Many of us have come across this advice in our bid to build careers for ourselves “Choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Now, this advice seems to be most relevant especially in cases where one has made the right career choice. Some have been told when choosing a career “follow your dreams…”, whilst others your parents told you to ‘follow the family line….” On the other hand, others choose to go for the same old ‘tried and tested’ careers i.e. accountant, lawyer, doctor, engineer, etc. In some cases, some career choices were made based on possible financial benefits that come with a particular career choice (earning a lot of money, driving fancy cars, owning a luxurious home, going on extravagant trips, etc.) Whilst all this may sound like plausible advice, many have also fallen into misery due to a lack of proper career guidance.
Nowadays career options have become so vast, meaning children now have many career options to choose from. The careers people choose are also vital to a healthy economy; better allocation of talent means that people are in jobs they can excel at and reap potentially huge rewards. The same goes with career progression, without proper guidance one can make career plunder which they could regret.
Defining Career Choices and Career Progression
Career choices usually begin at a young age. I am sure growing up we all encountered the daunting question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Career choices result when individual aspirations and preferences are reexamined in light of the constraining forces imposed by the social environment in which that individual lives. A choice implies the completion of some actions or successful steps, and the attainment of a career is the outcome of the career choice process. Growth and development relevant to career choice begins quite early in life, accelerates during adolescence, and continues at a reduced rate through adulthood. Sharf (2010) contends that clarity and meaning of life are expressed in one's career.
Choosing a career is not an easy and straightforward mission. It is a complicated and daunting task because the decision is influenced by various factors –extrinsic, intrinsic, or a combination of both (Hewitt, 2010). Studies have shown that the main intrinsic factors responsible for influencing career choice decisions include an individual’s personality, interests, self-concept, attitudes, and cultural identity. On the other hand, the main extrinsic factors include social contacts, role models; availability of resources such as information and finances, globalization, ethnic background, level of educational attainment, choice of subjects of study, and differences in job characteristics (Kerka, 2000; Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara & Pastorelli, 2001; McQuaid & Bond, 2003).
Before making career choices, students are often provided with a list of careers from which they are supposed to make choices. However, most students lack adequate information regarding various careers hence the choices they make are embedded in their perception of the ideal job and the subjects they study in high school. Perhaps the only support students get within the school system is from career counselors who are expected to support students in their career choice. When the final examination results are released and depending on the grades obtained, students are allowed to revise their choices.
On the other hand Career Progression usually happens at a later stage in one’s life. This usually occurs when one has made a career choice, experienced it, and now desires to either advance to a higher level of that career or in some cases change to other career prospects. Results from the 2008 Encore Career Survey by MetLife Foundation and Civic Ventures found that unexpectedly large numbers of Baby Boomers are looking for jobs that can provide them with "means and meaning. According to Arthur & Rousseau, the progress of individuals in an orderly employment arrangement within organizations is known as the ‘Bureaucratic career’. Furthermore, according to the Vocational Career Model individual career development is implemented through the following five life stages:
• Growth stage (Birth – 14 years)
• Exploratory stage (15-25 years)
• Establishment stage (25-45 years)
• Maintenance stage (45-65 years)
• Decline stage (65 years – death)
Career paths and career ladders are two traditional methods by which an employee can develop and progress within an organization. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Career ladders are the progression of jobs in an organization's specific occupational fields ranked from highest to lowest based on the level of responsibility and pay. Career paths encompass varied forms of career progression, including the traditional vertical career ladders, dual career ladders, horizontal career lattices, career progression outside the organization, and encore careers. Employees usually feel more engaged when they believe that their employer is concerned about their growth and provides avenues to reach individual career goals while fulfilling the company's mission.
Both employees and employers often view career progression in different dimensions. While employees see career growth prospects as a chance to find motivation in their workplace and increase their financial security (Okurame, 2012) employers see it as a source of resource strain and employee competitive process (Hall, 1996). Whichever way it is looked at, career progression is an essential source of motivation to workers as moving up an organization hierarchy through promotion. It increases an employee’s motivation to have a strong involvement in organization and career activities (Lunenberg, 2011, Ballout, 2009, Mello, 2006, Smollin, 2011; O’Reilly & Chatman 1986). Research shows that increased career prospects are accompanied by job effectiveness (CIPD 2006), reduced absenteeism (Okurame 2014), willingness to remain in the organization (Weer, 2009 and Mugo 2010), and reduced unrest (Meyer & Allen, 1984, Okurame 2012).
Factors to consider when making Career Choices/ Career Progression
Choosing the right career is important in ensuring that individuals lead rewarding lives, are motivated at their jobs, and can achieve remarkable productivity, thus setting the stage for organizational success and sustainability. Given the importance of making the right career choice, individuals must be aware of the factors that influence such weighty decisions and do so from a point of knowledge.
In choosing a career there are two major steps: firstly the exploration and secondly the guidance. The exploration part begins as early as pre-school, where one starts exploring their career options based on their aspirations. Ask a child in preschool what they want to be and you hear them giving typical answers like a teacher, doctor, pilot, etc. The second phase is the guidance part which usually requires a professional for example a psychologist. With professionals they go beyond looking at one’s aspirations, they now take into consideration whether one has the cognitive ability and personality suited for their career choice.
Ira Wolfe, President of Success Performance Solutions and Expert in workforce trends, estimated that close to 50% of jobs will be extinct within the next 20 years. The global market is changing, jobs are revolving, so it is important for one to not only jump into any career choice but to first consider the following factors:
According to Prof Wendy Johnson (an American differential psychologist and professor of Psychology at the University of Edinburgh) when it comes to making a career choice interest (motivation, desire to work in the area) holds the most weight and is most important. She goes on to say that it doesn’t matter how bright or personally suited someone is for a career if the person doesn’t want to work in that area, particularly if the person actively does want to work in some other area.
