Category Archives: For Educators

What My Online Jazz Course Taught Me About Career Counseling

Even if you do not like jazz, please keep reading. This analogy works for whatever genre of music or form of art that you do like.

I recently completed an online jazz appreciation course, and when I began I could only use layman’s terms to describe what I liked or disliked about a particular song. During the course the professor’s goal was for us to progress to the point where we could use jazz terminology to support our musical preferences. So, “I liked it because it was energetic and the band had a trumpet (my son plays the trumpet in his high school band)” became “I enjoy the combination of blues and bebop, as well as the trumpet player’s motivic development.”

What does that have to do with career counseling? Job seekers can usually describe in layman’s terms what they like or dislike about the jobs they have had. When counseling them, what if we help them to see how their preferences translate into workforce development terminology? Would that help them to understand their personal traits better, and would they then be more likely to make better career decisions?

Here is a before and after example to illustrate how this strategy would work.

Counselor: You scored very high in the Realistic interest area and your highest work values are Relationships and Working Conditions. Have you considered training to become a computer user support specialist?

Job Seeker: Huh?

Now let’s try an approach where the counselor helps the job seeker to understand their experience in terms of workforce development terminology.

Counselor: You told me that one of the things you enjoyed most about your last job was fixing the machines when they broke down. That confirms your high Realistic score on your interest profiler. A person who scores high in the Realistic interest area enjoys finding practical solutions to problems.

Job Seeker: Yes, that really sounds like what I like to do.

Counselor: Also, you didn’t like the competitive environment among your co-workers and wished that you could have had some customer contact. That matches well with one of your high scores on the work importance profiler, Relationships. Now there are a few occupations that allow you to fix things and still have some customer contact. One of them that is in demand, pays a reasonable wage, and offers some job security is computer user support specialists. You might call the person who does that job a help desk technician. Could you see yourself doing that?

Job Seeker: Well, I don’t know. How could I qualify for a job like that?

Of course, many of my readers could lead that discussion much better than I could. In the career to counselor ratio I am about 90% career and probably only 10% counselor. But I am hoping that I was able to present the concept in a way that makes sense.

I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this idea. And if you try it, please let me know how it works.

Image above from publicdomainpictures.net

What Kind of Job Can I Get If My College Major Is…

This question is sometimes difficult to answer because colleges and the workforce do not always speak the same language. That is the bad news.

The good news is that you can translate between the CIP (Classification of Instructional Programs) codes used by colleges and SOC (Standard Occupational Classification) codes used in the labor market.

Sometimes the translation is obvious—for example, B.S. in Electrical Engineering to Electrical Engineer. Other times it is more complicated. Consider a degree in Communications, which will not get you a job as a Communicator. So what will it get you?

Here is a web site with a useful crosswalk from college major to job title: http://www.onetonline.org/help/online/crosswalk. Simply plug in the name of your degree program, and you will get a list of occupational matches.

Unfortunately, you may find more matches than you expected. For example, the crosswalk lists more than 20 different types of communication degrees. So you will have to choose the one that makes the most sense to you.

Of course, in the world of the job seeker, we just crossed the street without looking where we are going. You would do better to look before you cross. What I mean is that you would really benefit from choosing your desired job (or at least the job family or industry cluster) first and then finding a degree program that will get you safely to your destination.

Image Source: Dogmadic, http://www.freeimages.com/photo/436457

Beverage vs. Adler

Lou Adler offers an interesting perspective on the Labor Department’s job openings numbers in his post “The Feb 11 JOLTS Report Predicts…” I am really glad that he discussed the JOLTS numbers. It is important to look beyond the two pieces of data—the official Unemployment Rate and the monthly jobs report—on which the media fixate.

There is a trend that comes out of the job openings numbers that you should be aware of: The Beveridge curve. (Okay, I admit that I intentionally misspelled it beverage in the post title so that I could use the soft drink image). The Beveridge curve takes the job openings rate and compares it to the Unemployment rate. As the job openings rate goes up or down, so does the Unemployment rate.

Here is why you should be especially concerned about the relationship between job openings and Unemployment today. In 2010 the Beveridge curve shifted up and to the right where it has stayed through the end of 2013. That has been evidenced by relatively high Unemployment at a time when there are high numbers of job openings. The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes this situation as ‘inefficient job matching.’ It is a source of frustration for both businesses and job seekers and a real challenge for workforce professionals.

