Research Paper By Daren Easton
(Career Coach, HONG KONG)
Two years ago I decided that I wanted to take some positive steps to move away from the career in which I had worked for over 30 years. This desire had been on my mind for 10 years however I had not been able to find a way to put that thought into an action plan and start to move towards it. I arrived at the final decision reasonably quickly, it had resulted from utter frustration with my role at the time and a chance meeting with a friend and ex-colleague who suggested that I should consider coaching as a profession.
I am a firm believer in loving the work that you do, we spend too much of our time at work for this not to be the case and in the earlier part of my career, this was certainly true. However, as we grow older and gain experience, we sometimes find that the career loses some of the shine and challenge that we had so much enjoyed. In this respect, I would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss my dilemma 10 years ago, with a coach that could help me see and plan the way forward out of one career and into the next.
This research paper is based on my coaching niche of Career Growth. To provide context for the subject, it looks at statistical data to identify the rate at which people change careers under their own volition and the influence that global events including the recession and the COVID-19 virus have on individuals who are forced to make career changes through circumstance rather than choice.
In my own experience of coaching so far and with the prior agreement of my clients, I have cautiously used strength-based assessments, primarily to help raise the Client’s awareness of who they are and to open up the possibility of using these skills in transferring across career paths.
The results have been positive; however, this has interested me to research further around strength-based assessment tools that are available for our use. This paper forms the culmination of that research.
The statistics behind career changes
Years ago, it was not uncommon for people to work for the same employer over their entire careers.
Nowadays, people rarely stay with the same company and in the same position, and practice, employees migrate from one job to another throughout their career in search of a better ambition fulfillment and compensation. Along their journey, they acquire new competencies and learn the insights of different industries.
So, how often do people change either their employer or their career?
In the UK, The London School of Business and Finance (LSBF) Careers Report published in September 2015 found that nearly half of all workers of the 1,000 individuals surveyed (47%) would like to change careers.
Around a quarter (23%) of participants revealed they would go as far as to say they regretted their current choice of career and this figure rose for younger workers, with 30% of 25-34-year-olds regretting their current career choice.
Reasons for Changing Jobs/Careers
While each employee is an individual, job change statistics show that there are some common reasons for changing jobs that emerge as trends. Some of the principal reasons from statistics that people quote for leaving their jobs to include:
- Better pay
- Lack of career advancement
- Conflict with manager
- Negative company culture
- Negative work-life balance
- Feeling underutilized
Impact of recession on a career change
Career change is not always the choice of the employee and other factors such as recession can force businesses into making changes that directly affect employment status.
Unemployment tends to rise quickly, and often remain elevated, during a recession. With the onset of recession and as companies face increasing costs, stagnant or falling revenue, and increased pressure to service their debts, they begin to make their workforce redundant to cut costs. During a recession, the number of unemployed workers across many industries spikes simultaneously, and the average length of unemployment for workers increases.
Unemployed workers find that the jobs and professions, or even entire industries, in which they were employed disappear during a recession. This can be due to technological changes or to structural changes in the economy related to an economic shock that may have triggered the recession itself.
Some industries and businesses (and their workforces) are harder hit than others in any given recession. For example, during the Great Recession in 2009, the construction, manufacturing, and finance, insurance, and real estate (FIRE) sectors saw the greatest increases in unemployment.
Impact of COVID-19
The impact of the Covid-19 virus on the global economy beginning in 2020 is continuing to affect economies and many countries are now starting to show key indicators that they are heading into a recession.
This has increased unemployment of which, the largest jump in recent months has been in the leisure and hospitality industry as a direct response to the limitation placed on travel due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With uncertainty around these industries in the short to medium term, these workers are facing the challenge of finding jobs in other businesses and industries that suit their abilities and experience.
Further data from Totaljobs found the impact of COVID has helped a fifth (22%) of UK workers to realize their current role is not for them and that from a survey of 5,364 workers affected by a coronavirus, one in five had used their free time in lockdown to search and plan for a career in a new industry.
In contrast, Jobrapidoresearchedt 1444 employees working across a range of industry sectors including sales, marketing, engineering, transportation, construction, and technology where nearly two thirds (62%) aspire to change their career path.
The statistics from the Totaljobs research and that carried out by Jobrapido clearly differ, however,r the fact remains that a significant number of UK workers are looking for an opportunity to change their current career direction.
However, despite such strong intent, many people are still unwilling to change careers owing to several factors they feel hold them back. Almost a third (29%) said the lack of financial security around changing careers was a major barrier, while uncertainty about what to switch to (20%) and a fear of failure (15%) were also identified as obstacles to changing careers (LSBF).
Blockers to career change:
From the research, 30%of those surveyed cited the biggest obstacle to making a change as being family or financial commitments, with a further 17% stating a lack of confidence and the need to change their mind-set whilst 19% admitted they had no understanding of how to go about switching careers.
When respondents were asked what could support them to make their career change;
- More than a quarter (26%)stated the belief they can do it and a change of mindset’.
