Psychology Theories for Work in the 4th Industrial Revolution

Career is word that sums up a person’s whole life with regard to work and learning.  The word “career” does not have to mean “profession”. No matter how young or old, inexperienced or advanced, every person has a career that involves work of some kind–paid, unpaid, voluntary, full-time, part-time, casual, contract, self-employed, etc.  Work, in all its forms, is inherent in humanity.

The New Paradigm: Psychology of Working

Theories are one thing but paradigms are another. Paradigms are grander, as an all encompassing perspective that may subsume theories. The Psychology of Working (Blustein, 2006; 2013) is the paradigm for this era of the 4th Industrial Revolution.  In the Psychology of Working, Boston College Professor David Blustein articulates a psychological vision of work that retains its humanity.  Blustein directs psychology to use its theories of work for those who need it the most.

Holland and the RIASEC Theory of Interests and Work Environments

The Holland RIASEC theory (Armstrong, Day, McVay, & Rounds, 2008; Holland, 1959, 1997; Nauta, 2013; Spokane & Cruza-Guet, 2005) of individual differences (i.e., career interests as traits) in career interests is one of the older and empirically tested theories.  The extraordinary volume of knowledge generated through the theory is just about saturated. It is very popular with career development practitioners because of an array of practical applications.   You should know about the RIASEC interest typology: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional.  These interest types (and environment types) can quite accurately describe a person’s occupational preferences.  Notwithstanding the flux of the contemporary world of work, Holland’s RIASEC retains in value as framework to guide learning about those enduring features of interests and work environments.

Super and the Lifespan/Lifespace Theory

Lifespan/Lifespace theory (Super, 1957, 1990, 1992), like Holland’s RIASEC, is one of the grand old theories that has stood the test of time, empirical scrutiny, and practical applications. It is a developmental theory that complements broader theories of human development as stages (e.g., Erikson).  You should know about this theory because it pertains to transitions between developmental stages throughout life, and transitions between educational and work contexts. Developmental perspectives are increasingly relevant in context of an ageing population and workforce.

Social Cognitive Career Theory

Social Cognitive Career Theory (Lent, 2004, 2005, 2013; Lent & Brown, 2013; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994) is the most popular theory on the market with respect to how people enact career decisions. It has been around for decades as has stood up to empirical scrutiny.  It addresses not only the constructs of career development (e.g., self-efficacy, goals, interests, personality) but also links the constructs together in processes. Learning is a core process of SCCT; therefore, its tenets guide how to use learning activities and contexts to motivate career behaviour.  SCCT generates hypotheses for research and usefully guides practices. Get to know this theory because it is comprehensive and applicable in multiple contexts.

The Emerging Narrative about work

Narrative approaches to work (McIlveen & Patton, 2007b) use theories and constructs such as life themes (Savickas, 2005, 2013) and dialogical self (McIlveen, 2012, 2017; McIlveen & Patton, 2007a). Narrative is about meaningfulness and making meaning about work with other people. Most of the literature about narrative approaches pertains to career counselling practice and there is some interesting work about essay and self-reflection in learning contexts such higher education (Healy, McIlveen, & Hammer, 2018; Lengelle & Meijers, 2014; McIlveen, 2015; Meijers, 1998, 2002; Meijers & Lengelle, 2012, 2015; Winters, Meijers, Reinekke, & Baert, 2011).  These narrative approaches will become increasinly useful as the meaning and purpose of work becomes more important to people.

There are some wonderful textbooks that address the main theories, including Career Development and Counseling: Putting Theory and Practice to Work (Brown & Lent, 2005, 2013) and the APA Handbook of Career Interventions (Hartung, Savickas, & Walsh, 2015). These books are useful for learning about the main theories and include special topics. For a summary of the theoretical constructs that explain career-related behaviour, see my paper Career Development, Management, and Planning from the Vocational Psychological Perspective (McIlveen, 2009). This paper provides a limited description of each of the main phenomena in the field (e.g., career interests, decision-making) and theories.


Armstrong, P. I., Day, S. X., McVay, J. P., & Rounds, J. (2008). Holland’s RIASEC model as an integrative framework for individual differences. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 55(1), 1-18.

