Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Double Jeopardy: Work Ethic Differences in Youth at Risk of School Failure

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Double Jeopardy: Work Ethic Differences in Youth at Risk of School Failure

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to determine if work ethic differed for a sample of 152 selected 9th-grade students categorized by risk of school failure and by gender. Work ethic attributes were measured using the Occupational Work Ethic Inventory (Petty, 1993). Results of a two-way multivariate analysis of variance indicated significant work ethic differences in main effects of at-risk classification and gender for dependent variables of interpersonal skills, initiative, and being dependable. Interaction effects were not significant. Underlying constructs indicated that adolescents with greater degrees of risk were less dependable and that girls in the study were more dependable than boys.

Work ethic has been operationally defined as consisting of interpersonal skills, initiative, and being dependable (Hill, 1996, 1997; Hill & Petty, 1995; Hill & Womble, 1997). The importance of work ethic in the contemporary workplace and the mention of related characteristics (e.g., individual responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, selfmanagement, and integrity) in educational reform literature (Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, 1992) suggest that it is a topic of importance when considering the problems of at-risk youth. At-risk youth are those who, as a result of social, economic, political, or cultural conditions, have limited access to educational and occupational opportunities (Chartrand & Rose,1996). Young people who are at risk are often caught up in a cycle of failure and poverty. At school they exhibit poor attendance habits, lack of interest, and have discipline problems, and in the community they are often at odds with the law. These behaviors limit opportunities for success, either at school or at work, and their existence prevents people from fulfilling their potential throughout their lives. They also jeopardize the potential for at-risk youth to gain and retain employment because employers deem issues like being present and on time, showing self-discipline, and having integrity to be so important.

One dilemma faced by those who seek to address these problems and help at-risk youth, particularly in schools, is the problem of identifying appropriate career intervention strategies. Inappropriate behaviors tend to attract negative attention and compound the challenges for counselors attempting to help at-risk youth break out of a cycle of failure. Although management of discipline and other problems is essential, it is also important for counselors and teachers to have guidance in identifying the critical underlying issues that preclude success for at-risk students. Social cognitive career theory (SCCT; Brown & Lent, 1996; Lent & Brown, 1996) provides a theoretical framework for understanding the dynamic of self-efficacy and outcome expectations, contextual factors, and environmental forces as they affect career decisions and success.

One aspect of SCCT that supports the potential for educators and others to have a positive impact on at-risk students is the proposition that people reexamine their interests and outcome expectations throughout their life spans, but in particular during the adolescent years. A key feature of the process described by SCCT is the role new opportunities or changes in responsibility play in influencing career development. For example, an at-risk student might withdraw from participation in a school activity due to fear of ridicule or failure. A counselor, alerted to this problem, might identify a way for the student to reenter the situation with a special skill and have a talent acknowledged. With encouragement the student might become successfully engaged in the activity and move from avoidance to involvement. SCCT provides a framework for understanding this type of change as a person gains confidence in personal ability to succeed, recognizes rewards, and experiences an expansion of selfefficacy and outcome expectations.

SCCT extends beyond decisions about involvement in activities. …

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