What is there to learn about youth’s career paths and transitions?

In recent decades, many transformations have occurred in the way that young people live and approach their lives. New life patterns mirroring new or different ways of thinking, feeling and acting also have emerged. Education and work are two domains most influenced by these changes. Young people had and have to creatively adapt and adjust to new types of work and careers [1].

In the career domain, heterogeneity of transitional pathways is very common and an increased polarization is evident among young people [2]. Namely, while some young people flourish and experience smooth and immediate career transitions, others flounder and experience delays and instability. The floundering ones are especially at risk of marginalization or of dropping out of society. Thus, it is crucial to understand how young people engage with career transitions and make choices.

How to research youth’s career paths and transitions?

In our research project, we want to come up with new or alternative insights into the processes through which youth make decisions and engage with career transitions during adolescence and young adulthood. In doing so, we will combine three perspectives that reflect diverse approaches to the study of human functioning: Life Span Model of Motivation [3] (click here for an application of this model), Dynamic Systems Approach [4] (click here more blog posts about this approach), and Contextual Action Theory [5] (click here for a presentation about this theory). Our approach is an answer to scholars’ recent calls for psychology to move beyond traditional ways of conceptualizing and researching human behaviour. For example, Kloep and Hendry [6] highlighted the need for more radical strategies and conceptualizations pushing developmental psychology forward. Our research project aims at overcoming some of the field’s current limitations.

The combination of the Life Span Model of Motivation, the Dynamic Systems Approach, and of the Contextual Action Theory will allow us to develop a holistic framework. This holistic framework will enable us to study adolescents and young adults’ processes of career goal construction over time and in the context of peers’ friendship relationships in contemporary Finnish society.

What do we expect to learn with our research approach?

We expect that the holistic framework we are developing will help us move beyond the identification of general trends of development (at the group level) of how adolescents and young adults construct their career transition pathways. In particular, we expect our framework to enable us to identify and give insight into the mechanisms and processes through which the development of such patterns occurs, both at the within-person level, and at the transitional level (i.e., what youth and their peers are doing together that concerns the construction of career-related goals).

With regard to benefit for society, the study will provide a comprehensive, process-oriented account of the range of behaviors used by adolescents and young adults at key points before, during and after education- or work-related transitions. This will help us better understand how ongoing changes in global, regional, and local structures, contexts and life experiences impact on young people’s career behavior. Thus, on their progress towards positive youth development and the development of lifelong sustainable careers.

For students, our study will give insight in goal setting in the complex context of career choice. Education and work are key domains where adolescents and young adults set goals and construct plans for the realization of these goals. Well-formulated goals, and a sense of one’s potential and capabilities enable the person to envision different future alternatives for oneself and plan strategies to attain them [7]. Goals structure youth’s everyday lives and help them channel their resources while addressing the complex series of choices and often lengthy transitions that make up a person’s career path.

Relevant links and publications

[1] Parada, F. & Young, R.A. (2013). Youth work transitions: A review with implications for counselling and career practice. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy/Revue canadienne de counseling et de psychothérapie, 47, 196-222.

[2] Salmela-Aro, K. (2012). Academic expectations and well-being from school to work during the economic downturn. New Directions for Youth Development, 135, 57–64. doi:10.1002/yd.20028.

[3] Salmela-Aro, K. (2009). Personal goals and well-being during critical life transitions: the four C’s – channelling, choice, co-agency and compensation. Advances in Life Course Research, 14, 63-73. doi: 10.1016/j.alcr.2009.03.003.

[4] Kunnen, S. (2012). A dynamic systems approach to adolescent development. London, UK: Routledge.

[5] Wall, J. M., Law, A. K., Zhu, M., Munro, D., Parada, F., & Young, R. A. (2016). Understanding goal-directed action in emerging adulthood: Conceptualization and method. Emerging Adulthood, 4, 30-39. doi: 10.1177/2167696815610695.

[6] Kloep & Hendry (2014). Some ideas on the emerging future of developmental research. Journal of Adolescence, 37, 1541-1545. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.09.002.

[7] Dietrich, J., Andersson, H., & Salmela‐Aro, K. (2014). Developmental psychologists’ perspective on pathways through school and beyond. In P. Blanchard, F. Bühlmann, & J.‐A. Gauthier (Eds.), Advances in sequence analysis: Methods, theories and applications (pp. 129‐150). New York: Springer.

NOTE: Image by Andrew Sutherland, licenced under CC BY 2.0

Filomena Parada, UNIVERSITY OF JYVÄSKYLÄ, FINLAND, is a Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) Individual Fellow (Project Reference: 749313 – TeenEduGoals), since June 2016. Previously, she was a researcher at the Centre for Psychology at University of Porto. Between 2009 and 2015, she was a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Coimbra and spent some time working as a Visiting Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of British Columbia (Canada). Her main research interests are youth transitions to work and adulthood and positive youth development.  Contextual Action Theory, career counselling and development, and lifelong learning are among her topics of specialization. She is at the University of Groningen as a part of her MSCA fellowship secondment.

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