FAQs

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) and answers on Employability

A career can be defined as a pattern of work experiences comprising the entire life span of a person and which is generally seen with regard to a number of phases or stages reflecting the transition from one stage of life to the next (Weinert, 2001). Similarly, Collin (1998) explains that the term career arises from the interaction of individuals with organisations and society. This interaction, as Savickas (2009) proposes, is no longer merely just a sequence of jobs but is now a story that working people build about themselves. The issue, as Greenhaus (2003) explains, is that an individual who has, for example, shifted from teaching to public relations, to real estate sales is still often thought to have merely pursued a series of jobs or perhaps three different careers. While there seems to be ambiguous views of what constitutes a career, Savickas (2009) states that the new look of careers is temporary, contingent, casual, contract, freelance, part-time, external, atypical, self employed, external. Two of the commonalities emerging from these terms are, firstly that the responsibility to manage a career now falls on the individual. Secondly, all these terms describe a climate of constant change.


Hall (1996) postulates that the career of the 21st century will be protean. The protean career is driven by the person, not the organisation, and will be reinvented by the person from time to time, as the person and the environment change. According to Hall (1996), the term protean is derived from the Greek god Proteus (who could change shape at will). There appears to be a growing trend towards a career of constant change where, as Cascio (2003) points out, individuals in high-technology jobs are often proud of the fact that they have held two jobs in the past three years as a badge of honour, an indication that they are on the cutting edge of their fields. Clarke (2008) explains that ideally, to succeed in the new career structures, such as protean or boundaryless careers, individuals will either possess a proactive personality or be able to adopt proactive behaviours to sustain their employability.


While pressures for constant change and proactive behaviours beckon, Collin (1998) warns that individuals sometimes do not embrace this high pressure lifestyle. Findings from a recent study conducted by Dreis, Hofmans, Pepermans and Rypens, (2009) indicated that the majority of employees continue to desire more traditional career types. The term “career” can therefore be defined as the sequence of interaction of individuals with society, education and organisations throughout their lifespan. It is necessary, however, to emphasise that the majority of the responsibility now rests on the individual for their own career progression, which requires sustained employability (Beukes, 2009; Herr et al., 2004).


Beukes, C. J. (2009). The relationship between employability and emotional intelligence. Unpublished research report, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, Pretoria.


Cascio, W. F. (2003). Changes in workers, work and organisations. In: W. C. Bornman., Ilgen, D. R., & Klimoski, R. J. (Eds.). Handbook of psychology volume twelve: Industrial and organisational psychology, (pp. 401-422). Hoboken (NJ): John Wiley & Sons.


Clarke, M., & Patrickson, M. (2008). The new covenant of employability. Employee relations, 30(2), 121-141.


Collin, A. (1998). New challenges in the study of career. Personnel Review, 27(5), 412-425.


Dreis, N., Pepermans, R., Hofmans, J., & Rypens, L. (2009). Development and validation of an objective intra-organisational career success measure for managers. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 30, 543-560.


Greenhaus, J. H. (2003). Career Dynamics. In: W. C. Bornman., D. R. Ilgen., & R. J. Klimoski. (Eds.). Handbook of psychology volume twelve: Industrial and organisational psychology, (pp. 519-535). Hoboken (USA): John Wiley & Sons.


Hall, D. T. (1996). Protean careers of the 21st century. The Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 8-16.


Herr, E. L., Cramer, S. H. & Niles, S. G. (2004). Career guidance and counselling through the lifespan: Systematic approaches. (6th edition). London: Prentice-Hall. Savickas, M. (2009). Narrative career counselling: Life story approach. Informal talk attended on 24th April 2009, University of Johannesburg.


Weinert, A. B. (2001). Psychology of career development. International Encyclopaedia of the Social & Behavioural Sciences, Elsevier Science, 1471-1476.

