June 10, 2019

New Report Examines Influences on Occupational Identity in Adolescence

Categories: Equity, Research
Influences on Occupational Identity Report Cover Graphic

I am excited to announce the publication of “Influences on Occupational Identity in Adolescence,” a review of research and programs that help youth develop a vision of their future workforce selves. This report, published by the Connected Learning Lab of University of California, Irvine, was a collaborative effort involving my co-authors Mizuko Ito, Stephen Campbell Rea, and Amanda Wortman. The report was made possible through the generous funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and through an ongoing dialogue with the Gates Foundation network of scholars and practitioners.

In “Influences on Occupational Identity in Adolescence,” we build from foundational research on career pathways, the future of work, and connected learning to better understand what barriers and influences are tied to occupational identity outcomes. Equity was a guiding theme as we looked for examples of scholarship that addressed the challenges and opportunities facing diverse groups of students. We began our research with several questions: (1) What influences students’ decisions about what careers they want to pursue in the future? (2) How do educational identities develop into occupational identities? (3) How do schools and programs prepare students for their future careers? (4) How can educators support equity and inclusion for marginalized youth through occupational identity development?

Occupational identity development is an underexplored piece of the puzzle in improving and expanding pathways to occupations for youth, and is particularly important in understanding the needs of youth from underrepresented groups. We focus specifically on adolescence as a key period when identity is still in development, but youth are honing in on specific career pathways. While a robust body of research has investigated identity development and varied forms of discrimination, research on the impact of specific interventions on occupational identity is still relatively sparse. Even with programs that do have impacts on occupational identity, most research focuses on traditional academic outcomes. In our report, we offer a three-part framework for understanding how self-concept, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging affect occupational identity outcomes for youth.

In the beginning stages of this research, we convened an advisory board of researchers from social and behavioral sciences to guide our research into the existing literature that addresses how youth come to develop occupational identities. Next, we reached out to practitioners who helped us identify programs and approaches helping youth think about and prepare for their career pathways. Identifying and understanding aspects of these programs enabled us to fine tune our model of the influences and barriers to youth occupational identity outcomes.

This report is designed for researchers and practitioners interested in addressing issues of identity in building more equitable pathways to meaningful careers and occupations. We hope this report will offer suggestions for ways that practitioners can identify and support positive youth occupational identity outcomes in their programs.