in-person training and coaching. I had to completely re-tool by learning how to be effective when delivering learning remotely. Pre-COVID -19, I was traveling internationally and domestically to deliver workshops and courses, and since March 2020 all my work takes place in my home office. Personally, my life has completely changed as well. Previously I was involved in many in-person activities and organizations, all have which have gone remote, changing their nature so significantly that my involvement since has been minimal if at all. My friendships and relationships have shifted. Most have suffered, but some we have made a concerted effort to maintain and even grow stronger. I used to have extremely wide circles of what I call "good acquaintances," people with whom I interacted with regularly in the context of in-person employment, professional networking, music, dance, and other activities. Most of these are now dormant or have settled into a more superficial nature.” (3/28/2021)

Jessica Visek, PACDA, Membership Committee Co-Chair describes the way she is expanding her career counseling business: “Strategizing on ways to grow my business and identify new revenue streams.  Complete my certified career coaching program. Take advantage of CEUs that benefit me and my clients. Professionally, I continue to provide top-flight bespoke services to advance my client's career journey. I am optimizing my professional brand through continuous education and obtaining a high regarded certification. I learned to stay competitive and marketable.” Visek provides us with examples of how she is continuing to develop professionally during the pandemic stating, “Obtain my career coaching certification, participate in podcasts and create content, i.e., blogs, to increase my SEO and online presence.” (4/9/2021)

Susan Goldman, PACDA Member states “It is important and satisfying to have a positive impact on the lives of others. I do my best work in collaboration with others and am motivated to help others succeed.” Goldman recalled how the pandemic impacted her professionally and personally: “Professionally the pandemic has provided opportunity to reconnect with my career coaching professional community. Personally, it has been a devastating time with tremendous loss and grief that I am wading through little by little. I am in the process of attending all the Zoom Learning webinars. I did a brief course in Personal Resiliency with a local ICF coach last winter. I am working on a DEI certification and am very excited to share what I am learning to help others.” (4/9/2021)

David Novick, PACDA Membership Committee Co-Chair shared his inspiration for joining PACDA: “Keep current in career planning and development.” Novick offers this advice for professionals with school age children: “Tough one. Give yourself a clearly delineated schedule for work and seek as much privacy as possible. However, do not neglect the needs of your children and family. It’s a balancing act.” (4/8/2021)

PACDA member Win Sheffield’s motivation? “[I] love helping people to make their efforts more fruitful by helping them connect to their value, by clarifying the process and opening them to more options.” (4/8/2021)

Angeline Gordon, PACDA member, shares her insight on the COVID-19 pandemic and advice to parents: “I am learning by adjusting and continuing to grow. Yes, I am continuing to grow during the pandemic by taking courses virtually related to my career. I have advice for professionals who have school age children, I would advise them to always make time for self-care.” (4/8/2021).

PACDA member Lois Benishek explains her motivation: “I want to make my clients' career and life trek easier and more transparent than what it was for me as a low income, first generation-to-college student. (4/10/2021)

Louise Polis suggested this strategy to assist career counseling professional development during the pandemic: “I believe it will be a much busier fall because of LinkedIn marketing. I am doing a lot of networking with recruiters and staffing agencies and niches such as hospitality management and related industries. I am more proactive about marketing; that is getting results. I am recognizing that I have limits. It is challenging to create work life balance.” (4/8/2021)

Rachel Minard, PACDA Founding Member and Executive Board of Director described her motivation for career counseling as a “passion for helping students.” Minard explained further how she continues to participate in professional development by attending “lots of webinars and zoom meetings.” (4/8/2021)

Jennifer Benson, PACDA Member described the way her organization’s services changed due to the pandemic:, “I work in education. We placed COVID-19 mitigation protocols in place for our high school students that we see in person. We are teaching them how to interview through virtual platforms. We schedule virtual meetings with alumni through Bookings and then host a zoom call or phone call. We developed a series of online workshops to share career search information and to host networking events. I am preparing by updating our website with more helpful information. At the beginning we did not want to devote the time and resources to improving the website with self-service information because we thrive on personal engagement. Now we're expanding the website to make it more self-service oriented without reducing the amount of virtual engagement opportunities.” Benson offers this advice for career counselors who seek professional development: “I’ve taken a few informational courses and am preparing to be MBTI certified.” (4/9/2021)

I wrote this article to encourage career counseling professionals to serve as catalysts for change, by helping jobseekers obtain gainful employment opportunities. Understanding the social-economic inequalities that existed prior to the pandemic, and how these conditions are now exacerbated by it, better equips us to help jobseekers reach their goals in a manner that leads to tangible results. Through the training we receive, we can advocate more effectively on behalf of our clients/students, to ensure there is equity with an employer’s recruitment, interview and hiring process for open positions in Pennsylvania.


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