Blustein, D. L. (2006). The psychology of working: A new perspective for career development, counseling, and public policy. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Blustein, D. L. (2013). The psychology of working: A new perspective for a new era. In D. L. Blustein (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of the psychology of working (pp. 3-18). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (Eds.). (2005). Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Brown, S. D., & Lent, R. W. (Eds.). (2013). Career development and counseling putting theory and research to work (2nd ed. ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Hartung, P. J., Savickas, M. L., & Walsh, W. B. (Eds.). (2015). APA handbook of career intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Healy, M., McIlveen, P., & Hammer, S. (2018). Use of my career chapter to engage students in reflexive dialogue. In F. Meijers & H. Hermans (Eds.), The dialogical self theory in education: A multicultural perspective (pp. 173-187). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Holland, J. L. (1959). A theory of vocational choice. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 6, 35–45.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Lengelle, R., & Meijers, F. (2014). Narrative identity: Writing the self in career learning. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 42(1), 52–72. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2013.816837

Lent, R. W. (2004). Toward a unifying theoretical and practical perspective on well-being and psychosocial adjustment. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 51(4), 482. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.51.4.482

Lent, R. W. (2005). A social cognitive view of career development and counseling. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 101-127). Hokoben, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Lent, R. W. (2013). Social cognitive career theory. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling putting theory and research to work (2nd ed. ed., pp. 115-146). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Lent, R. W., & Brown, S. D. (2013). Social cognitive model of career self-management: Toward a unifying view of adaptive career behavior across the life span. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 60(4), 557-568. doi: 10.1037/a0033446

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45(1), 79-122. doi: 10.1006/jvbe.1994.1027

McIlveen, P. (2009). Career development, management, and planning from the vocational psychology perspective. In A. Collin & W. Patton (Eds.), Vocational psychological and organisational perspectives on career: Towards a multidisciplinary dialogue (pp. 63-89). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

McIlveen, P. (2012). Extending the metaphor of narrative to dialogical narrator. In P. McIlveen & D. E. Schultheiss (Eds.), Social constructionism in vocational psychology and career development (pp. 59-75). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

McIlveen, P. (2015). My Career Chapter and the Career Systems Interview. In M. McMahon & M. Watson (Eds.), Career assessment: Qualitative approaches (pp. 123-128). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

McIlveen, P. (2017). Dialogical self: Co-investigator in career self-research. In M. McMahon (Ed.), Career counselling: Constructivist approaches (pp. 153-163). London, UK: Routledge.

McIlveen, P., & Patton, W. (2007a). Dialogical self: Author and narrator of career life themes. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 7(2), 67-80. doi: 10.1007/s10775-007-9116-6

McIlveen, P., & Patton, W. (2007b). Narrative career counselling: Theory and exemplars of practice. Australian Psychologist, 42(3), 226-235. doi: 10.1080/00050060701405592

Meijers, F. (1998). The development of career identity. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 20, 191-207.

Meijers, F. (2002). Career learning in a changing world: The role of emotions. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 24, 149-167.

Meijers, F., & Lengelle, R. (2012). Narratives at work: The development of career identity. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 40(2), 157-176. doi: 10.1080/03069885.2012.665159

Meijers, F., & Lengelle, R. (2015). Career learning: Qualitative career assessment as a learning process in the construction of a narrative identity. In M. McMahon & M. Watson (Eds.), Career assessment: Qualitative approaches (pp. 41-48). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Nauta, M. M. (2013). Holland’s theory of vocational choice and adjustment. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career Development and Counseling. Putting theory and research to work. Second Edition. (2nd ed., pp. 55-82). Hoboken, NY: Wiley.

Savickas, M. L. (2005). The theory and practice of career construction. In A. Brown (Ed.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (Vol. 1, pp. 42-70).

Savickas, M. L. (2013). Career construction theory and practice. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (2nd ed., pp. 147-183). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Spokane, A. R., & Cruza-Guet, M. C. (2005). Holland’s theory of vocational personalities in work environments. In S. D. Brown & R. W. Lent (Eds.), Career development and counseling: Putting theory and research to work (pp. 24-41). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Super, D. E. (1957). The psychology of careers. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Super, D. E. (1990). A life-span, life-space approach to career development. In D. Brown & L. Brooks (Eds.), Career choice and development (pp. 167-261). San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

Super, D. E. (1992). Toward a comprehensive theory of career development. In D. H. Montross & C. J. Shinkman (Eds.), Career development: Theory and practice (pp. 35-64). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher.

