Beware of aptitude tests

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The most important consideration in selecting a profession should be the labor market and opportunities for promotion, not aptitude.

Recently, my friend told me that an aptitude examiner had recommended that her 22-year-old daughter not go to university. "She helped us a lot," she said. "We realized that mathematics and natural sciences were not her strong point, the humanities were of no interest to her, and that design was the most suitable field for her."

Restraining my indignation, I gently suggested that they reconsider the matter (going without an academic degree is nothing less than a life-changing decision), but it looks like it will not happen. The recommendation to stay away from university was exactly what her daughter wanted - "medical approval" for not making too great an effort - an okay for studying design - something nice and enjoyable. After all, she had a strong esthetic sense, was attracted to pretty things, and had liked dressing up ever since she was a small child.

Now for the facts. First of all, design was selected as a default option and for the wrong reasons, not because of extraordinary talent, which is an essential condition for success in this profession (in contrast to most other professions). Secondly, the young woman studied at one of Israel's best high schools. Her grades were good enough to gain acceptance to most university departments and any department at all the colleges in Israel. She will have no academic degree, although she could get one.

Her employment potential will be dismal and very limited, Why? Because there is no way that she will be able to compete with graduates of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, the Holon Institute of Technology, the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, and the other leading educational institutions for the design professions. They will justifiably occupy all of the good jobs, leaving her the crumbs of the design profession. She will have trouble making a decent living, like many others who have gotten into the field by mistake.

They don't know the labor market

Didn't the vocational psychologist know this? Obviously not; where would she learn it? Aptitude examiners don't know the labor market. They were trained to detect strengths and weaknesses, intellectual abilities (logical thinking, natural intelligence, verbal logic, significant memory, concentration ability over time, stream of consciousness), occupational themes (realistic, investigative, artistic, entrepreneurial), career anchors (security, autonomy, service, challenge, technical, management, lifestyle), and the like, and to compare the results with a list of professions.

The result is an answer like the one given by one of the leading career institutes to a chemical engineer who was tired of working in a laboratory and was looking for a change: "Many aspects of employment are important to X: diversity in actions and experiences, relations with supervisors, achievement, participation in decision-making, economic security, and a free lifestyle. In her professional themes, she shows a clear affinity for the following areas: organization and business. Recommendations: 1. An MA in organizational consultancy; 2. Advertising - management of customer portfolios, account manager; 3. Investigative reporting and production; 4. Event production and design. An MA in industrial engineering and management, with a logistical orientation."

An engineer; what about a truck driving license?

I don't know where to begin to explain the delusions in this recommendation and its long-term consequences. Only someone who knows nothing about the labor market could take a brilliant 27-year-old chemical engineer and put her into the field of productions; that is worse than converting a brain surgeon into a medical secretary. Why should an engineer enter an administrative field that requires no education, with a salary to match? Just where will she go from there? What will she do as an investigative reporter when the media are collapsing and paying starvation wages? Why should someone with two MS degrees study for a third engineering degree that will put her at the bottom of the engineering field merely in order to get into the logistics field? The only thing missing is telling her to get a license to drive a truck (just to be safe).

Fortunately, the chemical engineer realized that organizational consultancy was nonsensical and totally irrelevant to her. Even more fortunately, she did not find a job as an account manager (a "glamorous" job that sounded great to her). After wasting two years, she discovered that this was also a kind of production under a different name.

Working in a vacuum

What is the problem? The great drawback of aptitude examination is that it takes place in a vacuum, without the two bases of knowledge that are critical for career guidance.

The first is what the labor market sees, as opposed to what the aptitude examiner sees, and how it makes decisions. Knowing how a person is perceived by the market is critical for knowing how to direct him or her and where he or she will have a chance of being hired when two people with exactly the same qualifications do not receive the same opportunities. The market does not hire a stack of qualifications, the way it looks from the aptitude examiner's perspective; it hires an integral "product" whose image is derived from professional experience, descriptions of the jobs the person filled, the identity of the person's employers, age, name, origin, gender, where the person lives, and so on. That is the reason that the advertising market demonstrably ignored the chemical engineer (although her qualifications were very suitable). It is also the reason that most professional retraining as employees is unsuccessful, despite suitable qualifications.

The other base of knowledge that vocational psychologists lack is the full picture of the market, the career tracks in the various professions, and the typical forms of employment. They see every profession as a single entity, and pay no attention to paths of professional and/or management promotion (or the lack thereof). Their focus is on the entry point, while completely ignoring where it will lead two, five, 10, and 20 years later.

Had a vocational psychology an iota of this knowledge, my friend's daughter would have given up the idea of design, certainly the interior decorating that she found so attractive, but in which there are no jobs. The chemical engineer would not have abandoned the natural sciences; she would merely have left the development laboratory for occupations related to that business (product management, marketing, marketing communications, business development, or sales), while utilizing her education and knowledge in the field in more senior and rewarding positions.

In other words, aptitude examination is a kind of selfie - the least important third of all the knowledge required for responsible and long-term career guidance.

The author is a labor market expert.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on February 20, 2019

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2019

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Careers Photo: Thinkstock
Careers Photo: Thinkstock
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