This study analyzed the career development of career and technical education (CTE) high school graduates during their school-to-work transition, specifically their adaptability in the face of barriers. Forty graduates (22 men, 18 women) from working-class backgrounds participated in baseline surveys at graduation and phenomenological interviews 1 year postgraduation. Primary themes were job loss altered career plans, whereas relevant jobs propelled career development; limited access to college constrained options, whereas college experience expanded options; graduates experienced the loss of education-related support, and CTE served as a backup plan. Teachers and school counselors emphasized organizational barriers including limited staffing for upper level math courses and inconsistent workplace partnerships.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2009), careers in science and technology are among die fastest growing occupations today. Socioeconomic background, however, can influence one's particular career choice or educational pathway en route to a science or technology career. People growing up in lower income families and who are first generation for college are about twice as likely as higher income peers from college-educated families to enroll in career and technical education (CTE) high school programs (Laird, Chen, & Levesque, 2006). Because more than two thirds of high schools have CTE programs, thousands of students each year gain CTE preparation in areas such as allied health or computers (Phelps, Parsad, Far ris, & Hudson, 2001). CTE graduates are at least 3 times more likely than are college preparatory students to delay their pursuit of college, to leave college without graduating, or to pursue a community college or trade college (Laird et al., 2006), which is problematic because many more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers now require a 4-year degree (Carnevale, Smith, & Strohl, 2010). Ultimately, CTE graduates with interests in science or technology are more likely to become medical assistants or drafters rather than pharmacists or engineers (Packard & Babineau, 2009).
Little is known about the career development of CTE graduates even though they are a vital part of the workforce and career landscape. The career development scholarly community in recent years has recognized its bias toward studying middle-class professionals. Richardson (1993) made a compelling argument to career development scholars to focus beyond the middle class to include individuals across age, race, ethnicity, and social position. By focusing on CTE graduates, we wanted to highlight and value the pursuit of trades that do not require a 4-year degree; at the same time, we recognized that socioeconomic status can considerably restrict career opportunity and perceptions of feasibility (Gottfrcdson, 1981). Students from low-income or first-generation college backgrounds often feel college is less likely (Pisarik & Shoffncr, 2009) or feel pressured to complete school quickly (Packard & Babineau, 2009). In addition, these students describe feeling constrained in their career exploration (Zikic & Hall, 2009), guided more by survival than vocational interest (Blustein et al., 2002). School counselors, principals, teachers, parents, and career counselors need to learn more about the school -to- work transitions of CTE graduates so they can support their career development, their participation in the workforce within trades, and their persistence in higher education.
We were guided by Savickas's (2005) career construction theory, which views career development as an active process by which individuals make meaning out of their choices during the construction of careers. Indeed, careers are not viewed as simply "unfolding" (Savickas, 2005, p. 43) because individuals take thoughtful action to construct the process. Career construction theory includes three central components: vocational personality, life themes, and career adaptability. …