According to Baer, Flexer, Luft and Simmons (2008) an individual’s career development is a lifetime process that encompasses the growth and change process of childhood, the formal career education at school, and the maturational processes that continue throughout a person’s working adulthood and into retirement. Schreuder and Coetzee (2006) explain that a career consists of different stages and the individual is confronted with different issues during each of these stages. According to Stevens (1990), the common pattern of multiple careers during individuals’ adult years requires that they evaluate, make personal decisions and implement career transition actions at several points during their lifetime.


Super (1957) identified five stages - growth, exploration, establishment, maintenance, and decline that were thought to capture individuals’ work related experiences from the years of childhood to retirement. Miller and Form (1951) and Hall and Nougaim (1968) also identified five career stages, and Schein (1978) proposed a sequence of nine stages of career development. However, Savikas (2009) warns that current career development theories and techniques face a crisis in that their fundamental assumption of predictability based on stability and stages is debatable and, more importantly, may no longer be functional.


Models of career development have identified age ranges in which individuals typically encounter the tasks associated with each stage of career development. Moreover, the models appear to have assumed that individuals pursue a continuous linear career within one occupation, in perhaps one or two organisations, and without major disruptions or redirections. Similarly, Stevens (1990) states that life stages are typically depicted as an orderly succession of expected events as if they will happen on cue for all of us. However, Greenhaus (2003) cautions that despite many of the outmoded assumptions of age-related theories of development, it is important not to disregard the effects of age and psychological life tasks associated with the particular life stage. Individuals and their career development needs change in important ways as they get older.


Stevens (1990) states that each career has a lifecycle which has four discrete stages: exploration, advancement, maintenance and decline. Flexer, Baer, Luft and Simmons (2008) state that although these four stages are specific to employment, a broad definition of career development incorporates all life areas. Flexer et al. (2008) propose that there should be an inclusion of the influences from other life roles and responsibilities that ultimately lead to a satisfactory quality of life. They conclude that the four stages support a comprehensive view of career development and transition planning. While there are four discrete stages of development, they do not necessarily only take place once in an individual’s life, but could take place on numerous occasions through career changes, such as changing jobs (Flexer et al., 2008).


According to Stead and Watson (1999), the following developmental tasks are still appropriate during each life stage, although the nature of these tasks will change. They involve gaining appropriate self-information, displaying effective decision making skills, gaining appropriate career information, integrating self and career information and planning a career. However, it is suggested that these stages are now happening more and more frequently. Greenhaus (2001) therefore proposes that the career of the 21st century is not measured by chronological age and life stages, but by continuous learning and identity changes. Greenhaus (2001) proposes that this is more of an accurate view rather than thinking of a career that constitutes a series of developmental stages, as we might expect from the work of the 20th century.


Baer, R.B., Flexer, R.W., Luft, P., & Simmons, T.J. (2008). Transition planning for secondary students with disabilities. New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.


Greenhaus, J. H. (2003). Career Dynamics. In: W. C. Bornman., D. R. Ilgen., & R. J. Klimoski. (Eds.). Handbook of psychology volume twelve: Industrial and organisational psychology, (pp. 519-535). Hoboken (USA): John Wiley & Sons.


Hall, D.T., & Nougaim, K.E. (1968). An examination of Maslow’s need hierarchy theory in an organizational setting. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 3, 12-35.


Miller, D. C., & W. H., Form. (1951). Industrial sociology. New York: Harper and Row.


Savickas, M. (2009). Narrative career counselling: Life story approach. Informal talk attended on 24th April 2009, University of Johannesburg.


Schein, E.H. (1978). Career dynamics: matching individual and organizational needs. Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley.


Schreuder, A.M.G., & Coetzee, M. (2006). Careers: An organisational perspective. Lansdowne: Juta & Co.


Stead, G. B., & Watson, M. B. (1999). Career psychology in the South African context. Pretoria: Van Schaik.


Stevens, P. (1990). Career transitions: The Australian perspective. Sydney: CWC.


Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers: An introduction to vocational development. New York: Harper & Row.

