All entries for Tuesday 09 November 2010

November 09, 2010

Research on career adaptability

The current focus of UK skills policy is on four policy areas (economic performance; skills demand; skills supply; and jobs and skills mismatch), based around concerns with organisational productivity, sectoral and regional policy, education and training, the labour market, and reducing inequality and promoting social mobility, while addressing three key underlying issues: individual aspiration; employer demand; and responsive provision (UKCES (2010) Ambition 2020: World Class Skills and Jobs for the UK).

What is missing from this set of concerns, however, is any sense of progression of individuals through work across the life-course, particularly insofar as this involves moving between sectors. As a consequence, a dynamic element of how individuals become engaged with learning and development pathways, which involve upskilling, reskilling and sometimes transformational shifts in perspective as their careers develop, is largely absent from current policy analysis.

The GLACIER group at IER believe this gap could be filled with a focus on ‘career adaptability.’ Our current research in this area builds upon a major ten country enquiry into changing patterns of career development across Europe, which highlighted how some people were much more successful than others in negotiating a series of work-related transitions. Additionally, it extends international research from a seventeen country study into the concept of career adaptability, which we believe to be a key element in understanding successful transitions and accumulation of skills at the individual level.

The concept of career adaptability is strategically important because whilst ‘employability’ seeks to ensure that individuals can find a place in the labour market, ‘career adaptability’ is concerned with the development of, and support for, the capability of an individual to make a series of successful transitions where the labour market, organisation of work and underlying occupational and organisational knowledge bases may all be subject to considerable change.

The aim of this study is to assess and develop existing (national and international) knowledge about career adaptability, with particular emphasis on skills accumulation, in order to provide a platform for the development and support of career adaptability in a UK context. The objectives include exploring the potential of the concept of career adaptability to empower individuals to take positive decisions and actions regarding their skills development; and investigating the influence of particular labour market conditions in supporting career adaptability (through an Anglo-Norwegian comparison).

Using career adaptability as an analytical framework, helps address the issue of readiness of young people for different types of employment: ‘adaptability’ provides real purchase on this issue precisely because it can be examined in terms of individual proactivity, relational issues and quality, structure and nature of institutional support (examples from engineering, accountancy and healthcare show how career adaptability can be fostered and developed as a process extending right through to ‘experienced worker’ status and how the lack of challenge and support in work can undermine earlier preparations prior to employment). It can also help highlight the value placed on different types of knowledge, skills, qualifications, experience in their learning and skill development. We will be looking, in particular, to make a qualitative comparison of successful transitions in the UK and Norway. Norway is an interesting comparator because it has a buoyant labour market and low unemployment and would help us answer the question relating to the extent to which career adaptability takes different forms in different structural contexts – career adaptability is likely to be influenced by the dynamic interaction of structural and agentic factors.

Separately, a detailed conceptualization of career adaptability is being be derived from an ongoing seventeen country study in which IER is participating. Whilst career adaptability is derived from a psychological perspective, it is also influenced by psycho-social factors (through the interaction with others) and structural factors (such as the provision of careers guidance and other forms of support in making transitions). The proposed research will therefore enable a deeper understanding of the potential role of career adaptability in employment and skills policies derived from a range of contrasting international contexts.


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