Career Counselor as Advocate for and with Clients

By Erin E. Jennings & Amy Mazur


Yours are the voices that need to be heard. Career Development Professionals unite and take action! This is one of the rallying cries you will hear over the year leading up to the NCDA Annual Conference in Washington D.C. where the theme is "Finding our Voice and Making it Heard." NCDA hopes you will take this mission on this year. In order to take action, we first have to start thinking about it.



As members of the National Career Development Association, and because of the direct contact we have with our students and clients, we know first-hand that our students and clients are affected every day by employment and educational issues that are being debated in our local communities, state governments, national agencies, and the greater international community. Some of us may choose to advocate on specific issues such as the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind legislation, veteran reintegration issues, the Workforce Investment Act, policies geared toward juvenile and adult corrections or other policies.

As you begin to think more deeply about the impact you can have with both clients and with the larger issues that they face, you might ask some or all of the following questions.

How can I begin to see myself as an advocate?

Chances are great you have already advocated for change in some way. For example, you may have empowered a client to advocate on their own behalf in the workplace so that the environment becomes more conducive to the client's success. Or maybe you have spoken with an employer to ask him/her to broaden the requirements of a job posting to include a non-traditional major as a potential applicant. Perhaps you have voted in your local community to fund the public library where career reference material is available at no cost.

What issues do I believe in on a local, state, national and international level?

To get a sense of what you are passionate about, start by following the advice you give your clients, do some research. Watch the news, read the paper, and see where your passions and expertise lie. Identify areas of interest - livable wages, universal health care, immigration issues. Then identify how you want to get involved.


To whom do I advocate?

Start with fellow career development professionals and fellow NCDA colleagues. Learn about the issues and talk about what is and is not going on in the profession, in legislation, and in the media to promote the best career development and workplace options for our constituents.


What actions do I take to have my voice be heard?

Are you a powerful and influential public speaker? An accomplished writer? A consensus-builder? What is the special role that you can play that feels like an expression of the inner advocate in you? Small steps can make a big impression and can be models for others (colleagues and clients alike) who benefit from seeing an "advocate in action".

What is an effective way to advocate on these issues?

Find a forum for your issue of choice. Attend community and municipal meetings where career and workforce development issues are being discussed, testify at local hearings on legislation that has a direct impact of your clients, or help a client who is willing to testify, write an article for your local newspaper, for NCDA publications. You can also participate in the Legislative Luncheon scheduled for July 11, 2008 in Washington, DC.

Who might be my allies?

Look for common ground with colleagues and others who share your perspective on the issue. Where might there be some alignment, some potential for coalition-building, which can provide an even stronger voice for the issues you are addressing. Numbers equal power, and when individuals, associations and communities share their stories, the ears of the decision-makers perk up, and ultimately change can happen. This can be a very exciting process and more exciting when you work together to have a combined impact.

More questions? Keep the conversations going by networking with other career professionals in your area and in your professional circles. Get involved in the NCDA Government Relations Committee . Read the upcoming issue of the new NCDA "Career Developments " - the theme of the Summer issue is "Public Policy and Advocacy". Also, there will be much more to learn at the NCDA conference in Washington DC, July 9-11 2008. We hope to see you there!

Erin E. Jennings, MS, NCC is a Career Counselor and the Peer Assistant Program Coordinator at Binghamton University, State University of New York. She is the President of the NY Career Development Association, Participant in 07-08 NCDA Leadership Academy, and Member of NCDA, MACCA, SUNY CDO, NYCA and ACA. Erin completed her Master of Science degree in Community Counseling at The University of Scranton and obtained her Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education at Moravian College. Erin can be reached at Binghamton University's Career Development Center PO Box 6000, Binghamton, NY 13902, 607-777-2400, ejenning@binghamton.edu

Amy Mazur, Ed.M, NCC is a Career Development Specialist and Counselor Educator who has been in private practice for over 10 years. Prior to her work in private practice, Amy was a Career Counselor and Assistant Director of Career Services at the Women's Educational & Industrial Union. She received her Master's of Education from Harvard University in Counseling & Consulting Psychology, and her undergraduate degree in Psychology from the University of Michigan. She is a member of the National Career Development Association and participant in the 07-08 Leadership Academy. Amy can be reached at 39 Woodward Street, Newton Highlands, MA 02461-1536, 617-964-7048, acmazur@comcast.net.


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