Flexibility in graduate careers: An exploratory study of the work careers of a sample of 1970 graduates

Lewis, Jennifer Mary (1986). Flexibility in graduate careers: An exploratory study of the work careers of a sample of 1970 graduates. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000de53


This thesis describes a three stage research project that explored flexibility in the career development of British graduates. Particular , attention was paid to people's subjective perceptions of their own flexibility.

First, the rationale for the study is described, i. e. that the area was under researched yet new technology has created an urgent need for people to become more flexible in their careers. Then the Literature of occupational choice, career change and career development is reviewed and used to derive a typology of occupational change. The decision to use a mixture of research methods is defended.

Next Stages One and Two, the Contact Survey and the Interviews, are described. 148 1970 graduates in science, techno Logy and engineering who had made voluntary occupational changes (a sub-sample from a national survey) were sent postal questionnaires, and 38 of these were subsequently I interviewed in depth about their work histories. A model was derived from the interview data of how flexibility in career development depends on a career anchor, or a set of values that a person gradually discovers that they will not give up when changing jobs. An anchor is idiosyncratic to the individual and cannot necessarily be predicted by an outsider examining work histories. It depends on experience and increasing self awareness.

Stage Three involved testing some of the ideas arising from this model of a career anchor on a second sample of 1970 graduates. These respondents had recalled two of their earlier career decisions using computer programmes that elicited their values at those times. Comparisons between their earlier (pre-anchored) decisions and their Later (anchored) decisions showed support for the career anchors model.

The findings and conclusions of the project are discussed in terms of five research questions:

(1) How much change did they think their careers had undergone?

(2) What form did any changes take?

(3) Were these changes perceived as unusual in any way?

(4) How far could people's views and experiences of flexibility be explained by existing psycho Logical theories about careers?

(5) Any explanations of the ability to show flexibility in career development have implications for the careers counselling of adults; what would these implications be?

It is concluded that the career anchors model shows promise as a supplement to existing theories of careers, and may be useful to careers counselors who deal with adults contemplating or undergoing career transitions.

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