Spotlight on O*NET Users: Dr. John E. Rich

John E. Rich, Ed.D.

Counselor in The Counseling Center, Three Rivers Community College, Norwich, CT

John came back to higher education from business a couple of years ago, not familiar with O*NET. He doesn’t remember specifically whether he first heard of O*NET in a presentation, article or conversation, but “Whatever it was, I followed through immediately to discover O*NET. In a minute I thought ‘Oh, this is the DOT online—but what a GREAT change!’ I used to think that the Dictionary of Occupational Titles had good information, but was unwieldy. O*NET Online is light years beyond the DOT; much more information, and so well configured and useable. It’s the way students want it. They are familiar with the process of exploring in a database. They ‘get it’ right away.”

O*NET gives students the bigger perspective they crave. Most students do not know what they want to do in a career. Even students who think they want to work in business, for example, have little concept of what businesspeople do. John has students who say they want to be lawyers, but have only a TV awareness of what lawyers do in their work. Some of John’s students meet O*NET because they come through his door, wanting him specifically as their counselor. Some students are assigned to him. But most students encounter Dr. Rich through his outreach efforts. John delivers multiple messages that faculty, the Freshman Year Experience, The Business Club, or other student organizations invite him to present.

“There are so many messages. There is never enough time to deliver all of them. I have one to deliver today. It’s about passion, perseverance, the value of experience. What it takes to be successful. I drive home the point that you need a passion for what you do. You need a good fit for yourself. See your work as adding value to someone besides yourself. And LOOK! LOOK at what’s out there. That’s where I bring in O*NET.”

John demonstrates O*NET, live. He pulls the students in, asking what they would like to select, where they would like to go next. “I poke around the various ways to search. I always point out the videos, salaries, projections for an occupation. And the Connecticut information. I like to show them the information about education, the distribution in a field by level of education.”

When he demonstrates O*NET, “Students always say ‘WOW!’—literally. They truly are stunned, amazed. They don’t know that anything like this exists. And they really want to know this information.”

John tells success stories of students planning careers with O*NET. One student, soon to move on to a four-year college to complete a BA, was sure he wanted to “be in business.” “His self-assessments validated what we had talked about, but he said that all the areas in business, all the occupations, looked the same to him. I told him to ‘hold the thought’ about his interests, his knowledge sets and the like, and I showed him how to use O*NET. I sent him off with homework. He came back lit up with the conviction that he wanted to work in human resources. O*NET had shown him that his skills and knowledge, his interests, were a perfect fit with the tasks in HR occupations.

“The young man knew a friend’s mother was in HR. He developed a list of questions to ask her, scheduled a visit with her, and returned knowing that absolutely this was what he wanted to do! He knew WHY he was on his path.”

John sees exploring careers using O*NET as a self-motivating process. He watches light bulbs go on all the time. Summing up, he reflects, “It means so much for me to be a part of that.”

Asked to provide a tip to others who want to use O*NET constructively in counseling college students, John suggests encouraging students to “decide which chunks of O*NET information you want to work from.” There is so much information in O*NET, on every occupation.

“I say work from the categories of details that speak to you the most. Work with three or four of the sections, say, knowledge sets, education, or work context. Don’t try to look at everything all at once. Begin your exploration from the same base, and then explore across several occupations from that perspective. And certainly click into Related Occupations. That’s good advice.”

John brings his passion to efforts besides helping students. Long a city shade gardener, he created nirvana seven years ago when he moved to 11 acres of Connecticut countryside. Now he is a passionate perennial gardener, maintaining about 100 by 60 feet. He has put in ornamental grasses and many other plantings. Especially exciting is his large garden of eight varieties of lavenders.