The role of work-related skills and career role models in adolescent career maturity

The role of work-related skills and career role models in adolescent career maturity – Special Section: Adolescent Career Development

Eirini Flouri

The authors used data for 2,722 British adolescents, ages 14-18 years, to explore whether work-related skills and career role models are associated with career maturity when sociodemographic characteristics (age, socioeconomic status, gender, family structure), family support (mother involvement, father involvement), and personal characteristics (self-confidence, academic motivation) are controlled. Having work-related skills and having a career role model were positively associated with career maturity, and having career pressure was negatively associated with career maturity. Family structure and socioeconomic status were unrelated to career maturity. Academic motivation, mother involvement, father involvement, and self-confidence were related to career maturity at the bivariate but not at the multivariate level.

Career development and career plans in adolescence are related to both mental and physical health and can have long-term outcomes (DeGoede, Spruijt, Iedema, & Meeus, 1999). Several factors have been shown to be related to career development in adolescence. These influences include factors within the individual and factors within the family. Regarding individual factors, career aspirations in adolescence have consistently been found to be associated with high socioeconomic status, internal locus of control, self-esteem, high education aspirations, academic achievement (Mau, Domnick, & Ellsworth, 1995; McDonald & Jessell, 1992; Rojewski & Yang, 1997), and intact families (VanTassel-Baska, 1989), while career maturity and stress are inversely related (Meeus, Dekovic, & Iedema, 1997). Studies have also explored the relationship between part-time work and career development, but findings have been inconsistent. In their review of the effects of part-time employment on adolescents, Kablaoui and Pautler (1991), for example, found that although in several studies employment had a negative impact on grades, homework, extracurricular activities, and academic relationships, in other studies, it was associated with increased personal responsibility and earning power, the development of social skills, improved grades and participation in school-related activities, lower unemployment rate after high school graduation, and better jobs after graduation. More recently, Skorikow and Vondracek (1997) showed that in their adolescent sample, peripheral work aspects were less valued because the adolescents were involved in part-time work. On the other hand, the role of family as a fundamental influence in the career development of adolescents has been stressed by some classic theories of career development and choice (Santos & Coimbra, 2000). Although parents do not necessarily attempt to influence their children’s particular occupational choices, they are active agents in influencing their children in a broad range of areas in career development (Young & Friesen, 1992). Parental support and parental pressure (Liu, 1998) as well as perceived parental expectations have been associated with career expectations in adolescence (Mau et al., 1995; Rojewski & Yang, 1997). Parental involvement has also been negatively associated with career indecision (Murry & Mosidi, 1993) and positively associated with career exploration (Schmitt-Rodermund & Vondracek, 1999). Secure attachment relationships with parents have been shown to be associated with greater environmental and self-exploration, as well as greater nontraditional exploration (Ketterson & Blustein, 1997). Recent research on the role of family on career development has distinguished the effect of mothers from that of fathers. In a study of university students, Guerra and Braungart-Rieker (1999) showed that participants’ career indecision was predicted by less maternal but not by less paternal acceptance. This finding might reflect the different perceptions the participants had of their mother s and fathers; although fathers were viewed as more encouraging of independence than mothers, support by the mother may be particularly salient in decision making. Regarding the role of fathers, Chung, Baskin, and Case (1999) showed that the financial support and role modeling effects of a father or father figure strongly influenced the career development of some of their African American young men.

At the same time, the role of positive career models (Evans, Whigham, & Wang, 1995; King & Multon, 1996; Pleiss & Feldhusen, 1995; Tjas, Nelsen, & Taylor, 1997) and work-related skills (Bynner, 1997) on career development in adolescents has also been stressed. Pleiss and Feldhusen (1995) showed that children can benefit from relationships with adults who are successful in their areas of interest. These adults may be present in children’s lives as mentors, role models, or heroes and heroines. The relationships that develop range from close, interactive partnerships to admiration or imitation of public figures. Nauta and Kokaly (2001) showed that persons who are perceived as role models can facilitate academic and career development through their support and guidance as well as through the degree to which they provide inspiration and modeling. Regarding the role of work-related skills, Bynner (1997) examined the basic elements of employability and how young people acquired these skills and showed that low liter acy scores were positively correlated with the choice not to continue on an education track after age 16 years. Absence of the work-related skills that were underpinned by the basic skills tended to lead to unemployment. Unemployed male adolescents tended to see themselves as doing worse than their peers at writing, typing, computing, calculating, organizing, and finance; when compared with adolescents in the high skills group, adolescents in the low-skills group had feelings of lower psychological well-being that was associated with low self-esteem or psychological distress.

