Trends in the History of Vocational Guidance

By Herr, Edwin L. | Career Development Quarterly, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Trends in the History of Vocational Guidance


Herr, Edwin L., Career Development Quarterly


In this article, the relationships between vocational guidance and vocational education, employment counseling, career guidance, and career counseling are explored. Also examined are the wide-ranging federal and state policies that have stimulated and shaped the professional history of vocational guidance, vocational policy, and contemporary terms.

Keywords: vocational guidance, industrial revolution, Frank Parsons, career policy, career guidance

Theorists, researchers, and practitioners have often pioneered the changing trends and resources in the disciplines that compose vocational guidance. Furthermore, those who study work now witness rapid transformations about how work is organized, how it is done, by whom, and the meaning of careers. Career counselors and specialists are learning a new vocabulary about work and about the effects of globalization, including organizational downsizing, outsourcing, off-shoring, global surpluses, the pervasive use of advanced technology in how work processes are implemented, the increasing use of part-time workers, international economic competition, and the evolution of new career paths.

Although there are other elements of change, most workers in the future will need to reinvent their careers to keep up with a fast changing workplace. They will need to cope with the complexities of the job market and find positions suited to their talents and interests. Workers will be more dependent than ever on career counselors (vocational guidance practitioners), coaches, and mentors (Cornish, 2004).

In this article, the relationships between vocational guidance and vocational education, employment counseling, career guidance, and career counseling are briefly explored. The roots of vocational guidance and vocational education have been prominent for most of the 100 years that are being celebrated. However, there were efforts to guide and to educate persons to find jobs and to learn through apprenticeships and other specific methods long before the current decades (Gimpel, 1976). Through these years, vocational guidance and vocational education and the scholars and practitioners who implemented them continually developed models of vocational guidance. One of these major theories, now named actuarial, or trait and factor theory, emphasized matching clients to available jobs.

The Language of Vocational Guidance

Contemporary forms of vocational guidance arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a partner to vocational education. In these years, the world of work and the world of career interventions changed dramatically. Different groups of scholars and practitioners became members of the National Vocational Guidance Association (renamed the National Career Development Association [NCDA] in 1985) and published their important theories and research in the Journal of Employment Counseling and the Vocational Guidance Quarterly (now The Career Development Quarterly), among other journals and publications. Although scholars had not yet implemented a scientific frame of reference in their advising and counseling, that goal was significant for identifying the elements of vocational guidance.

Frank Parsons

In the United States, Frank Parsons, a lawyer and an engineer, was considered the dominant visionary and architect of vocational guidance and vocational education. Parsons had been an activist and, through much of his life, engaged in various reform movements. In particular, Parsons had been highly involved with immigrant settlement along the northeastern coast of the United States, especially in the Boston area. Having established the Vocations Bureau in Boston, Parsons worked to provide a scientific basis for assisting immigrants and others to develop effective techniques for choosing specific work. An outspoken critic of the Boston public school system and a major advocate of educational reform, he was concerned that children were not getting training in the technical skills of the day. …

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