Career navigation constitutes a key building block in the learn-and-work ecosystem. Services help individuals of all ages understand how their personal interests, abilities, and values can help shape their educational and career goals and contribute to their success. 

The United States needs a new national approach to career navigation for two key reasons: (1) ongoing economic volatility combined with the rising demand for highly skilled employees, make it more and more difficult for workers to reach wise decisions or succeed on their own; and (2) employers need efficient ways to develop and access a highly skilled workforce to stay competitive.[mfn]A New National Approach to Career Navigation for Working Learners. Vickie Choitz, with Louis Soares and Rachel Pleasants. March 2012 Center for American Progress, p. 2-3.[/mfn] Both these needs are increasing as the economy evolves from an industrial to a knowledge base.

Career navigation supports have emerged from a variety of sources but in highly uneven and disorganized ways. The assistance today is a hodgepodge of different types and intensities of guidance offered by different institutions and people with varying levels of qualifications. Moreover, demand for career navigation services is strong and expected to grow.[mfn] Introduction and summary | www.americanprogress.org[/mfn]

A range of providers offer career navigation services. They include school and college counselors, third-party career counselors (working in person and online), military transition centers and recruiters, prison centers/offender rehabilitative services, immigration centers, and the U.S. Department of Labor.[mfn] Careers and Career Information - CareerOneStop[/mfn]  Industries with the highest concentration of employment in Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors are educational entities:[mfn]U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021. 21-1012 Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm#[/mfn] The employment in these industries constitute less than five percent of total employment in these industries.

IndustryEmploymentPercent of industry employmentHourly mean wageAnnual mean 
Educational Support Services8,6704.45$ 28.06$ 58,360
Junior Colleges23,1503.73$ 30.85$ 64,160
Technical and Trade Schools4,0003.06$ 24.48$ 50,930
Vocational Rehabilitation Services7,6802.87$ 20.42$ 42,480
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools76,2502.56$ 26.24$ 54,570

There is good evidence that students and workers benefit from career advising and navigation services. The Workforce Investment Act (WIA) Gold Standard evaluation found that people who use staff-supported services (e.g., counseling) have higher wages and employment rates than those with access only to self-service resources. A study by Impaq International found that the benefits of WIA’s core and intensive services (of which career counseling is a key component) raise earnings by as much as $200 per quarter. Moreover, career coaching often pays for itself. For example, a study of Nevada’s Re-employment and Eligibility Assessment initiative found that the re-employment services it provided resulted in savings to the unemployment insurance program that exceeded the services’ cost. Training and education programs with statistically significant impacts on the earnings and career trajectories of participants – such as YearUp and Project Quest – often include coaching as a core element.[mfn] Markle Foundation[/mfn]  

Despite the evidence that career services benefits students and workers, and the growing need for services, numerous systemic challenges complicate the effort to provide them:

