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Career Planning: Is there hope for struggling teens?

Guest Blogger
Jared C. Schultz, Ph.D., CRC, LVRC, HS-BCP

I have witnessed both the unproductive and productive side of vocational assessment. I remember taking the Strong Interest Inventory in high school. My guidance counselor called me into his office and shared with me that I should be a “Mortician and Embalmer”. This is a great profession to be sure; but not a future that will attract the girls. I had a choice; I could either disregard the results of the test, or face a life of… well… you get the picture.

Unfortunately, I think that many people have similar experiences. When vocational and career assessments are done in a fragmented manner or in isolation of the comprehensive process, it leads people to believe that these processes are generally useless. The process of providing a career evaluation is grounded in the task of matching a person to a vocation or career goal. We comprehensively assess aspects of the person and the work environment to determine the level of “fit”.

The following are assessment tools that are utilized to do this. It is critical to remember that focusing on one tool will give incomplete results that are difficult to implement into an Individual Education Plan or Therapeutic Treatment Plan.

1.      Interest Inventories – These instruments measure and report on types of jobs that may be of interest to the student. They are limited to interest only, and do not address the other factors that are required for success in the workplace.

2.      Aptitude Testing – These assessments address an individual’s capacity to learn skills and knowledge in specific areas. Examples of areas evaluated are spatial aptitude, numerical aptitude, motor coordination, verbal aptitude, math aptitude, etc. The focus is on future development and capacity.

3.      Ability / Achievement Assessment – These assessments measure current abilities, and answer the question, “What can this person do now?” The focus is on meeting a minimum criterion for entering a profession. This type of information may include specific ability or achievement tests, and may include academic testing and academic information.

4.      Value Assessment – Examines the value preferences of the individual relevant to the workplace. Again, the focus is on finding an employment setting and job type that is congruent with the value set of the individual.

5.      Personality Testing – Assesses the basic constructs of the individual’s personality. Personality testing is helpful for assessing the match with a particular vocational goal, but in isolation does not provide an adequate picture of potential success.

These assessment areas provide information related to the “person” part of the equation. A useful career evaluation will also provide information regarding the “environment”. This is referred to as occupational information, and entails information on the work environment of specific jobs, as well as labor market surveys. Best practice in vocational and career evaluation will also include observing the interaction of the person in specific work situations through work trials, work samples, and situation assessments.

Finally, a strong career evaluation process will recognize the dynamic nature of career exploration, particularly given the developmental stage of the student. It should provide direction to the student, family, and allied professionals on how to facilitate the continued growth and development of the student.

Simply put, the vocational and career evaluation process for adolescents and young adults who struggle with ASD, NLD, RAD, substance abuse, depression or anxiety disorders is much more complex than completing a few interest inventories.

If you found this post helpful, you may want to read this other post entitled;

The Value of Work in Recovery


Leslie Scarpa said…
So this leaves me wondering, how do these kids, particularly kids who have successfully completed therapeutic programs and are ready to move forward with their lives, get a chance at college or other opportunities. Often times their grade points are below their ability due to their bumps in the road along the way. How frustrating to have straightened their life out only to be turned down by a college because of a hardship. This is a problem facing one of my clients.

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