It began in Boston a century ago: a group of do-gooders helping immigrants make their way in a strange land.
The goal was to match those immigrants to employment, said Deneen Pennington, executive director of the National Career Development Association, the group born from that group's efforts.
A mix of academics and government workers, the association's founders became tuned in to the psychology of work and the importance attached to selecting a career.
That focus hasn't changed much, though the world has. Pennington has headed the group since 2001, winning a contract to manage the association; the organization's Broken Arrow headquarters correspond to her office, with their board of directors -- a diverse group hailing from across the country -- visiting Tulsa every year or so.
Pennington noted the "huge trend" over the last decade of "independent workers, consultants, that kind of thing."
She embodies that trend, with the organization relying on her to subcontract out needs for the group, which has no other employees.
The nonprofit association counts about 5,500 members, with roughly 70 percent either university academics or employed as college career counselors, she said.
The shifting winds of the workplace offer them plenty of opportunity to help others, she said.
"The days of long-term loyalty with one company where you're asked to do the same kind of work day in and day out are gone, which increases the need for our services," Pennington said.
Change continues at a rapid pace, Pennington said, noting the words of a speaker at the organization's recent annual conference. "They said the incoming college freshman is preparing for a career that doesn't even exist today, because technology and new fields are moving at such a rate," Pennington recalled.
Rich Feller, the elected president of the organization, in a phone interview listed three factors shaping the workforce.
Courtesy of NCDA
"Every job today is being impacted by technology. And many are being impacted by globalization, and many by automation or robots," Feller said.
"That's the reality that our people are facing now, that clients are facing. So we have to kind of stay up with the times," Pennington said.
Feller offered some advice for those seeking a job.
"I think most people get jobs through friends and family, so knowing what one's skills are and being able to understand how they add value to solving problems is the first major step," Feller said.
He recommended that people seek out an online tool, onetonline.org, to do some self-assessment. It's important to find out what jobs line up with a person's skills, Feller said. Seeking out meetings with people who have the authority to actually make hires is also a good job hunting strategy, Feller said.
For college students, it's important to get internships and do related projects "to document our experiences." Applicants can then show employers, "'We can do something with what we've learned,'" Feller said.
Compared to the past, "I see more people who really love their work," Feller said. But he acknowledged that an "almost bifurcated curve" exists, with many others dissatisfied with their working life, which may explain why mental health is one topic gaining attention.
"It's amazing that if you would solve somebody's employment status and get them into something that is financially feasible and very satisfying to them, all these other mental health issues seem to diminish," Pennington said. "Families get along better, relationships are better, so forth and so on."
The association itself has a $350,000 annual contract with the National Institute of Corrections, the part of the U.S. Department of Justice that oversees the federal prison system.
Since 2001, the association has provided training to help corrections system workers counsel ex-offenders to find a career path upon their release.
With recidivism a concern for this population, it's "much better having them employed and paying taxes than being a drain on the system in prison," Pennington said.
The funding for the association's contract has become a source of anxiety, as has government funding in general for areas like workforce development centers.
In an effort to have its voice heard, the group has become involved in government relations advocacy.
Another concern involves counselors in high schools, Pennington said.
"School counselors by definition are supposed to do one-third of their work in the career area, and unfortunately a lot of them are not able to perform that because of the other issues they have to deal with, everything from scheduling to domestic violence to underperforming students," Pennington said.
Counselors should make sure time is devoted to this role, but it's also a funding issue with too few counselors in place to deal with large numbers of students.
In the 1950s, the association joined with others to become a part of the American Counseling Association, which has a total of about 75,000 members, Pennington said.
But the National Career Development Association is the oldest among those affiliated organizations, she said.
It's become something of an international organization as well, with contact from leaders in oil-rich countries like Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.
"They know within the next 20 years, those resources are going to be depleted, and so they're looking forward economically, how they're going to support all their generations to come," Pennington said.
Technology is playing a much bigger role in what members do, she noted.
"Career counseling used to be a sit-down one on one relationship. Now, with technology, that's just not the case anymore. There's a lot of distance counseling going on," Pennington said.
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