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Career Guidance in the time of COVID-19

Are we nearly there yet?

The pandemic is digging its heels in, and restrictions look set to continue in one form or another for the new academic year. So, to help us look forward, now seems a good time to connect with our colleagues, and learn from them, as well.

We asked our network of counsellors, who are working independently and in schools and educational consultancies around the world, to share their experiences of the past 18 months. We are grateful to those who gave their precious time to share their thoughts and advice on the challenges, surprises, and occasional positives of these uncertain times.

Nothing compares with face-to-face

“I affirm that face to face interaction can’t be substituted by anything and the lack of it negatively affects peoples’ growth and development.”

School counsellor, Azerbaijan

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of counsellors keenly felt the lack of face-to-face interaction with students and colleagues. Yes, technology allowed some communication, but it also brought with it new and unforeseen problems. On a practical level, lack of equipment, wi-fi strain and Zoom fatigue were all mentioned as barriers to successful guidance sessions.

Counsellors also described difficulties in building rapport, as students’ body language was obscured or cameras were switched off entirely. One interview took place from beneath a student’s duvet as they lacked the motivation to get out of bed. Zoom fatigue indeed.

Others felt that many students were unable to focus properly due to frequent interruptions from siblings, family and even pets! The lack of privacy also meant that students seemed uncomfortable disclosing what can be, after all, very personal hopes and dreams.

The harsh reality of Covid-19

As the pandemic continued and some students returned to school, they required help with the change of surroundings and lifestyle. Many found it hard to adapt and mentioned the noisiness of the school environment. As the 2020-2021 academic year drew closer, counsellors helped students and parents prepare for the possibility of remote, and online, learning at universities. For many students, this lack of face-to-face contact was a far cry from the uni experience they were looking forward to.

Among the professional concerns expressed by counsellors was a timely reminder of the gravity of the situation:

“I have had Covid myself and long Covid for over a year, so that was the biggest challenge in that it made me slow, fogged and ‘anxious’ in a way never previously experienced but I barely took time off. Talking and breathing have been challenging at times.”

Career development consultant, UK 

Finding the positives

Nevertheless, a crisis of this magnitude represents a chance to reassess the status quo and to make positive changes. Many used the time gained from commuting to work on their personal growth and professional development, or spend more time with family.

Some counsellors mentioned ‘taking stock’, and grasped the opportunity to examine their values and not take things for granted. It was thought that some students had perhaps done likewise:

“Since students have returned to school, they have appreciated school and teachers far more than before and nearly all of the students I have spoken to were glad to be back”

Freelance careers guidance counsellor, southeast England

Most participants commented on the benefit of absolutely everyone having to upskill in their use of technology. Students benefitted from the opportunity to return to recordings of lessons in order to review their learning. New markets opened up for educational consultancies moving online. Senior leaders who had previously encountered resistance from parents and staff were more easily able to update and streamline work and administrative processes.

“We went from 90% bricks and mortar to 100% online. The necessary changes in tech/infrastructure would normally have taken 18-24 months and we managed it in three. For me, the most positive thing was the reaffirmation that so many people spread so widely could come together as a team to achieve new things and stand together as a unit. I was heartened by their adaptability”

CEO of an educational consultancy with five offices across India

We know humans are incredibly adaptable, but this CEO was far from the only participant to be surprised and impressed by this attribute. Many referred to students’ adaptability and resilience, while others were pleased with the creativity shown by schools and other institutions in designing online materials to support learning.

New to counselling – or not? Read on…

Finally, we asked our colleagues to offer one piece of advice for the next year. The diverse responses covered practical tips to emotional wellbeing. Here are some of their wise recommendations:

  1. Young people have had a really difficult time, and it’s vital to provide emotional support during guidance and to allow for their lack of motivation to undertake follow up activities between meetings.
  2. Be patient and focus on the positive sides like improving and learning new skills, especially digital skills.
  3. Our currency is information and knowledge, so keeping up with learning and sharing is extra important when working remotely.
  4. Be flexible. Recognize that students and teachers/staff are not at their best!
  5. Make your own video clips with messages you want to convey to your students and parents.
  6. The isolation of working from home has hit all students hard, regardless of their background and has seriously affected the mental health of many students. I would strongly advise any advisor to feed back to the school any concerns that you may have to safeguard the student.
  7. Remember that the students are not necessarily in a private area and may not feel able to say things they would in a face-to-face interview in a controlled interview room.
  8. Try to engage alumni as a resource, asking them to provide short clips explaining their work, skills and experiences so that you have a resource bank which can be tagged and organised in many ways for work within the curriculum and careers education.


Featured Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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