The background to the development of CareerSmart

(a career self-assessment for students from Year 11 to work transition after university)

The journey, since September 2021, to write, develop, test and now launch CareerSmart has been immense. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the many people who have provided support, given feedback and expert advice to help guide the process.

But first I want to share the background; my raison d’etre for creating and investing so much into it.

Early last year when developing our online career assessment for working adults (Career Intelligence) I needed to explore the scope and relevance of the assessment for people at different ages and career stages. So, I elicited half a dozen willing young adults to test it for me. The six college students and one apprentice all managed to engage with the online reflective process really well and all completed the 60-minute assessment. Despite the fact that most of them found some of the questions difficult to understand and the ‘Work Values’ not relevant, they gave it their best shot. All received a report that gave them real value to consider or that confirmed their current thinking about their future.

One of these teenagers was a family member, Stella, who was 15 at the time. She had noted in the assessment after selecting ‘Sustainability’ as one of her ‘Life Values’ that “I am living in a dying world and so I need to do better with this”. For a long time, I had felt concerned about the world our youth are growing into and wondered how, we as practitioners, can help connect them to a future that would be meaningful – and where they believed they could make a contribution.

My concern had been that many young people were floundering with lack of connection and cohesion in our populations and an uncertain world future. I had observed the increasing disconnection of many young people within my networks, distracting themselves into pursuits and dreams that didn’t feel helpful and were sometimes unhealthy. Teenagers do this naturally, but the issues seem to be more complex now. Given the knowledge we have about climate change, social and geo-political tensions and increasing mental health issues related to this disconnection, I completely understand – there doesn’t seem a lot to look forward to.

So, Stella’s comment prompted me to explore what tools are available that encourage self-awareness and help students connect with a deeper sense of purpose and meaning. My motivation in this is to help young people make decisions about the future that are intrinsically driven and to think about what the world will need. And there didn’t seem to be much around. Although I know of the many wonderful career professionals out there who do great work, I understand that many teenagers have limited access to career education resources nor are able to work one on one with a career practitioner. Time allocation for career practitioners in secondary schools and access for students is a barrier to effective support. Not all students get the time they need to help them make well-thought-through decisions.

Further to this emerging interest of mine; in September of last year, we advertised a free information session about the Career Intelligence assessment (designed for working adults) via ZOOM which was promoted by Career Advisers and Educators in Education (CATE). 120 individuals signed up to attend. The majority of these were careers advisers and practitioners who worked with youth. This number clearly demonstrated to us the interest there is in having a holistic online career assessment for our Rangitahi that can be accessible, less time-consuming and low cost.

With an online assessment platform already established and working well, and a system where every licensed practitioner has their own private portal, it made sense to invest in the development of an assessment designed specifically for young people. But I had many questions and did not want to invest in the development of the assessment if it wasn’t going to ‘hit the mark’. And so, I began a series of interviews with many people in the careers industry to find out what is needed and if my concept would work for them. I had a number of questions that still needed to be explored:

Question: What would be required to incorporate a Te ao Māori approach?

With a personal commitment to honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi in whatever we do – where we can, and an interest in te reo māori, I needed first to explore this question. Robyn Bailey suggested I talk with Dr. Lynette Reid to get her advice around incorporating a Te Ao Māori lens to the career construction process.

Lynette kindly advised that this was a bigger job than maybe I had considered and required immersing myself for a year or more into the study and building a partnership with a māori group to support the development of something like this. I fully acknowledged that it was naively assumptive of me to even consider this possibility but was also relieved, feeling that we could just get on with it. I hope that some form of partnership will happen down the track to honour this ambition. Lynette was also encouraging, suggesting that if the assessment was culturally sensitive and enabled a holistic approach it would attract diverse cultures to use it.

Overall, the process and content of CareerSmart has been informed by the principles of Te Whare Tapawha to create a more holistic assessment that connects the user with their whanau, background, values, motivations and collective contribution. Hana-Maree Lambert reviewed and edited the te reo content in the values section of the assessment, for which I am deeply grateful.

Question: What assessments and tools are Career Educators and Practitioners currently using?

I had some excellent input and advice from a number of career practitioners working in diverse areas of practice; private practice, colleges and university careers departments. They were: Wendy Carey, Cherie Perrow, Robyn Bailey, Trish Handley, Joanna Budai and Caroline Sandford. (Please note that not everyone consulted is listed here, as many more casual conversations were made that I did not diarise.)

