Working Learners Need Better Access to Career Advising: How and Why to Take Your Services Online

By Autumn Collins, Shalom Bond and Marty Apodaca

Working learners- students who work while attending college- outnumber traditional students with 14 million enrolled nationwide in recent years (Carnevale, Smith, Melton, & Price, 2015). As career professionals in higher education, we have a mandate to offer quality career advising to all students. How do we serve those who can’t walk in to our brick-and-mortar offices? Many working learners cannot access in-person services offered from 9am to 5pm due to time/distance constraints caused by work and family responsibilities. By offering career advising services online, we give all students and alumni the chance to get the career help they need in this ever changing economy. This article shares results and insights from our experience pioneering online career advising at The University of New Mexico (UNM), a Hispanic serving institution comprised of 27,000 students (UNM, 2017).


What Is Online Career Advising?
Online career advising can take many forms, as simple as answering questions by email or, at the other end of the spectrum, an in-depth interaction via video call. Career centers can provide online career advising easily with just one competent, tech-savvy staff member dedicating 5 hours per week. Two modes of online services may be offered:

Synchronous: live, real-time exchange such as instant messaging or a video call.

Asynchronous: interaction is time delayed; students submit questions via email for future response.

Our program provides both modes, which allows us to meet the widest range of client needs. For synchronous interaction, we offer weekly online “walk-in hours” on Thursday evenings (5-7pm) using Google Hangouts. During this time, students can get help using instant messaging, voice or video call. We offer online appointments outside these hours to have a longer discussion via relevant technology. For asynchronous interaction, we maintain a dedicated email address where clients can send questions at any time and replies are sent typically within two business days.


Why Should Your Career Center Provide Online Career Advising?
Among undergraduate working learners, 25% work full-time while 40% work at least 30 hours a week; 19% are also parents, and 76% of graduate students work at least 30 hours per week (Carnevale, et al., 2015). Higher education institutions offer online academic programs that allow students to fit in school around other time commitments and location challenges. Online students at UNM pay more per credit hour for their education than students taking exclusively in-person classes, yet receive fewer supports and services; 35% of UNM students take at least one online class and 12% are solely online learners (UNM, 2017).


This reflects the national trend of an increase in working learners who require a tailored approach to career advising and served as a call to action for our career services department. Attending an in-person appointment can be prohibitively difficult or even impossible when students are juggling classes, full-time jobs, and often family responsibilities, and may live an hour or more from campus. These students have just as much right to quality career advising as their peers. Yet under current models, they are systematically underserved and effectively excluded from the supports that allow students to succeed.


How to Launch An Online Career Advising Program
Expanding your career services online is easier than you think! A wide variety of free tools exist that make virtual communication simpler than ever before. Here is a simple, five-step process to spearhead your own online career advising program. 

1. Assess needs and research policies
Conduct a needs assessment. What proportion of your students are working learners? Evaluate the services most relevant for your population. For example, is there demand for services in the evening? Investigate whether your institution has any policies that may impact your program. For example, if you are required to collect protected information for data tracking purposes, you will need to consider FERPA compliance in the design of your program. 

2. Assess skills and select a practitioner
Do you have someone on staff who can perform this role already? The UNM program is run by a member with previous experience launching an online tutoring program at our university. A tech-savvy practitioner may be able to hit the ground running. 

3. Collaborate with colleagues
Find colleagues who have experience offering online services. Do any teams at your institution provide online services already, such as tutoring? The undergraduate tutoring service here at UNM gave us invaluable insight and information, including data on the times our students are most likely to use online services. 

4. Choose a platform and launch your program
Based on your needs assessments and the skills of your staff, select a mode of delivery and an appropriate platform. Will you offer asynchronous services, synchronous services, or both? Consider using free services with which your clients may already be familiar, such as Google Hangouts or Skype. With the groundwork laid, you are ready to launch your online career advising program! Announce and promote your program to your target audience. 

5. Get feedback and improve your process
Solicit feedback from your clients, gather data on your program, and explore successes and challenges. Implement changes and continue to evaluate your services.


Our pilot program facilitated 120 online client interactions in the first two semesters, with 55 unique clients. Demographically, clients reflected our student body including nontraditional students with full-time employment or caregiving responsibilities, alumni from out of state, and students at branch campuses located several hours away. Most interactions were traditional resume reviews, but we also provided a vehicle for clients to ask salient career questions including ones about appropriate professional communication, salary negotiation strategies, and help with changing careers.


Crucially, many of these clients indicated they otherwise would not have been able to access our services. For some students, it served as a gateway to eventually come to our office for an in-person interaction. This simple email interaction initiated that first step in accessing career services not previously available to our working learners.


Applying the Communication Revolution
Ask yourself, how can you provide working learners at your institution with active and meaningful career guidance? We are living through a communication revolution. It is a professional best practice to utilize the new tools available to us to help clients navigate the changing career landscape, particularly through accessible online career advising.



Carnevale, A., Smith, N., Melton, M., & Price, E. (2015). Learning While Earning: The New Normal (pp. 1-70, Rep.). Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce McCourt School of Public Policy. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Working-Learners-Report.pdf

[Editor’s note: the Carnevale document is a very large file and may take a while to load.]

Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. (2017). It's Time to Fix Higher Education's Tower of Babel, Says Georgetown University Report.  McCourt School of Public Policy. Retrieved from https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/LEE-PR-final-7-11-17.pdf

The University of New Mexico (2017). Fall 2017 Official Enrollment Report. Retrieved from: http://oia.unm.edu/facts-and-figures/fall2017-oer.pdf



S. Autumn CollinsS. Autumn Collins, LMHC, GCDF, has been a career counseling professional for 10 years and is currently the Career Counseling Manager at UNM Career Services. She is a PhD student in Educational Psychology, serves as current President of NMCDA, serves on the Executive Committee for UNM Staff Council, and is a LMHC in the beautiful state of New Mexico. Autumn is passionate about modernizing career centers and facilitating student engagement in the career development process.  She may be contacted at autumnc@unm.edu



Shalom Leo BondShalom Leo Bond, LMHC (pending), GCDF, holds a Master's in Counseling and a BA in American Studies from The University of New Mexico. Shalom is a CDF 1 at UNM, writes for the UNM Career Services blog, and conducts the online career advising walk-in hours. Shalom is passionate about social justice, mental health, and the community and natural beauty of New Mexico. His interests include LGBTQ issues and mindfulness-based approaches to counseling.  He may be contacted at sbond89@unm.edu



Marty ApodacaMarty Apodaca, LMHC, GCDF, NCC, is a CDF 2 at UNM Career Services, holds an LMHC in New Mexico, and carries a devotion to Career Counseling and Supervision. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Counselor Education and previously earned his MA in Counseling from UNM. Marty supervises and trains master’s level interns at UNM Career Services. A past president of NMCDA, he is an active member of NCDA, ACA, and NMCA. He recently graduated from the NCDA Leadership Academy class of 2017. Marty’s passion is in the training and facilitation of the Career Construction Interview. He was recently a faculty member at the Kent State Career Construction Institute.  He may be contacted at rapodaca@unm.edu

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Kim Gieck, LPCC, NCC, BCC   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 10:59 AM

Great article! Very relevant. I am finding that I am interacting a great deal more online with community college students due to their academic/work/family time demands.
Great to see New Mexico represented in NCDA!

Autumn Collins   on Thursday 11/02/2017 at 02:47 PM

Thank you for the positive feedback, Kim!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.