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.”

 ?? ?? Margarethe Booysen says that career coaches can help those who wish to further their studies make more informed, clear choices
Margarethe Booysen says that career coaches can help those who wish to further their studies make more informed, clear choices
 ?? ?? Career developmen­t is a lifelong process, says counsellin­g psychologi­st Zakiyya Essa, and the workforce requires people with more diverse skills
Career developmen­t is a lifelong process, says counsellin­g psychologi­st Zakiyya Essa, and the workforce requires people with more diverse skills

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