Beukes (2009) describes employability as the application and continuous development of a range of supportive skills through a series of reiterative developmental stages that enhance the individual’s opportunities for accessing and sustaining employment opportunities. Hillage and Pollard (1998) suggest that employability is about work and the ability to be employed.It involves the ability to gain initial employment, maintain employment and obtain new employment.


Clarke (2008) views these abilities as encompassing many of the pro-active, self-management attitudes and behaviours commonly associated with self-employment. Hillage and Pollard (1998) caution that the term employability is used in a variety of contexts with a range of meanings, and can lack clarity and precision as an operational concept. McQuaid, Green and Danson (2005) propose that some researchers and policy-makers adopt a narrowly defined supply-side focus, while others adopt a broader perspective on employability.


According to McQuaid at al. (2005), the broader view focuses upon individuals' employability in terms of their capability to move into new employment within the labour market (such as moving from unemployment into a sustainable job or moving from one job into another). The broad approach incorporates factors such as job search and labour demand conditions, which affect whether a person can actually find or change employment, as well as the set of employability skills and attributes that are the focus of the narrow supply-side concepts of employability.


Rigopoulou and Kehagias (2008) propose that the current perspectives towards employability are narrow in terms of their goals, in the sense that they focus on the student as an employee-to-be, giving emphasis to those skills that will make the student more competitive when applying for a job, without considering that these skills will not necessarily contribute to his/her success and happiness in life.


Hillage and Pollard (1998, p. 2) provide their description of employability as;


The ability to gain initial employment; hence the interest in ensuring that ‘key skills’, careers advice and an understanding about the world of work are embedded in the education system. Brolin and Loyd (2004) state that the training of this type of knowledge and skills should continue throughout the entire grade R-12 system for all students that aim to make work (paid or unpaid) a meaningful part of their total lifestyle.


The ability to maintain employment and make ‘transitions’ between jobs and roles within the same organisation to meet new job requirements. Spill (1988) explains that skills of job holding and advancing include initiative, problem solving and adaptability. Some further skills later included by Spill (2008) are teamwork, flexibility and multitasking.


The ability to obtain new employment if required. That is, to be independent in the labour market by being willing and able to manage their own employment transitions between and within organisations. Clarke and Patrickson (2008) emphasise the need for individuals to take responsibility for their own employability rather than relying on the organisation to direct and maintain their careers.


Beukes, C. J. (2009). The relationship between employability and emotional intelligence. Unpublished research report, Department of Industrial and Organisational Psychology, University of South Africa, Pretoria.


Brolin, D. E., & Loyd, R. J. (2004). Career development and transition services: A functional life skills approach. New Jersey: Pearson.


Clarke, M. (2008). Understanding and managing employability in changing career contexts. Journal of European Industrial Training, 32(4), 258-284.


Clarke, M., & Patrickson, M. (2008). The new covenant of employability. Employee relations, 30(2), 121-141.


Hillage, J., & Pollard, E. (1998). Employability: developing a framework for policy analysis. London: Department for Education and Employment.

McQuaid, R. W., Green, A., & Danson, M. (2005). Introducing Employability. Urban Studies, 42(2), 191-195.


Rigopoulou, I., & Kehagias, J. (2008). Personal development planning under the scope of self-brand orientation. International Journal of Educational Management, 22(4), 300-313.


Spill, R. (2002). An introduction to the use of skill standards and certifications in WIA programs. Washington, DC: National Skill Standards Board.

Rosenthal and Pilot (1988) explain that career decisions need to be made throughout the lifespan because a career has a major bearing on individuals’ lifestyle. It determines earnings, job security, friends, and acquaintances, the amount of leisure time and residence. Greenhaus (2003) explains that many career-related behaviours explicitly or implicitly involve a career decision: to pursue a particular job, to increase or decrease involvement in work, or to change occupational fields. Although each situation is different, they all involve action in the face of alternatives. Stevens (1990) states that there are two main perspectives in career decisions and career choice. The first is the one with the longest history and may be termed the matching of people with the content of jobs, also known as the trait and factor theory. Alternatively, Stevens (1990) explains that career theories based on what can be termed a sociological perspective maintain that career choice and subsequent career progress is a social process.


