Theoretical Perspectives on the School-to-Work Transition: Reactions and Recommendations

By Herr, Edwin L. | Career Development Quarterly, June 1999 | Go to article overview

Theoretical Perspectives on the School-to-Work Transition: Reactions and Recommendations


Herr, Edwin L., Career Development Quarterly


Although extant career theories provide important conceptual insights into the content and process of the school-to-work transition, they have not addressed 2 questions that need to be considered in future theoretical and research agendas. These questions, which are addressed in this article, are (a) why are career theories not developed to account for the school-to-work process? and (b) are the career theories proposed here complete in their explanation of the schoolto-work process?

In their analyses of specific career theories, the authors included in this issue have reminded the reader that, as Lent and Worthington ( 1999) suggest in the first article, the theories offer a vantage point from which to understand and facilitate the school-to-work transition and have the potential to bring a coherent conceptual base to the evolution of school-to-work programming efforts.

The introductory article by Lent and Worthington ( 1999) makes other assertions that deserve consideration. One is that none of the four theoretical positions examined in the articles-social learning, person-environment fit, developmental, and social cognitive-were developed to account for the school-to-work process. This is a critical issue that raises two major questions: (a) why are career theories not developed to account for the school-to-work process? (b) are the theories proposed here complete in their explanation of the schoolto-work process? Although there are other questions that could be asked, it may be useful to look briefly at these two important questions to stimulate further deliberation about elements of a future theoretical and research agenda related to the school-to-work transition process.

WHY ARE CAREER THEORIES NOT DEVELOPED TO ACCOUNT FOR THE SCHOOL-TO-WORK PROCESS?

There are undoubtedly many answers to this question. One possibility has to do with the principal subjects of the school-to-work transition and the principal subjects for career theory. In the first instance, most of the subjects of the school-to-work transition are high school students who are employment- not college-bound after graduation. In contrast, much of the conceptual work underlying extant career theories has focused on college student populations of convenience or socioeconomic groups that have been educationally advantaged.

Under the rubric of neglected diversity, Savickas ( 1994) has suggested that current career theories have addressed the influences on career choices and the acting out of work behavior of limited segments of the workforce, primarily those who enjoy the privilege of anticipating and planning for promotion and advancement, for whom personal and psychological assertiveness or action, rather than sociological circumstances, allow them to forge a career as they navigate through the educational and occupational opportunity structure. For many people who have a job or seek one, but who do not have a sense of career, career theories tend to be largely silent and, perhaps, irrelevant. These people include youth and adults who, because of limited opportunity or support, a lack of personal mentoring or access to information about possible expanded horizons in their choice of work options, or social oppression or discrimination, limit their choices to reactive responses to a narrow band of opportunities currently visible and known to them. They are not proactive or systematic planners but, rather, are swept into available jobs after little exploration or evaluation of their options. In this sense, current career theories tend, in the aggregate, to focus on attitudes, skills, and characteristics that are defined and favored by the middle and upper socioeconomic classes (e.g., independence in choice, decisiveness, systematic exploration of opportunities, an internal locus of control, connecting the present to the future in planning), not those in the lowest socioeconomic classes. Current career theories largely ignore the work experiences of persons for whom a job is cast in economic, not psychological, terms; the contextual differences in the development of "career" behavior; or the reality that, just as different cultures do, different socioeconomic strata reinforce different types of indicators of career maturity. …

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