At a recent workshop I was running for medical educational supervisors we were discussing why the provision of careers support for doctors is now such a big issue. In the words of one of the consultants: ‘You used to be able to bum around for ages as a house officer until you worked out what you liked and disliked. Now you have the two years of your foundation programme and you are expected to know enough about the whole of medicine to make a sensible decison about your entire future.’ This was backed up by stories from the consultants about their haphazard career paths, full of wrong turnings, unexpected discoveries and random opportunities.
I find it somewhat ironic, therefore, that one of the most commonly used phrases in this new career support is ‘career planning’. ‘Planning’, with its implication of being able to predict, decide and control the future seems an inappropriate concept for many of the foundation doctors I have met. Even the fairly self-contained world of the medical profession is subject to social and technological changes that see the waning of certain specialties and the rapid growth of new ones, so that it is hard to predict what an area of medicine will look like by the time you are qualified to practise it.
Outside of medicine, I have noticed that we tend to use the term ‘career management’, which, if slightly less prophetic than ‘planning’, still presents the assumption of control. Of course the currently correct terminology for what we do is ‘career development learning‘, but surely we don’t call it that in front of the students! So what do we call it? Is ‘career management’ the right phrase to use?
A number of people have suggested alternative phrases which might be more appropriate for the modern world of work. Here are a few…
Mark Savickas has done much to update the work of Donald Super in order to incorporate modern developments in career research and theory, such as constructivism. He has suggested that Super’s original concept of vocational maturity be replaced with that of career adaptability. This new concept emphasises ‘a continual need to respond to new circumstances and novel situations rather than master a predictable and linear continuum of developmental tasks’ and is defined as ‘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 calls his reworking of Super the Theory of Career Construction — career construction could also be an interesting phrase to use.
[Savickas, M. (1997) Career adaptability: An integrative construct for life-span, life-space theory. Career Development Quarterly, 45(3) 247-259.]
In a working environment that seems to change at an ever increasing rate it is important to ensure that you don’t end up with skills that are only suitable for a career that is facing extinction. In 1994 Waterman et al. proposed that workers should concentrate primarily on their career resilience. This involves a continuing process of self-assessment and skills benchmarking to monitor whether your abilities are likely to be relevant to the future direction of your career or industry.
[Waterman, R.H., Jr, Waterman, J.A. & Collard, B.A. (1994) Towards a career-resilient workforce. Harvard Business Review, 72(4), 87-95.]
Robert Pryor and Jim Bright have suggested that we are in the business of helping people to shift with shifting times. We should be enabling clients to re-invent themselves, spot opportunities and recover from set-backs. Our task is to prepare people to cope with the uncertainty, unpredictability and complexity of modern careers by helping them to recognise patterns and extract meaning from the chaos of life today.
[Bright, J. (2008) Shift happens. Keynote Presentation to the Australian Association of Career Counsellors Annual Conference, Hobart.]
Gray Poehnell and Norman Amundson suggest the metaphor of crafting rather than managing a career. Crafting combines both creativity and practicality. It involves honing your basic skills until you reach mastery.
[Poehnell, G. & Amundson, N. (2002) CareerCraft: Engaging with, energizing and empowering career creativity. In Peiperl, M., Arthur, M.B.& Anand, N. (eds) Career Creativity: Explorations in the Remaking of Work. Oxford University Press, pp. 105-122.
See also Wrzesniewski, A. & Dutton, J.E. (2001) Crafting a job: Revisioning employees as active crafters of their work. Academy of Management Review, 26 179–201.]
Career meandering and manoeuvring
Lynne Bezanson from the Canadian Career Development Foundation introduced the idea of career as being a combination of meandering and manoeuvring. Meandering is the acceptance that careers do not tend to go in straight lines. Pursuing a career will often involve exploring to find a way around obstacles discover new routes. Manoeuvring involves positioning yourself to take advantage of potential opportunities.
[See Alberta Advanced Education and Career Development (1999) Multiple Choices: Planning Your Career for the 21st Century. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Notice the unfortunate use of the P word in the title!]
- How do you describe what you try to teach people in career development learning?
- How much do you think the phrases you use really matter to the clients?
- Does what you teach really prepare people for the complexities of the modern working world or is it slightly too simplistic?
Related post: Constructing successful careers