So, is the coincidence of high numbers of job openings and high Unemployment a cyclical issue that will eventually correct itself? Or is it a reflection of a real lack of skills among workers? We cannot be certain. But anecdotal evidence suggests that businesses should focus on developing the skills of their workers and job seekers should take the initiative to build their own skills.

If the data really interest you, information about the Beveridge curve can be found on pp. 19–23 of this document.

Opening soft drink image is from publicdomainpictures.net.

Job Projections to 2022 Troubling

The Bureau of Labor Statistics released their Occupational Employment Projections, 2012–2022, today. Here is my initial reaction. I try to be optimistic about economic data—and still believe that there are tremendous career opportunities for job seekers who understand where they fit in the labor market—but I am disappointed by these numbers.

Comparing the new projections to the old ones (2010–2020), we are seeing a significant decline in projected growth. According to the old forecast, we were to see 164 million jobs in 2020. The new projection calls for only 161 million jobs two whole years later. That is about 2.5 million jobs too few for the projected size of the labor force. Although that is much better than the difference between workers and jobs of nearly 10 million in 2012, wouldn’t it be better if there was a job for every worker?

The outlook for 19 of the 22 major job families has been downgraded with the largest downward revisions in Office & Administrative Support and Sales & Related Occupations. The bright spot in the revisions is in Management Occupations, for which end-year (2022) employment has been adjusted upward by 20,800 (3.4%).

My understanding (from a non-economist’s point of view) of the reason for the changes is that the economy in general is recovering from the Great Recession far more slowly than expected. Thus forecasted job growth has been revised downward.

6 Fastest-Growing Occupations for the New Year: Don’t Believe Them!

Tomorrow (Thursday, 12/19/13) the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release their Employment Projections for 2012–2022. Then you will see the writers begin to write about the hottest, best, or fastest-growing occupations for the next decade. Among the jobs that are hyped, you will see some really bad choices. Perhaps the list will include biomedical engineers with a 50+ percent growth rate. (No, I do not have an advance copy of the new projections; I am just guessing based on the old projections).

Why They May Be Bad Job Choices

Over the weekend a friend of mine told his teenage son that he would double his allowance if he would shovel the snow from the driveway. Why did his son refuse the offer? The dad does not even give him an allowance, and the young man realized that two times zero is still zero.

The same is true of some of the “fast-growing” occupations. If you take an occupation with a very small number of job openings and increase it by 50%, you are still going to end up with a very small number of openings. The 2010–2020 projections showed an annual average of 1,310 openings for biomedical engineers. That may seem like a large number, but when you divide it among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, it is far from being a “hot” job. For example, New York State’s share of the annual openings is only 30.

When a Decline Is Better Than an Increase

You would actually be better off pursuing a career as a postal service worker. With a double-digit decline, no one is going to place postal workers on their list of best jobs. However, the projections to 2020 showed an average of 12,630 yearly openings—nearly 10 times as many as biomedical engineers.

So when you see those articles about the fastest-growing occupations for the New Year, make sure that the writers are not trying to sell you on two times zero.

Image above from publicdomainpictures.net

How Much Does a Job Pay in Rochester, NY?

A recent Fox Business article (http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2013/11/08/where-are-all-middle-wage-jobs/) raised a concern about growing inequality between people with high-wage jobs and those with low-wage jobs. In Rochester, NY we have lost thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs in recent years. So we too have reason to wonder, “Where are the middle-wage jobs?”

The CareerBuilder & EMSI Occupational Projections report defines a middle (or medium) wage job as one that pays between $13.84 and $21.13 per hour on average.

The good news locally is that many of those middle-wage jobs are right here at home. An analysis of 73 of the top jobs in the Rochester, NY area reveals that 33% of them fall in the middle wage range. In fact Rochester scored far better than the national average on the Gini index, a major measure of income equality.

Is That Job Hot or Is It Not?

I just read a profile for another “hot” job boasting 8.3% growth between 2010 and 2020, and it made me cringe. Here’s why. It turns out that the growth is based on only 120 jobs in our Finger Lakes Region of New York State. So what is 8.3% of 120? It is only 10 new jobs in a 10-year period—an average of one new job each year!

Imagine that you used your valuable time and resources to train for that job. Now imagine that 15 other people who read the profile did the same. What are the odds that you are the best candidate?

What is the lesson here? The next time someone recommends a job with 8% growth, why not ask them, “Eight percent of what?”