Developmental Trajectories and Reciprocal Associations between Career Adaptability and Vocational Identity: A Three-Wave Longitudinal Study with Adolescents

Oana Negru-Subtirica

The vocational domain represents a key component of adolescent development, with career adaptability and vocational identity standing as pillars in the facilitation of vocational decision-making (Savickas, 2005; Skorikov & Vondracek, 2011). More longitudinal research is needed for an in-depth understanding of how these dimensions evolve in adolescence and how they are related to each other across time. Existing literature brought forward the need to analyze career adaptability and vocational identity in more detail, as both are multi-dimensional constructs (Hartung, Porfeli, & Vondracek, 2005; Savickas, 1997, 2005). Therefore, we conducted a three-wave longitudinal study that investigated intra- and inter- individual changes in and reciprocal associations between adolescent career adaptability and vocational identity, during the course of one academic year.

Our study used data from the ongoing longitudinal study Transylvania Adolescent Identity Development Study (TRAIDES). A total of 1,151 adolescents (58.7% females) participated in the study, of which 40.1% were early-to-middle adolescents (age range 13-15 years) and 59.9% were middle-to-late adolescents (age range 16-19 years). Mean age was 16.45 years (SDage = 1.40; range = 13-19 years). We tapped into career adaptability through the four career adapt-abilities (Savickas & Porfeli, 2012a). Vocational identity was unpacked into six dimensions referring to specific commitment, exploration, and reconsideration of commitment facets (Porfeli et al., 2011). Hence, for this construct we analyzed for the first time from a longitudinal standpoint the dynamics of reconsideration of vocational commitments.

Findings showed significant longitudinal changes in career adaptability dimensions and identity processes, partly moderated by adolescents’ gender, the type of school they attended, and their age. We depicted multiple longitudinal associations between career adaptability dimensions and vocational identity processes, which were independent of adolescents’ gender, type of school, and age-group. Our study brought numerous additions to a growing literature on adolescent vocational development. In line with existing evidence (Hartung, at al., 2005), we pointed out that the vocational domain is an important life domain for adolescents, as in one academic year students were involved in significant adaptability and identity work. Hence, from a theoretical perspective, we brought additional information on how these two core vocational development dimensions fluctuate in a time-frame that is quite normative for adolescents: a school year. It seems that the “high hopes” (high levels in career adapt-abilities, high levels in the vocational commitment evaluation cycle) that students had at the beginning of the school year became more moderate as time passed. Also, they pondered more on their current vocational commitments (i.e., increases in reconsideration of vocational commitments). From an applied perspective, our findings can aid educational interventions aimed at fostering vocational and academic achievement. Namely, we highlighted the dimensions that were more “vulnerable” to slight decreases or increases across the school year. These dimensions can be included in classroom-based interventions aimed at strengthening career adaptability and/or vocational identity.


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