These conversations gave generously and I got to understand that although there are some online tools being used such as CareersNZ, CareerQuest, the Australian equivalent, MyFuture, and the Strong Interest Inventory, most were using various paper-based assessments, card sorts, and resources gathered over time. It was mentioned that most schools don’t have the time and resources to work with individuals one on one and when they do the individual sessions are time-limited. They were therefore interested in an online assessment that would encourage self-evaluation and where guidance and support to making career choices and decisions could be made in a group or classroom setting.

Some private practitioners recognised that their client bases are in higher socio-economic suburbs where parents can afford to pay for their son or daughter to have 2-3 hours with a practitioner. One practitioner mentioned that she believed that practitioners tend to build up a process they become familiar with and may be reluctant to change.

I concluded from this consultation project that an online tool that was cost-effective, comprehensive, and holistic in its approach would have a market, however, practitioners would need resources and build familiarity with it so that it could be incorporated into an existing careers framework.

Question: Was a holistic assessment construct requiring self-reflection valid for diverse career settings and could it be used within an existing career education curriculum framework?

To consult on this question, before the draft content went to the developers, I held two peer review panels consisting of professionals from diverse fields of practice. The contributors were:

  • Hana-Maree Lambert (Rata Careers, CDANZ Exec)
  • Shaun Pulman (AUT Careers)
  • Catherine Stephens (Independent Practitioner / ex Auckland Uni Careers Centre Manager)
  • Joanna Budai (Independent Practitioner / Otago Uni Careers)
  • Trish Handley (Independent Practitioner / Career Practitioner Ara Institute of Canterbury),
  • Robyn Bailey (Independent Practitioner/ Lecturer AUT)
  • Suzanne Perrin (Independent. Practitioner CareerEQ)
  • Adele Carran ( Independent Practitioner)
  • Carolyn Lewin (Careers Department Onslow College)
  • Janet Tuck (Independent Career Practitioner)

These sessions were incredibly valuable and I was very grateful to have a very experienced group of professionals who gave robust feedback on the CareerSmart content and construct validity. To summarise feedback briefly; the language needed more simplification; there were questions around teenagers being able to self-reflect and whether the career motivators needed to be modified to suit a younger audience. Also suggested was that when used within an educational setting the self-reflection aspects would require some student preparation and the follow up after the student has completed the assessment would require some guidance. The perspective that lower-level achievers may struggle with some of the questions was recognised, understanding that the assessment may not fit the needs of this group.

Questions: How does technology work for young people? Will they engage and complete the assessment online?

We advertised around our profession at the end of the summer school holidays calling for practitioners who would be willing to seek volunteer testers to test the instrument. 43 students from years 11 – 13 and in university were recruited to take the assessment and 40 were completed. I am incredibly grateful to these students who took time out of their school holiday to do this. Feedback from them was really encouraging and positive and some confirmed the fact that it is not a stand-alone assessment, rather it requires being part of a career education framework and support for the full benefit to be achieved.

Practitioners who engaged young people to test the assessment:

University Careers: Trish Handley and Helen Dawson (Ara Institute of Canterbury), Shaun Pulman (AUT Careers)
College Career Educators: Sherry Brewer (Junior Career Education at JPC and Year 12 Dean), Leigh Gray (Kaiārahi CATE NZ), Lynley Woodd, Bronwyn Jenkins, Jo Matheson, Louise Edmonds, Nic Kelly.
Independent Career Practitioners: Christine Mutch, Murial Willem, Miriam O’Connor, Suzanne Perrin.

Finally, the CareerSmart assessment went live on the 1st of February this year and training has begun. The amount of work, research, and inquiry that has gone into it has been considerable. I am confident that we have an assessment that is user-friendly, engages young people in a self-evaluation process that encourages agency and a belief that they can make a contribution to a future where they will be needed.

“Career construction revolves around turning a personal problem into a public strength and then even a social contribution”. Mark L. Savickas

I am deeply grateful to all of the above professionals – and more – who have given generously of their time, significant knowledge, and experience to review and support the development of CareerSmart.
Our developers at Bocapa, Boris, Remo, and Zac have survived constant edits with professionalism and
promptness. Finally, the team at CareerEQ and my family have been with me all the way on this project –thank you team!

Ph: 021474765