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The Changing Face of Career Development

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Dave Redekopp, Life-Role Development Group

for the MLA Invitational Forum on Business Involvement in Education

January 19, 1996

Summary Notes

Rapid and continuous social, economic and political change have caused career development practitioners to re-think their traditional concepts and practices. In a world in which work opportunities can no longer be clearly defined as occupational roles, career development activities no longer need to revolve around the processes of choosing an occupation and following plans to reach the occupation. Career building now needs to be viewed as process of managing one's own development, learning and life/work decisions and actions.

H.B. Gelatt, a prominent career development decision-making theorist, developed four paradoxical principles in an attempt to look at career development in a new way. I have added six more paradoxical principles, principles that I hope have direct impact on the issues being faced by this Invitational Forum.

Ten Paradoxical Principles

(Note: The first four principles were developed by H.B. Gelatt).

1. Be focused and flexible. Gelatt spent much of his working life developing decision-making models based on reason, rationality and logic. In 1989, Gelatt's work took a different direction. He recognized the importance of breaking plans as well as making them, changing goals as well as setting them, being flexible as well as focused. In a world of constant change, Gelatt argued that both focus and flexibility are essential elements of the modern career planner.
  • 2. Be aware and wary. Most decision-making models emphasize the careful collect of vast quantities of information prior to making a decision. Gelatt agreed that information is useful, but he recognized that information is never as factual, certain or precise as it may seem. In fact, too much information can simply distract one from important issues. Gelatt therefore cautioned that awareness of information is important, but we should always be wary of the usefulness and truth-value of the information we have.

    3. Be objective and optimistic. Once information is gathered and projections for future success are being made, Gelatt implored us to be objective and optimistic. By this he means that we should look at the future as clearly and reasonably as we can. Then having made a decision to pursue a certain course, we need to be optimistic about our chances of success. Optimism provides the energy and drive needed to succeed.

    4. Be practical and magical. Pursuing a decision requires practicality, common-sense and reason. However, the old "set the goal, reach the goal" mentality may be less useful in this era of change than an approach that uses creativity, imagination and chance to create opportunity as well as to seek it. Lock-step action plans remain useful, but they need to be supplemented by more creative, whimsical methods that create or find unexpected possibilities.

    5. Be independent and collaborative. A paradox that applies particularly to the aims of education is the need for individuals to be both autonomous, self-reliant decision-makers/actors and community-oriented, team-playing, social citizens. Both characteristics are heavily emphasized in today's world of work: the independence to make immediate decisions combined with an increasing use of collaborative teams.

    6. Be general and specialized. The current work dynamic is characterized by rapid changes leading to more frequent work/job changes by workers. To be able to adapt to this change, workers need to have a general knowledge, skill and attitude base that allows them to move from one role to another. On the other hand, in a world of extreme technological sophistication, workers are finding that they need to become increasingly specialized.

    7. Be a follower and a leader. The world of work is no longer the clearly defined world of the supply and demand labour market. Now, supply and demand can trade places overnight; joint-ventures rule the day; employer-employee relationships are changing to contractor/sub-contractor relationships. These shifts mean that all workers are more likely to be both followers and leaders than in the past. The move to team-based management further accentuates this need as team members continuously make decisions about when to lead and when to follow.

    8. Be quality-oriented and risk-oriented. A pressing paradox for organizations within a global economy is simultaneously being the best at what they do and always attempting to do things in new and better ways. Workers, too, need to come to grips with exceling at what they do while taking risks trying new things. Similarly, students in schools need to be encouraged to get good grades while taking risks in performance.

    9. Be loyal and tentative. Organizations are no longer providing jobs for life. The "company man" is also disappearing. Yet loyalty, in the form of dedication and commitment, remains essential as a two-way employer-worker street. Workers and employers need to be fully committed to each other within a project, contract or task. However, they both need to fully recognize that the relationship is almost certain to be time-specific and therefore, both need to approach the relationship as a tentative one.

    10. Be confident and unsure. A changing work dynamic results in a need for continuous learning. Continuously learning means continuously being unsure of whether or not one is fully competent. Being unsure, however, of one's competence, needs to be balanced with confidence in one's abilities. A lack of confidence is usually followed by minimal risk-taking, poor performance and a loss of energy due to worry and anxiety. Confidence is needed to be productive and to move forward; being unsure is needed to ensure that one constantly learns.

  • These paradoxes highlight the difficulties of fully integrating career development into school systems. An overemphasis on one component of any of these paradoxes will lead to complaints from the stakeholders (i.e., parents, students, employers, educators, public) who hold the opposite component dear. It will also leave students unprepared for a changing work dynamic. Teaching both sides of each paradox in a balanced way is a tightrope walk that we should not expect educators to achieve without effort, practice and a safety net of public and business support.