Ten Ideas That Changed Career Development: A Monograph to Celebrate the Centennial of the National Career Development Association (1913-2013)

By Mark Savickas

A field of practice emerges when a group of practitioners agree in general about a set of common public goals. This occurred for the career development field with the emergence of the vocational guidance movement centered in Boston during the second decade of the 20th century. Early milestones in the formation of the field include:


  • Frank Parsons coining the term “vocational guidance” in 1908

  • First training school at the Boston Vocational Guidance Bureau in 1910

  • First national convention in Boston in 1910

  • First university training program at Harvard University in 1911

  • Publication of a journal beginning in 1911

  • Formation of the National Vocational Guidance Association in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1913

  • First two college textbooks in 1915

  • A book for the lay public in 1917

As the field developed since its founding in 1908 and its organization in 1913, its practitioners came to use a common language and select activities to shape the field. On the momentous occasion of its Centennial, I sought to identify core concepts and practices in the career development field and encourage reflection on its values. This project was prompted by the title of a popular course at Kent State University: “Seven Ideas that Changed Physics.” For years, I have wanted to identify the seven ideas that changed the career development field. The NCDA centennial provided the occasion to do so.

The first step was to identify significant ideas that have changed and shaped the field. I began by selecting 30 ideas, three for each decade in the history of NCDA. I examined the NCDA journals for the last 100 years to find the origins and trace the evolution of prominent concepts and activities. I tried my best to spread the ideas across different authors from diverse backgrounds, which was difficult because of the social and cultural homogeneity of the profession for most of its 100 years.

After I identified 30 ideas, I consulted colleagues to refine the list. I used the Delphi Technique to identify the essential knowledge base of career development specialists. The technique allows the gathering of expert opinion, and movement toward consensus, without bringing a group of people together. The technique also guarantees anonymity so people do not have to defend their positions.

In the first round, 12 colleagues responded to my invitation. They were given the list of 30 ideas arranged in chronological order along with a quotation about the concept or practice from a prominent proponent. They were instructed to study the list and then answer the following question: What are essential ideas crucial in the development of career intervention since 1909? Identify big picture ideas for which counselors should have robust and flexible understanding. They reviewed the list and suggested revisions. They deleted some ideas and added others to produce the 37 ideas listed in Appendix 1 (see link to full monograph at the end of this article).

Then, a second group of 12 colleagues was given the list of 37 ideas and asked the following question: What are 20 most essential ideas crucial in the development of career intervention since 1909? Identify big picture ideas for which counselors should have robust and flexible understanding. They were not provided with names and dates. Their responses jointly reduced the list to 20 ideas.

Finally, NCDA leading practitioners were invited to reduce the list of 20 ideas to the core entries. I invited all living past presidents and eminent career winners, current board members, and leadership academy participants to respond individually by choosing the seven ideas that they each considered the most essential in the field of career development. Lists from the 44 colleagues who responded were compiled and organized to rank the 20 ideas. The names of those who responded appear in Appendix 2 (see link to full monograph at the end of this article). The ratings given by individuals are not reported. The 20 ideas in rank order are:
1. Career counseling
2. Matching
3. Career adaptability
4. Vocational guidance
5. Career education
6. Social justice
7. Congruence
8. Career construction
9. Career stage
10. Happenstance
11. Social learning theory
12. Work values
13. Types
14. Interest inventories
15. Opportunity structure
16. Transitions
17. Career self-efficacy
18. Occupational classifications
19. Vocational development
20. Work Volition

In the following paragraph, I arranged the ten ideas into a statement to describe the field of career development’s core ideas. In the succeeding paragraph, I arranged the remaining ten ideas into a statement to describe the field’s vital ideas.

The field of career development privileges the idea of social justice as it helps people construct their work lives through the practices of vocational guidance, career education, and career counseling. Career development practitioners pursue the fundamental goal of helping individuals match themselves to congruent occupations as they traverse career stages, with each new era in life requiring that they adapt to new vocational development tasks, occupational transitions, and work traumas. Practitioners encourage their students and clients to remain open to possibilities created when new circumstances happen.

As career development practitioners engage in these core discourses and activities, they are sensitive to contextual affordances and constraints in the opportunity structure that, through social learning, shape their clients’ self- efficacy and work volition. Practitioners foster human development, particularly during periods of transition in individuals’ lives. To serve individuals well, they use interventions—including interest inventories and occupational classification systems -- that are sensitive to differences in vocational personality types and their work values.

In short, the career development field promotes social justice through the practices of vocational guidance, career education, and personal counseling that use inventories, information, and interventions to help people learn to make transitions which fit their values as well as develop their personalities. Career development practitioners prioritize these self-constructing actions in terms of matching, congruence, stages, adaptability, self-efficacy, work volition, and happenstance.

The final step in this centennial project was to recruit current NCDA members to reflect on the ten highest ranked ideas and share their thoughts. Each person was assigned one idea and asked to write an essay that explains the idea, considers its importance in the career development field, and traces its evolution across time. The following pages present their essays. As you read the essays during NCDA’s centennial, take time to think about the concepts, activities, and values that have shaped the career development field’s present discourse and performance as well as imagine new ideas that might emerge in NCDA’s second hundred years.


Ten Ideas That Changed Career Development


Mark SavickasMark Savickas, Ph.D., is professor of Behavioral Sciences at the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine and Adjunct Professor of Counselor Education at Kent State University. He also serves as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Psychology at Vrije University in Belgium where he chairs the Life Design International Research Team and as a Visiting Professor in the Department of Organisational Behaviour in the School of Business at Loughborough University, United Kingdom.

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ROBERT PRYOR   on Monday 12/02/2013 at 01:15 AM

Mark has done a great job and so I feel churlish in some ways being critical. However, I must say I was surprised that intelligence and intelligence testing was not apparently considered or if it was why it did not figure prominently in the list. The reasons are obvious, there is a mountain of data going back at least 75 years that intelligence is important in:
#academic success
#income & managing money
#accidents & health
#vocational choice
#use of computers & other digital devices
#job success
#decision making

This list suggests to me that intelligence has been a major if controversial concept in career development. Old arguments about intelligence simply being a statistical artifact are no longer tenable in light of ongoing work in brain scanning, genetics and neuroscience more generally.

Phil Jarvis   on Tuesday 12/10/2013 at 03:47 PM

As the author of CHOICES and now champion of Career Cruising, I'm both surprised and disappointed that computer-based career exploration and planning systems didn't make the cut.

Lawrence K. Jones   on Tuesday 12/31/2013 at 12:36 AM

An interesting enterprise . . . thought provoking --
• Why 10 instead of the 7 first considered?
• Are these ideas in the same league as the "7 Ideas that Changed Physics"?
• Where does science fit in?
• What ideas will emerge as our scientific knowledge grows and Life on Earth becomes untenable?

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.