The following was written by Jim Bright, Professor of Career Education and Development at Austrailian Catholic University (ACU), and was published in The Sydney Morning Herald
Imagine if a school or college could offer the promise of moving students from mostly D grades to mostly A grades, could increase their engagement with learning and give them a clearer and more confident sense of their vocational identity. Too good to be true? Well perhaps not, according to a team of Canadian and US researchers who have made and connected the missing links between career counselling and positive psychology.
Recently here I wrote about my concerns that some schools appear to have embraced positive psychology so uncritically that they have all but abandoned properly informed career counselling. I argued that this was an over-reaction. However, what I like about this North American research is the way that key concepts in positive psychology have been employed in the service of career counselling and education, rather than erroneously supplanting it.
Spencer Niles, Norman Amundson and Hyung Joon Yoon from William and Mary College, University of British Columbia and Pennsylvania State University have developed a hope-centred model of career development. The central notions combine hope, self-clarity, vision, planning and adaptability.
What sets this work apart is that they have conducted large-scale studies in educational settings linking these concepts to measures such as a person’s confidence in and clarity of their career interests, talents and personality. They also linked hope to student engagement – for instance, the degree to which a student spontaneously worked harder than they thought to meet a teacher’s expectations. Finally, they linked it to the very tangible measure of grade-point average – the number of As, Bs, Cs or Ds that a student is achieving.
In one study with almost 1700 students, they showed a clear relationship between hope and student engagement. Increased levels of hope were associated with increased levels of student engagement and career clarity. In turn, increased levels of student engagement were strongly associated with increased grade-point average.
In other words, for their sample, it appears that those who express the most hope were also more engaged in their study, clearer and more confident about their career prospects and performing better academically. What is not to like?
What is particularly exciting is that this group have demonstrated that it is possible to create training programs targeting boosting hope that have tangible effects on work engagement for groups of the unemployed, health professionals and refugees.
In a world that is changing, complex and uncertain, it seems to me that initiatives that build hope in a targeted way closely aligned with career have to be a key part of the solution.
We need to move away from a neurotic fear to fix the future and a misplaced tendency to encourage people into believing that the world will be stable and predictable. Rather we must embrace and act on uncertainty and complexity in a manner that fosters hope. Because without that hope, people will not explore, will not strive and will not engage. Embedding these ideas firmly within career development is the way forward and those responsible for funding career development services for all ages should be expanding and enhancing not cutting their offerings by embracing these approaches. Let’s hope so.
Jim Bright is Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and owns Bright and Associates, a career management consultancy.