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The mainstream idea of qualified career counselors in India can be remodeled to incorporate para-counselors to cater to the urgent need and an immediate superposition in the educational and career counseling domains at school and university levels. The Japanese idea of cafe counseling can encourage candidates to choose a career path that is the best fit for themselves through easy walk-ins. With glaringly low counselor staffing levels in India, changing industry-skill demands and shifting career choices to vocational domain, para-counselors at dedicated career cafes could rescue unaware candidates.

The autonomy and flexibility enjoyed by para-counselors through freelancing is attractive to talented and even unemployed individuals from all fields. Para-counselors could be created through quick online or offline courses. In addition, capacity-building training by the existing pool of counselors could also lead to trickling-down of the training received to create a bigger pool. They are the perfect candidates for project-based work in an economy where many are not in education, employment or training (NEET). They could provide for an immediate deployment at even at the grassroots. This will not only fill talent gaps vis-à-vis the skewed counselor-candidate ratio but also augment timely availability of information needed to shape one’s career.

Generation Z is career-oriented and focuses on working on its aptitude and interests by undergoing suitable training and generating employability prospects for itself. Like cafes for Internet usage, reading books, and so forth that attract their attention, cafes for exploring training and career opportunities could define their future career path. It would alter the training-employability-employment landscape by making information and guidance easily accessible for all candidates in urban and rural parts of India when they make career decisions.

Career counseling at school and university levels could be endorsed as a step in identifying and rectifying the unavailability of counselors and the heavy workload of teachers who shoulder responsibilities as counselors for their students. The government or the private sector could allow them to support the existing teams at the school and the university levels. This targeted approach through both online and offline means could facilitate both self- and salaried employment for the para-counselors.

Adopting this Japanese practice would not only facilitate guidance and informed training or career choices but also help impart business and job-market knowledge to individuals. Para-counselors in the cafes could pursue activities like job-matching by creating a dossier of the profiles of the job-seekers and the employers, and help develop soft skills such as interpersonal skills, computer usage, résumé-writing, and interview preparation. For mid-professionals, the cafes would serve as employment exchanges where they could connect with employers and directly give interviews for vacancies.

Mooted tools for assessing candidate fitment for training courses or for professional employment include psychometric interest profiling, interviews, physiological tests, and face-to-face counseling. These are debatable based on the degree of acknowledgement and adaptation they get on the scale of estimation, correspondence and fairness. Capacity-building, in addition, could be advanced through diplomatic or advisory exchanges with Japan and/or any other country with sophisticated educational and career counseling services.

Periodic refresher training for para-counselors could also be one of the primary courses of action if cafe counseling through para-counselors is implemented on the ground. Training and knowledge-updating of job market, salary structures, financial awareness and candidate suitability could be a part of the refresher course. Interpersonal skills of interacting with the candidates, counselor self-awareness, enhancement of attending and listening skills, and so forth could also be integrated. Likewise, for candidates, short study tours, on-the-job training, and problem-solving simulations could be considered requisites while interacting with candidates and making them aware of job opportunities and discussing their areas of interest.

There are several advantages of introducing and strengthening the role of para-counselors and the establishment of cafes for career counseling. At the ground level, even at the grass roots, the immediate access to information and awareness for making career choices would be enhanced. More (para-) counselors would mean more specializations available for candidates to choose, such as career counseling for sports, music and other vocational and mainstream domains. It would also increase the number of takers of vocational streams as this type of information has not been easily and widely accessible and is the need of the hour.

Cafe counseling, furthermore, would be beneficial for providing infrastructure for consulting these counselors and fill-in gaps of the skewed counselor-candidate ratio and the ready presence and availability of information. Holding classes on résumé-interview preparation, business manners, computer-skill enhancement, and connecting with the employers could be facilitated while searching for jobs. Not only would it host employment opportunities, but also support income for the NEET.

This is the opportune time to lay foundations of a culture of cafe counseling in India through para-counselors to enable sustainable employment and prevent professional dropouts.

Tanya Kapoor

Tanya Kapoor is a doctoral researcher specializing in energy diplomacy. Her major areas of interest are sustainable development, geopolitics and career guidance. She lectures girls’ battalions of the National Cadet Corps, India, to encourage them to pursue their interests and contribute to the economy.

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