ERIC Identifier: ED260370
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Johnston, Joe A. - Heppner, Mary J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.

Adult Career Development: An Overview. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Fact Sheet.

A decade ago adult career development would have generated little debate or interest. Traditional wisdom said that individuals chose careers in their late teens and early 20s and pursued them until retirement. Career planning, if any, occurred in high school.

Today, however, attitudes, practices, and theories are changing, and career planning professionals are being asked to provide assistance to people of all ages and at all stages of career development.


The need for adult career planning services is due, in large part, to demographic factors. Life expectancy has increased from 47 years in 1900 to 74 today. The "baby boomers," born between 1946 and 1964, have flooded the labor market. The number of people aged 65 and older also has increased by 35 percent in the last two decades. Over 30,000 Americans are over 100; 2.2 million are over 85 (Hodgkinson 1984).

The impact of women on educational institutions and the paid labor force has been significant. In 1950 fewer than 5 percent of all women aged 25 and older possessed college degrees; in 1980, 13 percent did (Spain and Nock 1984). "Older" women (35+) outnumber older men by almost 2 to 1 in their return to institutions of higher education, and the enrollment of both older groups has increased to 36.8 percent in five years (Magarrell 1981). Women's pursuit of professional degrees also has sharply increased in the last three decades; for example, from 4 to 30 percent in the field of law (Spain and Nock 1984).

In the labor force, the number of women has increased 109 percent since 1960, compared to 36 percent for men. By 1995, 80 percent of women aged 20-45 are predicted to be working in the paid labor force. Women with children under age six have increased their participation from 19 percent in 1960 to 50 percent in 1983 (Robey and Russell 1984).


More job titles are available today -- 40,000 with the last census -- and many of them did not exist when current adult workers were making initial career decisions. The fastest percentage gains occur predominantly in the high-tech fields: computer service technicians up 96.8 percent, computer systems analysts up 85.3 percent, programmers up 76.9 percent, and operators up 75.8 percent (Robey and Russell 1984).

Other factors creating the need for adult career planning services include: legal changes, such as affirmative action and mandatory retirement laws; psychological concerns about meaning and identity in work; and economic circumstances requiring dual-career or dual-paycheck couples. The traditional pattern of the bread-winning father, the homemaking mother, and two or more school-aged children accounted for only 11 percent of families in 1980, compared to 60 percent in 1955.


As new groups are seeking career services, new agencies are emerging to attend to unique and different concerns. Colleges and universities are expanding career services for adults coming or returning to school, but they account for only one-fifth (12 million) of the total number of adults being educated today.

Forty-six million adults are being educated by other agencies or by employers. The federal government, for example, participates through the military, equity legislation for women and minorities, programs for attracting women into nontraditional occupations, national and state information systems, reemployment programs, displaced homemaker centers, and college reentry programs.

Business and industry now spend between $30 and $40 billion on the education and training of adults. These adults are not seeking more of the same services provided to adolescents, but services unique to their own needs. Career planning services in the workplace, a redefinition of employee assistance programs to include career services, assessment centers in business and even in shopping centers, outplacement centers and the like are all logical extensions of a changing population seeking new services.


At least three relatively new diagnostic instruments have been developed to help interpret vocational status: My Vocational Situation (Holland, Daiger, and Power 1980); The Vocational Decision Scale (Jones and Chenery 1980); and The Career Decision Scale (Osipow, Carney, and Barak 1976). Appropriate assessments for adults must take into account that these individuals are often years removed from their formal schooling systems and need to incorporate work experience into their planning.

Assessing prior learning and identifying skills that can be transferred from one job to another are examples of this appropriateness. Job-stress related instruments, self-directed instruments (for example, Self-Directed Search, Quick Job Hunting Map, Career Decision Making System, Micro-SKILLS) and computerized assessments are also appropriate. However the assessment process is defined, it is important to recognize that adults prefer maintaining control and exercising personal input.


What is new is exemplified by the computerized interventions being marketed to adults. American College Testing introduced an adult version of DISCOVER (1984), and Educational Testing Service modified their SIGI ("SYSTEM OF INTERACTION..." 1984) to address adult concerns. Skill assessment, resume writing and job interviewing, job stress exercises, people management tasks, and general personal development ideas are some of the available software programs.

Online assessments and interactive interventions for particular skills are commonplace and improving all the time. It will be important for counselors to help adults sort out the most effective programs for them.


DISCOVER FOR THE ADULT LEARNER. Iowa City, IA: American College Testing Service, 1984.

Hodgkinson, H. FROM JOGGING TO HIKING: MIDDLE-AGED PEOPLE, JOBS, COMPANIES, SCHOOLS, ASPIRATIONS, DEMOGRAPHICS. Speech presented at Education and Training for Human Development Conference, Memphis, TN, June, 1984.

Holland, J., D. Daiger, and P. Power. MY VOCATIONAL SITUATION. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychological Press, 1980.

Jones, L. K., and M. F. Chenery. "Multiple Subtypes among Vocationally Undecided College Students: A Model and Assessment Instrument." JOURNAL OF COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY 27 (1980):469-477.

Magarrell, J. "The Enrollment Boom Among Older Americans." THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, May 4, 1981, p. 3.

Osipow, S. H., C. G. Carney, and A. Barak. "A Scale of Educational-Vocational Undecidedness: A Typological Approach." JOURNAL OF VOCATIONAL BEHAVIOR 9 (1976):233-243.

Robey, B., and C. Russell. "A Portrait of the American Worker." AMERICAN DEMOGRAPHICS 6 (1984):17-21.

Spain, D., and S. Nock. "Two Career Couples, a Portrait." AMERICAN DEMOGRAPHICS 6 (1984):24-27.

SYSTEM OF INTERACTION GUIDANCE AND INFORMATION PLUS. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 1984.

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