Using the Highlands Program (THP) to Enhance Adult Career Planning

Using the Highlands Program (THP) to Enhance Adult Career Planning

Career Planning and Adult Development Journal
Volume 19, Number 2, Summer 2003
by Anne Angerman, MSW

Why do so many adults struggle with career choice? Why are there so many young adults with bachelors’ degrees unable to find a good match in a career?

The Highlands Program (THP) offers solutions to help people find more direction in their lives. Introduced to THP through a magazine advertisement seeking licensees to complete the program, I completed the training so I could use the instrument to better serve my clients. As a clinical social worker, I serve many people struggling with a lack of career satisfaction and inability to find meaning in their lives. The Highlands Program was founded in 1990 by a psychologist and an advertising executive, both intrigued by the question – how do people find career happiness? They observed many people who had careers that were consuming – but not fulfilling. They spent two years conducting research identifying assessments and determined that those tools most helpful were those that measured abilities and natural talents. Because of that, they bought the rights to one test, and developed their own ability assessment and workshops for adults. They found that when people are using their natural abilities, they tend to have less stress in their lives. Conversely, when people are in careers that don’t use their abilities, they tend to experience more stress.

Aptitudes and Natural Abilities
The word “aptitude” refers to a natural capacity or predisposition to perform a certain task faster and more accurately than the average person. A score on an aptitude test measures a person’s capacity for a certain activity, not how extensively he or she has used that potential. For example, there are many people with high scores in the music aptitudes whom have never sung or played a musical instrument. They have musical talent, but have not chosen to use it or seek further training to enhance their music aptitude. Aptitudes may or may not correspond to an individual’s training, interests or knowledge. Aptitudes differ from skills in that skills are learned and can continue to be nurtured and developed. Skills acquisition and experience complement one’s ability set.

Research from various experts has shown that aptitudes become stable over time. A young woman’s aptitudes at 17 would be the same at 47. Aptitude scores are no indication of motivation in a particular direction. Some people have ideal aptitudes for a career, but no desire to pursue it. Sometimes people are very interested in careers using their low aptitudes. For example, in the area of medicine, some young adults have the desire to go to medical school, but have low aptitudes. If willing to devote more time and energy than the average person, some can compensate for this lack of natural ability. More concentrated effort, motivation, and determination can offset low abilities-but not always. For example, such careers as dentistry, architecture, or engineering will need some basic natural abilities in spatial relations for success to occur. Working diligently with low abilities is as crucial as ignoring high abilities. People who have no outlet for high abilities become dissatisfied with their jobs and lives. Thus, a person with many abilities must be more selective with career decisions. I have seen many persons with multiple abilities and many with career frustration because of lack of focus and the difficulty of finding a career that encompasses all of their abilities.

In looking at career development, The Highlands Program has found eight factors that contribute to career choice: abilities, skills, interests, values, goals, family of origin, personality, and stage of adult development. The main tool of THP is a 3 ½ hour assessment now available on a CD. The test consists of timed work samples. A person purchases and completes the CD on a PC and individual results are posted on a website as a 25 page report. The results are shared with a licensed THP provider who reviews the results in a two hour session-either in person or by telephone. It is not possible to buy the CD without the feedback as people need professional feedback to maximize their results. Feedback sessions can also be completed in a group. Follow-up coaching sessions are available for more exploration and goal planning.

The Case of Sharon
Sharon is a 30 year-old female referred because of job dissatisfaction and career indecision. She received her BA and is a graduate of a paralegal program. She worked as a paralegal for 5 years but felt she was not challenged in her position and not encouraged to move forward. In examining her profile, there are three “high areas” to consider: Classification, Concept Organization and Time Frame Orientation. In the area of Classification she scored an 80%. (In terms of scoring, 65-100% is in the “highest” category). This is an inductive reasoning, analytical problem solving ability characterized by people who solve problems very quickly, intuitively, and can diagnose very swiftly and easily. People with this talent, typically, need to have a constant flow of new problems and like a fast paced work environment. Examples of careers utilizing this ability include emergency room medicine, critical writing, troubleshooting, and law.

Concept Organization (70%) This is a logical problem solving ability. It is an aptitude necessary for organizing information. People scoring high in this ability can organize and explain information easily, can plan quickly and write well, and can see logical steps for future plans and know how to get there. People who score high in this ability are happiest in an environment where there is a recurring need to plan, organize, create order, schedule, or solve logical puzzles.

Time Frame Orientation (71%)-This work sample measures the span of time a person takes into account when considering the future. It indicates how one naturally considers the impact of present actions on future plans. It illustrates that Sharon would prefer projects that are more long term in duration and that it would not be hard for her to commit to a two year masters program.

In talking with Sharon, she voiced her passions for social justice issues, an interest in government and politics and an openness to return for more schooling. After lengthy discussions, Sharon found a graduate degree in public policy held great interest. Such programs prepare individuals for working for government agencies, understanding public policy, grant writing, and doing research. Also, with a strong preference for introversion (80%), she liked the idea of autonomy, working alone, and doing research or advocacy work. Right now, she is excited about the possibilities of returning to school and obtaining this degree.

Two other clients are representative of my recent clients who made career changes after use of THP. Working with an attorney revealed his abilities for doing hands-on-work and a high sense of rhythm, suggesting a need to move around a lot and not sit at a desk for extended periods of time. Within the year, he completed massage school and reports being very satisfied with his new career. Another client discussed dissatisfaction in business school during a session. After completing the test which revealed a high level of artistic and spatial abilities, he decided to enroll in a school of architecture.

The career planning process is very complex and success includes integration of many variables. Knowing one’s aptitudes is not the total panacea for finding the ideal career. However, The Highlands Program can provide substantial information about the areas in which a person has natural gifts. It differs from other tools assessment in that it also includes feedback on introversion and extroversion, and information on work settings. It includes information on 25 work roles as good matches for someone’s abilities and offers follow-up groups and coaching to enhance feedback received on the profile. For adult students, a special section is included on learning channels and study suggestions. The Highlands Program profile coupled with the Myers Briggs and Strong Interest Inventory can provide valuable information to individuals struggling to find a college major or suitable career as well as offer insight to those facing a career change.

Lore, N. (1998). The Pathfinder. New York, NY: Fireside Books, McDonald, B.D., & Hutcheson, D. (2002). Don’t Waste Your Talent.
Marietta, Georgia: Longstreet Press, Inc. McDonald, BD, & Hutcheson, (1997). The Lemming Conspiracy-How to Redirect Your Life from Stress to Balance. Marietta, Georgia: Longstreet Press, Inc.

About the author
Anne Gottlieb Angerman is an educator, speaker and coach specializing in stress management and career and life transitions. She is the Director of The Highlands Program in Denver, a national company specializing in helping individuals and corporations develop career and life planning strategies. She has over 20 years of experience in private practice as a coach, therapist, trainer. She has 15 years of experience working with individuals and groups. motivating, educating, and coaching. She earned the Master of Science in Social Work [MSSW] at the University of Wisconsin, and the Bachelor of Science at Purdue University. She is Certified as Director of The Highlands Program. She is certified by The Listen Foundation to use the 360-Degree Feedback Process, Exit Interview, and Climate Study; and she is certified to administer and interpret the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. She is an Instructor at Metro State College and Denver Council of Government. She is author of the book, Stress Management Made Simple.