Winters, A., Meijers, F., Reinekke, L., & Baert, B. (2011). The self in career learning: An evolving dialogue. In H. J. M. Hermans & T. Gieser (Eds.), Handbook of dialogical self theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

About the Author: Dr Peter McIlveen leads the Australian Collaboratory for Career, Employability, and Learning for Living (ACCELL). ACCELL is a multidisciplinary research team focused on adaptive capacity and career development learning, and the psychology of working. Twitter: @petermcilveen

Work Conversations and Identity

When I think about the role of work in people’s lives, it all comes down to two factors:  What gets you out of bed in the morning, and what keeps you awake at night?  Conversely, this might be put as: What stops you going to work in the morning, and what lets you sleep as sound as a baby, satisfied in your day’s work? Philosophical these questions may be, but they are the core questions considered by workers themselves, and those who are meant to motivate them, such as human resources professionals, career counsellors, and psychotherapists.  Indeed, the great psychotherapist, Sigmund Freud (1930/2010) was correct when he suggested that work and love are the two most important things in life. Common to work and love is the substrate of humanity: relationships.  And it is to relationships that I turn for answers to those questions that afflict and inspire so many whose work is a crucible of torment or transcendence.

Work and Relationships

It is difficult to imagine any type of work that does not involve a relationship between an individual and another person.  Even the most autonomous forms of work entail at some point a moment between the individual and the other—supervisor, co-worker, subordinate, customer, client, supplier.  These relational moments may be transactional in the giving and receiving of goods and services, directional in the giving and receiving of instructions and specifications for the activities of work.  They may be fleeting, as short as an order for a coffee ended with grateful words of thanks.  They may be a once-only meeting or an elongated conversation that transpires over months.  This amounts to a relational perspective on work (Blustein, 2011).

Intrinsic to the relational moments are conversations with others.  These conversations may centre on a shared work activity or they may be totally unrelated to the work activity and instead centre on topics of common interest, small talk, or office gossip about so-and-so or the boss.  These conversations may be internalised discourses agreed among a community of workers as accepted ways of being, knowing, and doing work.  In any case, what matters is that individuals are relating to one another through conversations, regardless of the depth and complexity of the conversation.

Dialogical Self in Relationships at Work

In my psychological world these conversations may be real or imagined.  I can converse just as well with my colleague sitting next to me or by phone with another miles away, as I can imagine a conversation between myself and another person, or imagine overhearing a conversation between two others, or the cacophony of a group.  In imagining these conversations, I endow the others with voices and dialogue among them. I can rehearse these dialogues over again until they come to an end.  In reality, I am the psychological author and narrator of their interchanges and interlocutions.  And, I feel the conversations; I feel my joy, my fear; I feel their joy and fear—all the while imagining yet experiencing as if it all were real.  As I imagine a conversation between myself and an other, or a conversation between two others that I overhear, the voices, words, and deeds that I speak and act for the other in the dialogue, truly says more about me than about him.  Onto my real and imaginary interlocutors, I project my own psyche. This conversational self is the notion of Dialogical Self (Hermans, Kempen, & van Loon, 1992) applied to work and career (McIlveen & Patton, 2007).

Conversation has no boundary between the spheres of the worksite and home.  The talk of work carries over into the talk at home, and vice versa.  From the simplest of enquiry about a loved one’s day through to sharing the highs and lows, the fun and the drudgery, work soon enough finds its way into the hearth of a home.  Even powering off electronic devices is an illusion, albeit an effective illusion, for the borderlessness of conversation is intrinsic to its being the grist of identity and being.  I cannot split and dissociate my conversations so easily; the real conversations will echo years after the words were spoken; the imagined conversations play over again as psychologically real as real can be.  Thus, I cannot imagine work without conversations, without relationships.


Blustein, D. L. (2011). A relational theory of working. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79(1), 1-17. doi:

Freud, S. (1930/2010). Civilization and its discontents. Camberwell, Australia: Penguin.

Hermans, H. J. M., Kempen, H. J. G., & van Loon, R. J. P. (1992). The dialogical self: Beyond individualism and rationalism. American Psychologist, 47(1), 23-33. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.47.1.23

McIlveen, P., & Patton, W. (2007). Dialogical self: Author and narrator of career life themes. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 7(2), 67-80. doi:10.1007/s10775-007-9116-6


Workers, Work, and Wellbeing: What About Flexibility?

