Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Hidden Resources and Barriers in Career Learning Assessment with Adolescents Vulnerable to Discrimination

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Hidden Resources and Barriers in Career Learning Assessment with Adolescents Vulnerable to Discrimination

Article excerpt

The authors maintain that the social learning theory of career development and counseling has not been applied to diverse populations. To address this gap in the literature, the authors conducted a qualitative analysis of interviews with 21 middle school students in a low-income, culturally diverse, inner-city public school. Four themes emerged, reflecting the influence of discrimination on participants' career learning: contextual barriers and resources for learning, and psychological barriers and resources for learning. The authors provide a conceptual framework for assessing resources and barriers and a rationale for why these aspects often remain hidden or unexamined in career assessment with clients who are vulnerable to discrimination.

Krumboltz (1996; Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1996) used a social learning perspective as a basis for describing the goal of career counseling as learning and the role of career counselors as facilitating that learning; specifically, they presented a learning theory of career choice and counseling. Krumboltz and Jackson (1993) viewed career assessment as a learning tool, not only to make inferences about how individuals' past learning experiences may match with some education or occupational pursuits and not with others, but also as a basis for helping individuals explore or create new learning opportunities that are relevant to potential career goals. We were interested in how these perspectives might apply in developing career assessment and intervention strategies with middle school students in low-income, culturally diverse, inner-city schools.

Krumboltz (1996) suggested that his theory and its learning premises applied equally well to all groups of people; however, each group (as well as individuals within groups) might have learning experiences that were markedly different from those of another group. Although Krumboltz's (1996) theory acknowledged the importance of cultural and environmental influences on the nature of individuals' learning experiences and process of career development, to date, studies that applied Krumboltz's theory have not focused on the influences of discrimination (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, social class). Nevertheless, we suggest that the learning premises of Krumboltz's (1996) theory provide a useful foundation for both counselors and clients to develop an understanding of these influences as well as strategies for negotiating barriers and building on resources. (Like Helms & Cook, 1999, we acknowledge the limitations of the term culturally diverse individuals; however, in this article, we used the term to refer to members of groups that are vulnerable to discrimination.)

Expanding the Education and Career Options of Middle School Students

As Fouad and Smith (1996) suggested, early career intervention (i.e., beginning prior to high school) is important for middle school students, whose career interests and self-efficacy have begun forming; in addition, they have begun making choices that will have strong influences on later education and career decisions. Early career intervention may be even more critical for middle school students in contexts where education and career development opportunities have been limited. For example, discrimination, poverty, and access to fewer resources might prevent urban ethnic minority youths from learning about a broad range of education and vocational opportunities (Kozol, 1991 ).

There is a strong relationship between postsecondary education attainment and occupational level. For example, bachelor's degree recipients earn considerably higher wages than high school graduates, who in turn earn far more than high school dropouts (U.S. Census Bureau, 1997). Yet, a college opportunity gap exists for racial and ethnic minority students in low-income school communities (Education Trust, 2000). Only 47% of low-income high school graduates immediately enroll in college or trade school, compared with 82% of high-income students; and only 18% of African Americans and 19% of Hispanic high school graduates earn a bachelor's degree by the time they are in their late 20s, compared with 35% of Caucasians (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], Condition of Education 1999, as cited in Education Trust, 2000). …

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