  • A severe shortage of professionals in the field.
  • Low pay and high turnover among career service professionals limits the support that clients receive. 
  • Even when unemployment was low, workers had limited access to coaching and navigation services, and counselors dealt with  enormous caseloads. 
  • Federal funding is insufficient to meet the need. Career services at community colleges, universities, and community-based organizations also face significant budget challenges. 
  • Recruiting individuals to work in this field is difficult. As an example, coaches in the workforce system are evaluated by the number of people they place into jobs. This rewards coaches for encouraging jobseekers to take the first available offer, even if it is a low-wage job requiring fewer skills than the applicant already has. The system offers little incentive for coaches to guide workers to pursue education or training that can prepare them for better jobs with higher wages over the course of a career. It also creates a perverse incentive: for coaches to serve clients who have the  fewest barriers to employment, which can lead to inequitable outcomes by race.
  • K-12 school systems and counselors are ill-equipped to offer effective career and navigation services. Because of their heavy caseloads and the behavioral and mental health challenges that students face, K-12 counselors typically de-emphasize career services. And even when they offer these services, school counselors often lack current knowledge and networks because they lack the time and resources for professional development.  
  • There is virtually no dedicated public funding to help career coaches and navigation experts build the skills they need to serve their clients. Many professionals spend much of their time on administrative tasks – such as such scheduling and follow-up – because they lack access to time-saving technology that could free them to work directly with clients.
  • There are growing concerns that the nation’s learn-and-work ecosystem is so complex and chaotic that career service providers cannot stay current. 
  • There is growing need to ensure the efficacy of technological tools that are increasingly being used to provide career services. Such tools include machine-aided assessment of individuals' knowledge and skills, and "AI bots" that serve as coaches or advisors.   
Alternate Terms
  • Advising, academic advising
  • Career development
  • Career counseling
  • Career navigators
  • Developmental advising
  • Career Coaching: The Rework America Alliance, created by the Markle Foundation, focuses on the shortage of high-quality coaching and navigation and the lack of preparation of professionals who provide those services. The Alliance is a nationwide collaboration (civil rights organizations, nonprofits, private-sector employers, labor unions, educators, and others) to help unemployed and low-wage workers move into good jobs. The Alliance is developing data-driven resources and tools to help workers who have built skills through experience but lack a bachelor’s degree find better jobs – particularly people of color and women, as they have been disproportionately harmed by the economic crisis.[mfn] https://www.markle.org/alliance/[/mfn] Tools for working adults, career coaches, policymakers and workforce leaders include the  Job Progression Tool, developed by McKinsey & Company. The tool, currently in beta testing, is described as “a digital solution for job coaches and career navigators for supporting job seekers in the United States without a four-year college degree. It is meant to enable job seekers to consider employment options that could advance their economic prospects and that others have accessed in the past, based on the value of their work experience.[mfn] Markle Foundation website[/mfn]  Other tools available at Markle’s site include an RAA Resume Builder, Career Coaching Resources, and Rework Community Resources Monitor. The Resume Builder was “developed in collaboration with worker-facing organizations to share broadly with career coaches and guidance counselors nationwide and help them better serve workers in their communities.” The Career Coaching Resources were “developed in partnership with members of the coaching and workforce community, to better equip career coaches to help job seekers find good jobs in today’s economy.” The Community Resources Monitor, developed by the Center for Workforce and Economic Opportunity at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, provides a metro-level view for policymakers and workforce development leaders.
  • Career Navigators:  Goodwill Online Career Service career navigators offer a unique service that includes teaching, career mapping, and one-on-one support. Navigators complement Goodwill’s career advisors who offer career coaching, resume support, community resources, and other valuable services.[mfn] https://www.goodwillaz.org/careerservices/difference-between-career-navigators-and-career-advisors/[/mfn] 
  • Advising through Ai Chatbots: ADVi, short for “advisor,” is a text-based, artificially intelligent chatbot that sends text messages about college-going information, suggests steps that students can take throughout the process, and responds to users’ questions. The ADVi bot can automatically answer many questions texted by students. For more complex queries, it connects students to ADVi advisors, a team of professional college advisors. ADVi began  in 2019 as a partnership with The University of Texas at Austin. It was subsequently moved to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and made available to all Texas students in fall of 2020. During the 2020-21 academic year, most ADVi users opted into messaging from ADVi when they started an ApplyTexas college application. Outcomes have been very promising in the first years of implementation.[mfn]https://uei.utsa.edu/_files/pdfs/ADVi_Spring2022_6-3-22.pdf -- ADVi The Virtual Advisor-- A High-Impact Tool Transforming College Advising May 2022 by Dr. Michael U. Villarreal, Helena Fischer, Elena Serna-Wallender, Jasmine Victor, and Matthew Singleton[/mfn]
  • Professional Development: The National Career Development Association (NCDA) provides professional development, publications, standards, and advocacy to counselors and career services professionals. NCDA offers a very useful site: Internet Sites for Career Planning at NCDA | Internet Sites for Career Planning. Visitors can search for services in the following categories: (1) Self-Assessment; (2) General Occupational Information; (3) Industry and Occupation-Specific Information; (4) Education Topics; (5) Employment Trends; (6) Job Search; (7) (8) Special Populations; and Videos. A search under General Occupational Information, for example, provides information and links to: CareerOne Stop; Careers.ORG; Gladeo.org; O*Net Online; Occupational Outlook Handbook; and Whatforwork. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sp/about
  • Professional Development Tools:  ACT’s[mfn]ACT, Inc. is an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, primarily known for the ACT, a standardized test designed to assess high school students' academic achievement and college readiness. In addition to the ACT test, ACT programs include ACT Academy, ACT Aspire, ACT CollegeReady, ACT Online Prep, Mawi Learning, ScootPad, PreACT and PreACT 8/9, ACT Tessera, ACT WorkKeys, ACT Work Ready Communities, and the National Career Readiness Certificate.[/mfn] Education and Career Navigation Framework is a comprehensive structure designed to facilitate identification and organization of the knowledge, skills, and other factors needed to help individuals make informed, personally relevant career decisions and plans. The framework integrates different perspectives and sources of information into a holistic taxonomy that provides a guide for what individuals should know and be able to do to navigate their education and work paths effectively. The four dimensions at the highest level of the taxonomy capture the broad areas critical to effective navigation: (1) ongoing acquisition of knowledge about oneself (self-knowledge); (2) ongoing acquisition of knowledge about the environment (environmental factors); (3) informed, personally relevant education and career decision making and planning (integration); and (4) implementation and negotiation of actions  that facilitate progress throughout one’s education and work life (managing career and education actions).[mfn]Patton & McMahon, 2006; G. W. Peterson et al., 1991; Super, 1990; Savickas, 2002, 2005. www.act.org/content/act/en/research/reports/act-publications/beyond-academic…[/mfn]

