Things that Go Bump in the Works

Posted by: John Stewart on March 4, 2013 2:42 pm

Jeff and I have been focusing on vocational identity, and more specifically on the factors that influence its development. We maintain that vocational identity is a necessary pre-requisite for implementing a vocational choice, a position that most counsellors would support. In this blog we want to change the focus and examine a number of issues that emerge with the implementation of a vocational choice. One such issue is known as “reality shock.”

Reality shock is a phenomenon that influences new workers during the first few years of being on the job and results in many people leaving the chosen vocation. For example, recent figures from the United States suggest that within the first two years, about 30% of beginning teachers leave the profession and within seven years the number increases to 40% to 50%. Furthermore, it is often the most competent of teachers who leave. Given that pre-service teachers have high academic achievement, and motivation for and knowledge of the teaching profession, what is it that results in such a high number of people leave the teaching profession? While we have not examined other professions, we suspect that there are a significant number that leave their chosen professions due to reality shock as well.

One approach to understanding this phenomenon is known as person-environment fit theory. This approach to career counselling examines the person characteristics and workplace requirements, and seeks to determine whether there is a “fit” around whether the person is able to provide what the workplace requires. Person characteristics may include such factors as an individual’s biological or psychological needs, their values, goals, and abilities, while environmental characteristics could include job expectations, job cultures, rewards, or work conditions like resources, size of workplace, lighting, and demands, to name a few.When these two variables have correspondence, typically the worker experiences satisfaction and the workplace experiences productivity.

Two components of vocational identity include knowledge of the self-system and knowledge of expectations of the workplace.  Within these two broad categories of knowledge, what might account for the phenomenon of reality shock?  For example, individuals who choose teaching have spent up to five years preparing for entry into the profession. They have developed competence in a teachable subject and in pedagogy. They have had considerable time (up to 16 weeks) in the classroom. One would expect that these characteristics should realistically prepare them for success in teaching.

We maintain that three sources of oversight may account for reality shock. The first source focuses on the processes within the individual. Such factors as the difference in time between entry into pre-service education and entry into the actual occupation may be long, and due to developmental growth new or clearer information may not be considered in making the initial vocational choice. The second source of oversight may lie with the issues in the workplace. For example, the perceived reinforcers considered when choosing the occupation versus those experienced may be different. The third source may lie with the processes used to establish the fit between the person and the occupation, such as the cognitive abilities of assimilation and differentiation. In the next three blogs we will elucidate on these sources of oversight and illustrate how they could lead to reality shock given that the individual demonstrates suitability for the occupation within this person-environment fit perspective.




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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