Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Career Adaptability in Adults: A Construct Whose Time Has Come

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Career Adaptability in Adults: A Construct Whose Time Has Come

Article excerpt

What do we mean by career development of adults? Is an adult in transition less career mature than one who has remained in the same job? How do we as career theorists deal with the realities of the late 20th and early 21st century marketplace? Donald Super addressed these questions in a general way in his use of the idea of recycling (e.g., Super, 1980). In 1979, Super and his colleagues began work that specifically addressed these questions (Super & Knasel, 1979). This article first described Super's construct of career adaptability and then discussed pertinent research and other work related to the construct. Finally, I suggest how practitioners can foster career adaptability and how researchers might further our understanding of the construct.

From a theoretical standpoint, adults differ fundamentally from adolescents in that they are engaged in the world of work, whereas adolescents' experience of work is fragmentary and largely anticipatory...This implies that the universality of awareness and information needed by the adolescent will crystallize into particularity in the adult. (Super & Knasel, 1981, p. 195, emphasis added)

To manage the problem that the use of the term career maturity creates in discussing adults, Super and Knasel (1979) proposed a new term, career adaptability. The term was designed to focus on the balance each individual seeks between the world of work and his or her personal environment. It responded to a world in which adults make many career decisions--voluntary and forced. "One of the major reasons for the introduction of the term 'career adaptability' is that it allows greater emphasis to be given to the novel, non-maturational problems which presently confront many people" (Super & Knasel, 1981, p. 199).

Pratzner & Ashley (1984) defined adaptability as "the ability to adapt to job requirements, and to the ability to change jobs so that they are more suited to individual needs" (p. 26). They suggested that the term is often used to mean adjustment to conditions, and stated that they prefer it to include changing those conditions as well. They discussed the development of transferable skills as the appropriate way to inculcate adaptability sbills in students. This slightly different use of the term nevertheless demonstrates the importance not only of looking at adults' adaptability, but also of considering the teaching of adaptability as a part of an educational program.

Sensible as this term seems to be, it has not caught on in the general career counseling literature. It is not a term that is indexed in either Educational Resources Information Center (ERIC) or Psychological Abstracts. It is rarely found in career development textbooks. The work of Isaacson and Brown (1993) is a notable exception: "Career adaptability may be an appropriate term to identify the individual's ability to face, pursue, or accept changing career roles" (p. 40). People writing about adult transitions in general allude to the need for adaptability. Schlossberg (1984), for example, wrote that an autonomous person develops the capacity to "tolerate ambiguity, uncertainty, and be responsible for his or her own destiny" (p. 87).


Super, as one might expect, used the construct when writing about adult career development after the 1981 coining of the term. For example, in the manual for the Adult Career Concerns Inventory Super, Thompson, and Lindeman (1988) discussed the inappropriateness of using the construct of career maturation in looking at adults because decision-making ability may not continue to increase beyond adolescence, and because the "coping attitudes and competencies relevant to the developmental tasks of establishment, maintenance, or disengagement may not vary with age" (p. 83).

Instead of maturation, they endorsed Super and Knasel's (1981) suggestion to use the construct of adaptation when examining adult vocational development because it highlights the interaction between the individual and the environment and "shifts attention from career maturity as readiness for decision making to career adaptability as readiness to cope with changing work and working conditions" (p. …

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