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The Development and Use of Career Assessment/Information Systems in Taiwan

by Yao-Ting Sung

1.     Practical Issues: Difficult Career Choices for Taiwanese Adolescents

For young adults, the first important choice they make in their lives is “choosing the direction of their education and future career” (Gati & Saka, 2001; Vondracek & Porfeli, 2003). In Taiwan, adolescents often face the following issues in career orientation.

1.1. Educational Streaming Forces Students to Make Career-Related Choices

Adolescent students are still in the exploratory stages of their career development. However, the educational streaming system could force them into making crucial career decisions prematurely. Under Taiwan’s current education system, students follow a multi-track path after completing their 9-year compulsory education. Through exam-free admission or special examination admissions students can enter their next phase of learning, which includes choosing amongst common high schools, general highs schools, vocational high schools or 5-year junior colleges. Based on the time at which streaming occurs, Taiwan can be categorized as implementing streaming in the intermediate stages of education. According to statistics compiled by Taiwan’s Ministry of Education (MOE) for the 2013 academic school year, more than 110,000 junior high school graduates chose to continue onto vocational high schools (MOE, 2014). The current vocational high school system includes 15 career clusters and more than 80 departments. How to help students to choose from the wide variety of departments has long been an issue of concern. On the other hand, students who enter common high schools face the decision of what to major in at colleges. Junior high school students are forced to face crucial career-related choices while still at the stage of career exploration and development. If teachers or parents fail to provide timely career guidance, students without a good understanding of themselves could likely fail to make appropriate career-related choices, with important consequences.

Adolescents usually face the most difficulties in the initial phase of making career-related choices (Gati, Saka, & Krausz, 2001). Among them, decision-making difficulties have long been common in career-related issues, including lack of readiness, lack of information and inconsistent information (Amir & Gati, 2006; Gati & Amir, 2010).

1.2. Limited Functionality of Past Career-Guidance Tools in Taiwan

Under the current multi-track admissions system, schools in Taiwan often employ career-related psychological testing to help students explore and understand themselves. However, existing tests have limitations in practical use, and what follow are some of the common issues (Sung, Tien & Cheng, 2012). First, the test dimensionalities lack relevance with professional/vocational fields. For example, tests of work values are mostly developed based on western theories, and whether the framework of such tests is truly applicable to students in Taiwan needs to be evaluated; further. Additionally, aptitude test items may lack the relevance with the many competencies which are important to professionals nowadays, such as creativity and aesthetics. Furthermore, a student’s test response may not reflect how a student truly feels. For example, most interest assessments use the Likert-type response scale; which may suffer the bias of extreme mental set, such as all the answers are “moderately interested” or “very interested”. Therefore, a student’s real feelings cannot be gauged.

2.     Current Progress in Career Guidance Tools in Taiwan

In guidance and counseling, career testing tools are often used to understand a student’s abilities, interests or work values. In Taiwan, junior high schools establish their own minimal test plans, which are used in conjunction with the curriculum goals of the integrated activities to conduct different types of career tests. Through test results and curriculum activities, teachers guide students in exploring career possibilities and understanding themselves in order to help them make choices regarding their educational advancement path. During senior high school, career guidance is carried out through a three-tier prevention framework, in which the career psychological test is given during primary prevention. At this phase, a career planning curriculum is established, which includes a series of comprehensive career planning courses to help students conduct self-exploration, understand academic and vocational environments and learn how to choose their major in university, as well as the implementation and interpretation of career tests. In view of this model, it becomes apparent that career tests play an extremely important role in a student’s academic life.

2.1 Solving Practical Problems: Career Assessment/Information System Provides Comprehensive Adaptive Guidance Tools

The discussion thus far shows that adolescents in Taiwan face difficulties in making career-related choices, and lack the relevant information and tools for advancing their career development. Over the past five years, the Taiwan government has actively promoted the twelve-year basic education program in the hope of helping students achieve adaptive development. This has led to much progress in tools for helping students make career-related choices. Computer technology, psychometric techniques and multi-media technology have enabled the compilation of on-line career psychological testing and career information systems that provide information on work environments, which help students make career-related decisions through an integrative evaluation that combines internal self-understanding and external exploration, as shown in Figure 1. A detailed explanation of this system follows in the next section.

