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.


Enter a caption

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: Jennifer.Luke@usq.edu.au

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.

Employability Research Teams United

Flag 2

ACCELL has joined forces with the International Research and Intervention Laboratory: Psychology for Vocational Guidance and Career Counseling and Talents (LabOProCCareer&T), under the leadership of Professor Annamaria di Fabio, at the University of Florence, Italy.

ACCELL’s Research Director, Peter McIlveen (USQ) and Research Fellow, Allison Creed (USQ), presented an Australian flag to LabOProCCareer&T’s Research Director,  Annamaria di Fabio. The ceremony symbolizes the partnership between the two research teams. Professor di Fabio was honoured to receive the flag brought from the Toowoomba office of Dr John McVeigh, Member for the Seat of Groom in the Australian House of Representatives.

ACCELL and LabOProCCareer&T are conducting research that spans Italy, USA, and Australia.  The two teams are focused on the psychological qualities of employability that enable a person to best use their knowledge and skills in the labour market.

Like ACCELL, the LabOProCCareer&T research team focuses on vocational guidance, career counselling, career development and career management, with the particular goals of identifying and promoting individual resources and developing an evidence-base for effective, innovative interventions.  LabOProCCareer&T finds answers to questions that are important for education and workforce development:  Which factors play a role in career decision-making? Which factors promote adaptive career outcomes? Which factors contribute to the development of intrapreneurship for the 21st century? Which interventions are effective in promoting career and life management in the 21st century? Which are effective and efficient processes of recognition and enhancement of the talents and skills in a lifelong perspective?

Teacher Personality Profiles

The profession school teacher is as much rewarding as it is challenging. Our research into teachers’ careers reveals how their personalities influence their professional confidence (i.e., self-efficacy), engagement in their classrooms, and overall job satisfaction.   ACCELL researchers are aiming to discover if their are specific “profiles” associated with their confidence, engagement, and job satisfaction. This is important research because it provides  insights into how teachers manage their careers and, more importantly, which psychological factors may support their career longevity.

A sample of our research was presented at the most recent conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) held in San Antonio, Texas, USA, which is the largest meeting of educational researchers in the world.  The figure below provides a summary of our presentation at AERA 2017.  Stay tuned for the publications that will report on the wider research outcomes.

AERA 2017 Poster


4E-cognition: Exploring thought, feeling, & action in career behaviour

What is 4E-cognition?

In recent years a new way of looking at the notion of cognition has gained ground, often labelled as 4E-cognition (embodied, enacted, embedded, and extended cognition). The basic claim is that cognition cannot be reserved to individual processes inside the head (and body) only; rather cognition is seen as “a doing”; it is something people do in their active and explorative sense-making with the bio-social environment. Thus, an ecological turn is on its way within cognitive science that seeks to explore thought, feeling, and action as inter-related dimensions of an agent-environment system.  ACCELL is now applying this new research paradigm to career development.Career images Continue reading

Transformative Career Development Learning

Profound change in personal perspective, inclusive of the cognitive (thinking), affective (feeling) and behavioural (doing) dimensions of experience, are central to the adult learning theory of transformative learning (Mezirow, 2000). Transformative learning may occur in response to a disorienting dilemma, a crisis, or a series of critical moments that press an individual to change and adapt.  Studying for a degree, for example, quite frequently visits dilemmas, crises, and critical moments on students.  Such challenges are addressed by career development practitioners who are working in educational contexts.  Career Development Learning (CDL), whether it occurs within career counselling or career education, can be a vehicle for reflective learning that is transformative: that is, transformative career development learning (TCDL) (McIlveen, 2012).

CDL Answers Questions

CDL aims to facilitate students answering ostensibly straight-forward questions, such as:

“Why am I studying? Why am I studying for this major and degree? How can I make the most of my studies for personal achievement and work? What do I have to learn in order to achieve my goals? How can I determine the best study pathway for my career goals? How can I use what I have learned for success in the workforce?”

These questions are routine for career development practitioners who support students in universities and colleges. Academic practitioners, however, may not necessarily find the questions routine or even relevant to the day-to-day teaching of their specialist disciplines. An academic may well ask: “Don’t these students know why they are here?” Unfortunately, students’ decisions about their careers and choice of qualifications are not always perfectly resolved.  Thus, these questions  posed by students go to the heart of the matter when it comes to being a student: Authentic engagement in learning. And, this when CDL is really valuable.

