ERIC Identifier: ED338896
Publication Date: 1991-00-00
Author: Kerka, Sandra
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult
Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Adults in Career Transition. ERIC Digest No. 115.
Job and career changes are increasingly common due to the uncertainties of
the economic environment, technological changes, and new attitudes toward work.
The more drastic of these transitions--changing careers--is often linked to the
developmental stage of midlife. However, such changes are not limited to that
age group. In fact, recent research and theory are moving away from age-related
developmental models toward more individually determined stages. Other
researchers are questioning the validity of linear career development models
versus cyclical patterns. Still others criticize prevailing models for their
lack of relevance to women and different cultural groups. This ERIC DIGEST
reviews current thinking about what motivates adults to change careers and the
concepts of life/career cycles. Implications of the new models for helping
adults in transition are described.
WHO CHANGES CAREERS AND WHY?
Although "midlife crisis" is a
dominant image, adults experience cyclical periods of stability and transition
throughout life. Sargent and Schlossberg (1988) suggest that adult behavior is
determined by transitions, not age. Adults are motivated to make transitions by
a continual need to belong, control, master, renew, and take stock.
One explanation for transition may be found in Hughes and Graham's (1990)
work in developing the Adult Life Roles Instrument. These researchers identified
six life roles (relationships with self, work, friends, community, partner, and
family) that go through cycles of initiation, adaptation, reassessment, and
reconciliation. An individual may be at a different stage in each role
simultaneously. The conflict or lack of congruence between two or more of these
role cycles may spur the process of career change.
Interviews with over 500 adults (Kanchier and Unruh 1988) uncovered
differences between voluntary changers ("Questers") and nonchangers
("Traditionalists"). Questers viewed jobs or careers as vehicles for
self-expression and growth; they experienced cycles of entry, mastery, and
disengagement. In the disengagement stage, when self-appraisal tells them the
intrinsic rewards of a job no longer satisfy, Questers seek change. In contrast,
Traditionalists value extrinsic rewards (position, power, money, security) that
control their career choices. They are generally less introspective and open to
risk than Questers.
Career change has become more socially acceptable as personal fulfillment is
more highly valued. Career decision making is seen as a series of continuous
choices across the life span, not a once-and-for-all event. Thus, careers may be
viewed as a spiral sequence of all life roles, with changes triggered by factors
ranging from the anticipated (marriage, empty nest) to unanticipated (illness,
divorce, layoff) to "nonevents" (a marriage or promotion that did not occur)
(Leibowitz and Lea 1985). Other reasons that people seek change are that their
initial career was not their own choice, their original aspirations were not
met, there is insufficient time for other life roles, or the present career is
incongruent with changed values or interests. Longer life expectancy, changing
views of retirement, and economic necessity are other factors.
Personal reactions to transition vary. Whether the career change is voluntary
or involuntary, people may experience a variety of emotions such as fear,
anxiety, or a sense of loss. Phases of transition may include immobilization,
denial, self-doubt, letting go, testing options, searching for meaning, and
integration and renewal (Leibowitz and Lea 1985). The close relationship between
career and identify may necessitate reformulating one's self-concept when making
a career change.
NEW MODELS OF CAREER DEVELOPMENT
The traditional linear
career development model--education-employment-retirement--very likely accounts "for less than one-third of all careers" (Leach and Chakiris 1988, p. 52). New
ways of looking at life/career cycles that better explain adults' developmental
diversity are needed. Leach and Chakiris elaborate on three types of careers:
linear, free form, and mixed form. Linear careers follow the traditional pattern
of education-work-retirement. Free-form careers include work for pay (such as
permanent or temporary part-time jobs, consulting, entrepreneurial activity) or
unpaid work. Mixed-form careerists are involved in transitions between linear
and free-form patterns. The temporarily or permanently unemployed,
underemployed, and those undergoing training or retraining in preparation for a
career fall into this category.
