Career Counseling in Developing Countries

When I was reviewing our fall applications, I realized that quite a majority of our female applicants wanted to be nurses.  Of the 9 new female applicants, 7 of them expressed a desire to follow careers in the medical field (78%).  Of these, 6 of them said they wanted to be nurses (86%) and one of them said they wanted to be a doctor (14%).  I know it’s not a huge pool of applicants I’m working with, but I still thought it was interesting, and it made me ask myself: “Why?  Are there no alternative careers for them, or do they all really want to be nurses?”  I asked a friend of mine who’s been working in Haiti for a while, and she stated that it’s just the career that girls follow in Haiti: “they have a limited view of what they can do…sad thing is some of them really want to be doctors, but they don’t think women can be doctors.”

This reminded me of going to school in Guatemala.  In third and fourth grade, my dream was to become a bilingual secretary.  It was something I aspired to.  The only alternative I knew of was to be a teacher, which didn’t sound too bad either…but I already spoke English, so it made the “bilingual” thing pretty easy.  It wasn’t until I got older and returned to study in the United States that my options opened up.  This was due to the availability of career centers in my junior high and high school, career guidance specialists who met with me to discuss my plans for college, career aptitude tests, career days, etc.  I don’t know that any of these really made me focus on a specific career, but it showed me options.

For students in less developed countries, these “amenities” aren’t options for them.  In researching the availability of career counseling and guidance for developing countries I came across a study done by the World Bank, titled Public Policies for Career Development.

Some of the highlights of the study:

Career guidance is increasingly viewed as an integral part of a human resource development strategy designed to harness technological and economic change and enable the country to compete effectively in global markets.

Career guidance policies and services support economic efficiency by making the labor market operate more effectively.

Career guidance can perform a valuable role in raising the aspirations of the disadvantaged and individuals in poverty by making them aware of opportunities, and supporting them in securing entry to such opportunities.

Issues faced by developing countries:

  • Limited public resources: developing countries need to prioritize their investments, and career guidance is not one of them
  • Poverty and unemployment: may mean people drawn to accept any job in order to provide a source of income, suppressing the concept of choice, and leading to career guidance being regarded as relevant only to those who are perceived to have choices–who might be quite a small minority.
  • Informal economy: many seek economic survival outside the formal wage economy (2/3 of Haitians have no formal employment — http://www.lambifund.org/news_HaitiStats.shtml#Overview)
  • Community capacity building: need to help individuals decide how they can best contribute to their community
  • Importance of family structures: family may exert stronger influence on individual’s choices, not least because it is more directly affected by the results of those choices
  • Emigration: option of emigrating or seeking employment abroad for better opportunities
  • Cultural factors: in certain cultures there may be some resistance to help seeking, which may be viewed as a sign of weakness, or there may be traditional occupations roles for groups and individuals that are difficult to change.

So what are the suggestions for developing countries?  “Strengthen structures for policy coordination and strategic leadership, explore the role of legislation, collect improved financial information and review the role of markets, assure quality, build an evidence base, examine the role of international support in enabling middle-income countries to benefit from experiences, materials and systems developed in other countries.”

You know, no big deal.

The reality is that even with these systems in place, even with students having a clear focus of what career path they want to follow, they still need to be able to find a job in that career path once they graduate.  It’s great that a student aspires to be lawyer, doctor, business man/woman, advocate, engineer, etc., but it does that student no good if he/she can’t obtain a job in that field.

This was expressed in an article discussing the career guidance and employment opportunities of students in Tanzania.  The article starts by addressing the difficulty students have in finding a job after they graduate.  It then goes on to discuss the lack of career guidance in Tanzania, which stems from a lack of resources and teachers who are unable to provide such guidance due to a lack of knowledge about available careers.

“Experts agree that career guidance, widely accepted as a powerful and effective method of helping to bridge the gap between education and the world of work, can also help decrease unemployment.”

The Executive Director of the Association of Tanzania Employers states: “most of our trainers have no idea what exactly they are supposed to be teaching.  We have potential in students, but there is no-one to unlock it.  The trainers don’t know what is relevant or not in today’s job market.”

I think this is one of the biggest challenges for any organization that is working with students: you see the potential so many of these individuals have, but you have to learn how to unlock that potential, and how to encourage them to pursue that potential, to make something of themselves in a society that maybe does not appreciate such potential, nor knows what to do with it.

If our applicants want to be nurses, I’m more than happy to help them pursue those dreams.  But I want them to have alternatives.  I don’t want them to pick a career path because it’s the only thing available to them.  I want them to pick a career path because it’s what they want to do, or because they believe it’s the best way to achieve the financial stability they desire.  I hope that in the near future Haiti Scholarships can help our students discover these options, and help each of our students achieve the full potential that each of them have locked up inside themselves.

Your thoughts?