Working Americans' Perceptions of Career Development: The 2021 NCDA Harris Poll Results

By Charles Lehman

A new understanding of working America's career information and guidance experiences is now possible as a result of a national survey completed in 2021. The National Career Development Association (NCDA) commissioned The Harris Poll to conduct a national survey of adults in the United States to learn about their career development experiences and plans, particularly their use of and satisfaction with career information and career guidance professionals. The results of this survey will be useful to practitioners, policy makers, educators, researchers, and others. The survey results will also reveal the ongoing and future use of and need for career guidance. It is similar, but not strictly comparable, to earlier surveys conducted in 1999 and 2011.

A key finding of the study is that career information and guidance stand out as valued and desired resources, however, they are underutilized. Likewise, Americans wish they would have sought the services of a career services professional. People who have had their career impacted by COVID-19 indicated that it would have been valuable to talk with a career services professional during this time. Practitioners and employers may want to make note of the types of career assistance they provide that are perceived to be most helpful.

Participants and Data Collection

The research was conducted online in the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of NCDA among 1,535 adults aged 18+. The survey was conducted July 22 - August 5, 2021. Data are statistically weighted where necessary by age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, education, marital status, household size, household income, and propensity to be online to bring them in line with their actual proportions in the population.

The survey consisted of 32 questions regarding

More information about the study methodology can be found in the full report, Perceptions of Career Development from Working America.

The Role of Career Assistance in Decision-Making

Most adults (57%) shared that they accessed outside help when planning their career. Forty-two percent said that other people (i.e., friends, family, counselors) influenced how they chose a job. Only 13% said they had worked with a career counselor or specialist in a school or private practice.

Only 12% of working adults are currently utilizing a career counselor or specialist in schools or private practice and 25% want to do so in the future. Further, nearly two-thirds agree that it would be helpful to talk to a professional regarding future career moves. While only 18% of adults have sought help with the career planning process in the past, this action was perceived to be the most helpful (specifically 68% viewed it as very or extremely helpful). This is higher than the helpfulness of job postings, the most common type of job information accessed (which was reported helpful by 59% of the participants).

The Value of Career Assistance

While professional career development assistance has not been widely used, an overwhelming majority of Americans (85%) said that career professionals provide valuable assistance. Both Millennials aged 25-40 (89%) and Boomers aged 57 or older (80%) said that career services professionals provide valuable assistance. When asked if their career choice was inspired by a career services professional, there were more affirmative responses from

A majority of Americans (58%) wish they had sought services from a career services professional.

Photo By Anthony Shkraba From Pexels 2

Of all the activities employers have provided to employees, the career assistance center (including the opportunity to meet with a counselor, join group career activities or gain career information) is selected to be most valuable by employees (75% extremely/very helpful).

Disruptions and the Future of Work

The research participants were asked to provide feedback about a variety of issues affecting jobs and employment in the future. Almost one in ten US adults (9%) said that they decided to change career fields due to the coronavirus pandemic. Either they changed to something that they perceived to be more secure (6%) or they changed due to the demands or safety concerns of their past field (4%). A vast majority (84%) of those who had their career impacted by COVID-19 said that being able to talk with a career services professional during this time would have been at least somewhat valuable and some (15%) believe it would have been “absolutely essential”.

Seventy percent of working adults believe that automation will have an impact on jobs or training in the future. A majority (64%) said that the globalized economy will have an impact.

When asked to share their employment plans in the next few years, more than a quarter of adults said they were likely to change jobs, either because they will choose to (23%) or will be forced to because of downsizing or going-out-of-business (4%). Forty-two percent said they were likely to pursue a new career – including 54% of Hispanic participants and 63% of recent college graduates. Career change can happen for many reasons and is not uncommon. Among Americans, about one-third (31%) had held five or more jobs over the course of their working career. However, job satisfaction among working Americans seems high overall: 85% percent were satisfied with their career and 89% were satisfied with their current jobs.

Almost three-quarters (74%) of those who have accessed private career specialists found them to be very or extremely valuable. Many people do not fully utilize career professionals and resources despite the common job changes (i.e., 13% have sought help from a career services professional in the past). Satisfaction may be high, but this study also found an acknowledged need for and interest in professional career assistance and resources. US adults indicated they want career information, particularly in the areas of job security (31%) and work life balance (31%), followed by resume writing and interviewing skills (29%) and job search strategies (27%).

Follow Up to the Report

The full report, Perceptions of Career Development from Working America is posted on the NCDA website, Standards. Those connected to the field of career development are encouraged to review the report for additional details related to how Americans make career decisions, what resources they use, and how they perceive the value of professionals in the field of career development. Detailed data tables are also available to researchers.

In the coming months, this report will be presented in various formats to NCDA members, governmental and organizational officials, educators, and others to illustrate the the value and need for career guidance. A separate, supplemental report, addressing the efficacy of career guidance and counseling to reinforce the value of these services in career development, is a white paper provided by NCDA (also found on the NCDA website, Standards). 



Charles LehmanCharles J. Lehman is the Director of a New Mexico economic consulting company specializing in workforce issues and needs. He serves as the Treasurer on the NCDA Board of Trustees and is also a charter member of the New Mexico Career Development Association. He is retired from the New Mexico Department of Labor where he worked on economic research and workforce program implementation. He has degrees in economics and mathematics from the University of New Mexico and has served as an Air Force officer. He can be reached at charles.j.lehman@gmail.com



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Melissa Venable   on Tuesday 11/02/2021 at 02:06 PM

Thank you, Charles, for sharing this new report! It's an important study and the highlights you've provided here helped prepare me for a deeper dive. Many thanks to NCDA for engaging in this work.

Rich Feller   on Tuesday 11/02/2021 at 07:08 PM

Charles…timely report…appreciate the eye of an economist as we create demand for career services…work, learning and well being outcomes are greatly needed during disruptive times… thanks to NCDA for this research

Brian Pillsbury   on Wednesday 11/03/2021 at 11:37 PM

Very important information. Thanks for the summary.

Rebecca Dedmond   on Sunday 11/07/2021 at 09:50 PM

Useful interpretation of this timely study for our use in classes and as career services providers... Thanks Charles and NCDA!

Juliet Jones   on Tuesday 11/16/2021 at 02:21 PM

Thanks, Charles for the helpful summary. I was definitely interested to read the full report. I'm glad to hear there will be a supplemental report on career guidance efficacy - I look forward to reading it!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.