Adult Career Decision-Making

Qualitative Research

Gloster R, Pollard E, Bertram C, Williams J, Hirsh W, Buzzeo J, Henderson L | Research Paper 132 | Department for Business, Innovation and Skills | Aug 2013

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This report presents the findings of research into adult career decision-making. The study was undertaken by the Institute for Employment Studies and explores how adults make career decisions and their awareness, use of and satisfaction with the support available.

The research was qualitative and included a literature review. The study consisted of 50 depth interviews with adults making career decisions, including some who had used the National Careers Service (NCS) and others who had not. Additionally research was undertaken with prisoners: 15 interviews were carried out in three prisons.

The review of literature found that the decision-making process is a complex construct and one that individuals do not undertake using ‘rational’ behaviour.

Behavioural science describes this by separating information processing done by System 1 (which is automatic) and that done by System 2 (which is cognitive). Individuals are not aware of what the automatic part of the brain is doing and when they make decisions, much of the information processing has been done by System 1 before System 2 starts. Therefore people can rule out pieces of information and options before they start to consciously think about making a decision.

Evidence from the field of careers (the theory of planned happenstance), explores the influence of chance events in career decision-making. In the event of uncertainty, the theory advocates the exploration of different professions and environments with the potential opening of unexpected career and job opportunities.

These and other theories and evidence presented in the literature were taken into account in the development of the research tools and analysis framework.