Career construction counseling with a mid-career black man.

Author:Maree, J.G. (Kobus)

Career construction counseling for a mid-career Black man is examined. The author implemented a case study design and purposively selected the participant. The intervention and follow-up occurred over a period of 21 months, and the Career Construction Interview (CCI; Savickas, 2011a) was used to gather data. Savickas's 8-step strategy was followed to complete the participant's life portrait. After the intervention, the participant demonstrated an improved sense of self and willingness to deal more adaptively with career-life-related challenges. More research is needed to determine the long-term effects of this kind of intervention and to show its applicability in group contexts.

Keywords: career construction counseling, Career Construction Interview, midcareer development, life themes, career adaptability


Traditional career theories may not provide a satisfactory basis for interventions aimed at dealing with constantly changing 21st-century career environments, nor adequately address the needs of marginal workers (Savickas, 2013). Life design (Savickas et ah, 2009) offers a viable conceptual framework for the development of new constructs for investigating working lives and understanding 21st-century change and its effect on people. This paradigm emphasizes identity rather than personality, career adaptability rather than maturity, stories in addition to scores, and action to help people navigate transitions during their lifetimes.

The fifth economic wave (Gurri, 2013) calls for an approach to career counseling that takes into account changes in the postmodern world of work--an up-to-date approach to help career counselors assist clients in navigating repeated career transitions. Such an approach would involve obtaining "subjective" data about clients in addition to "objective" test results, and interpreting and integrating the data to promote effective career counseling. Counselors would then be in a position to elicit clients' career-life stories, get clients to authorize these stories, and, eventually, help them move forward productively. In the present study, career construction was used as a theoretical and intervention framework for analyzing and interpreting a client's stories and own reality (Savickas, 2005, 2014).

Career Construction Principles and Practices

Underlying career construction theory (Hartung, 2013; Savickas, 2011a) is the notion of career as story (career-life story) and counselor characteristics, such as honesty, congruence, compassion, truthfulness, and mutual respect (Maree, 2013; Savickas, 2011a). Career construction theory (Savickas, 2005,2011a) and self-construction theory (Guichard, 2009) are integral to the life-design paradigm (Savickas et al., 2009). Many career counselors today set out to help clients "hold" themselves in the face of growing discontinuity in the postmodern workplace. Clients have to be helped to express and listen to their career and life stories and draw on these stories when life imposes change upon them and when they have to make changes themselves. Career counselors strive to help clients identify their major life themes so they can use work to "heal" others and, in doing so, heal themselves. (Auto)biographicity thus relates to clients' ability to use their stories to hold themselves in times of change (Savickas, 2011a). The Career Construction Interview (CCI; Savickas, 2011a) is used to elicit client stories that help reveal their central life themes more accurately. The promotion of career adaptability is a key goal of career construction counseling.

Career Adaptability

The adaptability segment of career construction theory deals with career development tasks, role transitions, work traumas, and strategies for working through traumas and transitions (Savickas, 2012). Career adaptability is a psychosocial process that refers to people's readiness to manage transitions and changes and to construct themselves. Career construction counseling helps people make choices by enhancing their career adaptability in terms of concern for their work role, career, and future lives; control of their chosen career lives; curiosity regarding career-related opportunities and options; and confidence in making appropriate career-related choices (Savickas, 2012). Career construction counseling facilitates reflection (looking back on clients' thoughts and actions) to facilitate reflexivity (planning for the future) as an integral aspect of postmodern career counseling (M. L. Savickas, personal communication, July 12, 2014).

Rationale and Purpose of the Study

Fouad and Byars-Winston (2005) have called on career counseling practitioners and theorists to consider the idiosyncratic cultural contexts of racially diverse clients and their views on factors that promote and inhibit success. According to Pope (2011), the career counseling needs of culturally diverse clients are indeed receiving increased attention, but their position in the workplace is still substantially less favorable than that of their counterparts from dominant cultures (Ali, Fall, & Hoffman, 2014). Despite some improvements in career counseling in recent years, members of minority groups (including people at a major socioeconomic disadvantage) are still receiving unequal career counseling (Maree, 2014).

Twenty years after the demise of apartheid in South Africa, the future of basic and higher education and the situation of workers, particularly Blacks in South Africa, looked bleak. The lack of career counseling, and the negative impact of that lack on tertiary training, reinforced the low social and economic position of poor and marginalized people in the country (of whom the vast majority are Black). Few students challenged by disadvantage receive career counseling in any form, and they often arrive at institutions of higher learning without a clear idea of what their prospective fields of study or careers actually entail (Maree, 2009; Maree & Molepo, 2007). Subsequently, they often migrate from one field of study to another or end up in a job that adds little meaning to their lives and is not conducive to the design of a successful life.

Wijnberg (2013) explained that the career challenges faced by Black professionals have been well documented. Additionally, the growing shortage of skilled graduates (especially Blacks) against the background of high emigration figures is deeply worrying. Jobs for skilled professionals and unemployment rates are increasing steadily. Inequality, unemployment, and poverty seem even more widespread in South Africa today than before 1994, and the number of discouraged work seekers (Black workers in particular) is also steadily rising. The following linear progression among people challenged by major socioeconomic disadvantage is sustained: poor academic achievement [right arrow] inability to enroll in sought-after fields of study that will help them find employment [right arrow] inability to find employment [right arrow] increase in rates of unemployment [right arrow] lower economic growth [right arrow] increase in likelihood of sociopolitical instability. Consequendy, South Africa's future is under increasing threat. Ndebele (2013) also highlighted the fact that the situation in South Africa is clearly distinguishable along race-based fault lines: Roughly 50% more White than Black students graduate every year. In addition, less than 5% of Black and mixed-race students succeed in any form of tertiary training and education.

Watson (2013) contended that the traditional approach to career counseling has had a harmful effect, particularly on disadvantaged populations. Moreover, career theories (and their applications) have tended to be relevant only for "limited cultural, gender, and socioeconomic populations" (p. 4) and cannot be generalized to the majority of other groups. Against this background, it seems necessary to examine ways to address the career-choice-related concerns of Black people in South Africa at various levels.

Because this study sought to explore and understand the career adaptability of a participant and his experiences, it was situated within a qualitative, interpretive paradigm, which holds that knowledge is constructed and acquired through people's experiences and its view that knowledge and meaning are socially constructed. Furthermore, the premise of the study was the belief that a case-study approach based on an interpretive paradigm could best shed light on the unique stories of Black professionals challenged by disadvantage and, more particularly, on the belief that the CCI could be used successfully with such individuals and members of other minority groups. The main study aim was to answer the following questions:

  1. How can the CCI contribute to changes in the sense of self of a mid-career Black person?

  2. How can career counselors use the CCI to complete clients' life portraits and thereby help them assume personal authorship of their career and life stories?

  3. Which change-related themes emerged by means of thematic analysis of the conversations with the participant?

  4. What is the impact of the specific career counseling intervention over time?


    Mode of Inquiry

    The study was based on an interpretivist paradigm involving understanding and interpreting meanings as revealed during interactions with the participant. I used a longitudinal, interpretive, explorative, descriptive case study design (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000; Yin, 1984). I traced the participant's progress over a period of 21 months to gain insight and facilitate interpretation rather than merely test a hypothesis.

    Participant and Context

    The participant was a conveniently...

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