Lack of job counselling leaves students clueless
March. 25th, 2010
Nguyen Bao Chau, in her final year at HCM City’s University of Social Sciences and Humanities, is still uncertain about the kind of job she wants after graduation in October.
"My university education has provided me with general knowledge only," said the English linguistics and literature major. "I decided to enrol in my programme just out of personal interest, and didn’t know much about the job market."
Chau, now in her early twenties, says she either will work for a bank to please her parents who have connections in the banking sector or take an extra course in translation and interpretation.
Many other students like Chau are in the same situation, having eagerly signed up to study in coveted and popular programmes without thinking about job security.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of high school students register for university and college entrance exams but a lack of career mentoring from schools, families and society have left many of them, even university graduates, unemployed or underemployed.
In the past, students gave little thought to career assessment while still in university, but today career counsellors can evaluate a student’s ability, skills and interests and help guide them to the right profession.
With such help, university freshmen can learn more about courses and achieve better learning results.
When they are seniors, students can receive training in getting a job, including interview skills, and are advised on a 5 to 10-year job plan.
Though such services exist, many students don’t take advantage of them.
A recent survey at HCM City’s University of Technology on career mentoring for students showed that 52.6% of senior students had no plan in mind about looking for a job, while 46.3% did not know how to improve professional skills.
Nearly 45% of students, even after five years of study, don’t know what kind of job they want, and up to 80% have admitted that their job-seeking skills are below par, according to the survey.
Another study presented at a recent seminar in HCM City showed that career mentoring accounts for a mere 0.91% of students at the junior high school level while the figure is 1.77% at the senior high school level.
As a result, most high school graduates have had a hard time selecting a job that can both match their ability and enable them to lead an independent life.
By comparison, in other countries career counselling serves as a forerunner to human resources training and will last for a lifetime, not just after entrance exams, according to Nguyen Quang Duong of HCM City Institute for Education Research.
Tong Thi Nga of HCM City’s Academy of Social Studies said that career counselling was a continuing process that should last to the final years of tertiary studies.
Many students, however, have disregarded career guidance and as a result have poor job-seeking skills and little confidence.
"The proportion of students graduating from university and college working in their trained fields stands between 30 and 50%," she added.
Vo Thanh Thao, a fourth-year student in English linguistics and literature, said she wished she had not chosen her major.
"If I had had an alternative, I would have decided to major in economics," she said, complaining about the quality of tertiary education. "The curriculum is too general for me to become a teacher or an interpreter."
Thao said her parents also did not know which field of study would be appropriate for their daughter and left everything up to her.
Hoang Thu Trang, a sophomore at HCM City University of Pedagogy, said she was majoring in international studies because she failed the exam for the business administration programme.
"The big question is what job will I do in the future."
Nguyen Anh Tuan, a freshman of HCM City University of Natural Sciences, said that limited information about career mentoring and lack of help from teachers were "major stumbling blocks" to students’ decisions on a career.
Truong Hoang Lam, for example, chose his major at Cao Thang College because he didn’t have the right information and as a result left halfway through the first year to pursue another programme at the Academy of Administration.
"I wanted to major in electronics and telecommunications but mistakenly registered for a similar programme. Not until the end of the first year did I realise the blunder," he said.
No guiding force
Such a lack of basic knowledge is often on display at the city’s job fairs.
At one job fair held in District 6 in HCM City last year, students posed a number of questions that were alarmingly uninformed.
Nguyen Van Tan, a 12th-grader about to graduate from senior high school, said he wanted to take the ‘D group’ university entrance exam but didn’t know which subjects it included.
In Vietnam entrance exams are divided into four major categories, called ‘groups’. A group contains maths, physics and chemistry; B group, maths, chemistry, and biology; C group, literature, history and geography; D group, maths, literature and foreign languages. Entrance exams in art and sport also exist for specialised schools.
Students in theory can take all of the tests, but the scheduling of the exams is done by individual universities, which can lead to concurrent exam times, effectively preventing many students from taking more than two exams.
Another high school student said: "My parents want me to attend a university but what I will do upon graduation?"
Queries from university students included: "Do I major in business administration so I can work for a district library upon graduation?" "Is auditing different from the accounting I am learning?" "What are the criteria for becoming a secretary?"
Tran Anh Tuan, deputy director of HCM City Job Supply Center, said students in junior high school or at least before their final year in senior high school must be better informed.
He said most students were not able to adapt well to the working environment, a chief reason for job recruiters’ low satisfaction with graduates.
The universities’ focus on theory and little emphasis on practical and professional skills were partly to blame, Tuan said.
Educators are devising new solutions and proposing policies to help students. Even though some support services do exist, they are often not used by students.
Figures from HCM City Students’ Association show 26 out of 81 universities and colleges based in the city now have a student support center advertising jobs and Youth Union activities.
But the centers have not paid attention to job mentoring, with universities and colleges not assigning any specialised staff to the task.
"Job mentoring should be provided as soon as students are about to enter senior high school since by that time their ability in a certain area is apparent," said Nguyen Thi Huong, a second-year student.
Education experts said career development programmes should be designed to help connect students with professional consultants who can provide practical guidance, knowledge and advice.
Academic clubs at universities can also be an effective venue for students to learn about careers.
Job and career choices are also related to character and personality as well as ability, said Tong Thi Nga of HCM City Academy of Social Studies.
She has proposed that the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs make career mentoring a compulsory subject in school so that students will choose the right career path.
"Career mentoring should provide information as well as point out the prospects in terms of the individual, society and the profession," Nga said.