Issues and Challenges

Navigating Futures — The Need of Career Counseling in Educational Institutions

My father said it is a good degree program so I decided to join this,” “One of my relatives has done it, so I also wanted to give it a try,” “All my friends were applying for this, so I also followed suit,” “Someone said it is a popular degree, so I enrolled myself in it,” “I have heard there are good jobs after doing this degree, so I applied for it.” These are some of the key statements that encapsulate the sentiments shared by majority of the students when questioned about their motivations for enrolling in a specific degree program. In my capacity as a teacher, engaging with new students and inquiring about their future aspirations often serves as an intriguing conversation starter. Regrettably, the responses tend to convey a less optimistic outlook. This may be attributed to certain career paths having consistently captured the limelight, enticing students to join them, without a clear understanding of what lies ahead. This allure can lead students to make ill-informed career decisions, unaligned with their personalities and long-term ambitions. The pressure to conform to societal expectations can overshadow the importance of pursuing a career that truly resonates with one’s values and aspirations. Encouraging students to explore diverse options and make informed decisions is vital for fostering long-lasting career satisfaction and a sense of self-actualization.
In the current educational landscape, many students turn to informal sources of information like family, friends, relatives or social media for ideas on career options. However, it is worth noting that this may not yield credible information. Consequently, some students may end up selecting careers that eventually lose their appeal or do not align with their abilities. Therefore, it is imperative to establish formalized professional career guidance offices within educational institutions to enrich the decision making process about career choice.
Career counseling is a professional guidance service that helps individuals to make informed career choices. It is a structured process that begins with an individual recognizing the need for guidance or aiming to begin an educational degree program. Through self-exploration, skill assessment, and in-depth understanding, they can gain insights into their strengths, interests, and aspirations. With the support of career counselors, individuals make informed decisions, set goals, and acquire necessary skills. Career counseling doesn’t directly prescribe a specific career choice, rather it aids in provision of adequate information and uncovering personality traits, allowing individuals to compile a list of potential career choices to choose from. Career counselors stay updated with the job-market trends, in-demand skills and may assist with information on job prospects and salary expectations. For Pakistani women there is an assortment of issues that they need to work through when choosing a career and, therefore, career counseling has an even deeper consequence for them.
Self-awareness is the first step towards an informed decision-making process. It involves a recognition of the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, an identification of interests and passions that bring out intrinsic motivation and clarification of values and priorities that set out a sense of purpose. Educational institutions should celebrate diversity in learning and working styles of students and facilitate them in understanding their personality traits, as they can influence career choices. For example, an individual who is inclined towards introversion may find a sense of fulfilment in careers that allow for independent work, like freelancing or research. On the other hand, an extrovert may thrive in roles that frequently ask for team work and social interaction like a sales representative or event planner. Self-awareness helps set achievable goals and prevents pursuit of unrealistic career choices. 
Career guidance initiatives should encourage individuals to seek out and connect with experienced professionals in their chosen field. As a model of innovation, the triple helix in educational institutions refers to collaboration of academia, industry and government, which fosters application of evidence-based knowledge to socially relevant themes. The industry sponsored projects, along with providing students a platform to experience real world challenges, facilitate building a portfolio to showcase potential employers. The firsthand experience ensures their education remains relevant and aligned with ever-evolving needs of the job market. Policies designed to establish a connection among industry, government, academia and community can provide exposure to students to understand ground realities and align their personal and professional aspirations. Community engagement projects, internships, and industry specific researches can contribute to this connection.
It is important to recognize that diverse specialized domains exist within a single career path and increasing students’ awareness of the numerous opportunities within a particular field provides assistance to them. As an example, take the field of psychology where students can explore diverse domains like forensic psychology, clinical psychology, industrial psychology, sports psychology, etc., as subfields of psychology. Delving deeper into their strengths and interests, they may be drawn to criminal profiling or psychological therapies and are aptly able to make informed career related decisions.
Career counseling for women should also be targeted towards awareness of non-traditional career paths and access to vocational and leadership training platforms. Initiatives to promote women entrepreneurship may strive to develop key skills like business planning, financial management, market analysis and networking strategies, necessary to navigate the business landscape. Additionally, cultivating a strong virtual presence is vital to broaden professional networks and seize diverse opportunities in the digital era, and this requires digital literacy. Career counselors need to introduce women to safe and responsible use of online business platforms. The competitive digital landscape works around digital marketing, online portfolio development and personal branding, which can enhance women’s visibility and credibility in the digital realm paving way for career advancement. 
Female employees may have to encounter unique challenges in different careers, which should also be a key component of career guidance for women. The traditional conceptualization of certain professions as being gender-specific, either masculine or feminine, restricts entry of each gender into careers conventionally viewed as non-stereotypical for them. These invisible barriers, often described as ‘glass walls’ tend to limit career choices for women. Effective career guidance can better equip them with availability of diversity in career choices, subsequently paving way to the breaking down of these barriers.
Along with students or recent graduates, individuals considering a career change or returning to workforce after a break, may need career transition support. Women re-entering the job market after caregiving responsibilities may benefit from career guidance, while seeking fulfilling roles in the employment. To venture into the entrepreneurial landscape, career counselors can help pinpoint viable business opportunities and advocate for safe and strategic use of digital media, ensuring women entrepreneurs are equipped with the required tools to navigate online business world.
Women may sometimes overlook job advertisements that tend to feature terminologies traditionally associated with masculine characteristics, like ‘competitive’ or ‘independent decision maker’, assuming that these job positions may not be suitable for them. Career counselors need to play a vital role here, in emphasizing that traits like leadership, competence and independence are not inherently masculine but are qualities of professionals, regardless of gender. Moreover, they can underscore that these skills can be learnt and honed by anyone.
Preparing for workplace realities includes discussions on gender biases, workplace cultures, and strategies for overcoming gender-related challenges. Skills that provide strategies for self-advocacy, effective negotiation and supportive networking may come in handy here. Therefore, along with technical insights into potential careers and relevant educational programs, fostering an understanding of the social realities of workplaces can equip women in their navigation of the professional sphere.  Emphasizing on the importance of work-life balance is vital and career counseling can help promote discussions about family-friendly policies in the workplaces. 
The labor market has evolved over time and so has the career guidance process, which has to assist individuals through the complex terrain of modern careers, where adaptability, lifelong learning and digital literacy are paramount. Acknowledging and redefining the nature of work in the current job market marked by innovation and global connectivity, career counseling remains an indispensable resource for forging fulfilling and successful careers in the 21st century and beyond.
The process of choosing an appropriate career path is a critical and transformative decision that significantly impacts an individual’s life, particularly throughout their academic years. Insufficient regard for the matter at hand can potentially lead to enduring regret and unease. However, receiving appropriate supervision from a qualified counselor at this phase is crucial in guiding students towards achieving success. HH

The writer is a lecturer of Anthropology and Behavioral Sciences at National University of Medical Sciences.
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