In a study cited in the Journal of Education and Practice it was found that 91.9% of the respondents indicated that having prior knowledge of what a career entails is important to developing interest in a career. Having prior knowledge prepares an individual for what one is about to enter and therefore a decision will be made while well aware of what one is to expect, what work habits are expected of them, and the potential earnings. Also, prior knowledge acts as a lens through which we view and absorb new information (Kettlewell & Henry, 2009).
It is like knowing where one wants to go before the start of a journey. Individual goals and interests produce motivation, that is, a person is directed towards a particular activity that is aimed at accomplishing goals or exploring interest. In this regard, motivation has two functions, one qualitative and the other quantitative. Qualitatively, motivation directs the individual toward selecting activities that will accomplish their goals and at the same time satisfy interests. Quantitatively, motivation serves an energizing function by providing the effort and persistence required to accomplish a goal or pursue an interest (Vosh & Schauble, 2014).
2. Cognitive ability
Over and above knowing your interests one needs to assess whether their aptitude and personality are suited for their career choice. A child may be interested in becoming an engineer, but if they’re not technically sound cognitively their chances of succeeding in such a career may be challenging. Assessing one’s mental ability can be done through psychometric assessments. Psychometric assessments are standardized tests that measure characteristics that are relevant to occupational success. These include both ability factors and aspects of personality that help the candidate perform work-related tasks. The tests measure persistent and underlying characteristics; this means that they do not only explain current modes of behavior but may also highlight the unrealized potential. Psychometric tests are scientifically based, objective and valid and are therefore able to predict success in a particular job. Psychometric assessments are administered only by a registered psychologist. According to Schmidt (2016), General Mental Ability is the highest predictor of job performance (65%). Interests may change over time but cognitive ability rarely changes.
Personality influences the essential choices we make in life including choice of partner, education, and career (Moorjani J et al. 2007). Developmental theories of career emphasize the importance of personal interests, skills, and values when expressing the barriers in decision-making (Newton et al, 2003). The values of the individuals affect their attitudes, behaviors, and thoughts. Therefore, the values also affect career choice and so important. The choice of career is one of the most important decisions in the lives of people. It was Holland in 1992 and 1997 who believed that persons who possess certain traits tend to affiliate together and match the work environment to fit their needs. Other studies show that even a person's choice of occupation can be determined by personality traits (Hossain et al, 2012). Matching one’s personality to the right career choice can to some extent guarantee success in that particular profession.
The role of parents in making career choices
Back in the day parents would dictate their children’s career paths. Children were expected to either follow in the same career footsteps as their parents or live the parents failed career dream. But looking at today’s parents that should not still be the case. According to Professor Wendy Johnson, parents should let their children make their own career choices. Instead of dictating their children’s career path, Professor Wendy Johnson encourages parents to be ‘supportive onlookers, cheerers-on, and sources of advice, but the latter only when asked’. Parents should allow their children to be exposed to various environments that can stimulate their decision making, being observant of what their children like, and offering advice and support where required. Parents should take time to talk, listen and respond constructively to their children.
The role of the organization in employee career progression
According to SHRM, although most CEOs understand the importance of employee development, most admit that they do not devote the necessary time and resources to this activity. In a study by global staffing firm Randstad, 73 percent of employers said fostering employee development is important, but only 49 percent of employees said leadership is adhering to this practice. Another study revealed that 85 percent of CEOs said that talent management is as important as or more important than other business priorities. But only two in 10 leaders surveyed said they often spend time managing talent, and only one in 10 often review talent management with the company's board of directors.
Most organizations could benefit by increasing efforts to establish clear strategies for how talent will be grown from within. Career paths and ladders can be effective strategic tools for achieving positive organizational outcomes. They can be a means to ensure an organization's continuing growth and productivity. Research by WorldatWork shows that organizations that do not invest in the training and development of their human capital lose valuable employees to their competition. Employers can easily differentiate themselves from competitors by investing in their employees' career development. Even a relatively small employer investment has a positive impact on loyalty.
A 2012 Deloitte survey, Talent 2020, found that when employees were asked to indicate the top factors that would cause them to look for new employment over the next 12 months, lack of career progress topped the list, whereas lack of challenge in the job came in at No. 5, suggesting the need for career development plans. According to these survey results, the pay is significant; however, the importance of promotion and job advancement, especially among Generation Y and Generation X workers, is underestimated by executives. Experts say that employees who believe their employers make effective use of their talents and abilities are overwhelmingly more committed to staying on the job.
In conclusion, career choices and career progression are not easy decisions for one to make. With the right support and relevant information, one can make informed decisions. Other people are driven into careers by money. While this is a good idea for some, it can be misleading. What each career pays 10 years from now is not known and it is affected by supply and demand. A lot of people are in careers they hate because they went into those careers hoping to earn a lot of money only to be disappointed with their current earnings. Yes, it’s important to have passion and drive, but without the right guidance, that passion and drive can turn out to be a nightmare be it in making career choices or career progression. Once a person has made a career choice, all they hope to do is to thrive and grow in that particular profession. Career development needs to be prioritized if any organization needs to retain its competent staff and increase organizational performance. Landing in the wrong job is both a nightmare and a loss to an organization.
Tatenda Sayenda-Havire is a Consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd, a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 (242) 481946-48/4
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