Adolescent Career Development in Urban-Residing Aboriginal Families in Canada

By Marshall, Sheila K.; Young, Richard A. et al. | Career Development Quarterly, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Career Development in Urban-Residing Aboriginal Families in Canada


Marshall, Sheila K., Young, Richard A., Stevens, Alison, Spence, Wayne, Deyell, Stewart, Easterbrook, Adam, Brokenleg, Martin, Career Development Quarterly


The purpose of this study was to understand how urban-residing Aboriginal adolescent-parent dyads (n=11) jointly constructed and acted on goals and strategies with their social supports (n=17) to facilitate the adolescents' career development. A modified protocol following the qualitative action-project method was used. A discrete joint project was identified for each family. These joint projects can be clustered into 3 joint career development projects: (a) navigating toward a safe future, (b) negotiating school continuance, and (c) intergenerational continuity through tradition of care. A 4th project emerging from the data was family survival. Family survival projects supplanted participants' efforts to engage in career development projects.

Recent and emerging evidence in the career development field indicates that the family has an important role in influencing related outcomes and engaging in facultative processes (e.g., Bryant, Zvonkovic, & Reynolds, 2006; Whiston & Keller, 2004; Young et al., 2001 ). This evidence is largely based on samples from the majority cultural groups in North America. In contrast, there is limited information on the career development of indigenous adolescents in North America (e.g., Native American, Inuit, and Métis). This is particularly true for urban-residing adolescents and for the role that family members have in that career development.

Available research on the career development of Native American adolescents (e.g., Day & Rounds, 1998; Day, Rounds, & Swaney, 1998; Turner & Lapan, 2003; Turner et al., 2006) has examined individuals but not their relational contexts. The inattention to relational contexts has occurred despite the recommendation that practitioners include family and community members in career planning with North American indigenous youth (McCormick, Neumann, Amundson, & McLean, 1999; Neumann, McCormick, Amundson, & McLean, 2000). This recommendation is based on evidence (see Red Horse, 1997) of the importance of family and community in the lives of North American indigenous peoples. Thus, the purpose of this study was to contribute to a better understanding of Canadian urban -residing Aboriginal adolescents, parents, and other community members as they jointly undertook to facilitate the adolescents' educational and occupational future. This purpose can be appreciated by elaborating more fully on both the social and political context in which such development occurs as well as the conceptual framework and relevant literature on family career development projects.

Social and Political Context

The features of the social context provide important information about barriers and options for adolescents as they act upon their educational and occupational future. The experience of Aboriginal peoples in Canada corresponds to the experience of colonized indigenous peoples elsewhere in the Americas and Australia. Aboriginal peoples in Canada have historically had inequitable access to resources that promote opportunities to participate in the labor force and educational institutions (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples [RCAP], 1996a, 1996b). The effect of being on the margins of the Canadian economy is reflected in Aboriginal youth's lower rates of educational completion and employment earnings and higher unemployment rates in comparison with non-Aboriginal youth (Hango & de Broucker, 2007; Statistics Canada, 2002). The recent trends toward higher rates of school completion and enrollment in postsecondary education (Clement, 2008) indicate positive changes, although obstacles to school completion, such as early transition to parenthood (Guimond & Robitaille, 2008) and boredom (Statistics Canada, 2003a), remain. Systemic problems for Aboriginal youth within the educational and labor force sectors point to the importance of studying adolescents' career development.

Urban centers are meaningful contexts for the study of Aboriginal adolescent career development because the majority of off-reserve First Nations and Métis people live in urban areas (Statistics Canada, 2008). …

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