Make Counselors Responsible for Youth Employability

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High school counselors have stopped performing the most important part of their job. In the past, career counseling was a significant portion of high school counseling. The supporting theory was that motivating young people with preparation to work after high school provided a practical reason for students to stay in school and learn. The relevancy of high school to their lives after high school was seen to be a powerful and engaging force for young people.

Today, high school counselors are essentially highly paid clerks. They schedule kids into required courses. This process is computerized and counselors have few decisions to make in preparing student schedules. This scheduling role is now pretty much all high school counselors do. If students do anything to cause trouble on campus, the vice principal or the principal of the high school largely provides discipline. The reality is the counselors do not actually counsel students very much at all. Typically, a counselor does take on the role of college counseling, but this is usually done in a two-hour meeting in the school auditorium with parents. This is usually a matter of sharing information rather than actually counseling individual students.

The seventy percent of students who will not go on to graduate from college, who presumably are the neediest for counseling help, get none. Many of the low achieving students cannot handle the college prep curriculum and flunk these courses. This means retaking the flunked courses or being sent to an alternative high school graduation program. Nowhere in this ongoing scenario does a counselor talk to high school students or their parents about the necessary preparation required to go to work when the student leaves high school. The reality is no one on the high school campus has responsibility of counseling students about preparing to go to work. We need to go back in time and to assign this responsibility to high school counselors.

What does the assigning of this responsibility to counselors mean? First, it means they must meet with students and their parents in the spring of the student’s eighth grade school year. A frank conversation with both the students and their parents is essential. The counselor, in conjunction with the students and their parents, must develop a four-year plan of study for the student’s time in high school. This meeting must review the student’s grades and test scores up to that point in time. If the student is not doing well up until that point, then there must be a serious talk about preparing the student for work after high school. This may be an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s why we are paying for counselors as part of the high school. If the student is performing at an average level in school, the talk must be about raising achievement or moving on to prepare for employment after high school. The reality of not all students going on to college must be confronted in this meeting. The majority of high school students should be enrolled in a four- year sequence of career technical education courses. This program of study will prepare students for most entry-level jobs.

As students progress through high school, counselors must be the professional staff that communicates with students and their parents about whether students are able to go college or not. This is not as complicated as it may seem. Counselors have access to student test scores and grades that are essential for college entrance. The counselor is the communicator with students and parents where there should be no surprises as to student’s next step after high school. The counselor must take the responsibility to assure that students who not going to qualify for college take the courses in career technical education to prepare them for work after high school.

Once counselors have taken on this role, there is no need to require college prep courses for all students. The counselor will assure that students who should be taking college prep courses do so. However, more importantly, they will assure that students who do not qualify for college are ready to go to work. As in any occupation, counselors must have appropriate supervision from vice principals and principals. If counselors don’t do their jobs as described, then they must be disciplined. Existing counselors will require additional training and university counselor preparation programs will have to be reorganized to include strong preparation in career counseling.

National leaders in high school education must use counselors to achieve more than raising test scores and college prep. There are real outcomes to students that high schools in America must achieve. The most important outcome is providing the skills for our youth to get jobs and avoid society’s negative alternatives of gangs, crime, drugs, prostitution and incarceration.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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