Nature of schooling, family socio-economic background, influence of family members and close friends, and the expectations that evolve from these interactions are seen as the prime determinants of occupational choice, level of attainment and what prompts a person to make a career change or career path re-alignment. With all these factors involved in career decision making the young adult should not delay making a career decision. Feldman (2002) cautions the longer youth are undecided about their career goals, the longer they may stay underemployed. The longer they stay underemployed the less desirable they may be as candidates for higher skilled jobs.


Career indecision is especially challenging for youth in the school-to-work-transition as youth generally have not had enough work experience to develop their career identity. The young adult’s self concept undergoes turbulent times as they are faced with multiple demands to perform and become an independent citizen. The young adult should get into the mindset of becoming proactive with their career decisions. Greenhaus (2003) points out that due to the emergence of shorter and more frequent career cycles, an individual will be required to make a greater number of significant career decisions over the course of their lives.


Organisations can assist youth preparing to enter the world of work in understanding the decisions that need to be made, and provide those individuals with the skills necessary to make well informed decisions. It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that organisations should not ignore the fact that individuals need to develop and maintain their employability. They should embrace the process as a strategy for employee empowerment and motivation development.


Feldman, D. C. (2002). Work careers: a developmental perspective. San Francisco: Wiley and sons.


Greenhaus, J. H. (2003). Career Dynamics. In: W. C. Bornman., D. R. Ilgen., & R. J. Klimoski. (Eds.). Handbook of psychology volume twelve: Industrial and organisational psychology, (pp. 519-535). Hoboken (USA): John Wiley & Sons.


Rosenthal, N. H., & Pilot, M. (1988). Information needs for initial and ongoing work transition. Journal of Career Development, 15(1), 20-30.


Stevens, P. (1990). Career transitions: The Australian perspective. Sydney: CWC. 

Fugate and Kinicki (2008, p. 9) describe career identity as “one’s self-definition in the career context.” Chope and Johnson (2008, p. 47) define career identity in a more scientific manner where they state that “career identity reflects the degree to which individuals define themselves in terms of a particular organisation, job, profession, or industry”. Chope and Johnson (2008) further explain that career identity is characterised by a genuine interest in what one does, how well it is done, and the impressions of others. Erikson (1980) cautions that in general, it is primarily the inability to settle on a career identity which causes high levels of stress in young people. Neumark (2007) emphasises that avoiding early labour market difficulties is also particularly important for youth as the literature indicates that long unemployment experiences at labour force entry may have persistent negative effects on employment probabilities and wages later in life. It is for this reason that McArdle, Waters, Briscoe and Hall (2007) explain that in periods of career transition, such as school to work, the ability to harness one’s career identity as a guide when establishing goals and making decisions may be crucial in identifying career opportunities.


The creation of an identity that serves the purpose of engaging in meaningful work is arguably the most essential ingredient for everyone seeking employment. Career identity is an especially important element for those who need to meet the challenges of today's workplace (Chope and Johnson, 2008). Erikson (1980) declares that it is therefore pertinent that the individual develops a strong sense of occupational identity through an in-depth understanding of their strengths and areas for growth in relation to the requirements of the labour market. The individuals’ sense of career identity should continuously be reviewed and developed.


According to Hall (1996), rather than thinking of a career as comprising a lifelong series of developmental stages, as might be expected from the work of 20th century developmental psychologists such as Daniel Levinson and Donald Super, the 21st century career should be viewed as a series of short learning stages. Individuals have to make frequent changes and adjustments, while forming goals and implementing plans in the vocational aspects of their lives (Chen, 2004). It is therefore suggested that individuals within the school-to-work transition phase prioritise the continuous development of their career identities. From an organisational perspective, it is recommended that programmes be developed which help orientate youth into these complexities and assist these individuals in developing strategies for self renewal.


