AI is supposed to make life easier when it comes to finding information, advice and guidance (IAG) to support individuals and their decision making. Traditionally, IAG has been provided by human careers advisers who offer personalised support, share experiences, and emotional support. The field of career guidance has long been a cornerstone of education, employability and workforce development.
Career guidance is defined as:
“Services which help people of any age to manage their careers and to make the educational, training and occupational choices that are right for them. It helps people to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications, skills and talents – and to relate this knowledge about who they are to who they might become within the labour market.” (OECD, European Commission, ILO, UNESCO, ETF & Cedefop, 2019)
In this context, career guidance professionals perform a key role in supporting individuals to build and articulate their career identity and narrative. Empowerment of individuals to harness their evolving lifelong learning and career stories is now evermore crucial in a changing world of work. However, with the rapid advancement of automation technologies, the role of careers advisers is undergoing profound transformation. The question now posed is whether this transformation will augment or supplant human careers advisers.
Young people and adults living in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world need access to high-quality career guidance in ‘places’ and ‘spaces’ (both online and offline) at a time and place that suits their needs best. AI-driven careers IAG tools are becoming increasing sophisticated and accessible, including algorithms to analyse vast datasets of labour market information/intelligence (LMI), user profiles and preferences, enabling them to provide personalised and tailored recommendations. Skills assessment and job matching are also readily available.
It can be argued at a simplistic level, robo-careers advisers represent the future of career guidance, where data-driven insights and personalised recommendations (available anytime of the day or night) combine to empower individuals on their journey of self-discovery.
The integration of AI with human-centred services has led to notable progress in various domains such as: healthcare e.g., personalised medicine where AI is used to analyse patient data, apps provide mental health support by offering strategies, tracking mood, and connecting with therapists when needed; customer support e.g., AI chatbots and virtual assistants and e-commerce platforms; education e.g. personalised learning and administrative efficiency; finance e.g. AI-driven financial advisers provide personalised investment strategies, taking account of individual goals and risk tolerances.
There are at least five advantages of AI in career guidance namely (i) scalability – AI-driven careers information and advice can reach a broader audience, connecting to professionally trained careers advisers when needed; (ii) personalisation – AI can offer personalised recommendations based on interests, skills and occupational preferences; (iii) data-driven insights – AI can easily leverage big datasets and provide real time access to job vacancies and labour market trends, supporting well-informed choices; (iv) cost-effective – AI can quickly respond to frequently asked questions and make more in-depth guidance referrals to human advisers, if needed, thereby saving time and money within organisations; and (v) empowerment – AI-driven careers information and advice equips career guidance professionals to ‘stay ahead of the curve’ in keeping up-to-date with labour market trends, learning more about their clients/customers career exploration in advance of a 1:1 or group meeting, and analysing data trends to feed into local, regional and national education, skills and economic growth strategies.
Concerns of extinction
Similar to how the Luddites in the early 19th century feared the devaluation of their weaving skills, careers advisers today may fear that the human touch and empathy that they provide could be devalued as AI takes on more tasks in the career guidance process. Beyond this, there are bias and fairness concerns. AI algorithms can perpetuate bias if not designed and trained sensitively. This is a risk that these systems may reinforce existing inequalities and discrimination in the job market. Privacy and data security concerns surround the collection and analysis of personal data for career guidance. This cutting-edge technology is also posing unprecedented ethical dilemmas such as “a lack of transparency, gender and ethnic bias, grave threats to privacy, dignity and agency, the danger of mass surveillance, and a growing use of unreliable AI technologies in law, to name a few” (UNESCO, 2022). Fundamentally, loss of the human touch and emotional support provided by career guidance professionals, particularly to vulnerable individuals with complex circumstances and needs is a major worry.
Let’s consider a scenario in the context of career guidance where human support, AI tools, virtual reality, gaming, chatbots and data-driven insights can work together effectively: Career Guidance Support Platform
Human support: Trained and qualified careers advisers, including coaches and counsellors, form the backbone of the support system. They provide personalised sessions 1:1 or in group settings for more complex enquiries. AI frees up their time to apply their expert skills.
AI Tools and Chatbots: An AI chatbot serves as the frontline support tool, available 24/7 to engage with users with inbuilt tools like text to speech and language translation functions. It can perform initial assessments, provide information, advice and guidance, including some form of encouragement helping users to feel heard and understood.
Virtual Reality (VR): VR is integrated into career guidance sessions e.g. insights to differing workplaces, careers adviser can guide clients/customers to confront any concerns and manage their fears and concerns on a controlled and safe environment.
Gaming and gamification: Careers advisers use gaming elements such as CareerCraft to make careers education inspirational, build skills and maintain their commitment to career exploration.
Data-driven insights: The platform collects and analyses user data (with strict privacy and software safeguards) to gain insight to individuals’ progress and preferences. This data helps careers advisers tailor their approaches and interventions for better outcomes.
This holistic approach combines the strengths of human empathy, expertise and AI-driven tools to provide personalised career guidance support. It leverages engaging career exploration experiences while harnessing data-driven insights to continuously improve the quality and range of services. The combination aims to make career guidance support more accessible, effective and user-centric.
A single platform solution may or may not be the ideal solution for some politicians or government policymakers. The neo-liberal agenda favours marketisation principles (with free markets) in the equation. Those policymakers responsible for lifelong learning and career guidance, presently offer concerns focused on ‘the AI unknowns’ and maleficence in the ethical context to do no harm to other intentionally or recklessly.
A hybrid approach: Maximising the benefits of AI and humans
Just as RoboCop grappled with a moral struggle as he regained his humanity while upholding the law, the emergence of Robo-Careers Advisers brings forth a similar dilemma. While AI-drive career guidance platforms and tools bring efficiency and data-driven insights, there is an ongoing debate about the potential depersonalisation of the career guidance and counselling experience and the importance of preserving the human touch in guiding individuals to make meaningful career choices and decisions. The moral struggle lies in finding the right balance between the efficiency gains of AI and the empathic guidance that human careers advisers provide. A practitioners voice: “I love using AI in my practice, but this often raises more probing questions and emotional reactions from my clients.”
Rather than framing the use of AI as an all or nothing proposition, a more balanced hybrid approach enhances careers advisers’ expert capacities, rather than replacing these. Training and reskilling are necessary to make effective use of new AI tools and governments have a responsibility to invest resources in this regard. The fusion of AI-driven data and tools and a commitment to providing access to human empathy through skilled helpers can offer the best of both worlds. But this must not be reduced solely to call centres, instead what is needed is more local, regional and national places and spaces for career guidance embedded deep in communities.