Career development is one area of counselling that appears to have embraced the efficiency and seemingly endless capacity of technology to store information in a readily accessible way. Online assessments and databases such as CHOICES and Career Cruising are now integral aspects of career development curriculum and approaches to career counselling across the country. Government departments in Canada and the US have taken on the task of developing frameworks for organizing occupations and occupational information (NOC and O*NET) using hierarchical relationships that organize occupations in terms of responsibilities and occupation domains, and level of education. These frameworks are akin to the hierarchical manner in which information is stored in a computer.
In the realm of cognitive psychology, information-processing models often represent cognition, our information-processing abilities, as involving a series of sequential stages similar to the functioning of a computer where information, the input, is first into the computer through our sensory register. There it is processed, and the resulting output is an answer or solution to a problem. With computers, as long as the information at the input end is the same and the internal processes brought to bear on the information are similar, the output is the same, regardless of the computer used. When the problem or, in the realm we are addressing, a career decision, involves human processing, however, the resulting answers or decisions are not always the same, even when the information being input is the same from one person to the next. For example, a presentation made to a first-year university class describes the process involved in becoming a corporate banker, the typical duties a banker performs, and future employment outlooks for this occupation. While all students receive the same information, what is done with the information likely varies from student to student. This suggests that there are complicating variables that render each individual’s processing of information unique.
As we consider, over the next few entries, how occupational information is structured and used in the process of making decisions, we will also refer to the structures and processes that are offered as explanatory of the functioning of the mind. Memory, the brain’s ability to store, retain, and recall information and experiences, can be seen as consisting of sensory memory, short-term or working memory, and long-term memory. The information stored in memory can also be distinguished using the terms declarative or explicit memory to describe information that can be recalled using conscious processes, and procedural or implicit memory to describe the unconscious accessing of previous experiences, usually to develop motor skills. Declarative memory can be further sub-divided into semantic memory and episodic memory, both of which will be described in relation to occupational information in the coming weeks. Our memories are dependent on input via our senses but in the storage process is often modified by prior knowledge, personal world-views, and biases.
Further, we should distinguish between information and knowledge as both terms can apply to what we know of ourselves and of occupations. Information refers to data that has been given meaning because of relational connections. In computing terms it is data that has been processed. Knowledge can be viewed as the structuring of information so that it is useful. It could be said that one needs information to be able to get knowledge. The same applies to our understanding of occupations – we need an accumulation of information to derive knowledge and to be able to compare that knowledge to self-knowledge.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA