x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sharjah college to offer country's first career counselling degree

The degree programme at Sharjah Women's College will be launched to address the shortage of trained counsellors in the UAE.

SHARJAH // Sharjah Women's College will next year launch the country's first degree in career guidance in an effort to fill a void of trained counsellors.

The course comes on the back of the Ministry of Education's announcement last year that a career counsellor will be placed in every government school by 2015. However, there is a shortage of the necessary trained counsellors.

Sharjah Women's College (SWC), one of the 17 colleges in the federal Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), began a top-up degree in career counselling in 2002 for students with higher diplomas and has since graduated around 100 or so students who have gone on to work in private schools and colleges, and in corporate roles such as human resources.

The four-year degree programme is scheduled to start in September and will encompass personal counselling as well as career guidance. Students will specialise when they reach the latter stages of the degree course.

Dr Farid Ohan, the college director, said it is vital to have Emiratis in these roles. "This is an area where language is very important," he said, in addition to being able to understand and relate to the culture and background of students.

Until the recent legislation, students did not see career guidance as a viable career path. Anne Brabazon, associate director at the college, said: "You can't start a programme like this without the knowledge that there will be employment, and now with the Ministry of Education announcement, the students have that reassurance."

A top-up career guidance degree programme was available for two years at the Ras Al Khaimah HCT campus in 2002, but demand was not high enough to keep it running.

"Institutions have until now been responding to the jobs that are available out there and we've been told those are in engineering, information technology and health sciences," Dr Ohan said.

Amal Al Jasmi, 30, graduated from SWC in 2006. She finished her diploma in medical laboratory technology, then switched disciplines to continue her degree in career counselling based on her own experience.

"I didn't want to work in the field I studied in, so I realised many people really needed this help," she said.

Now the head of career guidance at the Institute of Applied Technology (IAT), Ms Al Jasmi oversees a team of 10, four of whom also graduated from SWC. At IAT, career guidance begins when pupils are around age 12. The project was implemented in 2008.

"We are told that our students are very prepared when they leave our schools and colleges," she said. "Whether it's getting scholarships for study or jobs, we are given very positive feedback."

She said that although career counselling now receives greater respect, salaries must be increased for Emiratis to view it as an attractive job prospect. "Compared to IAT, the Government schools do not pay as well," she said. "For me, I get a very competitive package but it is not the same when working for the Ministry of Education. I was shocked when I found out the salaries there. Career counselling isn't something that anyone can do. They need training and certification."

Without high salaries, it will be harder to entice men into the field, said Gillian Johnston, a teacher on the degree. No men have yet studied career guidance or trained to be teachers at HCT, but with segregated schools, having male counsellors for male pupils is vital.

"The recognition in the community that this is as valuable as teaching is what needs to happen," Ms Johnston said. "Salaries will have to reflect that. If you're head of the household, you have to be earning a certain amount of money and that will be the biggest deterrent for men, the financial remuneration."

Educating parents is another key aspect of helping equip students for careers, said Fatima Al Muhsen, who graduated from SWC in 2005 and now works as a career guidance counsellor at Zayed University. With a higher diploma in information administration, she said her own lack of understanding of what profession she should pursue led her to become a career counsellor.

"It was one of the things we studied during our degree. Parents aren't always able to help their children so we are now working on running workshops to help educate them," she said. "The students I see come to us and they don't even know which subject they want to study, let alone which career they want.

"These are the basics and needs to be starting much earlier while at school, so they can prepare for their futures, know which skills they need to enter the labour market, know what they are good at."

mswan@thenational.ae