Career Counselling

One of the major responsibilities of schools is to prepare students for employment and one of the ways they achieve this is through career counselling. Guidance counsellors are specialized teachers hired by secondary schools to help students in making educational and personal decisions about career opportunities.

Counsellors sometimes teach guidance courses, which introduce students to issues in the work world, and sometimes administer tests or provide other means of assisting students in matching their skills to job requirements. They may organize work experience for students or provide career-education materials for classroom use. The motivation to provide career counselling developed from early 20th-century educational reforms. Provision for the appointment of guidance counsellors was first made in 1921 in the Ontario Vocational Education Act. The number and role of counsellors gradually increased in all the provinces, but it was not until the 1960s that specialized guidance personnel were well established.

Vocational guidance has been controversial since its inception. Many have challenged the need for schools to play a vocational rather than simply an academic role. Others have wondered what the best mechanisms are for informing students about and preparing them for the labour market. When youth unemployment increases, counsellors have been criticized for lacking sufficient information about the job market and for being ineffective. Some efforts have been made to shift career counselling to outside the schools, eg, into employment information centres. Other attempts have been made to increase its presence in the curriculum as a compulsory course. In the 1990s there has been an increased emphasis on work experience and career planning in most provinces.

Counsellors tend to have most information about and to orient students towards postsecondary education and professional/white-collar jobs, despite the origins of counselling in vocational education. This social class bias in the counselling system, and the tendency for counsellors to differentially advise students from more privileged homes, has been the cause for some concern. Racial and ethnic biases may also enter too easily into the system. The process of providing encouragement for young women to enter a wider variety of workplaces, especially those involving mathematics and science, also puts important demands for equity on the shoulders of career counsellors.