Figure 1   Career System Framework

 

2.1.2. Diversified Development of Aptitude Tests

More than 85% of junior and senior high schools in Taiwan employ aptitude tests, which indicates the importance of such tests for Taiwan students’ exploring their career options. In the past, aptitude tests in Taiwan were mostly done with pen and paper. In recent years, computerized tests have been adopted as well, with techniques of adaptive psychometrics being used in some of the tests to enhance test effectiveness. This shows that in Taiwan, testing technologies for aptitude tests have become increasingly mature. In addition, multi-media test questions have been adopted, with test dimensions growing increasingly diverse; for example, multiple intelligence computerized adaptive testing measures musical intelligence, whereas the computerized adaptive career aptitude test measures aesthetic abilities, etc., all of which can more accurately measure abilities needed in practical application.

2.1.3 Computerized Adaptive Career Aptitude Test Identifies Dominant Abilities

The Computerized Adaptive Career Aptitude Test (CACAT), one of the most used aptitude tests, is constructed by advanced computer techniques and adaptive testing techniques, measures the potential of adolescents in multiple areas. The CACAT has two versions, one for junior high school students and one for senior high school students.

The junior high school version has eight sub-tests: Verbal, Numerical, Spatial, Logical Reasoning, Scientific Reasoning, Observation, Aesthetics, and Creativity. The senior high school version includes an additional sub-test on foreign language, while eliminating the observation sub-test. Upon completing the test, teachers can immediately download the report from the system, which provides the aptitude pattern of the user and recommended academic/career clusters, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of testing administration. In addition, the test includes the data of valid results in calculating the national norms and is regularly updated, which may ensure the usability and validity of the test scores.

2.1.4 Situation-Based Career Interest Assessment Identifies Internal Preference

Interest assessments aim to quantify an individual’s degree of preference for different vocational types. However, most interest assessments currently in use in Taiwan have several problems, including test items with ambiguous meanings, contents that are not relevant for present circumstances and insufficient information for practical use. In the recent four years, Taiwanese researchers have put efforts to develop new career interest inventories to overcome the above problems. For example, the Situation-Based Career Interest Assessment (SCIA) is a computerized test combined with multi-media technology, and constructed according to the six interest types set forth by Holland. In addition, it uses real-life pictures and illustrations to help students better understand the activities and curriculum related to a vocation, which helps young students, who usually spend their time for preparing entrance examinations and suffer from limited opportunities of exploring work environments, make judgment based less on intuition and insufficient information. Another tool, the senior high school version of the Computerized Career Interest Test (CCIT), using the local career interest research results and analyses of university disciplines and departments as theoretical framework, has established interest types that are more relevant to Taiwan to help senior high school students select their curriculum track and future discipline and department in college. In addition, both of the above two tests employ new type of measuring scale, the RRP scale, which has the advantages of ipsative (e.g., ranking and paired comparison) and Likert's scales but without their limitations in testing bias, inefficiency, and impreciseness, are able to reflect students’ career interest with more precision, which facilitates the effects of career guidance and counseling.

2.1.5. Work Value Assembly Assesses Importance of Values

Career interest type is currently the commonly used references in vocational choice and career guidance, and has become increasingly important in recent years for senior high school and vocational high school students choosing their university major. However, there are other indicators that can serve as references in career exploration. One of these is work values, which helps individuals understand the needs they hope to fulfill through work and their work preference, and can serve as a basis of reference for achieving effective career exploration and identification.

