Work-to-School Transitions in the Age of the Displaced Worker: A Psychology of Working Perspective

Article excerpt

Frank Parsons (1909) founded the vocational guidance movement more than 100 years ago within the context of a shift from an agricultural to an industrial workplace. Today, globalization, workforce diversity, and the financial instability related to the Great Recession present numerous challenges to workers across the economic spectrum. In addition to highlighting Parsons's continued influence on career counseling practice, the authors draw on David Blustein's (2006) psychology of working to enhance the understanding of the needs of dislocated workers. Using case examples, the authors demonstrate how to incorporate insights from the psychology of working to address social justice, financial, relational, and self-determination concerns among this vulnerable population. Counseling strategies for clients in transition, especially those considering educational options, are provided.

Today's workers often struggle to cope with and adapt to situations over which they have little or no control (Blustein, 2008). Frank Parsons, who founded the field of vocational guidance at the turn of the 20th century (Parsons, 1909), focused on educational issues for those transitioning from school to work and displaced immigrant workers, emphasizing social justice to address issues of equality, oppression, and human rights within society during a time of reformation (Zytowski, 2001). He laid the foundation for conceptualizing how individuals make and manage career decisions (Härtung & Blustein, 2002), emphasizing understanding one's self, knowing the career environment, and identifying the relationship between self and environment (Parsons, 1909). Numerous factors (e.g., globalization, technology, diversity) are again changing the nature of work, bringing counselors full circle to an era of reform where social justice can once again address the needs of workers as they adapt to a dynamic, ever-shifting workplace (Blustein, 2008). Professional groups such as the American Counseling Association's Counselors for Social Justice view the construct of social justice as focusing on the empowerment of individuals by addressing the essential elements of equity, access, participation, and harmony within the context of cultural and societal systems (Counselors for Social Justice, 201 1 ). Parsons addressed these aspects as a scholar, educator, and reformer by implementing his philosophy into action through his Boston's North End organization. To this end, counselors must work together with community leaders to advocate for the needs of clients within the context of contemporary challenges (Santos, Ferreira, & Chaves, 2001).

To frame the plight of dislocated workers, we use insights from David Blustein's (2006) psychology of working perspective in conceptualizing present-day career challenges (e.g., outsourcing, downsizing, global competition) involving modern at-risk populations, namely, dislocated working-class individuals returning to school. We seek to bolster the understanding of unplanned career transitions and to inform career interventions for these workers. Several relevant case examples from individuals involved in mass layoffs at two manufacturing compames are provided. Blustein's (2006, 2008) psychology of working is emphasized herein because it complements Parsons's perspective related to transitional issues and addresses concerns of less privileged individuals (Härtung & Blustein, 2002; Zytowski, 2001). Although complex market forces are typically involved in mass layoffs, recent changes in the economy have made certain workers especially vulnerable because of slowdowns in certain business sectors and changing educational and skills requirements. Counselors have always provided important support to dislocated workers by connecting them with resources necessary to maintain or restore employability. Workers requiring additional education are not necessarily members of traditionally underprivileged groups (e.g., mistreated migrant workers, victims of racism), yet not having the necessary employability to compete in such a challenging economy may indirectly create another less obvious at-risk population. …