Job Counseling for Career Pathways: Asking the Right Questions

This blog post is adapted from the Switchboard toolkit Job Counseling for Career Pathways.

Across the country, there is an increasing emphasis on career pathways programming in refugee employment programs. Whether you are looking to build a dedicated career pathways program or simply tweak existing program offerings to better serve clients looking to move beyond that first job, Switchboard is here to help!

Understanding a client’s motivations for seeking career pathways services will help you identify the right questions to ask when exploring possible career pathways. While not an exhaustive list, there are four common motivating factors that influence clients seeking career pathways services.

1. Clients who desire a higher wage can be classified as lower-skilled or higher-skilled, and counseled accordingly.

For example, a returning client was previously a nurse before entering the U.S. The client is currently working an entry-level position in a hospital, due to his need for self-sufficiency and lack of U.S. credentials and training. The client is interested in positions within the medical industry that pay more money. While building this client’s career pathway, ask:

  • How much will the training cost and are there any scholarship programs that your client may be eligible for?
  • What programs or apprenticeships are available in the area?
  • Will your client be able to work and attend training once funding is secured?

2. Clients who desire a specific job are those with previous experience in a particular industry, or those who have a specific position in mind. It could take months or years before a client is ready for a particular job, depending on the industry and position.

For example, a new client has been working as a housekeeper for a year. She is happy at the hotel where she works, and discovers an opening for a supervisory position. She calls her employment case worker seeking help to apply for the new position. Ask:

  • Does your client have the skills or training required for the position?
  • Does your client have necessary credentials like a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED), for example?
  • Does your agency have a relationship with the employer to help initiate conversations about your client’s potential promotion?
  • What coaching strategies can you use to build your client’s self-confidence and encourage the client to be as independent as possible in pursuing this promotion?

3. Clients who need to develop foundational skills and credentials are those who need general education, including continued English language training, a GED certificate, skills training, or a particular certification to advance professionally. Refugee and immigrant youth (in school or out of school) often fall into this group.

For example, a young adult is interested in becoming a software programmer but may not know how to pursue this goal. Ask:

  • What certifications are needed to pursue a career in this field?
  • Are there affordable GED classes, possible Job Corps (based on IT trade availability), or other training providers for IT software available?
  • Does your client have time or resources to actively participate in full-time training?
  • Are there positions available in your client’s field of choice?

4. Clients who are unsure and seeking information are those who are uncertain about which career they would like to pursue long-term, but know that they would like to explore new career options.

For example, a client has worked an entry-level position at a warehouse for the last eight months, is physically exhausted, and does not wish to continue this work. He would like to find a new job, but is unsure what he would like to do or what is available in the area. Ask:

  • Are there other positions within your client’s current company that he may be qualified for (or can pursue qualification for) that could be a better fit?
  • What other positions are available in the area that could be less physically demanding?
  • Does your client need to enroll in English classes or other training outside of work to gain skills needed to find a new job?

Keep in mind that each client may require different approaches to address his or her particular needs or goals. Clients may fall into more than one category, so it is important for staff to ask questions regarding a client’s wants or needs on their employment journeys.

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