We attempted to follow this line of research in an attempt to test whether work-related skills, computing skills, work experience, and career role models in adolescents are related to career maturity when individual characteristics and family influences are controlled. Control variables were age, gender, family structure, and socioeconomic group. The family-related variables of the study were perceived father and perceived mother involvement; the factors within the individual were feelings of pressure, academic motivation, and self-confidence.

Method

Sample

A total of 2,722 adolescents, 1,124 boys and 1,402 girls (196 adolescents did not state their gender), participated in the study. The 8,500 questionnaires were distributed anonymously in schools and youth clubs where entire classes or groups attempted to complete them, usually within the school day or youth club setting. A tape recording of the questions was provided for adolescents who had trouble with reading. Equal numbers of girls and boys were targeted with as wide a range of educational institutions as possible. In schools, head teachers gave permission for the questionnaires to be distributed. People not in education were contacted in hostels, care homes, and probation services. The mix across the country included inner-city and rural locations. The majority of both the schools and the non-education settings targeted were in England. Only 3.6% of the sample came from Scotland, 1.5% from Wales, .9% from Northern Ireland, and .7% from the Republic of Ireland. A sizeable 24.5% lived in London, 18.4% in No rthwest England, 5.1% in Northeast England, 7.8% in Yorkshire and Humber, 2.2% in the Southwest, 17.6% in the Southeast, 5.2% in East Midlands, and 7.1% in the East. Of the 2,722 adolescents who participated in the study, 923 (33.9%) reported that the highest education qualification achieved in their family was the university degree, and 167 adolescents (5.9%) reported that no one in their family worked, which is significantly lower than the average proportion of households in Britain (1.9%) in which no one worked (Living in Britain, 1998). However, 20.5% of participants reported that they had received free school meals at some point during their schooling, which compares favorably with the 19.8% of pupils who are eligible for free meals in nursery and primary schools and the 17.5% of pupils in secondary schools in England who are eligible for free meals (Statistics of Education, 1998).

Instruments

Five items were used to measure career maturity. The items, which were taken from the Measure of Guidance Impact (MGI) and developed for the Employment Department by the National Foundation for Educational Research (Christophers, Stoney, Whetton, Lines, & Kendall, 1993), were rated on a 5-point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree. The items were “I have made a plan for my future working life,” “I know what I would need to get into the education or training that interests me,” “I know what I would need to get into the job that interests me,” “I can see the steps I must go through to make a decision,” and “I know myself well enough to know what kind of help I want.” Cronbach’s alpha was .80. Socioeconomic status was estimated with a one-item proxy that asked participants to state whether money was “ever a worry in your home.” Responses were most of the time, sometimes, or never. Family structure was assessed as intact if the participants stated that they lived with both their parents and non-intact i f they reported that they had other living arrangements (e.g., lived with only one parent, with other relatives, on their own, were cared for in a home). Academic motivation was measured with a 10-item, 3-point scale whose items were as follows: “I like my teachers and enjoy school/college,” “I don’t want to appear a swot or a boff *,” “Not succeeding makes me angry,” “School is OK most of the time,” “You are made to feel stupid if you make a mistake *,” “The teachers don’t know me as a person *,” “I don’t go to school if I can help it *,” and “I set myself high standards.” Two of the items of the National Child Development Study’s (NCDS) Academic Motivation Scale at age 16, namely, “I feel school is a largely a waste of time *” and “I never take my work seriously *” were also included in the Academic Motivation Scale of this study. (Author Note: Items followed by * were inversely coded.) Cronbach’s alpha was .65. NCDS is a continuing longitudinal study of approximately 17,000 children who were born between M arch 3 and 9, 1958, in England, Scotland, and Wales. One-item dichotomous variables asked participants whether they felt pressured about the choices they needed to make about their studies or work, whether they had been inspired by anyone to do a job they had done, and whether they had any work experience. Computer literacy was measured with four items that were rated on a 2-point scale. Respondents were asked to state if they could “send emails,” “play games,” “do word processing,” and “do programming.” Cronbach’s alpha was .67. Job skills were measured with seven items that were rated on a 3-point scale that was anchored with no and yes. Participants were asked to indicate the extent to which they had each of the following job strengths: “being on time,” “getting on with people,” “communicating well,” “being reliable,” “problem solving,” “coming up with ideas,” and “completing work on time.” Cronbach’s alpha was .63. Self-confidence was measured with one item that was rated on a 4-point scale, from never to often; participants were asked the extent to which they “felt happy and confident about themselves.” Mother involvement was measured with four items that were rated on a 3-point scale on which participants were asked to state how involved their mother (or mother figure) was with them. Items were “Does your mother (or mother figure) spend time with you?”, “…talk through your worries with you?”, “… take an interest in your school work?”, and “…help with your plans for the future?” Cronbach’s alpha was .81. The same questions were asked for the father or father figure. The father involvement scale had a Cronbach’s alpha of .83.

