A Match Made in Heaven? Career Development Theories and the School-to-Work Transition

Article excerpt

This article discusses the major contributions (Krumboltz & Worthington, 1999; Lent, Hackett, & Brown, 1999; Savickas, 1999; Swanson & Fouad, 1999) to this special issue of The Career Development Quarterly on the application of career development theories to the school-to-work transition. Common thematic elements in these 4 articles include a focus on the individual who faces the transition from high school to work and an emphasis on the developmental aspects of the transition. The article concludes with a cautionary recommendation that theory-building efforts derived from the individual experiences of work-bound youth ought to be included in theoretical and intervention initiatives to facilitate the school-to-work transition.

The four articles in this special issue reflect sophisticated thinking by some of the leading scholars in our field. One might suggest that the synthesis of the major theoretical perspectives in career development with the challenges of the school-to-work movement is a match made in heaven. As a whole, the articles by Savickas ( 1999), Krumboltz and Worthington (1999), Swanson and Fouad (1999), and Lent, Hackett, and Brown ( 1999) are thoughtfully written, innovative, and far-reaching in their implications. In fact, a significant part of my reaction to these papers affirms the belief that a careful integration of the school-to-work transition with the four bodies of theory detailed in these articles represents a great opportunity for both work-bound youth and for the continued vitality of the theoretical foundation of our discipline. However, when I consider these articles in light of the knowledge I have gained in my recent research into the school-to-work transition (Blustein, Phillips, JobinDavis, Finkelberg, & Roarke, 1997), my reactions become more complex and equivocal. In this discussion, I seek to reconcile these views to create space for applications of existing theories as well as new perspectives derived from the contemporary experiences of work-bound youth.

COMMON THEMATIC ELEMENTS

Much of the school-to-work literature, although rich with ideas from sociology, economics, and education, tends to downplay the experience of the individual (Worthington & Juntunen, 1997). The advantage of the articles in this issue, however, is that, taken together, they emphasize the psychological experiences of youth who are making the transition from high school to work.

In contrast to the human capital theory assumptions that underlie many of the policy-based initiatives undertaken in this decade (Sweetland, 1996), career development theory emphasizes that individuals have the potential to exercise some agency in the school-to-work transition, assuming that certain psychological and social factors are in place (Krumboltz & Worthington, 1999; Lent et al., 1999; Savickas, 1999; Swanson & Fouad, 1999). The explicit application of existing career development theories, therefore, provides scholars with the conceptual tools they need to understand more fully the antecedents and consequences of an active and involved approach to the school-to-work transition.

In each of these articles, the focus on the individual reveals important insights about how work-bound youth can optimize their influence in a process that is very much dominated by broader social and economic forces. Savickas's (1999) thoughtful conclusions about the importance of awareness, information, and planning are generally consistent with a growing body of literature on the school-to-work transition that has emerged from other scholarly arenas, such as sociological analyses and narrative studies of working-class youth (Borman, 1991; Evans & Heinz, 1994). Swanson and Fouad ( 1999) present an excellent synthesis of the challenges of the school-towork transition from the perspective of person-environment (PE) fit theories. In contrast to the evident focus on the environment in current discourse on the school-to-work transition (Worthington & Juntunen, 1997), both the developmental and PE Fit theories encourage balanced perspectives that focus on the space between the individual and the context. …