Career Development and Its Practice: A Historical Perspective

Article excerpt

The use of the term career development as descriptive of both the factors and the processes influencing individual career behavior and as synonymous with intervention in career behavior (e.g., the practice of career development) is relatively recent. As professional vocabulary evolves across time, so do the form and substance of career interventions and those to whom they are directed. At the beginning of the new millennium, this article reviews the legacy of the 20th century and considers selected theoretical and practical issues likely to be prominent in the practice of career development in the decades immediately ahead.

The term career development, as used in the title of the National Career Development Association, had increasingly come, at the end of the twentieth century, to describe both the total constellation of psychological, sociological, educational, physical, economic, and chance factors that combine to shape individual career behavior over the life span (Sears, 1982) and the interventions or practices that are used "to enhance a person's career development or to enable that person to make more effective career decisions" (Spokane, 1991, p. 22). Thus, inherent in the current usage of the term career development are two sets of theories, or conceptual categories, one that explains the development of career behavior across the life span and the other that describes how career behavior is changed by particular interventions.

This perspective about the contemporary use of the term career development is important simply to establish that terms, like professions, evolve. They are historical creations, the shape, substance, and labeling of which reflect social, political, and economic change. Indeed, the term career was rarely used before the 1960s and the term development was rarely used before the 1950s. When the two terms were combined, they tended until the late 1960s to be described as vocational development or vocational psychology, not career development.

Against this context it is useful to consider the antecedent events that have led to the focus of this special issue: the practice of career development. Historical references to career development practice are more likely to use terms like vocational guidance or counseling, or career guidance or counseling, rather than career development practice, but all of these terms flow from the same roots.

Historical Perspectives

In this millennium issue of The Career Development Quarterly, it is useful to acknowledge that if one believes in evolution, rather than revolution, as the origin of career development practice, then the seeds of the future exist in the past and in the present. In such a view, the practice of career development in the twenty-first century will build on, be distributed more evenly across the world, and refine much of what has been learned and implemented in the twentieth century. If one discounts the interesting accounts (Dumont & Carson, 1995; Williamson, 1965) of the origins of career development practice that can be traced far into antiquity to demonstrate how various societies have helped persons choose their work, or, more likely, allocated work to people based on their class or caste, one can conclude that the theories and techniques that constitute current approaches to the practice of career development are primarily creatures of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Factors Influencing the Emergence of Vocational Guidance

The rise of what was first identified as vocational guidance in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was directly associated with major shifts from a national economy that was primarily based in agriculture to an economy that was, as part of the industrial revolution that was spilling over from Europe to the United States, increasingly based in manufacturing and industrial processes. As the latter occurred, urbanization and occupational diversity increased, as did national concerns about strengthening vocational education and responding to the needs for information about how persons could identify and access emerging jobs. …