Results

To identify the factors that were related to career maturity, a series of bivariate analyses was first carried out. Boys scored higher than girls on career maturity (t = 3.17, df= 2,387.97, p < .01). Both mother involvement and father involvement were positively related to career maturity (r = .10, p < .001; and r = .10, p < .001, respectively). Mother involvement and father involvement were, as expected, highly correlated (r = .42, p .05; and t = 1.84, df = 2,999, p > .05, respectively). Age, academic motivation, self-confidence, strong job skills, and computing skills were all positively related to career maturity (r = .05, p < .01; r = .14, p < .001; r = .14, p < .001; r = .18, p < .001; and r = .11, p < .001, respectively). Compared with their counterparts, participants who reported that they had been inspired by others to do their current job tended to score higher on career maturity (t = 3.16, df = 2,596, p < .01), as did participants who had work experience (t = 4.71, df = 2,480.71, p < .001; degrees of freedom are not integers because the difference in variances in the work-experienced and the non–work experienced groups as shown by the Ftest was significant and, therefore, the separate variance estimate was used to calculate the tvalues). Adolescents who reported feeling pressured about their future were lower on career maturity than their peers who did not (t = 4.57, df = 2,720, p < .001).

To explore the specific effects of these factors on self-reported career maturity, a hierarchical regression analysis was carried out. Multicollinearity was tested using the variance inflation factor (VIF). This measure indicates the degree to which each independent variable is explained by the other independent variables in the model. Large VIF values denote high multicollinearity (Hair, Anderson, Tatham, & Black, 1995). A common cutoff threshold for VIF values is 10. In our study, the VIF values were 1.23 (gender), 1.10 (family structure), 1.36 (age), 1.09 (socioeconomic status), 1.29 (mother involvement), 1.34 (father involvement), 1.18 (academic motivation), 1.11 (strong job skills), 1.02 (inspiration), 1.35 (work experience), 1.05 (computing skills), 1.03 (feel pressured), and 1.14 (self-confidence), suggesting that the degree of collinearity in our study did not dictate corrective action. The regression analysis results are shown in Table 1.

As can be seen in Table 1, Model 1, which included only the control variables, accounted for 1% of the variance in career maturity. Compared with girls, boys tended to score higher on career maturity. Age, family structure, and socioeconomic status did not have an effect on self-reported career maturity. In Model 2, the regression equation also included mother involvement, father involvement, academic motivation, feeling pressured about future studies/work, and self-confidence. Female gender was negatively related to career maturity as was low academic motivation and feelings of pressure. The amount of variance in career maturity explained by the variables in Model 2 was 4%. Model 3 introduced job skills, inspiration, work experience, and computer literacy. With all these variables included simultaneously in Model 3, the amount of variance explained was significantly higher, that is, 7%. As can be seen in Table 1, strong job skills, work experience, and computing skills were all positively related to career m aturity. None of the demographic variables was statistically significant. Feeling pressured continued to be negatively related to career maturity.

Discussion

As expected, this study showed that having a role model and having work-related skills were strongly related to career maturity in adolescents aged 14-18 years, even when family support, feelings of pressure, self-confidence, and academic motivation were controlled. Adolescents who reported that they felt pressured about the choices they needed to make about their studies or work tended to score lower on career maturity, whereas adolescents who reported that they had computing skills, work experience, strong job skills, and a career role model tended to score higher on career maturity. Mother and father involvement, academic motivation, and self-confidence, although significant correlates of career maturity at the bivariate level, lost significance in the multivariate model.