CDL as a Reflexive Mirror

CDL may be metaphorically conceived of as a two-way mirror (McIlveen et al., 2011), as shown in the figure below. On the left-hand side of the figure is the student who is embedded in layers of career influences that range from the intrapersonal to the broader social and economic. On the right-hand side is the world-of-work, which is equivalently layered and complex. In the middle, is a two-way mirror that represents CDL.


CDL enables the student to reflect on his/her self with respect to career competencies and learning objectives. From another perspective, the student may look through the looking-glass—a lens of career competencies and learning objectives—to see the world-of-work. Both perspectives create meaning oriented toward self and the world-of-work, and it is through this meaning making process that disciplinary studies are made meaningful to the student, perhaps by answering the questions given above (e.g., “Why am I studying?”). Continue reading

“Big 5” Profiles of Career Adaptivity

In this era of economic uncertainty, employers are increasingly shifting their need for market flexibility onto individuals, resulting in greater job insecurity and fragmented and unpredictable educational and vocational pathways. This economic dynamic has given rise to an increased interest in the psychological characteristics, behaviors, and interventions that enhance individuals’ adaptation in a rapidly evolving environment.

Career Adaptation

Career construction theory (CCT; Savickas, 2013) conceptualizes four aspects in the process of adaptation needed in the world of work and career:

Adaptivity → Adaptability → Adapting Adaptation

According to CCT, individuals who are willing or ready to change (i.e., Adaptivity) and possess the psychosocial resources to do so (i.e., Adaptability) are better able to respond to changing conditions (i.e., Adapting) and thereby secure positive outcomes (i.e., Adaptation).

Career Adaptivity → Career Adaptability

The “Big 5”, the Five Factor Model (FFM; McCrae & Costa, 2003), is sufficiently encompassing to capture all aspects of personality. However, the CCT offers no specific combinations of personality traits to reflect career Adaptivity, which is the first factor in the chain of the process of adaptation. We hypothesize that is possible to identify some combination of the FFM traits reflecting Adaptivity.

Our research is the first to examine profiles of career Adaptivity based on the FFM dimensions using latent profile analysis (or mixture analyses). This research reveals three Adaptivity profiles shown in the figure below. Each profile has a distinct pattern.

FFM profile

We found individuals with the “Adaptive Ready” profile reported significantly higher levels of career Adaptability, measured using the Career Adapt-Abilities Scale (Savickas & Porfeli, 2012).  They had more career Adaptability than individuals with the “Ordinary” profile, who, in turn, reported significantly higher levels of career Adaptability than those with the “Rigid” profile. Continue reading

Career Adaptability in Retirees

Retirees returning to the workplace is not so unusual and there doing so is not always about meeting financial needs. Our research using in-depth interviews with 22 retirees of different working backgrounds, ranging from corporate professionals through to semi-skilled labourers, revealed consistent patterns and themes in the results. We found the qualities of “career adaptability” in these retirees who had returned to work. What is interesting about this finding is that career adaptability is not often thought of as a psychological strength within older folk; more often, it is associated with younger people entering into the world of work and adults surviving or, hopefully, thriving in their daily grind.

Dimensions of Career Adaptability

Measures of career adaptability tap four psychological dimensions: a future orientation to working (concern), a sense of feeling autonomy over work tasks (control), interest in learning and developing new skills and knowledge (curiosity), and feeling positive about one’s ability to contribute to a workplace (confidence).

The figure below depicts the links among the themes revealed in the interviews and it shows that career adaptability is connected up to all major themes.

Consider the example of two retired sheep shearers who returned to work as roustabouts in shearing sheds. Fit as fiddles, these two decided to job-share, splitting the tasks of this demanding labouring job between themselves, depending on their physical capacities (e.g., one’s arthritic knee and the other’s arthritic back). Why? Because working hard gives them a sense of satisfaction and meaning more than any other activity.

Implications for Workplaces and Policy

Policy makers and employers should note that older workers’ interests, needs, and reasons for working may be very different to those of younger workers. Indeed, a proven approach to attracting and retaining younger employees may not be as effective for older workers. Instead, harnessing older workers’ career adaptability and how they wish to express it may be just the thing to refresh motivation and restore dignity in the workplace.

This blog article is an extract from:

Luke, J., McIlveen, P., & Perera, H. N. (2016). A thematic analysis of career adaptability in retirees who return to work. Frontiers in Psychology. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00193