Career Discovery – Horizon Scanning and Possible Selves

For a quick overview of some of the drivers of change in the workforce and the implications those drivers have on future skill requirements, check out the following infographic. It has a US focus but I think it has wider relevance. Thanks to @varelidi for sharing!

The infographic is relevant to work I am contributing to at the moment with the @OpenBadges team, on the Discovery project. This project is developing a tool to support underpriviledged youth articulate their strengths and identify possible career pathways. I’ll go into some of the research behind work I have done on the project after the infographic.

Important Work Skills for 2020

In a previous post, Discovering pathways, I documented some of the thinking behind the work I have done on a quiz for the Discovery project. Here, I would like to capture the reasoning behind some of the quiz development decisions I made.

Considerations informing the Discovery project and therefore the quiz, include: many young people need support to make decisions about their future careers; ‘students don’t know, what they don’t know’;  young people can struggle to define their strengths and skills and their awareness of a range of careers can be restricted due to a mix of social and economic factors.

Through discussions with the team and some research around motivation and factors that influence choices made by underprivileged youth, it seemed that it could be useful to try to help people express kinds of job related activities they enjoy doing. We know that some young people make job choices based on what they see their peers or family doing and that peers can have a particularly influential role to play in early job choices in particular. In Ready, Willing and Able (highly recommended read), Mandy Savitz-Romer and Suzanne Bouffard provide a number of case studies of youth making college-going and job decisions based on things like a friend getting them a job at the same place they work, choosing to work in a particular location because it is near their peers or not choosing a job pathway because they have never seen a family member or peer make that choice. If we are to try to widen the job or career options someone using the Discovery tool might consider, it seems  we might need to consider what would motivate someone to try, and stick, with something new.

The psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan argue that intrinsic motivation (doing something because it is enjoyed) is more likely to result in someone staying the course, than extrinsic motivation (doing something purely to gain an external reward such as money or prestige). Sometimes extrinsic motivation can be internalized (internalised regulation), such as working hard to attain certain grades in order to have a choice of interesting careers. Both intrinsic motivation and internalized regulation, they argue, are more likely to result in the motivation to work hard and overcome obstacles in order to engage in something.

It was this thinking that led me to begin exploring over-arching categories that could define what people might enjoy in a work context. Inspired by sites like O*Net (US Department of Labour/Employment and Training Administration’s Occupational Information Network database) and the MyMajors sites I investigated Holland Codes for this purpose. Holland Codes, created by Dr John Holland, link career choices to personality types and are intended to provide a means of helping people understand what types of areas of work they might enjoy most. The Holland Code breaks types of activity into the following six areas:

•    Doers (Realistic)
•    Thinkers (Investigative)
•    Creators (Artistic)
•    Helpers (Social)
•    Persuaders (Enterprising)
•    Organisers (Conventional)

We are using Holland Codes based questions at the start of the quiz to begin to gauge types of career or job families people might enjoy. These will be followed by questions we hope will reveal attributes and then badges will be presented for selection, based on answers to the previous questions. We hope these will help us to present some relevant pathways for the individual, based on what they enjoy and their character traits. While we feel presenting career pathways based on the types of job activity someone might enjoy, might serve as an intrinsic motivator to start and complete the pathway, Savitz-Romer and Bouffard argue the importance of balancing aspiration with expectation. Focusing on aspirations to go to college, Savitz-Romer and Bouffard comment that research has shown that just because someone wishes to go to college, doesn’t mean they expect they can do so. Expectations (based on aspects of identity formed from a range of factors, including social and economic, eg peer group behaviours and family history), that don’t support the aspirations, can result in the belief that the individual is not able to attain what they aspire to.

Kassie Freeman has investigated predisposition to college-going amongst African American youth and building on Donald Hossler’s research into college decision making, has identified three types of youth in the predisposition stage: Knowers (plan to and believe they will go to college); Seekers (believe they could go to college); Dreamers (aspire to go to college but don’t think they can). In terms of possible future development of the Discovery tool, it could be helpful to understand the predisposition of those engaging with the tool because it could help us to understand the likelihood of them progressing along a pathway. It could provide information that would help identify what support and interventions someone might benefit from to get started, stay the course and also to bridge the gap between aspiration (hoped for self) and negative expectation (feared self).

In terms of building this in to the Discovery tool, this could perhaps be broached after the initial quiz questions have been asked and the individual has been presented with at least three career pathways that align with the skills, attributes and likes revealed by the quiz. These career pathways might present what could be termed hoped-for ‘possible selves’ (possible selves are the idea people have of who they might be in the future, a concept proposed by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius). Possible selves can also include the idea of a ‘feared self’, however. The feared self (eg ending up in low paid work, doing a job they don’t enjoy etc) could be helpful in providing a further prompt for those looking at embarking on a new career, for which they have no reference in terms of their social background. It could give youth something to compare with and perhaps give extra impetus for starting on, what to them, could feel like unchartered ground. Reflecting on the consequences of not taking the step of trying something new could perhaps help reinforce the benefits of making the effort to aim for the aspiration.

In terms of the Discovery project, some of these developments are purely aspirational at the moment as the project is currently focusing on developing employer defined pathways, the quiz and enabling individuals to choose a pathway and use badges to complete it. However, it is a fascinating subject and I think there are many exiciting possibilities for using digital credentialing / Open Badges to support pathways to employment, career visualisation and opening up new horizons.


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