The inaugural conference of the Asia Pacific Career Development Association was held in Seoul, South Korea in April, 2013. It included 25 presentations by career professionals from eight Asian countries or regions plus the US. The presentations ranged across the spectrum of settings from schools to workplace to government agencies. Those of us who attended gained much greater awareness of career guidance practices in Asia . The following observations are organized primarily by the country/region of the presenter. However, presenters describing multinational organizations are grouped separately.
Our host country, Korea, was well represented at the conference, beginning with a tour of an impressive government-funded interactive museum called Korea Job World that helps youth through adults explore over a hundred different occupations experientially and has an average of 3400 visitors each day. Some of the on-going funding comes from parents who enroll their children in career exploration classes, hoping to help them find inspiration in the pursuit of excellence. The government has been providing career guidance services since the 1980s, although in the past three years there has been a rapid increase in the number of career advisors in schools and use of a computerized career guidance called CareerNet. The government also provides centers for adults who need career development assistance. At least one professor of psychology has added career planning to training for psychologists and professionals with a background in human resources provide outplacement and career planning for adults. The population is highly educated, with 80% earning a 4-year college degree. This produces extreme competition for professional jobs. Korean attendees said their country needs more career planning services, better use of technology, and more government support for career guidance for youth.
The history of career guidance in Japan is even more formidable than in Korea . Career advisors in Japan are wide-spread (about 37,000 credentialed career advisors) and there is a strong credentialing and continuing education process is in place. A smaller group of people call themselves career counselors, with practices that draw on US theorists and practices. Several professionals have experimented with various US theories to assess compatibility with the Japanese culture. Japanese career counselors expressed the need for career counseling standards, more professional development opportunities and more wide-spread academic programs for training career counselors.
Taiwan was represented by Industrial/Occupational Psychologists who reported on research studies. They looked for ways to assess work-life balance, work adjustment, and career adaptability, with an emphasis on creating tools that are useful in Taiwan . The presentations were valuable and helped to illuminate attitudes toward work in Taiwan.
Hong Kong was represented by a team that works with community college students on a cooperative education program. The goal of the program is to place the students in mainland China (Beijing and Shanghai) for summer internships. Over the years, they have experienced cultural differences between Hong Kong and mainland China and developed programs to help the students adapt to the cultural differences. One example of a cultural difference is the attitude toward copyrights. While Hong Kong students are very conscientious about copyright laws, they are sometimes asked by mainland employers to ignore copyrights in producing a product. Another example is that Hong Kong students are accustomed to a clear demarcation between workers and managers, with each group socializing separately. But in mainland China many workgroups function as communities, working and playing together. In fact, some placements are in cooperative living arrangements based on work groups, so students are expected to live with the people they work with. The internship prepares students to adapt to these differences.
In Singapore, there are two Career Development Facilitator Instructors who are training career advisors as quickly as they can. The school system, workforce development, and vocational rehabilitation have all requested training for career advisors. Choosing a career has become more complex for Singaporeans as knowledge-based industries and banking and finance have rapidly expanded. Keeping up with new technology and knowledge is increasingly important. Workers are changing jobs much more frequently than in the past. The population is shrinking, so older workers stay engaged in the workplace. Common work-related values include work-life balance, high income, and prestige. Challenges faced by career advisors include insufficient support, many adults who have lost a job and need to retool, and encouraging people to focus on skills rather than on jobs.
Career development in Vietnam began in 1987, but has not been a focus until recently. In line with the government’s priority on human resource development and becoming a Learning Society by 2020, the government recognizes the need for career development. The Flemish Association for Development Cooperation and Technical Assistance initiated a multi-year project in 5 provinces of north and central Vietnam to implement career guidance in the lower and upper secondary schools. A group of leaders began by studying government polices, cultural issues, career-related concerns, and international career guidance practices. They developed a career guidance “portal” which provides instructional materials for teachers and managers, as well as materials for students and parents. The leaders provided in-service training to teachers and managers in the 5 provinces on the use of these materials, and the teachers and managers are preparing to use the materials in their own schools. A future goal is to recognize the title of career guidance teacher and define the necessary training for this position.
In Indonesia, school counselors provide career development services in schools, but workforce development programs are lacking. One career planning program for high school students was described. This program begins with the Career Thoughts Inventory (Samson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon & Saunders, 2003). It also uses a variety of tools commonly used in the US which have been translated to Indonesian. The results of on-going research into the effectiveness of this program should be available soon.
Several programs within international corporations were described. Organizations such as IMF/World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the World Health Organization, etc. seek highly skilled individuals. These multi-national corporations actively build a leadership pipeline to ensure that they have the right talents to grow their business now and in the future. They attempt to retain critical top talents by meeting the employees' career needs. Continuous effort is put into matching the needs of the business and the individuals' career aspirations. One powerful mentoring program in the Asia Development Bank was described that would make most employees jealous. Many of the talented professionals at the conference had roots in human resources career development programs provided within these multi-national corporations.
Attendees from the US presented a number of sessions that described tools or lead participants in experiencing tools which they can use at home, such as the Motivated Skills Card Sort, Work Values and Work Satisfaction, ACT’s WorkKeys, and Passport Career. Others summarized research relevant to the attendees, such as a study of the factors which influenced Korean students attending college in the US to go home, or not, after graduation, and a study of the benefits recognized by Americans who participated in Study Abroad programs. One presentation challenged APCDA members to developcredentialing standards for Asia, which has now become a long-term goal for APCDA.
This brief glimpse into the state of career development in the Asia Pacific region was fascinating and raised many more questions than it answered. For those who attended, it was a rewarding experience to come together with other professionals from the Asia Pacific region who share similar concerns and issues. For the Career Consultant Forum, it was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the diversity and skills of their members, and to share the enticements of Korea with so many guests. As one attendee said, “I feel that I belong now. It was isolating before to attend conferences like NCDA & COAA where I learned a lot by still felt frustrated due to lack of voices from the Asia Pacific area. It's valuable and humble to learn from others' experience and journey and know that I am not alone.”