Career Development Research for Evidence-Based Policy

Article excerpt

Given that the current issue of the Australian Journal of Career Development is devoted to career development and social inclusion, it is appropriate to consider the contribution that the field of career development can make to national policy agenda and formulations on the basis of research. At the International Symposium for Career Development and Public Policy held in 2009 in Wellington, New Zealand, there was a call for better exploiting the evidence of impact that career development interventions have upon individuals, for the purposes of formulating public policies and programs. Indeed, there is already a body of empirical evidence indicative of the capacity of career development interventions to make significant changes in the everyday lives of individuals. Accordingly, it is worth considering how this ever-growing evidence-base can be extended to audiences and applications beyond the career development profession itself, so as to make additional contributions to the macro-level of fundamental areas such as education, employment and social inclusion; this point is particularly relevant for those targets identified by the Council of Australian Governments.

What is presented below is a precis of an evidence base to illustrate its currency and how it can be used at an institutional level. In this particular case, the precis refers to how career development research can be used to improve students' educational experiences and outcomes--indeed a matter of national significance given the current world-of-work and international issues of labour supply.

Evidence-based Practice

Folsom and Reardon's (2003) review of research conducted over a 25-year period summarised the evidence of career development learning having a positive impact upon educational outcomes, such as selecting a degree major, course satisfaction, retention and graduation rates and grade-point average. Moreover, it is evident that career-related self-efficacy, occupational decidedness, interests and personality traits predict academic performance and engagement with studies (Sandler, 2000; Rottinghaus, Lindley, Green & Borgen, 2002; Brown et al., 2008; Scott & Ciani, 2008) and that career education improves career decision-making skills, career decidedness and vocational identity (Folsom & Reardon, 2003; Fouad, Cotter & Kantamneni, 2009). In other words, career development learning can effectively facilitate students' entry into and transit through education, and onward towards the world of work. These are not trivial outcomes. Consider the potential loss of educational resources and opportunities brought about by students' poor decision-making and not fully engaging with studies: higher failure rates and drop-out rates, and failure to prepare for the world of work. More importantly, consider the opposite situation in which a higher number of students have made clear career plans, know why they are studying their courses and know how to prepare for the world of work. Research into individual career counselling--a specific type of career development intervention used in educational settings--has amassed significant evidence of its impact (Kirschner, Hoffman & Hill, 1994; Oliver & Spokane, 1988; Rochlen, Milburn & Hill, 2004; Whiston & Oliver, 2005; Whiston, Sexton & Lasoff, 1998). Again, it must be emphasised that what is presented here is a small sample of the evidence in the scientific literature of the field. Given the volume of evidence, it is no longer appropriate to ask the generic question of whether career development works--it does: for some people, with certain problems, responsive to particular interventions, provided by some practitioners, seen at some particular point in time. Accordingly, there is scope to determine how best to implement particular types of interventions (cf. Heppner & Heppner, 2003) so as to achieve the greatest degree of impact, and to design and critically test new interventions based upon relevant evidence so as to enable the field to progress with an ever-evolving world of work. …