Career development, for most people, is a lifelong process of engaging the work world through choosing among employment opportunities made available to them. Each individual undertaking the process is influenced by many factors, including the context in which they live, their personal aptitudes, and educational attainment (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara, & Pastorelli, 2001).
A major turning point in adolescents' lives involves the career choice that they make while in high school. Frequently, it is viewed by family and community as a mere start to workplace readiness; however, this decision plays a major role in establishing youth in a career path that opens as well as closes opportunities. Given the differences in the social and economic context of college-bound versus work-bound adolescents (Bluestein, Phillips, Jobin-Davis, Finkelberg, & Roarke, 1997), a study was designed to explore the factors that influence rural young adults' selection of specific careers.
Focus group process was selected as the preferred research method because the study was seeking to uncover the nature and nuances that operate in young adults' lives during their career choice decision-making process. Focus group process is a non-directive means by which participants provide information without being directed to answer specific questions (Krueger, 1994).
Participants of the study's 12 focus groups were individuals from an 11-county rural area in Central Pennsylvania. Of these groups, seven were conducted with 98 high school seniors, three were with 50 graduating college seniors, and two with 24 employed young adults. The purposeful selection of the seven high school groups, which ranged from 10 to 17 participants, was based upon the size of the school's enrollment, type of curriculum, and the mean income level of the district's families (School Report Cards, 2002). The three college groups' selection, which ranged from 14 to 22 participants, was based upon location within the area. Selection of the two employed young adult groups, which included 12 participants each, was based upon type of employment and location within the area.
The high school groups were 44% male and 55% female, while the college groups were 42% male and 58% female. The young working adult groups, ranging in age from 25 to 35 years old, were 59% male and 41% female. The groups' racial and ethnic composition was 98% Caucasian, 1% Black, and 1% Hispanic.
The groups' interviews were conducted by an experienced moderator using opened-ended structured protocols that lasted an hour. The interviews were recorded, transcribed into a written format, and coded so that the emerging themes could be identified and summarized (Straus & Corbin, 1990).
Participants were asked:
What are the career/job goals you now are considering?
Who or what helped you learn about your choices?
Who or what has had the greatest influence on your employment decisions?
What are the barriers to achieving your employment goals?
Where in the future do you plan to work?
The following section reports the themes that emerged during the study. The themes are those most frequently reported throughout all of the groups. The study's themes provided a basis for dialogue that identified strategies area stakeholders used to increase assistance to youth in making career choices.
Throughout all of the groups, a consistent picture of the major influencers of young adult's career choices emerged. The interrelated nature of the groups' perceptions highlighted the importance family and community play in shaping young adult's career choices.
The major emerging themes from the focus groups include the following.
Interdependence of Family, School, and Community Culture
Young adults, through interaction with the context of family, school, and community, learn about and explore careers that ultimately lead to career choice. The interdependence of...
References: Bandura, A., Barbaranelli, C., Caprara, G.V., & Pastorelli, C. (2001). Self-efficacy beliefs as shapers of children 's aspirations and career trajectories. Child Development, 72, 187-206.
Blustein, D., Phillips, M., Jobin-Davis, M., Finkelberg, S., & Roarke, A. (1997). A theory-building investigation of the school-to-work transition. The Counseling Psychologist, 25, 364-401.
Chen, C.P. (1997). Career projection: Narrative in context. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 54, 279-295.
Krueger, R.A. (1994). Focus groups: A practical guide for applied research. Second Edition. London: Sage Publication.
School Report Cards, (2002). PA Department of Education: Harrisburg, PA. Retrieved September 26, 2002 from http://www.paprofiles.org/
Straus, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of qualitative research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Super, D.E., Savickas, M.L., & Super, C.M. (1996). The life-span approach to careers. In D. Brown, L. Brooks, & Associates (Eds.) Career choice and development (pp. 121-178). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
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