In her work with adults as learners, Cross identified three types of "life
plans" (Perspectives on Adult Education 1988):
life plan--education when young, work through the middle
years, leisure when elderly
of work, education, and leisure into recurring
life plan--combining leisure, work, and study
activities concurrently throughout life
She sees the trend toward longer, healthier life spans resulting in greater
emphasis on the blended life plan.
Given these diverse career and life forms, the developmental tasks for each
adult differ with age, social role, and culture. Age-related life-cycle theories
have been criticized by Eastmond (1991), Hughes and Smith (1985), and others
because they are often inappropriate for women and minorities. Women may
accomplish the same developmental tasks as men, but often in different periods
of the life-cycle. Forrest and Mikolaitis (1986) argue for the inclusion of a
different component in women's career development--self in relation to
others--that accounts for women's experience of the world. Ethnic minorities'
career development is influenced by their differential experience of home,
school, and the workplace; the kinds of transitions they undergo may not
correspond to linear or age-related patterns (Hughes and Smith 1985).
HELPING ADULTS IN CAREER TRANSITION
These new ways of
looking at life/career cycles and the transition process suggest approaches for
assisting adults contemplating career change. The multifaceted approach proposed
by Hughes and Graham (1990) requires recognizing the developmental stages of
adults' multiple life roles and their interaction. The search for a new career
involves not only matching the person to the work, but also fitting the "occupational career" into the "life career" (Leibowitz and Lea 1985).
According to Sargent and Schlossberg (1988), adult readiness for change
depends on four factors: self, situation, support, and strategies. Counselors
can help adults in transition assess (1) self--personal responses to change; (2)
situation--changes in roles, relationships, routines, assumptions; (3)
support--does a range of sources exist? were they disrupted by transition?; and
(4) strategies--taking action to change the situation, change its meaning, or
A variety of coping skills for managing transition are necessary (Leibowitz
and Lea 1985). These skills include:
and responding to transitions
and using internal and external support systems
emotional and physiological distress
and implementing change
A holistic approach to transition management includes the following
psychological, marital, and family counseling
interests, values, and skills (using gender- and
culturally appropriate instruments
information about careers
about educational and training opportunities
and overcoming resource barriers such as financial
need and child care
A computerized career guidance system such as SIGI PLUS (System of
Interactive Guidance and Information) can also be of value. Norris, Shatkin, and
Katz (1991) describe how SIGI was modified in recognition of the fact that
career decision making is lifelong and, for adults, more complex. Components of
SIGI PLUS encompass both occupational and nonoccupational factors, because such
factors as family mobility and investment in education, training, and
social/community activities may inhibit adults' flexibility in career choice.
The Coping component recognizes the practical problems and barriers to training
and career entry facing adults.
If, as Leach and Chakiris (1988) suggest, periodic unemployment will be
experienced by most of the working population at some time in their lives,
career and life role transitions will be everyone's concern. They suggest
helping people make distinctions between jobs, work, and careers; place greater
value on noneconomic work roles; and recognize transitions as an inevitable part
of life and a continual challenge for redefining oneself.
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Hughes, J., and Graham, S. "Adult Life Roles." JOURNAL OF CONTINUING HIGHER
EDUCATION 38, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 2-8. (EJ 408 098)
Hughes, A., and Smith, B. "Career Development and the Ethnic Minority." In
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Kanchier, C., and Unruh, W. "Career Cycle Meets the Life Cycle." CAREER
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Lasuita, A. "A Life-Phase Approach to Adult Career Counseling." Paper
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Leach, J. L., and Chakiris, B. J. "Future of Jobs, Work, and Careers."
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Leibowitz, Z. B., and Lea, H. D., eds. ADULT CAREER DEVELOPMENT. Alexandria,
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Norris, L.; Shatkin, L.; and Katz, M. "SIGI PLUS and Project LEARN." JOURNAL
OF CAREER DEVELOPMENT 18, no. 1 (Fall 1991): 61-72.
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