Theories of Career Development

The theories that offer explanations of career behavior are multidisciplinary. This is true in part because career identity and the socialization to work are such important aspects of human development in the developed nations of the world, and in part because the factors that influence career development take many forms. In capturing such a perspective, Super (1990) contended that

The pioneers of career are people from four disciplines: differential psychologists interested in work and occupations, developmental psychologists interested in the "life course," sociologists focusing on occupational mobility as a function of social class, and personality theorists who view individuals as organizers of experience. (p. 197)

To these theorists of different aspects of career development, one can add the growing attention of political scientists, economists, and organizational theorists as persons concerned about career development. As a result of this disciplinary diversity focused on career behavior, some theory and research are primarily applied to job or occupational choice at a specific period in time (Holland, 1997), to the role or interests or other personal characteristics, to adjustment within a work setting, or to the decision-making process used by different persons. Some research is concerned with the structure of choice, work behavior, or career maturity within a particular life stage; other theories are concerned with how such structures change over time, the role of chance in career choice, and the continuities and discontinuities in career patterns throughout the life span (Super (1990). Some theories are more focused on the roots of career behavior in childhood and adolescence; other theories give greater attention to career behavior in middle and late adulthood. Growing attention is being given to the unique dimensions of career development in women and in different cultural groups and as it relates to mental health.

The changing nature of work (e.g., organizational downsizing, the pervasive use of advanced technology to increase productivity, the increasing use of part-time workers, international economic competition) and of career paths is providing new challenges to theories of career theory in the twenty-first century. Some theories in the twentieth century focused on career behavior that was linear and predictable within stable organizations. Such conditions are rapidly changing as workplaces use new means to remain competitive. The result is a widening diversity of career patterns and experiences, more frequent career transitions, and increased expectations that workers must become their own career managers. Such dynamics are not yet fully captured in career development theories.

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