The United States has no coherent, planned career navigation system. Such a system was unnecessary when the main prerequisites for many middle-class jobs were physical strength and endurance. But as the nation’s economy evolved from an industrial to a knowledge base, education and skills became the paths to success. Two major reasons have driven the development of new approaches to career navigation: (1) continuing volatility in the economic marketplace combined with the rising demand for highly skilled employees, made it more difficult for workers to reach wise decisions or succeed on their own; and (2) employers needed more efficient ways to develop and access a highly skilled workforce to stay competitive.

In 2010, the Center for American Progress provided a compelling vision for a national approach to improving career navigation services. Such a system would “focus on ensuring that any worker, at any time in his or her career, could get information and resources for making smart career decisions. The assistance could be self-directed or guided by support from a professional depending on individual needs. Further, the system would provide assessment tools to help people better understand their own strengths, weaknesses, skills, and interests. It would supply information about a broad range of career options, local labor market demand, education and skills required, and typical compensation. People could find information on specific local education and training programs, including course offerings, graduation rates, and financial aid. Any individual could create an online career profile describing his or her education, training, credentials, work experience, and other relevant information. Each profile could include an individualized career navigation plan, which could be updated at any time and used consistently throughout the individual’s working lifetime. Some aspects of the profile could be made available to potential employers. More intensive services such as career coaching, advising, and comprehensive counseling also would be available depending on each person’s needs. Working learners and job seekers could connect with others through social networking technology and receive peer support, advice, and encouragement. Up-to-date, career-relevant information could be accessed electronically.”[mfn]A New National Approach to Career Navigation for Working Learners. Vickie Choitz, with Louis Soares and Rachel Pleasants. March 2012 Center for American Progress, p. 4.[/mfn]


A New National Approach to Career Navigation for Working Learners. Vickie Choitz, with Louis Soares and Rachel Pleasants. March 2010 Center for American Progress — https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2010/03/pdf/career_counseling.pdf

Bureau of Labor Statistics for Education, Guidance, Career Counselors, and Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm#(1)

Digital US/Digital Navigators Resource Hub: https://digitalus.org/digital-navigators/

Diplomatic Courier article (by Markle coaching team) pgs. 86-90:


Lightcast Job Posting Analytics Guidance and Career Counselors and Advisors for September 2021 – August 2022 

Markle Career Coaching policy brief: https://www.markle.org/app/uploads/2022/03/Policy-Brief-Investing-in-High-Quality-Career-Coaching.pdf

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