Valuing complex and diverse career pathways: the career trajectories and career-related choices of early career practitioners [thesis]

Rachel Turner
Historically, career was understood to be a static, linear concept concerned primarily with paid employment. More recently, broader conceptualisations of career have extended its meaning to incorporate all aspects and roles of an individual's life and to acknowledge its inherently complex, individual, dynamic and contextual nature. Change, now recognised as a key characteristic of career, underpins choice-making processes, which are influenced by a range of factors, including broad contextual
more » ... broad contextual issues like labour market trends, in addition to more personal concerns such as family circumstances. This thesis explored the career trajectories of early career professionals (ECPs) employed in the Health Care and Social Assistance (HCSA) industry. Specifically, the aims of the study were to investigate how ECPs describe their career trajectories and account for their careerrelated choices, to identify important attractors and deterrents in relation to career-related choices, and to explore the relevance and usefulness of chaos theory to this topic. In particular, the author sought to understand how the career trajectories of ECPs develop in the context of complex systems including the family, organisations and the broader society. The conceptual approach chosen for its potential to capture this complexity was chaos theory. Three principles of chaos theory were explored. First, chaotic systems change with time and are characterised by randomness and variation. Second, they are sensitive to initial conditions. Finally, their functioning and level of change is affected by several types of attractors. The context of this study was Queensland's non-government mental health sector (NGMHS). Challenges currently facing the broader mental health sector include inadequate responses to consumer needs, difficulties in recruiting and retaining skilled mental health professionals, an ageing workforce, and increasing reliance on non-government organisations (NGOs). Early career professionals employed within Queensland's NGMHS were chosen as the subjects of this study for their documented characteristics, which include high career mobility, variable work readiness, overand under-qualifications, and disparities between their expectations and the realities of employment. Their potential to both exacerbate and to counter challenges faced by Queensland's NGMHS made focusing on these ECPs compelling. Recent calls for Australia to enhance its long-term economic sustainability in the global context by concentrating more on developing the service economy, rather than the commodities sector, provided added impetus for this study. A qualitative, exploratory methodology was adopted. The research design involved a two-phase study consisting of concept maps and individual autobiographical interviews. Participants comprised 25 Page 2 of 309 ECPs who had completed university studies in the five years prior to 2012 and who were employed in Queensland's NGMHS. Data were analysed thematically, using both inductive and deductive approaches. Early career practitioners' career choices were influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic influences related primarily to personal, social and financial issues, while extrinsic factors were associated with education, organisational, political and economic concerns. Intrinsic factors, mentioned more frequently by participants, were particularly influential regarding career choices relating to attraction. Conversely, extrinsic considerations were more influential when ECPs were contemplating whether to continue their employment or resign. Examination of participants' definitions of career revealed three broad themes: the linear job-career continuum, career as a functional necessity, and career as an indistinguishable part of whole of life experiences. The latter, all-inclusive, conceptualisation is closest to the most recent definitions of career, yet was referred to the least by participants in this study. Three career trajectory types, labelled for comparative purposes, were also identified through data analysis. Retention was the key theme for the Stayers, who had been employed in the broader HCSA industry for most of their careers and had demonstrated an interest in working in the sector early in their lives. In comparison with the Stayers, the Late Starters' career trajectories were characterised by multiple attraction experiences, with large portions of their careers being devoted to industries entirely unrelated to the HCSA industry. The third trajectory type, the False Starters, was characterised by early career indecisiveness, prior to development of a clear focus on mental health. This thesis, part of an Australian Research Council (ARC) project regarding newly qualified community service workers, contributes to knowledge of ECPs' career trajectories and choices through its retrospective, in-depth examination. The use of concept mapping proved a productive methodological approach that enabled the researcher to develop individualized interview plans and positively affected the power differentials between participant and interviewer/researcher. The application of chaos theory revealed the complex and distinctly individual nature of careers, and the extent to which intrinsic and extrinsic factors influence career choices. A number of policy and practice recommendations arise from this study. For both individuals and employers, awareness and understanding of the complex nature of career is vital. For employers,
doi:10.14264/uql.2017.869 fatcat:danv7ywwgzcpll5ke74h2635wm