Chen, C. P. (2004). A new perspective for career psychology. Australian Journal of Career Development, 13(2), 17-28.


Chope, R., & Johnson, R. A. (2008). Career identity in a turbulent world. Perspectives in Education, 26(3), 45-55.


Erikson, E. H. (1980). Identity and the life cycle. New York: Norton & Co.


Fugate, M., & Kinicki, A. J. (2008). Dispositional approach to employability: Development of a measure and test of implications for employee reactions to organisational change. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology, 81(3), 503-527.


Hall, D. T. (1996). Protean careers of the 21st century. The Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 8-16.


McArdle, S., Waters, L., Briscoe, J. P., & Hall, D. T. (2007). Employability during unemployment: Adaptability, career identity and human social capital. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 71, 247–264.


Neumark, D. (2007). Improving school-to-work transitions. New York: Russell Sage.

Through a review of the literature, Pieterse (2005) concludes that the generally accepted definition of “career maturity” is the readiness and competency of an individual to make critical career decisions. Pieterse (2005) states that these decisions are based on attitudes, on self-knowledge, knowledge of the world of educational opportunities and of the job market, and sufficient knowledge of career decision making processes. It has been identified that career maturity is a developmental construct that can be enhanced through structured programme interventions (Stead & Watson, 1999). Structured programme interventions should be initiated within the school environment in order to prepare the individual for the transition from school-to-work. It is suggested that the preparation of individuals for the world of work through the education system should progress to effective organisational orientation programs. These orientation programmes should not only pertain to the organisation’s goals but also to challenges regarding the development of a career identity in the early adulthood phase.


Collin’s (1998) found that by comparing the developmental tasks confronting an individual with those that would be expected at that individual’s age, the individual’s “career maturity” can be identified. Some of these developmental tasks were mentioned by Super (1957) when describing the career development tasks of young individuals. These tasks include, firstly, that the individual must increase their orientation to career choice. Secondly, they must have access to and apply themselves to increasing amounts of career information, and more comprehensive and detailed planning. These tasks in turn would lead to the increasing consistence of vocational preferences through the crystallisation of traits relevant to career choice and consequently, increasing wisdom of career preferences. Career counsellors in organisations can find ways to assist youth in developing their career maturity through the process of self reflection and career related information.


Collin, A. (1998). New challenges in the study of career. Personnel Review, 27(5), 412-425.


Pieterse , A. M. (2005). The relationship between time perspective and career maturity for grade 11 and 12 learners. Unpublished master’s research report, University of the Free State, Free State.


Stead, G. B., & Watson, M. B. (1999). Career psychology in the South African context. Pretoria: Van Schaik.


Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers: An introduction to vocational development. New York: Harper & Row.

The most essential distinction that is made between various measures of career success is that between subjective and objective measures (Abele & Spurk, 2009; Dreis, Hofmans, Pepermans & Rypens, 2009). Research interest in both objective (e.g., salary, promotions, hierarchical status) and subjective career success (e.g., subjective evaluation of one’s career) has been high for many years. Dreis et al. (2009) explain that the concept of career success has different meanings for different people. Heslin (2003) states that objective career success reflects verifiable attainments in areas such as work performance (e.g., publications), pay, position, and promotions, whereas subjective career success is typically measured relative to self-referent criteria, such as a person’s career goals and aspirations.


Hall (1996) proposes that success in the 21st century era is no longer viewed as getting to the top of the corporate pyramid, but is now defined by psychological success unique to that individual. Hall (1996) continues to explain that the ultimate goal of the career is psychological success, the feeling of pride and personal accomplishment that comes from achieving ones most important goals in life, be they achievement, family happiness, inner peace or something else. On a practical note, career coaches, counsellors, managers, and ultimately individuals engaged in a career may benefit from recognising the vast array of referent points (objective and subjective) they can adopt to evaluate their careers, thereby exerting a greater degree control over their experience of career failure and success (Heslin, 2003).


Abele, A. E., & Spurk, D. (2009). The longitudinal impact of self-efficacy and career goals on objective and subjective career success. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 74,53–62.


