Vocational Psychologist Careers

What is Vocational Psychology?

Vocational psychology, also known as career counseling, is a specialized field of counseling psychology that studies human behavior with regard to work related issues. Vocational psychology is mostly concerned with pre-employment topics such as how people’s individual skills and aptitudes align with specific job requirements, how people prepare for jobs, how they are selected for jobs, and how they become qualified for jobs.

Vocational psychology also examines work environments to determine how to improve employee-employee and employee-employer relations. These and other employment issues, such as improving communication, reducing conflict, and helping workers obtain advanced training or education, are areas of emphasis for vocational psychology as well. Issues related to the end of employment, such as retirement or job loss, are also common areas of research and practice for vocational psychologists.

What are the Job Duties of a Vocational Psychologist?

Vocational psychologists play a number of different roles, depending on the needs of their client. For those that work in a school environment, such as a high school or college, many of the daily tasks revolve around helping students identify career pathways that fit their skills and interests. Vocational psychologists can fulfill this role in a variety of ways:

  • Academic and career advisement – Review educational and experience requirements with students in order to help them align their coursework to the needs of the career field they wish to enter.
  • Career or interest assessments – Administer tests to students and offer insight into the results of those assessments in order to help the student make an informed career choice.
  • Connecting students with potential employers – Help students identify resources in their area, such as career fairs, internships, or job shadowing opportunities, in order to get their feet wet in their chosen career field.

Many vocational psychologists work for government agencies as well, such as the Department of Workforce Services or the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, or in community or social services settings, such as non-profit organizations that assist low-income workers in finding better employment. In this context, vocational psychologists work with adults who have experienced or may experience difficulty securing or keeping a job. Vocational psychologists in this field work with individuals on a variety of fronts:

  • Assist clients in preparing resumes, cover letters, and job applications.
  • Administer tests like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to help the individual develop a better understanding of what their interests and aptitudes are.
  • Review test data and help clients devise a plan for finding employment that is suitable for them.

Another primary job duty for vocational psychologists is to work with businesses and organizations to help improve their work practices and hiring strategies. This might involve teaching employees about conflict resolution techniques that bring greater harmony to the workplace. It might also involve devising strategies to help businesses develop internship programs, apprenticeships, or job shadowing opportunities in order to attract more qualified job applicants. Sometimes, vocational psychologists will work to prepare and distribute job-related literature to businesses as well. In this capacity, the work of vocational psychologists closely mirrors that of industrial-organizational psychologists.

What is the Employment Outlook for Vocational Psychologists?

Job prospects for vocational and career counselors will be the strongest in the community and social services sectors over the next several years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that growth in these areas will be relatively strong at 17 percent. Vocational psychology jobs in secondary schools, colleges, and universities, are expected to expand by a less-robust rate of 12 percent through 2022. However, rising numbers of students at both the K-12 and collegiate levels may necessitate the creation of additional positions for vocational psychologists.

BLS also predicts an expanded need for vocational psychologists in private practice and rehabilitative settings. Therefore, the job outlook could change to be even stronger than predicted in the coming years.

How Much Does a Vocational Psychologist Make?

The average annual salary a vocational psychologist can expect to make varies widely. The BLS estimates the mean yearly wage at $558,120 for a vocational counselor, as of May 2020. However, the breadth of the pay range for this particular specialization of psychology runs from just under $34,000 for the bottom ten percent of earners to nearly $96,000 for the top earning vocational psychologists.

Individuals with little job experience, such as recent graduates with a master’s degree, should expect pay towards the low end of the scale, at least to begin with. Workers with a doctorate and/or several years of relevant work experience can expect to earn higher starting wages. Wages in the top 10 percent of the pay scale are typically not attained but for vocational psychologists with a terminal degree and at least ten years of experience.

What Degree is Required for a Vocational Psychologist?

Vocational psychologists, like psychologists with other specialties, are best served by having a doctoral degree. Obtaining a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical or counseling psychology, with an emphasis in vocational psychology, is a highly recommended pathway for individuals who wish to work in the field of vocational psychology.

To begin with, an undergraduate degree must be obtained. Undergraduate studies involve completion of about 60 credit hours of general education requirements, as well as approximately 60 credit hours of psychological studies. From there, students can pursue a master’s degree. Graduate studies typically last from three to five years and include 30-60 semester credit hours, and often include a lengthy internship of at least 1,000 hours as well. Coursework at this level focuses on advanced understanding of psychological principles, particularly as they pertain to career counseling. Internships for vocational psychologists may occur in secondary school settings, colleges, or workforce services offices.

Once a student reaches his or her doctoral studies, much emphasis is placed on research and advanced practice. Most coursework is completed within the first couple of years of one’s doctoral studies, with the final two or three years of the program focused on research, writing a dissertation, and participating in an intensive internship experience. As mentioned above, vocational psychologists typically participate in doctoral programs in clinical or counseling psychology, then specialize in working in vocational or career-based settings during their internship and post-doctoral work.

Most psychologists need to be licensed in order to provide their services. This is particularly true of psychologists that enter private practice. Licensure is governed by each state, so requirements can vary somewhat. However, it is a good rule of thumb that licensure will require an APA approved doctoral degree in psychology, passing scores on a written exam, and a supervised practice (under a licensed psychologist) before full licensure can be obtained.

What Skills are Required for a Vocational Psychologist?

To be successful as a vocational psychologist, workers must possess the following skills:

  • Ability to administer tests – Vocational psychologists must have strong interest and training in psychometric testing. This includes administering career-related tests, personality tests, and interest inventories, scoring those assessments, and interpreting the results.
  • Ability to work with anyone – Workers in this field have clients from a broad spectrum of backgrounds and experiences, and having the capability and willingness to work with various groups of people is an absolute must.
  • Deep understanding of career issues – Many vocational psychologists work with high school-aged students, and therefore must have an intimate knowledge of academic and career advising techniques that will help students identify their strengths and areas of interest for a career.
  • Willingness to help – All psychologists must possess a willingness to help others, but often that means vocational psychologists must assist their clients with relatively mundane tasks. This includes working on resumes and cover letters or filling out job applications.
  • Excellent communication skills – Vocational counselors often act as a bridge between their clients and potential employers. As a result, vocational counselors must have excellent verbal and written communication skills. This helps them provide services to clients and also helps them make connections in the business community that might benefit their clients down the road.
  • Ability to work as part of a team – In some instances, vocational psychologists offer their services as part of a team-based approach to assisting a client. As such, vocational psychologists must be able to work effectively with other stakeholders to meet team goals for the client.

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