Mail & Guardian
What motivates you?
Coaching and counselling for academic and career success
The Covid-19 pandemic forced many people to reevaluate their present situation and future prospects, both personally and professionally. This according to Zakiyya Essa, counselling psychologist and founder of the Career Counselling Company. For this reason, she says, there has been a sharp increase of clients seeking advice about postgraduate study options.
Deciding to pursue a postgraduate qualification is a big decision, not only for undergraduate students but also for professionals looking to push their career to new heights. Taking the next step can be terrifying, but help is available for prospective students who may still be unsure if a postgraduate qualification is right for them.
“The pandemic gave people an opportunity to pause in life, take stock and reassess their priorities; some people ‘reinvented’ themselves, while others ‘returned’ to themselves,” says Essa. “It enabled people to consider options for further development, and to step up and be brave in pursuit of their dreams and goals.”
She says career guidance can benefit prospective postgraduate students and midcareer professionals hoping to resume their studies. “It’s helpful to reassess your objectives at any stage of your development and career journey, because career development is a dynamic, lifelong process.”
Margarethe Booysen is a leadership and research coach. She says career counselling is one way for prospective students to access information about their future, but that this is an advice-driven process. “Coaching, on the other hand, is a human development process built around structured and goal-directed conversations in order to facilitate sustainable change to the benefit of the client,” she explains. “The role of the coach is not to provide advice or information, but rather to act as a facilitator of change and assist the client to find their own answers through thought-provoking conversations.”
She says that career counselling and coaching both have a role to play when it comes to making career decisions: “When you feel stuck or have a vague sense of dissatisfaction with your current career, coaching can be useful to help you to explore your feelings and understand what it is about you, your role or your organisation that causes the discomfort. Through coaching you can put together a comprehensive plan that will incorporate the development of different areas of your life and take your past and current circumstances into account.”
When it comes to prospective postgraduate students, Essa says it’s important to take the level of work and life experience of different age groups into consideration. “Young people often feel they lack experience when entering the workforce, even with postgraduate qualifications, but overlook the benefits of having spent the extra time furthering their studies: you get access to the latest information, resources, data and invaluable supervisory support that can give you the edge,” she explains. “With this group we aim to increase work-opportunity awareness and do employability skills training.”
Her work with mid-career adults seeking a career change helps them zoom in on competencies, identify transferable skills and upskill if necessary with a relevant postgraduate qualification. “Many older adults qualify for age exemption to study a higher qualification, and this can help take their careers to the next level.” Essa says many companies will also pay for employees to study part-time or online as part of their professional staff development goals.
Booysen says some clients are motivated by anxiety to make career changes or enrol for postgraduate studies. “Before embarking on a new qualification or career change, it is useful to first explore what is driving the need, which can lead to clearer planning and better decisionmaking.” Coaching may be useful in helping prospective students reflect on what they really want from their careers and find clarity and motivation to move forward into their desired future.
While the benefits of a postgraduate qualification are clear, there are also numerous challenges, says Essa. “Financial obligations almost always come out as the main consideration when deciding to enrol for postgraduate studies or not,” she explains. “Many undergraduates have loans to pay back or bursaries that don’t cover postgraduate studies, while some work in fast-paced internships or entry-level jobs that don’t leave much time for studies.” Older students might have more family obligations and work responsibilities.
The journey, she adds, can also be timeconsuming, demanding and isolating. But, says Essa, this doesn’t mean that it can’t be done: “It’s all in the planning! Studying requires a commitment from you. Ensure that you have adequate financial support to fulfil your daily obligations and cover your studies. Ask yourself what you want to achieve from your postgraduate qualification, and ask whether you might be better served by a different skills-based programme or short learning course. The workforce requires people with more diverse skills, and single-career options are no longer the norm.”
Students should consider skills-focused and technology-based courses to fill the gaps in the workplace, and always ensure that the qualification they’re pursuing has “real world” application and demand. “Do your homework and make an informed decision: What do you expect from your postgrad programme, what do you expect your qualification to do for you, and are these expectations realistic given the job climate and employment space?”
So when is the right time to start a postgraduate qualification or resume studies? “It is always the right time and it is never the right time!” Booysens laughs, adding that it’s also important to look at the industry you work in. For example, she says, there are very few accountants who proceed to a PHD level, and doing so might not change their future career prospects. A lot depends on the employer — some organisations do not value a postgraduate education, while at other companies it could fast-track your career advancement or open doors to executive levels.
The type of goals a client sets will influence the type of coaching that they seek: “Life coaching is primarily focused on the personal development of the client but could include aspects of professional development. Leadership or business coaching takes the personal domain
of the client into account, but the focus is on the professional development of a client within an organisation. A research or academic coach can assist you greatly in becoming reacquainted
with academia if studies are resumed after an extended period, as the transition, particularly from honours to master’s, can be challenging.”