Grouping of Theories on Job Options

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Attempts to classify theoretical positions on career development are often frustrating for the classifier and confusing for the reader. The clear-cut, unquestioned categorization typified by the "good guys" and "bad guys" of traditional wild-west lovies is simply impossible. One finds a degree of overlap and parallelism that often confounds the categories, blurs the boundaries, and forces arbitrary actions. The classifications used here are based on convenience and “best fit."

Adventitious, situational, and psychoanalytic theories

Economists and sociologists have sometimes been inclined to support theories of career choice that involve chance or accidental happenings in which the individual is largely subject to powerful external forces. To some extent, Xfarnath (1975) warns that this danger is increasing for many individuals. Often economists identify the laws of supply and demand as powerful forces in determining job opportunity and worker availability. Simply put, this concept proposes that employers will offer sufficient pay or reimbursement to attract the needed number of workers; as the pay escalates, more workers than needed are attracted. This causes the employer to reduce the pay, since there are now more workers available than needed. Reducing the pay encourages workers to search for other opportunities, results in a shortage of workers, and the cycle starts over again. Many work situations are highly sensitive to variation in economic conditions and slight changes in any direction can influence employment. At the same time, it is important to remember that many factors exist that interfere with the operation of a free market, where the supply-demand interaction occurs. Some restrictions have been developed to protect the general public, others to assist specific groups of workers, employers, or consumers. Some are the result of social custom and some come from legislative or governmental regulation.

Sociologists, such as Caplow (1954) and Miller and Form (1951), have discussed the influence of chance on career development. This is often described as "being in the right place at the right time" or as "the once in a lifetime opportunity." Movie fan magazines often exploit the story of the unknown drug store clerk or fast-food carhop who is whisked to fame by a long-searching director who wanted the perfect person to star in the movie of the decade. Similarly, but on a less spectacular scale, many of us can recall individuals whose lives have changed drastically because of luck, the strange hand of fate, or other situational circumstances.

Using a broader perspective, Lipsett (1962) has identified several social factors that influence career development, including social class membership, home influences, school, community, pressure groups, and r< perception. Borow mentions the influence of family and social class, and a lesser extent the school and community, in determining the social and psychological motives upon which the individual's behavior is based. He and Cramer (1984) summarize a number of recent studies that have investigated the influence of social factors. They conclude that these are factors that influence every person and the extent to which any one item may serve as a constraint or as a stimulus must be determined individually.

Brill (1949) expounds an almost fatalistic view of career development contending that occupations are simply expressions of unconscious psych forces and, unless there is interference, the person will make a sublimate express in an occupational form. Thus surgeons, butchers, warriors, and hunters simply express sadistic impulses, and the actor is revealing a basic exhibitionism.

Trait and Factor Theory

The essence of trait and factor theory is a joining of the concept of individual differences with the concept of job analysis. Each individual has unique set of characteristics or traits that can be identified and measured by tests or other means. Each occupation also requires certain factors for successful performance. The counselor can identify the pattern of client trait and match this pattern against those required for successful job performance. Thus the highly verbal, aggressive, dynamic individual is a "natural' for a sales position, while the quiet, compulsive, mathematically oriented, conventional individual is encouraged to consider bookkeeping or accounting.

Several individuals contributed significantly to the trait and factor approach. The very early work of Parsons (1909), suggested that a wise vocational choice required clear understanding of self, including attitudes, abilities, interests, ambitions, resources, and limitations; also a knowledge of the requirements and conditions in various lines of work; and finally, true reasoning to discover the relation between these two sets of data. Donald G. Paterson and others in the Minnesota Employment Stabilization Research Institute concentrated on the development of tests to identify individual traits. Industrial psychologists such as Frederick Taylor and Elton Mayo focused on the characteristics of jobs and the capabilities required for successful performance. Events related to American participation in World War II greatly accelerated research and application of the trait and factor approach within the military structure by using this system for classifying and assigning recruits and inductees to military jobs, and outside the military by using tests to identify special abilities and skills needed in essential defense jobs.

Jones, revised and updated by Stefflre and Stewart (1970), lists five assumptions basic to the trait and factor position. These include the following:
  1. Vocational development is largely a cognitive process in which the individual uses reasoning to arrive at his decision.

  2. Occupational choice is a single event.

  3. There is a single right goal for everyone making decisions about work.

  4. A single type of person works in each job.

  5. There is an occupational choice available to each individual.
If one reads these assumptions from a strictly literal view, it is at once apparent that they can easily be negated, and if they might have been true in the '30s or '40s, they certainly don't hold true for the '80s. However, if one reads them with the insight of what we know today and accepts a loose interpretation, they are generally acceptable. For example, most of us can agree that cognition (the application of knowledge) is an essential aspect of career development, that the opportunity for occupational choice occurs at least once during life, that every individual has sufficient assets to be able to reform some work, and finally, that each person's characteristics can be matched with jobs that are generally compatible.

From Parsons' time until shortly after World War II, the trait and factor approach not only held dominance but, for all practical purposes, it was the only approach to what was then called vocational counseling. Since that time (the early 1950s) it has shared the stage with other theoretical approaches. Few counselors today would advocate a pure trait and factor approach, yet in varying degrees of modification, aspects of trait and factor theory exist in about every current theory of career development.
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