Meet co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of Career Development Phil McCash. Phil is a qualified career development practitioner and currently works as an Associate Professor at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Lifelong Learning where he is Director of Graduate Studies and teaches on postgraduate courses in career development and career coaching. His work addresses the context, theory, and practice of career development in the contemporary world.
Discover his thoughts on career development and the future of work.
1. What initiatives can organizations put in place to enhance their employees’ careers?
One of the best ways organisations can enhance their employees’ careers is through access to career coaching. Career coaching can be accessed through external providers or delivered internally by suitably trained members of staff.
The key to this training lies in helping the career coach learn how to forge an appropriate relationship between the career coach and the employee. This tends to be seen nowadays as a form of learning alliance. The alliance needs to be initially agreed in relation to the initial, middle, and end phases of career coaching interactions.
Once established, this coaching relationship can be used to support the career learning of employees in relation to a wide range of topics including career influences, workplace relationships, and career management styles. As part of their training and development, career coaches also need to engage in reflexivity and assessment.
Read Phil McCash’s article “Cultural Learning Theory and Career Development” in The Oxford Handbook of Career Development (2021) for more on cultural learning theory and coaching.
2. What are the most common obstacles in career development?
One of the biggest problems identified in the career development field is the decline in decent work. This rise in precarious work is resulting in work instability and poverty for growing numbers of workers throughout the world. The reduced availability and quality of jobs globally has negative consequences for the individual, community, and society. Ellen Gutowski and others argue for the necessity of decent work for all.
“Career development theory and practice have the potential to foster a sense of belonging and well-being by facilitating the construction of meaningful life-careers.”
A further and related issue is social justice. Career development theory and practice have the potential to foster a sense of belonging and well-being by facilitating the construction of meaningful life-careers. Social justice issues are integral because they are concerned with fairness and equity, (in)equality, cultural diversity, psychosocial well-being, and societal values. Barrie Irving argues that we need a deeper understanding of social justice and the multiple and complex influences on how “career” is interpreted and “opportunities” are presented. Such an understanding should provide critical insight into the effects of wider sociocultural and political concerns affecting what is deemed possible in the shaping and enactment of career.
3. Can career theories be applied globally?
Career theories from the Global North have sometimes been imported and applied uncritically in the Global South countries. These theories were developed in different socioeconomic and cultural contexts than those of the Global South, which can generally be characterized by vulnerability and instability. Marcelo Ribeiro argues that these theories and practices must be contextualized if they are to be of assistance to the users of career development services. Through intercultural dialogue, we need to contextualize theories to assist people with their career issues and foster social justice. We also need to understand career theories and practices produced in the Global South (Latin America, Africa, and developing countries of Asia) and their potential as an alternative to expand the mainstream career development theories from the North. Such theories can be understood as a Southern contribution to the social justice agenda.
4. How does increased flexibility impact employees and organizations?
Increased flexibility and its impact have been debated in the field of organisational studies for many years. Organizational career development theory highlights three different perspectives on career.
First, and most commonly, organizations are seen as the context that constrains and enables individual careers. Second, careers may be valued as enhancing or limiting organizational performance and subject to talent management practices. Third, careers can be conceptualized as an ongoing process of interaction between individuals, organizations, and the broader social context.
The move from a focus on organizational careers to highly flexible, self-driven, boundaryless careers in the 1990s overemphasized individual choice and individual responsibility. These ideas became the accepted rule, leading to a divided workforce, with real choice available only to some categories of workers. The psychological contract between individual and organization was largely undermined, and the role of the organization and the importance of contextual and structural factors were relatively neglected.
To move forward, Kate Mackenzie Davey argues that this opposition between organization structure and individual agency is best avoided. The future of organizational career development theory requires an understanding of both the individual and social context, and their interaction over time.
5. What do you think the world of work will look like in 10 years?
Debates about the future shape of the working world feature regularly in the field of organisational and managerial career studies. Hugh Gunz and Wolfgang Mayrhofer propose a Social Chronology Framework in which the study of careers should be seen to involve the simultaneous application of three perspectives: being, space, and time. Building on this, they emphasise the importance of a coevolutionary perspective. Within a bounded social and geographic space, career development happens based on configurations of individual and collective career actors who provide context for each other and coevolve together. They argue that this approach can suggest new ways of seeing established career development arrangements.
In addition, the world of work is inevitably shaped by public policy frameworks. Christian Percy and Vanessa Dodd set out a conceptual model of the economic outcomes of career development work. It is centred on the financial metrics that are most important to stakeholders at three different tiers of the economy. These tiers include individuals, organizations/employers, and the state. Empirical examples from the literature are provided to show that financial impacts can be identified at each tier. The limitations of the model and the evidence base are discussed. In addition, a critical examination of a narrow focus on economic outcomes in public policy is presented in order to convey the limitations of an economistic rationale for career development.
Taking this further, Pete Robertson explores and questions the aims of public policy for career development. In the early years of the twenty-first century, an international consensus emerged in the literature describing the intentions of governments when they seek to intervene in the careers of their citizens. He makes a case for a broader conception of the socially desirable outcomes from career interventions. Drawing on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, he proposes a systematic framework of six types of policy goal for career development services:
- labour market goals
- educational goals
- social equity goals,
- health and well-being goals,
- environmental goals, and
- peace and justice goals.
The latter three categories represent new or relatively neglected areas of focus. The proposal highlights cross-cutting themes of social justice, sustainability, and societal change within public policy for career development in the coming years.
Featured image: Canva