These results demonstrate the importance of acquiring basic work-related skills in adolescence and further support earlier findings that absence of such basic work-related skills is related to being unemployed (Bynner, 1997). They also have important implications for practice because they show that fostering career development in adolescence can be practical and can be implemented. In our study, adolescents who had a career role model, those with part-time work experience, and those with computing skills tended to show greater career maturity. In fact, having a career role model and having basic work-related skills were more important predictors of career maturity than parental involvement, academic motivation, self-confidence, socioeconomic status, and family structure. Families, individuals who are involved in the design and use of career interventions in educational institutions, and community and government agencies should perhaps take into account that teaching young people basic work-related skills and providing them with career role models can affect their career maturity. The findings of this study can also have important implications in career counseling practice. For example, an adolescent client who lacks inspiration and support from role models could be encouraged to strengthen relationships, from which this support is likely to be elicited, and to seek mentoring. An adolescent client who lacks work-related skills could be encouraged to develop these skills. The fact that the demographic factors accounted for only 1% of the variance in career maturity is further proof that career maturity in adolescence is amenable to change. This study also demonstrated the adverse effect of career pressure in adolescence, thus substantiating previous research on the effects of career pressure (Chan, Lai, Ko, & Boey, 2000; DeGoede et al., 1999; Maysent & Spera, 1995). In our study, young people who reported that they felt pressured about their choices tended to feel more insecure about their plans, and the steps they needed to take in order to make a career decision.

Caution is needed when interpreting these findings, however. First, the amount of variance accounted for by work-related skills and career role models was modest but not trivial. However, given the various factors in a person’s life that might contribute to career development, it is not surprising that work-related skills and presence of career models play a modest (but not trivial) role. Furthermore, several of the items used were proxies, and all data were self-reports. In the absence of a more rigorous measure of a family’s socioeconomic status, for example, the adolescent’s report on whether there have been worries about money in the family was used. Finally, the results from this cross-sectional study do not allow us to identify which factors, if any, have a causal status. It is possible that lack of work-related skills and feelings of pressure may be responsible for low career maturity. But, it might also be that absence of career plans leads to apathy and, therefore, lack of work-related skills. Althou gh we could not make any causality claims, the findings showed that basic work-related skills and absence of career pressure were strongly associated with career maturity. In light of the link between career maturity and employability (Bynner, 1997) and, in turn, of the relationship between employment and wellbeing (Chan et al., 2000), this study showed that basic work-related skills are positively related to career maturity in adolescents; it can be argued that providing adolescents with basic work-related skills can make an important contribution to both their subjective and their economic well-being.

TABLE 1

Standardized Regression Coefficients [beta] Showing Regression of the

Selected Factors on Career Maturity

Measure Model 1 Model 2

Control and structural

variables

Female gender -.08 ** -.07 *

Intact family structure -.01 -.04

Age -.01 -.01

Socioeconomic status

(money worries) -.05 -.02

Family and individual factors

Mother involvement .05

Father involvement .05

Feel pressured -.10 ***

Academic motivation .07 *

Self-confidence .06

Work-related skills and role

models

Job skills

Have a career model

Work experience

Computing skills

[R.sup.2.sub.adj] 1 3

(percentage)

F(df1, df2) 2.93 * (4,1187) 5.860 *** (9,1182)

Measure Model 3

Control and structural

variables

Female gender -.04

Intact family structure -.04

Age -.05

Socioeconomic status

(money worries) -.03

Family and individual factors

Mother involvement .03

Father involvement .05

Feel pressured -.10 ***

Academic motivation .04

Self-confidence .05

Work-related skills and role

models

Job skills .12 ***

Have a career model .07 *

Work experience .11 ***

Computing skills .06 *

[R.sup.2.sub.adj] 7

(percentage)

F(df1, df2) 7.51 *** (13,1178)

* p < .05.

** p < .01.

*** p < .001.

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Eirini Flouri and Ann Buchanan, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford. This study was based on data from the Reach for the Sky project, which was undertaken by Oxford University in association with the charity Young Voice and funded by Sky TV. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Eirini Flouri, Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford, 32 Wellington Square, Oxford OX1 2ER, United Kingdom (e-mail: eirini.flouri@socres.ox.ac.uk).

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