By Karen Lomas
Many of us have been forced to shift from long-utilised methods of in-person career coaching to new systems of delivery and service. We’ve all had to adapt as quickly as possible to school closures and social distancing while continuing to support our students and clients. Making the shift to online career coaching has been key.
I have been utilising online platforms for quite some time; however, COVID-19 has meant a shift away from anything delivered face-to-face. Here is my personal reflection on this period of churn.
The initial slow-down
For me, COVID-19 lock-down policies resulted, for a short while, in an almost total suspension of work. In particular, revenue for March dived in comparison to revenue for March 2019. In addition to being bed-bound with illness for five days, a project I was working on was suspended.
Another issue was that families lost income, as some were either furloughed on reduced pay, or laid off. The JobSeeker and JobKeeper schemes had not yet come into play. I felt the need to offer some discounts and it felt good to be able to do this. Then I waited and things picked up. Sometimes there’s nothing else for it but to be patient.
Changing my business model
I went from running a career office that clients attended in person, to an all-online careers service. This shift meant marketing the new provision of career coaching via my website and on social media. This costs money because I have to pay for back end support on my website.
Once I mastered Zoom, I had to learn how to use Webex quickly, then keep on top of the deluge of information coming from VTAC, CDAA, CICA, CEAV, tertiary providers, my Careers Group and from virtual careers expo organisers. It was super intense for a while.
I now use both of those Webex and Zoom platforms and lock my meetings, but do not take recordings. I did this upon the advice of CICA. In a discussion with my Careers Networking Group I realised that schools have different policies, so I was anxious about the fact that while school-based career practitioners had policies that protected them, I had to abide by a different set of rules. I have to rely on my handwritten notes and the interview summary that I share with my clients. For sure, I have insurance policies and the backing of my professional associations.
In my private practice regarding counselling with children, I always obtained written permission from parents to counsel their child, whether it be online or in-person. If a child is happy for their parent to be present during their coaching session, I accommodate this. The preamble is a little longer with online counselling — the assurances around the session not being recorded, and that when I look away it’s because I’m taking notes ( not because I’m tickling the cat)!
Challenges my clients are facing
The language that I was hearing and reading from parents and students was challenging. Many admitted they weren’t coping, and there were parents who said their Year 12 child was thinking of dropping out of school. When asked how they were doing, clients were increasingly circling the word ‘anxious’.
Some students and young adults do not wish to turn on their screen during sessions, therefore I cannot look for clues from their body language. Then again, there is the potential for the disinhibition effect — the potential benefit of distance, or the barrier created by the screen, and with respect to email and texting, the delay. Students and young adults are indeed divulging, so then it’s a case of listening actively and checking that they are, in fact okay.
Challenges I’m facing
Along with the above, there’s an increasing demand for services — and the fact that I don’t have any bells ringing to tell me that it’s lunchtime or time to knock off.
With a new way of working, we have to protect ourselves from burnout. I am indeed feeling tired and on one Friday, about a month ago, I was still at my desk at 7pm. That was not an easy day for me, as three students did not seem too good. I had to tell myself that something, just a smile, some words of encouragement will have helped them.
An overall success
Shifting to online career coaching has worked and this is gratifying. However, it has required a process of adjustment over which I have had very little control. When I set up my business, I was calling the shots. This year I, like all of us, have been forced to adjust my work in the face of what felt like what I might describe as ‘organised chaos’. It takes me back to a time early in my career when I was working in London and having to run a business despite IRA bomb scares and actual bombings. I recall my Assistant Manager saying on one such day, ‘Well, it’s character-building’. We had to laugh.
Karen is a career coach specialising in early career exploration with school-aged students.