Therefore, in response to the developmental needs of students today and the changing times, Taiwanese researchers have developed new tools for students’ exploration and understanding of their values about employment. One example is the Work Value Assembly (WVA), which can effectively evaluate the value orientation of senior high school and vocation high school students, and provide more opportunities for students to explore their career options before career streaming. By so doing, late adolescents can understand what they expect from and hope to fulfill through their work, identifying vocational types that meet their needs and principles, thus enhancing their sense of wellbeing and reducing the gap between their work expectations and reality. WVA has the following features: 

  1. Localized framework: Constructed after in-depth focus group interviews and open-ended questionnaires, the framework matches the work value types of modern Taiwan society; 
  2. New psychometric technology: Using the RRP scale, the test combines the advantages of the response types of the ipsative scale and Likert's scale, strengthening the differentiation power of responses to increase the reliability and validity of the test and the accuracy of test results; 
  3. Provides a wealth of information: The test provides respondents with critical information on their work values, direction for career exploration and recommendations. Data analysis has shown this test to have good reliability and validity. This test can also be combined with the computerized career aptitude test and situation-based career interest assessment.

2.1.6. Career Information System: Providing Concrete External Information about Wok/Training Environments

In recent years, to promote adaptive admissions and increase the visibility of its messages in Taiwan, relevant websites have been set up as channels for students to understand vocational titles or vocational schools, including the Adaptive Admissions Academic Advancement website and the Ministry of Education’s World Wide Web for Adaptive Guidance for Junior High Schools and Senior and Vocational High Schools. One of the most used systems is the Career Information System, which provides information on a total of 76 vocational departments in vocational high schools and 5-year junior colleges to help lower the difficulty of career-related decision making for students. Each vocational department is introduced through six main sections, including: 

  1. Vocational Department at a Glance: A mind map offers a quick look at relevant information to give students an overview of the vocation; 
  2. Department head’s Introduction to the Vocational Department: Through videos, vocational high school department heads introduce the core courses, required abilities and personality traits and direction of future development for each vocational subject; 
  3. Knowledge, abilities and skills: This section introduces the knowledge, abilities and skills required for each subject. Students can refer to their aptitude test report of CACAT to see if they are equipped with the relevant capabilities and can strengthen training or learning in areas where they are still lacking; 
  4. Interests and Traits: Introduces students to the interests and personality traits required for each subject. Students can refer to their interest assessment report of SBIA to understand if they have relevant interests, and consider whether the activities and tasks that the vocational department involves are a match with their interest types; 
  5. Future Paths: Provides information on academic advancement and employment; 
  6. Sharing of Experience: Through relevant newspaper and magazine articles, and thoughts and suggestions offered by teachers or students of a vocational subject, prospective students have access to a wealth of reference material.

2.1.7. Decision-making System: Choosing Career Paths through Internal and External Information

Under the education system where streaming occurs during the intermediate stage, how to respond to students’ needs, helping them explore their career paths, providing adaptive assistance and opportunities for them to develop their potential, and helping them understand whether a vocational departmental is a suitable learning area for them, become important issues. The three career tests described above can help students understand themselves. Sometimes, students are not necessarily good at the things they like, and do not necessarily enjoy doing the things they are good at, which leads to internal conflicts. If they can choose what they are most interested in within the range of their capabilities, then their learning process will be one that requires less effort, but with better results. To help students integrate those information about their internal/self situation and the external job/vocational information, the Career Decision-Making Assistance System (CDMAS) was implemented. Once students have completed the tests, the results can be integrated to recommend directions for future development, narrowing down the choices and helping students explore and understand their potentials with the aid of comprehensive and abundant information, finally making an informed career decision and setting future goals. Furthermore, in recent years the decision-making system has been combined with the system that third-year junior high school students use to fill out their choice of schools. This allows students to refer to the integrated information provided by the decision-making system while filling out their choice of schools to make informed choices regarding their academic advancement.

3. Conclusions

In countries/regions with education system of early- or intermediate-age of streaming, such as Taiwan and Germany, career guidance/counseling is very important. Nevertheless, effective and efficient guidance depends on the clear understanding of internal status and external situations. Well designed career assessment and information systems are useful tools for empowering students’ understanding of the internal and external information. Moreover, this information is helpful for clarifying the problems students encountered, and facilitating the counseling process. We believe the experiences of designing effective career assessment and information systems are insightful for those researchers and practitioners who are concerned with student streaming and career development in their countries/regions.

References

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Sung, Y. T., Cheng, Y. W., & Wu, J. S. (in press). Constructing a situation-based career interest assessment for junior-high-school students and examining their interest structure.Journal of Career Assessment.

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