What makes work empowering and meaningful? Work can be a great source of personal esteem and wellbeing. Unfortunately, at certain stages in careers, work can be disempowering and exhausting for some people. Why? What is it that tips the balance for work being positive or negative? ACCELL researchers are exploring how psychological flexibility influences a person’s career. We’re looking for evidence to answer some important questions:

  • What are those useful ingredients that make a person confident to do their job tasks?
  • What adds to a person’s satisfaction with their career choice and job?
  • Is meaningful work important?
  • What influences a person’s intention to stay in their job?
  • How do all of these factors affect a person’s wellbeing?

The findings of our research are being used to guide the development of new strategies that help people to manage their careers. These strategies are particularly important for people who are making career decisions or changes, or are faced with challenges in their careers.

This current project is part of a broader program of research investigating the psychological and social qualities of people in occupations that are vital to the economic and social health and wellbeing of communities. You can read more about ACCELL’s focus on vital infrastructure workers and employability in our regular blog posts on this site.

We appreciate your interest and hope that you will contribute to our work. If you are aged 18 years or older, an Australian citizen, and are working in paid employment, we would value your participation in our anonymous online survey, which will take about 10 minutes to complete:

About the lead researcher:

Dr Nancey Hoare is an ACCELL researcher who works with the School of Psychology and Counselling at the University of Southern Queensland. Contact:

ACCELL April Meet-up

Kristin pic

In April, Kristen Lovric presented a proposal of her MPhD research to the ACCELL research team. Kristen’s research is focused on understanding the factors that attract and retain agriculturalists to jobs in Australia’s agriculture industry.

Kristen argued that individuals trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) play an important role in innovating more efficient and sustainable technology for use in farming. Kristen is interested in understanding motivation and engagement of these trained professionals.

First, Kristen investigates what leads these professionals to apply their skills in the agriculture field: Are agriculturalists driven predominately by their career interests?
Then, she identifies and explores their key occupational beliefs, experiences, supports, or barriers that help or hinder their workforce engagement: What role does their confidence at work play?

ACCELL March Meet-up


In March, Jennifer Luke presented to the ACCELL research team highlights of both her previous MEd and current PhD research into the motivation, career adaptability and willingness of retirees successfully returning to the workforce in either paid or voluntary roles.

Jennifer argued that both within Australian and globally, there is an immediate need for an injection of skills from mature age workers and retirees to strengthen workforce productivity. But before looking at workforce capability solutions that will entice retirees back into employment… you need to firstly focus on retirees.

What are their needs? Do they wish to return or continue working? We look forward to Jennifer answering these questions as she completes her valuable research.

A Career Check Up for Mature Workers

Mature workers are remaining in the workforce or deciding to return to work after retirement. ACCELL’s doctoral researcher Jennifer Luke is investigating the post-retirement work of members of the community.  This PhD research project is an exploration of individuals’ motivations and career adaptability. How do these valuable members of society regenerate their experience and skills for a multi-generational workforce?

Mature Workers Discover More Options

Recently, Jennifer presented a workshop at the “Career Check Up Expo for Mature Workers” in Ballina, NSW.  The Expo is an initiative of the IRT Foundation in partnership with the NSW Government, and endorsed by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The Expo included presentations and practical workshops by organisations such as the Australian Human Rights Commission, The Benevolent Society, and Centrelink. The expo was supported by The Hon Dr Kay Patterson AO (AHRC Age Discrimination Commissioner), pictured below with Jennifer.


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It was fantastic to have ACCELL represented by Jennifer who delivered a workshop on “Recognising your Value and Experience – How to Become Adaptable in Today’s Workforce”. When not presenting, Jennifer was volunteering as a member of the career advisory team which provided one-on-one career discussions with local mature-age people who attended the Expo.
“The paradox is that ageing is not about decline, it’s about growth. Ageing creates opportunities and mature workers are not burdens. They are valuable contributors with experience and knowledge to give.”

Paradoxical Psychology of Working After Retirement

The current PhD research project extends upon earlier findings that revealed career adaptability within retirees.  Jennifer interviewed retirees to explore their interest and motivations for working after retirement.  Some of the retirees were aged in their late 70s and had not worked for more than 15 years. But, they were all keen to go back to work and not for the money. Their motivations were more to do with their adaptability.  In June this year, Jennifer will share new findings of her research project at the conference of the Society of Vocational Psychology in the USA. Jennifer is planning collaborations with the Expo’s exhibitors, and other career development professionals and researchers who share common goals regarding the positive future of ageing and working.

