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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.

June 19, 2009

Relationship between research, policy and practice

If you are doing research in areas such as careers, learning and development you are conscious that the research has to engage with practice, but a further dimension is raised if you seek to influence policy too. An article by Gold and Villeneuve (2003) throws light on the need to reconceptualise the relationship between research and practice if it to have an impact upon policy. Their argument revolved around the need to go beyond traditional forms of research dissemination:

  • Knowledge transfer is still widely thought of in terms of researchers producing research and then disseminating it (push).
  • Some researchers have begun to focus on helping decision makers access, appraise, adapt and apply research (pull).

In a review of 24 studies that asked over 2000 policy makers what facilitated or prevented their use of research evidence the number 1 factor was personal contact! (Innvaer et al. Journal of Health Services Research and Policy 2002; 7:241). This means that dissemination and uptake strategies are necessary but not sufficient in many cases. Relationships matter! Some researchers and decision makers are going beyond separate dissemination and uptake efforts and are engaging in true joint knowledge production. When this model is used, many still encounter difficult barriers to effective collaboration and exchange. The most commonly mentioned were:

  • A lack of understanding of each other’s culture and work environment
  • A lack of a common language
  • A lack of understanding of the relative roles and responsibilities in the process.

Gold and Villeneuve argue that relationships between researchers and decision makers are needed to overcome these barriers. Brokering is about building and nurturing relationships between those involved in joint knowledge production:

  • Finding the right people and linking them
  • Helping to set agendas and facilitating their interactions
  • Brokering is also about building relationships between communities
  • Understanding each others realities
  • Creating a common language and frame of reference
  • Helping to establish realistic expectations, roles and responsibilities.

Reference: Busting the silos: knowledge brokering in Canada Irving Gold and Julie Villeneuve Knowledge Transfer 5th International Conference on the Scientific Basis of Health Services Washington, 2003.

The Canadian Health Sciences Research Foundation have a part of their website devoted to the promotion of knowledge brokering and networking.

June 12, 2009

Career adaptability

One of areas of careers that we are currently researching is ‘career adaptability’. Helping people to become more career adaptable could be crucially important for people finding their way through a volatile labour market. Although there is not yet final agreement on the definition of career adaptability, many interested in studying the concept agree that it refers to: … the readiness to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the unpredictable adjustments prompted by changes in work and working conditions. (Savickas, 1997, p.254).

To become career adaptable, you would need to ‘look ahead and look around’ (Savickas, 1997, p257). You would also need to engage, proactively, in a process of self-development so that in time, you are able to choose suitable and viable opportunities to become the person you want to be. In summary, to become career adaptable, you would need to: think routinely about your future; be prepared to engage in an ongoing process of self-reflection; develop the skills, knowledge and understanding needed to cope with change; and it will require you to be open-minded about opportunities that come along.

How do you regard ‘career adaptability’? Would you want to change this description of what it means (and how)? Do you see this concept as relevant to your own situation?

Reference: Savickas, M. L. (1997). Career adaptability: An integrative construct for life-span, life-space theory. Career Development Quarterly, 45(3), 247-259.

June 11, 2009

Tell us your career 'story'

Writing about web page

Tell us your 'story' - of how you have developed since starting work - whether doing the same work or moving through a series of jobs?

As a team of researchers from eleven European countries, we are researching how people’s careers are changing across Europe, and initial results show some very interesting patterns, so we are interested in your story too - please follow link to an online survey (available in 11 languages).  The survey may take up to 20 minutes to complete. Your identity will be treated in the strictest confidence by the research team and the information you provide will be anonymised.  The results of the study are feeding into a European review of how best to support individual learning and career development. 

We would also be grateful if you could forward this link to contacts and colleagues who you think may also be able to help.

With many thanks in advance for your help.

European Careers Research Team (see: for core team and for details of full team

Careers, learning and identities

This blog will provide a space to discuss issues around careers, learning and identities. The main contributors from Warwick Institute for Employment Research (IER) will be Alan Brown, Jenny Bimrose and Sally-Anne Barnes.

One means of accessing some of our work is through our website on Guidance, Learning and Careers at IER (GLACIER).

As part of a joint initiative between the Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) and the Institute for Employment Research (IER), Alan Brown has been involved in the production of a number of commentaries and other resources on workplace learning.

Jenny Bimrose co-ordinates most of IER's work on career guidance and current work includes using technology-enhanced learning to support knowledge maturation in communities of practice in career guidance through the MATURE project. This project builds on earlier work on the development of the National Guidance Research Forum  website to support and facilitate the integration of guidance research with practice.

Sally-Anne Barnes has done considerable work on examining Future Trends in the Labour Market

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