Dreis, N., Pepermans, R., Hofmans, J., & Rypens, L. (2009). Development and validation of an objective intra-organisational career success measure for managers. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 30, 543-560.


Hall, D. T. (1996). Protean careers of the 21st century. The Academy of Management Executive, 10(4), 8-16.


Heslin, P. A. (2003). Self and other referent criteria of career success. Journal of Career Assessment, 11(3), 262-286.

Individuals need to be adaptable in order to manage whatever new challenges the labour market presents. Savickas (1997) explains that the root of the word adaptation is apt, meaning quick to learn or understand. He defines career adaptability as the readiness to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the unpredictable adjustments prompted by changes in work and working decisions. According to Fugate, Kinicki and Ashforth (2004), the ever-growing dynamism of the world today requires individuals to be increasingly fluid and adaptable. This is particularly true of the rapidly changing career landscape.


Savickas (2009) notes that individuals born between 1957-1964 have an average of 10 jobs from age 18-38. More conservatively Cascio (2003) states that individuals should be prepared for job changes as often as every 2.7 years for individuals between the age of 25- to 34-years-old. Due to individuals having to change jobs so often, it would be beneficial for them to become more flexible and adaptable in order to keep up with the changes.


Fugate (2006) emphasises that personal adaptability is increasingly important to both employees and employers in today’s dynamic work environment. Individual characteristics that predispose people to be more proactively adaptable are clearly beneficial, as individuals are now required to negotiate a never-ending series of workplace changes and transitions. Savickas (1997) conceptualises adaptability as planful attitudes which can be learned, thereby allowing individuals to increase their adaptability. By learning planful attitudes, an individual within the school-to-work transition phase can plan and map out their goals, which could possibly enable them to more effectively address and achieve those goals of gaining, keeping and developing their employment opportunities.


According to Savickas (1997), some characteristics of adaptive individuals are thinking about and planning for their future, anticipating change and reacting when they see it coming and know how to achieve realistic goals. Ebberwein, Krieshok, Prosser and Ulven (2004) postulate that career adaptability consists of both an attitude that helps in coping with adjusting to the changes in ones’ work life and the actions necessary to plan for and choose work that will meet one’s individual needs. Zunker (2002) states that workers in the information age must become lifelong learners who embrace flexibility rather than stability. According to Hirschi (2009), a number of prospective longitudinal studies have suggested that youth who are more adaptable in terms of decision making, planning and exploration are more successful in mastering vocational transitions.


Bornman., Ilgen, D. R., & Klimoski, R. J. (Eds.). Handbook of psychology volume twelve: Industrial and organisational psychology, (pp. 401-422). Hoboken (NJ): John Wiley & Sons.


Cascio, W. F. (2003). Changes in workers, work and organisations. In: W. C.


Ebberwein, C. A., Krieshok, T. S., Ulven, J. C., & Prosser, E. C. (2004). Voices in transition: Lessons on career adaptability. The Career Development Quarterly, 52, 292-312.


Fugate, M. (2006). Employability in the new millennium. In Greenhaus, J. H., & Callanan, G. A. (Eds.), Encyclopaedia of Career Development. SAGE. Retrieved on 13 March 2009 from:

http://mfugate.cox.smu.edu/Employability%20in%20the%20New%20Millennium--EncyclopediaCareerDevelopment--PostedWeb.pdf


Fugate, M., Kinicki, A. J., & Ashforth, B. E. (2004). Employability: A psycho-social construct, its dimensions, and applications. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 65, 14-38.


Hirschi, A. (2009). Career adaptability development in adolescence: Multiple predictors and effect on sense of power and life satisfaction. Journal of Vocational Behaviour,74, 145-155. 


Savickas, M. L. (1997). Career adaptability: An integrative construct for life-span, life-space theory. Career Development Quarterly, 45, 247-261.


Zunker, V. G. (2002). Career counselling: Applied concepts of life planning. USA: Thomson training.