May/June 2013
Workforce Development | Professional Growth

The role of career and school counselors in workforce initiatives

By Charles Lehman

Career and school counselors play a critical role in the success of workforce and education programs, ensuring that labor market needs are met in the most productive and efficient manner. These highly trained professionals usually begin with one-on-one sessions to understand a person's needs and desires, followed by written or computer assessments that help determine abilities, aptitudes, skills, values, and interests - and how they relate to different careers. These assessments, which have been developed and refined over several  years, usually consist of multiple choice questions in which the test taker indicates preferences for different interpersonal and work choices. The counselor evaluates the results and provides an in-depth interpretation, followed by a discussion of educational requirements and job outlook for possible careers. Finally, the counselor can help with job search procedures, such as applications, resumés, interviewing, networking, employer identification, and planning.

The largest government employment initiative is the federally funded Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which operates hundreds of One Stop Career Centers across the country to assist in finding work and making long-term career decisions. WIA helps individuals who have been laid off from occupations or industries that are downsizing. In those cases, the counselor will concentrate on determining acquired transitional skills that are relevant to available jobs, offer motivational assistance, and provide basic job search techniques. Other services offered include training in basic academic competencies and necessary technical skills, such as computer proficiencies.

The technical and vocational training programs WIA administers usually require a career counseling evaluation to determine the likelihood of successful educational completion and whether local employment possibilities are available before enrollment. Many counselors will check with local employers and state economic researchers to verify job possibilities, and some counselors manage job clubs in which a group of unemployed individuals help each other find and apply for jobs. These WIA training programs are evaluated by the number of graduates placed in jobs, their salaries, and how long they stay in those positions, so proper preparation and case management is very important. With youth clients, the emphasis is more on career exploration and awareness of the world of work, changing job market needs, educational requirements and opportunities, and employment possibilities.

Another major employer of career counselors is the community college system. There, training is primarily based on specific employer needs and is highly flexible to meet changing labor market conditions. In this setting, counselors work with students to explain current local job possibilities and the skills and training programs necessary to qualify.

Regardless of the work setting, counselors emphasize to job seekers the importance of employability soft skills. These traits, such as reliability, teamwork, customer service, honesty, attitude, and motivation are often lacking in experienced job seekers as well as new entrants and are as important as technical skills and academic competencies.

Individuals interested in finding work or deciding on a career have three excellent sources for assistance. The U.S. Department of Labor ( provides information on career exploration, how to get additional education and training, job search planning, resumés and interviewing techniques, and local sources of government assistance, such as community One Stop Centers. At these centers, trained staffs are available to provide individual counseling at no charge. The National Career Development Association ( provides links to an extensive number of career planning guides, assessments, and resources, as well as a list of qualified counselors. The site also lists officers of state career development associations, which can be contacted for local information on careers and counselors. Community colleges and universities have career service offices with trained counselors to assist students and alumni on career decisions and job search.

Workforce programs function most efficiently when jobseekers are prepared and placed in jobs that fit their abilities and interests, and employers are provided with well-trained and qualified workers. Career and school counselors help ensure this process is successful.


Charles Lehman is the director of an economic consulting company. He administers a regional federal/state workforce program and serves on the board of the National Career Development Association. Further information about career planning and a list of qualified counselors can be found on the association's website