The authors examined the relationship between self-concept, attitudes toward career counseling, and work readiness among 574 Malaysian vocational students. Attitudes toward career counseling have been studied in Western cultures; however, litde is known about how career counseling is perceived in Eastern cultures. Attitudes toward career counseling were examined as a potential mediator of the relationship between self-concept and work readiness. The authors applied structural equation modeling to explain these relationships. Value of career counseling was found to significantly mediate the link between self-concept and work readiness. Results supported a direct relationship between positive self-concept and work readiness skills. This may be due, in part, to a heightened value of career counseling among vocational students that increases career awareness and thus enhances work readiness. Future research could include samples with more female participants and additional constructs, such as self-efficacy and career adaptability.
Keywords: work readiness, self-concept, value, stigma, career counseling
Work and the workplace are rapidly changing because of a number of factors, including increased competition from globalization and associated politics, rapid technological changes, and the impact of these changes on family and society. Within this changing context, Malaysia reports one of the best economic records, ranking sixth in Asia in 2014-2015 and 25th in the world in 2016-2017 (Schwab, 2016). Yet, Verma et al. (2018) identified work readiness as a top challenge of employers in the Asia-Pacific region (i.e., Malaysia, Indonesia, and Australia). As a developing country, Malaysia requires a large percentage of skilled workers to maintain economic stability (Government of Malaysia, 2015). The Malaysian government has attempted to increase the number of skilled workers through the establishment of industrial training institutes and community colleges (Omar, Bakar, & Rashid, 2012). As youth complete their training and education, it is critical to identify factors that can support the development of a steady skilled workforce for Malaysia and other industrialized nations (Makki, Salleh, Memon, & Haryanni, 2015).
Notably, youth who possess high work readiness are described as having transferable work skills, a clear employment goal, a feeling of optimism about their future, and the ability to be resilient when they encounter obstacles (Phillips, Blustein, Jobin-Davis, & White, 2002). In this study, we investigated potential factors that contribute to work readiness in Malaysia. Specifically, we examined the relationship between self-concept, attitudes toward career counseling, and work readiness among Malaysian vocational students enrolled in industrial training institutes. Little is known about the effects of self-concept and attitudes toward career counseling on work readiness. A negative self-concept may be a powerful factor that impedes work readiness, and obtaining career counseling could be an intervention that positively influences work readiness. Therefore, we also examined how Malaysian youth perceive career counseling because it is an unexplored factor that may significantly affect work readiness.
Work readiness has emerged as a way to define the skills needed for employment success in the developed world (O'Neil, 1997; Phillips & Bluestein, 1994; Taylor, 2005). Such readiness has been defined as workers' ability to possess the attributes that prepare them for success in the workplace (Caballero & Walker, 2010). According to Brady (2010), work readiness skills include being able to adjust to a new work culture, being willing and having the capacity to learn new things, being flexible in adapting to change, having a good work ethic, having interpersonal skills, and keeping physically fit and mentally alert. There is a prevalent assumption that work readiness relates to one's ability to know oneself, to know one's skills, and to obtain the appropriate corresponding job match (e.g., Taylor, 2005).
An important aim of work readiness research is to identify and then assist individuals to develop the specific job-search and job-attainment skills needed prior to graduation. In South Africa, Raftopoulos, Coetzee, and Visser (2009) found that oral and written communication skills, self-discipline, time management, interpersonal skills, teamwork, problem-solving skills, and a positive work ethic were important skills for securing employment. In Australia, higher order thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and collaborative teamwork were the most problematic domains of skills development and competence in undergraduates' perceptions of their employability (Cavanagh, Burston, Southcombe, & Bartram, 2015). Furthermore, studies of health care professionals reinforce the concept that work readiness comprises multiple nondisciplinary dimensions, such as organizational acumen, clinical competence, and social intelligence, that can predict job satisfaction and work engagement (Walker & Campbell, 2013; Walker et al., 2013). In a study of Serbian medical students that focused on their perception of specific skills, Gazibara et al. (2015) found that a lack of confidence was associated with a self-perceived deficit in work readiness. Finally, in the United States, work readiness research is preparing underrepresented youth for future careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields (Erdogan & Stuessy, 2015; Gushue & Whitson, 2006).
Growing evidence suggests that work readiness is an important global construct with implications for secondary and higher education in industrialized countries (Cavanagh et al., 2015; Gazibara et al., 2015; Raftopoulos et al., 2009). Creating opportunities for students to learn about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and their skill sets may increase work readiness. Furthermore, it is important to create opportunities for students to identify careers that are a good match with their skill sets. Despite growing evidence for the importance of work readiness, many questions remain about what psychological factors, including self-concept, could influence its development in youth.
Self-Concept as a Predictor of Work Readiness
Self-concept is defined as "the individual's belief about himself or herself, including the person's attributes and who and what the self is" (Baumeister, 1999, p. 5). Super (1963) posited that self-concept is foundational to career choice and development processes that involve developing and implementing occupational self-concepts through the integration of one's abilities, personality, needs, values, interests, and traits (Brown, 2012; Osipow, 1983). Self-concept was identified as important to the retention of Australian nursing students (Cowin & Hengstberger-Sims, 2006) and served as a mediator of career aspirations in science students in 54 cultures (Nagengast & Marsh, 2012). A qualitative study of first-generation college students in the United States found that a negative self-concept was a significant factor in delaying college and thus career choices (Byrd & Macdonald, 2005).
Self-concept is well established as a powerful cross-cultural motivational construct that affects one's thoughts and behaviors across multiple domains (Gaertner et al., 2012). Zheng, Xiao, Wei, and Chen (2018) concluded that "the primacy of the individual-self is a universal phenomenon in various cultural groups including China" (p. 1). With respect to career development, self-concept has been shown to be generally beneficial; however, some research indicates that there may be cultural differences in its effects on aspects of career development and working. For example, Hughes (2011) examined self-concept among high school students in Thailand and Australia using an individualism-collectivism paradigm and discovered significant differences pertaining to attitudes toward career planning. Although Australian students with positive academic self-concepts were likely to have positive attitudes toward career planning, this was not true of the Thai students. These findings highlight the need for more research to investigate how self-concept might interact with self-perceptions of work readiness, especially...