Using contemporary digital technology offers possibilities for better engaging youth in constructing their future careers. This study describes and initially tests the effectiveness of an online career intervention based on life-design principles. Middle school students were assigned to either a traditional test interpretationbased intervention group or an online intervention group. Analysis conducted to evaluate pre- and posttest differences between the 2 groups indicated that students in the online intervention group showed higher levels of career adaptability and life satisfaction than did students in the traditional intervention group. Results also suggested that intervention increased students' narratives future aspirations.
Keywords: career counseling, Internet, computer-based career intervention, career adaptability, life design, middle school students
Today's career problems require supports and services different from those traditionally used, such as matching people to jobs (Savickas, 2008). Using technology in career intervention offers one such novel approach. Technology and the Internet could support career counselors in providing high-quality services at reasonable prices through the use of computerized tests, materials, evidence-based protocols, and other information that can be quickly accessible to clients (Sampson & Osborn, 2015). Technology could also enable career counselors to assist clients with life planning by providing person-environment matching activities and disseminating information about training opportunities and educational plans. Career intervention activities that help contain costs and reach a large number of people are becoming increasingly important (Soresi et al., 2014), and using technological innovations could promote real progress toward reaching this goal (Richards & Vigano, 2013).
The Pew Internet & American Life Project (Rainie, 2010) suggested that technological innovations offer the possibility of involving younger generations in important activities in an interactive way. Likewise, Gati and Asulin-Peretz (2011) pointed out that a major challenge career counselors will face in the 21 st century concerns the use of new technologies. They asserted that it is necessary to invest in online career self-assessments and self-help interventions and investigate how these can be included within the career counseling process. Therefore, we developed and conducted an initial test of an online career intervention program derived from principles of life design. Life design is a new career paradigm advanced by an international group of scholars to support people to become experts in constructing their life-careers, to anticipate and deal with transitions, and to create hope for a meaningful future in spite of the complexities of work and careers brought about by today's economic conditions, globalization, and the digital revolution (Savickas et al., 2009). The online program was designed to encourage early adolescents to invest in their future and its design, increase their career curiosity and life satisfaction, and formulate career aspirations by considering issues such as the importance of education, self-determination, and the role of relationships in career planning and decision making.
Career Adaptability in Middle School
During preadolescence, children initially engage with the world of work and develop foundations of career adaptability (Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2008). Career adaptability involves having initial concerns about the future and control over one's own life, curiosity about how to make career decisions, and confidence to make and implement such decisions (Savickas, 2013). Children begin to think about their vocational interests, work values, and career aspirations and expectations that will eventually become important for making successful career transitions, such as from school to work (Hartung et al., 2008).
In Italy, it is in middle school that students face their first critical career transition and decision as they must choose a type of high school that matches their first professional plan. During this transition period, many students experience much distress as they struggle with indecision and uncertainty about their futures (Howard, Ferrari, Nota, Solberg, & Soresi, 2009).
Students need to use current strategies to cope with this transition period, so that it can be an opportunity for growth and a source of satisfaction for them. Hartung (2013) maintained that, in this connection, supporting the development of career adaptability could be important. Such thinking is in line with studies indicating that adolescents with higher levels of career adaptability feel more career decided, more oriented toward the future, and more competent with regard to constructing their future career intentions and transforming their intentions into goal-oriented behaviors (Wilkins et al., 2014).
At the same time, investments in the future, in education, and in career construction are pressing national issues in Italy because of the increased high school dropout rate registered in the first years of high school, especially among boys (MIUR, 2014). Online programs offer a way to better engage adolescents in career planning and decision making and could especially help boys, who may benefit more than girls from online learning activities (Miller, Schweingruber, & Brandenburg, 2001).
Online Career Programs for Middle School Students
Most computer-assisted career guidance systems (CACGS) developed in the second half of the 20th century aimed to provide information about different occupations and educational alternatives. These guidance systems are characterized as interactive because an individual can operate independently to retrieve information that is useful for self-assessment (e.g., interests and skills) and career exploration (D. Brown, 2003). CACGS have been created for and tested mainly with high school and university students, although a few such systems exist for middle-school-age youth (Hughes & Karp, 2004).
One CACGS for youth is DISCOVER (American College Testing Program, 1991), which provides self-assessments of interests, values, and abilities, along with information about hundreds of occupations so that users can generate lists of occupations that match their self-assessment information. A second online program, Believe It: A Career Development Intervention for Young Women (Kovalski & Horan, 1999), comprises two 50-minute meetings developed to change four irrational career beliefs: (a) Children should be dependent on adults for their career choices; (b) for every person, there is only one job in the world that will lead to happiness; (c) choosing a career involves making final decisions at specific points in time; and (d) certain jobs are more appropriate for men, whereas other jobs are better suited to women. A third program, Mapping Vocational Challenges (Turner & Lapan, 2005), contains three modules. In the first, Career Exploration, career information is presented through job cards displayed on the computer screen, with information about educational requirements, working conditions, and so on; in the second, Career Mapping, students are invited to complete the occupational map of their interests; in the third, Interpretation Module, a report is issued that summarizes adolescents' responses and presents recommendations for further career exploration, education, and training. Finally, a fourth program, Computer-Assisted Career Group Guidance (Bozgeyikh & Dogan, 2010), comprises three steps. In the first step, slides present the meaning of interests, skills, and personality traits; the occupational development process; higher education options; and occupational fields. In the second step, students focus on the skills and interests associated with educational options. In the third step, in relation to their career and educational preferences, participants are provided with information that is useful for their decisions.
One strength of these programs is the use of audiovisual materials, such as slides, videos, and cartoons, which focus attention on some important variables of career decision making such as interests, values, irrational ideas, and skills. Yet, in general, almost all of these programs have their basis in traditional person-environment fit models. Thus, they support middle school students' career decision making through gathering information about personal characteristics, educational programs, and occupations, and therefore encouraging self-assessment and interest-occupation match (Bozgeyikh & Dogan, 2010). Alternatively, we wanted to develop a computer-based program, divided into three parts, called "1, 2, 3 ... Future!" to incorporate the principles of life design with its focus on intentionality, adaptability, and narratability.
A Life-Design-Based Online Career Program
Rather than promoting person-occupation matching, the 1, 2, 3 ... Future! program aims to advance the goals of life design. Specifically, it aims to help students begin a process of career construction by prompting "meaningful activities that further self-making, identity shaping, and career constructing" (Savickas, 2012, p. 15). The program also aims to foster career goal setting and planning that consider educational pathways and occupational possibilities, as well as other spheres of life, such as leisure and social relationships. Considering past studies that highlighted the importance of planning training to improve self-efficacy in young adolescents in not less than 10 hours, we decided to focus only on concern, control, and curiosity (Nota, Soresi, Solberg, & Ferrari, 2005).
Following S. D. Brown and Krane's (2000) recommendation, the 1, 2, 3 ... Future program includes written exercises designed to help youth focus on strengths and goals, individualized interpretation of assessment results, and the presence of supportive and caring...