For further information about this research project:

A full copy of the previous research report is available online: Luke, J., McIlveen, P., & Perera, H. N. (2016). A thematic analysis of career adaptability in retirees who return to work. Frontiers in Psychology, 7. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00193


Veterinary Practitioners’ Career and Wellbeing

Working within the veterinary industry is not for the feint-hearted. Despite the perception that veterinary professionals get to play with cute puppies and kittens all day, the reality is very different.  Veterinarians endure high levels of work stress and their profession has one of the higher rates of suicide—about four times higher than the general population and twice as likely as other health professionals.  Put another way, this rate equates to roughly one every 12 weeks (Hamilton, 2016).  Despite the pressures of the profession, it can be as rewarding and personally satisfying as any other.  My research focused on developing supportive strategies for veterinary practitioners to enhance their work engagement and well-being.

Workplace Stress

Veterinary professionals are subjected to, amongst other things, abuse from clients, compassion fatigue, financial concerns, and the often difficult and emotional task of euthanizing animals (Hamilton, 2016). They are required to remain composed, client after client.  Imagine the distress of putting someone’s beloved pet to sleep in one consultation, only to step straight into another consultation with a difficult client who is abusive.  All this without so much as a five-minute break to catch a breath—they are expected to remain professional and composed without the chance to process what has just happened.

Workplace Culture

There have been many changes to the profession over the past 30 years, including gender shifts, and decreases in income levels and status (Macwhirter, 2002). Currently, there are many job vacancies advertised both within Australia and overseas, and seemingly not enough applicants to fill the places. With the demands of the job taking its toll on many practitioners, there is a need to focus on developing workplace strategies to retain them in the profession.  My research involved consulting practitioners to learn about strategies that practice owners may implement to support their staff.  Here are some of the recommendations from the research:

  • Acknowledge the “shadow side” of the profession. It is useful to have avenues for staff to openly discuss the stressors they are facing. Doing this can help to “normalise” the issues and prevent feeling ostracised or having the perception they are the only one feeling this way.
  • Provide information. Provide an EAP service or the contact details for a qualified and experienced counsellor or psychologist who is trusted to work with clients in this field.
  • Develop a culture of wellness. Make sure staff take their breaks. Taking regular breaks can be challenging due to the nature of the job, but breaks are essential for maintaining wellbeing.
  • Consider other incentives. Many veterinarians say it is not always about the money (from working overtime), and there are other things that can be more personally valuable to them (e.g., time off in lieu, a rotation system for working overtime, or small gifts that mean taking time out, such as a movie voucher).

Staff retention is more important than ever in the veterinary industry.  Fostering a healthy workplace culture is an integral part of organisational wellbeing. There is a need to reduce the stigma involved with practitioners speaking up and seeking help, so that they can receive the support they often need and deserve.  After all, veterinary professionals contribute a great deal to society and industries.


Hamilton, Nadine D. (2016). A psycho-educational intervention program for veterinary practitioners: learning to cope with being a veterinarian. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

Macwhirter, P. (2002). A life course approach to veterinary science. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80(8), 454-455

About the Author:

Dr Nadine Hamilton is a psychologist who completed a Doctor of Education research degree that focused on developing strategies to enhance veterinary practitioners’ career engagement and wellbeing.

What Will You Be When You Grow Up?

Recent newspaper stories about career development learning in young children have sparked a national discussion. When is too soon? When is it too late? When is the best time for children to start learning about the world of work and their future careers?  It’s a moot point. Kids start learning about work as they watch and listen to the world around them.  Kids will be what they see.

Storybook Learning

Children’s stories, for example, are a powerful source of wonder and exploration. Stories also introduce kids to the world of work.  Consider the Dr Seuss book Who Are You, Sue Snue? The story begins:

“Happy birthday to you! Happy birthday to you! Yes, you, Sue Snue.  Happy birthday to you—….Now, Sue, that you are older than two, it’s time for you choose something to do.” (Rabe, 1997, pp. 1-3).

Story-telling is essentially about learning, imaginatively experiencing new perspectives, and growing.  Hearing a story and reading a story can be transformative.  Indeed, people actively think in metaphors (Lakoff & Johnson, 2008) and they experience their lives in and by their unique stories (McAdams, 1993).  There is ample evidence of metaphors in people’s stories about work and career (Creed & McIlveen, 2017).

