Career Adaptability, Self-Esteem, and Social Support Among Hong Kong University Students.

Author:Hui, Tracy

Career adaptability manifests itself through 4 self-regulated internal resources for coping with occupational challenges and transitions: concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. Few studies have examined career adaptability specifically in the Hong Kong context. The Career Adapt-Abilities Scale-China Form (CAAS-China; Hou, Leung, Li, Li, & Xu, 2012) was administered, along with measures of self-esteem and social support, to 522 Hong Kong Chinese undergraduate students. Results indicated that the CAAS-China is a reliable and valid instrument for use with these students. Data also showed that self-esteem was strongly associated with career adaptability, and this relationship was partially mediated by perceived social support. Implications for careers counseling in universities and colleges are discussed.

Keywords. career adaptability, self-esteem, social support, Career Adapt-Abilities Scale


In recent years, there has been increased interest in studying career adaptability as a psychosocial construct. Rooted in career construction theory, career adaptability denotes readiness to cope with expected and unexpected career-related tasks, transitions, and traumas (Savickas, 2011; Savickas et al., 2009). In today's ever-changing and fluid employment conditions, adaptability is an important attribute for workers to possess. It enables individuals to maintain employability and to master transitions in their work life (Hirschi, Herrmann, & Keller, 2015; Savickas, 1997, 2011; Savickas et al., 2009).

Career adaptability has been delineated into four self-regulatory strengths covering concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. Concern refers to envisioning career plans and a career future. Control reflects the sense of ownership and accountability in making decisions and constructing one's vocational future. Curiosity describes the process of exploration to obtain information on work opportunities, relative to one's strengths and interests. Confidence is the self-efficacy involved in coping with career-related decisions, tasks, and transitions (Porfeli & Savickas, 2012; Savickas, 1997, 2005, 2013).

The school-to-work transition is a major challenge that all university students must lace as they begin to contribute to society and adjust to suitable work roles (Savickas, 1999). Individuals may find that the skills and strategies they developed in the past are not sufficient to support transitions that they are now experiencing. In this sense, their career path becomes unpredictable (Gelatt, 1989). Even those with well-planned career paths may meet immediate obstacles and will need to adapt in order to cope. To succeed in this school-to-work transition, university students must generate a career direction (career concern), be accountable for their career choices (career control), be open to explore career opportunities (career curiosity), and remain motivated in the process of pursuing their career even in the face of difficulties (career confidence).

In Hong Kong, over 80% of undergraduate students choose to work upon graduation rather than pursue higher studies or transfer overseas (University Grants Committee, 2015a, 2015b). It is likely that these graduates entering the world of work will face many challenges and need to be adaptable. For this reason, it is relevant to examine the readiness of Hong Kong undergraduates to cope with occupational challenges and potential changes at work. It is also pertinent to consider the factors contributing to their development of career adaptability.

Career construction theory conceptualizes that normal processes of adaptation to an environment, in addition to personal factors and attributes, underpin one's career development path (Savickas, 2005, 2013). Career construction theory postulates that career choices and planning tend to involve an interaction between self and society (Savickas, 2002). For example, research has confirmed that, among other things, an individual's self-esteem and social support affect psychosocial adjustment and development of a diverse group of individuals, including children, early adolescents, and prenatal mothers (Hall & Nelson, 1996; Hui Choi et al., 2012; A. Leung, Wong, Wong, & McBride-Chang, 2010; Pingault et al., 2015; van Vianen, Klehe, Koen, & Dries, 2012). For this reason, we focused on self-esteem and perceived social support to determine if" and how they may be associated with career adaptability. In particular, we investigated any indirect relationship between self-esteem and career adaptability as mediated by perceived social support, which has not been a focus in previous studies reported in the literature. For the presence of a mediating effect, there should be significant relationships among the predictor, mediator, and outcome variables (Baron & Kenny, 1986; MacKinnon, Fairchild, & Fritz, 2007; Preacher, 2015).

Self-Esteem and Career Adaptability

Self-esteem plays an important role in career decision making (Arce, 1996; Creed, Patton, & Bartrum, 2004) and is found to be positively associated with career planning, career exploration, and career decision self-efficacy (Creed et al., 2004; Creed, Patton, & Prideaux, 2007). A meta-analysis of 34 career-related studies confirmed that self-esteem is one of the strong predictors of self-efficacy in understanding occupations, goal setting, and career planning (Choi, Lee, Lee, Park, & Yang, 2012).

Self-esteem can be conceptualized as a positive or negative attitude toward self and can be thought of as a set of personal beliefs about one's own worthiness and value (Coopersmith, 1967; Rosenberg, 1965). Individuals characterized as having high self-esteem feel accepted, respected, and worthwhile, whereas individuals with low self-esteem feel inadequate in many important aspects, which in turn impairs their feelings of confidence when faced with challenges (Arce, 1996; Coopersmith, 1967; Harter, 1999; Rosenberg, 1986).

In the context of career adaptability, low self-esteem can be an obstacle to developing the necessary attitudes and strategies for coping with career path challenges and transitions. Generally, people who have high self-esteem are able to handle challenges effectively. They devise appropriate strategies for coping under stress, and they live more productively (Ganster & Schaubroeck, 1991; Heatherton & Wyland, 2003). Therefore, individuals with high self-esteem may be more capable of self-regulation when faced with challenges during their working life. In other words, individuals with high self-esteem may well be those who develop career adaptability most easily.

So far, there has been limited research on the role of self-esteem in shaping career adaptability. A literature search yielded one cross-sectional study involving 465 university students in the Netherlands (van Vianen et al., 2012) and one meta-analytic study drawing on results from 90 studies (Rudolph, Lavigne, & Zacher, 2017). These studies indicated that self-esteem significantly and positively correlated with career adaptability. Therefore, a need remains to further explore this issue in other populations and cultures.

Perceived Social Support and Career Adaptability

Perceived social support can be thought of as the sum total of factors a person is aware of that represent his or her social network and personal support (Canty-Mitchell & Zimet, 2000). Parents, friends, teachers, and other individuals affect a person's development of vocational interests, work values, and careers (Josselson, 1994). These individuals often offer support and encouragement to a person entering adulthood and are influential in helping the person make decisions at crucial times.

Studies in the United States (Kenny & Bledsoe, 2005) and South Korea (Han & Rojewski, 2015) have found that social support obtained from teachers, close friends, and family predicts career readiness, career planning, career exploration, and career competency beliefs among high school students. Similarly, a longitudinal study of Swiss eighth graders by Hirschi (2009) found that the more frequently the students received emotional, informational, and tangible support from parents, friends, relatives, and teachers, the more career adaptability they reported. A study by Wang and Fu (2015) confirmed that social support from schoolmates was strongly and positively related to career adaptability among a group of senior-year college students in China. A search of empirical research literature...

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