Sue Snue’s story continues…. Sue is offered a range of exciting occupations for her grown-up self, such as a Canner of Peas and Trainer of Fleas, but in the end Sue decides:

STOP, EVERYBODY!  I know what I’ll do.  I’ll just be myself, my whole self and not you.  I’ll be true to myself.  That’s just what I’ll do.  No uncle or aunt can tell me ‘You can’t!”  No mother or pop can tell me, ‘Please stop!’ I’ll do what I want to.  That’s what I’ll do.” (Rabe, 1997, p. 36).

Play is Child’s Work

Little Sue’s words can be understood in terms of contemporary educational and career development theory. Children begin their exploration of the world-of-work early in life, as early as three years of age (Gottfredson, 1981) and their understanding and engagement in the world-of-work is influenced by exposure to stereotypical occupations.  It is during these early years that they discover–rightly or wrongly–what is and what is not possible in their futures.  Children’s early imaginings and work-related play are progressively transformed throughout the years of formal schooling, until ultimately a young adult transitions from high school to the next stage in his or her career development.

Play is the work of children.  Early childhood teachers use stereotypical occupations as part of play-based learning (e.g., dress-ups). Most of us remember the good fun of playing these games. Despite the importance of the early years in the formation of personal identity, of which occupation and work is of central concern, there is scope to closely consider how early childhood education approaches career learning.  Theories and practices of early childhood education in current university programs for this specialist field should provide for a model of play that is about learning how to engage in the world of work.  But, a reading of the Early Years Learning Framework (Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2009), for example, reveals a need to refresh how early childhood professionals are prepared to understand the psychology of identity development and career development learning.

If play is taken to be the work of the child, then how should early childhood educators conceptualize work and how should they integrate career learning into the curriculum. The theories are there, ready to be used; it’s a matter of putting them to use (e.g., Skorikov & Patton, 2007).  Given the current media attention, now may be a good time to rethink how society can support early childhood teachers. Attention should be focused on the professional development and resources that they need so that they can get on with their important work of preparing the next generation for the very exciting futures. Would it be too much perhaps to be a Canner of Peas or a Trainer of Fleas?


Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. (2009). Belonging, being & becoming: The early years learning framework for Australians. Canberra, Australia: Australian Government.

Creed, A., & McIlveen, P. (2017). Metaphor identification as a research method for the study of career. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance. doi:10.1007/s10775-017-9345-2

Gottfredson, L. S. (1981). Circumscription and compromise: A developmental theory of occupational aspirations. Journal of Counseling Psychology Monograph, 28, 545-579.

Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2008). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago press.

McAdams, D. P. (1993). The stories we live by. Personal myths and the making of the self. New York, NY: William Morrow and Company.

Rabe, T. (1997). Who are you, Sue Snue? New York, NY: Random House.

Skorikov, V., & Patton, W. (Eds.). (2007). Career development in childhood and adolescence. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

This article was written by ACCELL’s Dr Peter McIlveen. He expresses thanks to his colleague Dr Karen Noble who inspired his interest in children’s early learning about the world of work.

Metaphors of Higher Education: What do they reveal?

USQ by line

Find Knowledge

Figurative frame of knowledge: Knowledge is something to be discovered, or we can see where it is by searching for it.

Discover Belief

Figurative frame of belief: Belief is something you can find out that you did not know before.

Methodology: Metaphor Identification Procedure Vrije Universiteit (MIPVU) (Steen et al., 2010)

Career Guidance: Metaphors Matter.

Are you a career practitioner? Perhaps you are part of a careers counselling team in a Higher Education (HE) workplace? If you are, then every day you listen, support, and guide a multicultural and multi-generational mix of students and graduates in their decision making and planning of their education, career, and working life. You understand that their values, qualities, and varied experiences of life influence their education choices and career plans. You also recognise that people conceive, design, develop, and organise their career futures through personal stories in dialogue with themselves or others such as their career counsellor.

Listen to Lachlan’s story

Narratives are infused with metaphors

Students and graduates like Lachlan tell stories of their lived experience that are peppered with dreams and aspirations. Through these narratives they convey their self-conscious in language infused with metaphoric frames that organise and go on to dominate their perspective. Inkson (2004, 2006) categorised nine metaphors of career as inheritance, construction, a cycle, matching, a journey, encounters and relationships, roles, a resource, and a story and in later research explored boundaryless and protean careers. Such metaphors may facilitate and highlight or alternatively, bias and obscure understanding of client, practitioner, or both.

Career counselling involves vocational decision-making and this is framed by the social context and personal values of the individual; in other words, their sense of reality or world view. These background assumptions can be examined through metaphor identification. In our research of Australian and Norwegian HE students and graduates (Creed & Nacey, accepted), we examined the language students and graduates used to talk about education, career, and future working life and identified metaphors using the Metaphor Identification Procedure VU University Amsterdam.

We found many similarities, for example:


Here, Kate and Guro talk about education framed as an object/container with an inside and an outside:

  • [Kate] It is sort of exciting to think that I can go out there and change things.
  • [Guro] I tillegg til at vi har lengre perioder ute i praksis.
    In addition to our having longer periods out in practice


Fiona and Lise Helen frame education as an action of giving:

  • [Fiona] The opportunities that study is giving me and the extra skills that study is giving me, it’s opening up more doors.
  • [Lise Helen] Og det gir oss god erfaring i forhold til hva vi faktisk måtte møte i det ordentlige arbeidslivet.
  • And it (my studies) gives us good experience with respect to what we actually will meet out in the real working life.


And, Armando and Magnus talk about their HE experience in terms of building processes:

  • [Armando]I would recommend USQ because there is the support and the environment which is very great for learning.
  • [Magnus] Med bakgrunn fra 7 år i rørleggerfaget var det naturlig for meg … å bygge videre på min tidligere utdannelse.
  • With my background in plumbing, it was natural for me … to further build on my previous education.

But we also found some differences, for example:


Here, Stephen takes his education for a particular purpose whereas Daniel takes education more or less as a means in itself; both involving physical action:

  • [Stephen] In my future, I’d like to take what I’ve learnt from anthropology and combine it with my law career.
  • [Daniel]Du kan med denne utdanningen her ta mange forskjellige jobber.
    You can take many different jobs with this education.


And, in this example, Sam talks about his HE relationships and encounters that could include networking as an active process in contrast to Kristian whose language more passive receipt:

  • [Sam]I’ve just learnt so much here and have made lots of good friends
  • [Kristian] Det er derfor …lett å nye studievenner
    It is therefore easy to ‘receive’ new study friends

And there were surprises, for example:

Interestingly, although we did find the metaphor of A JOURNEY was used to talk about career and working life, it was not a frequent feature of the student and graduate narratives.  For instance, here Damien considers his graduation and Kari reflects on her career:


  • …today is the final part of the journey [and] I think it signifies the next part of the journey [Damien]
  • Min karrierevei har vært preget av utfordringer [Kari]
  • My career path has been characterized [lit: stamped] by challenges

Implications for practice.

An awareness of metaphorical language has practical implications for career practitioners in their everyday communication and interactions with clients because metaphors provide a window to background assumptions and conventions. I should point out that this is not a one-way street; an understanding of metaphor provides practitioners with insight about their own theoretical frames of education, career, and working life. Therefore, when we talk about education in terms of physical motion (i.e.., EDUCATION IS AN ACTION), learning and teaching can be understood as involving a human action of providing someone with something that is taken and becomes EDUCATION IS A POSSESSION.

In our examples, a human action served as the frame of a metaphorical giving and taking scenario. Here, the entity of a university and/or the even more abstract entity of education is ‘performing’ the action of giving EDUCATION AS A RESOURCE. The ‘resource’ being provided to the student for their ‘possession’ is an opportunity and experience that they will be able to apply to their future career development and working life. As a career counsellor, consider the different entailment’s of EDUCATION IS AN ACTION (i.e., A POSSESSION or A RESOURCE). It it is important to be aware that metaphors may be expressed, reflected, or reinforced by those in positions of power or authority. This has implications for our own career guidance communication.  For instance, explicitly highlighting such a difference may prove beneficial in situations involving career guidance, as a student could be prompted to consciously reflect upon their reasons for enrolling in a particular program and the future utility of their degree.

Given the internationalisation of higher education, we propose that metaphor identification and conceptual analysis should be introduced to career counselling and guidance literature to help practitioners explore and understand the student and graduate narrative (and their own) leading from education to career development and working life.

Forthcoming publication: Creed, A., & Nacey, S. L. (accepted). An investigation of metaphor usage in career and working life: Introducing the MIPVU methodology. In P. McIlveen (Ed.), Radical social constructionism. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Sense.