- More than one in ten of these respondents (13%)wanting to make the change admitted they would like to set up their own business, with around half (49%) stating they would like to move to a different industry and organization to do this.
It is this apparent lack of self-belief that is the driving force behind my desire to work with people that want to explore a career change and forms the basis of my coaching at this stage and for the immediate future.
I have found as a coach new to the industry and from my limited experience of coaching so far in this field, that one of the key challenges faced byCoachee’s to start contemplating a career changer is understanding their current situation and how that can be applied to an alternate career path.
There are many types of tools available to coaches that can aid our coaching process however, I have found the use of strength-based assessment tools has provided an invaluable self-awareness and starting point for the coaching relationship to work away from.
Available strength-based assessment tools
There are many strength-based assessment tools, the five strength assessment and development tools that are linked to this research are StrengthsFinder, VIA (Values in Action Inventory), Strengths Profile, Strengthscope, and High 5 Test. The tools vary in terms of how they define and measure strengths, their applications, and the level of scientific scrutiny that informs them.
Clifton Strengths Finderis used extensively in global organizations, particularly in the United States. Developed in 2001 by researchers at Gallup, the tool arose from empirical interviews in workplaces and academia that pinpointed recurring patterns of thought, feeling, and talents (behaviors) associated with success.
Strengths Finder measures 34 strengths across talent themes to reveal a brief set of strengths (top 5) that are applicable in a work context. While the tool arises from research, it is not peer-reviewed or used in empirical studies.
Their tool reflects this focus on high performance.
The Values in Action Inventory (VIA) is the most rigorously researched model and has been instrumental in advancing positive psychology’s understanding of strengths.
The VIA Survey produces a ranked list of 24-character strengths and highlights the top five. Lesser strengths can also be developed. As each is universally valued, some consider it a goal to develop them all.
The tool is designed for multiple purposes and is typically used in life, educational and academic domains. It can be used in workplaces, although character strengths such as Love can make it harder to readily link strengths to business contexts.
Strengthscopedraws on the research used to develop the VIA.
Strengthscope identifies underlying qualities that energize us, and we are great at (or have the potential to become great at), which contribute to our personal growth and lead to peak performance. Drawing from a set of 24 strengths, the assessment highlights the top 7 significant strengths as well as “bubbling under” strengths.
The tool has undergone some independent testing for validity and reliability and is not peer-reviewed.
Strengthscope also offers an individual, team, leadership, and organizational report.
Strengths Profile (formerly R2) is a dynamic, context-sensitive strengths assessment that incorporates the latest research. This tool is unique and distinct from one-dimensional strengths tests by assessing three dimensions of energy, performance, and use.
The Strengths Profile measures 60 strengths to provide a comprehensive set of realized strengths, unrealized strengths, learned (or de-energizing) behaviors, and weaknesses. The report also outlines a development framework with proactive strategies to marshal realized strengths, moderate learned behaviors, minimize weaknesses, and maximize unrealized strengths.
By showing performance as well as areas of potential growth, burnout, and weakness, Strengths Profile is seen as an ideal tool for coaching, development, and career transition.
Like the VIA, it is supported by robust reliability and validity studies and is increasingly used in empirical strengths intervention studies.
Highly versatile, it can be used with individuals and teams and integrated holistically by organizations at all levels in areas such as leadership development, teamwork, job crafting, recruitment, talent selection, performance management, and career conversations.
High 5 Test
The High Five Test is extremely simple to use with a very useful sliding scale to help answer how much you agree or disagree with the provided statements. The results appear to be well aligned with what is expected, requiring less need for explanation and therefore relatively quick to apply.
Summary and Conclusions
Several of the assessments were reviewed to provide the ability to allow multiple inputs to assess overall team performance. Whilst my own coaching model at present is very much centered around individuals, I can see value in familiarisation with these tools that will allow me at a later date to work on a team assessment basis with a corporate organization.
I have personally completed the High 5 Test, Strengthfinde,r, and VIA assessments and found them all useful in creating additional awareness of strengths that I had overlooked or had taken for granted. The main difference between each of them is the time required to complete the assessment. In this regard, I have so far favored the use of the High 5 Test.
Like any other tool, there are advantages and disadvantages regarding their use which we should be aware of before their implementation.
- promote self-understanding
strength tests aid the users in expanding self-awareness. Their scores indicate their suitability, coping skills, and scope for succeeding in their professional field.
Standardized measures of strengths and weaknesses yield accurate and objective results. They are structured, and scoring is done based on stringent norms, which increases the likelihood of giving the same output under different conditions.
In most circumstances, strength and weakness tests are readily available and cheap to administer.
- neutral and unbiased
There is no room for personal preferences or biases in objective tests as the process follows an open approach making the results more reliable.
- challenging to understand
the results can sometimes be difficult to understand for the coachee.
- No standard tool
There is no single tool that can be used equally across all potential coachees. It is the coach’s responsibility to select a ‘best fit’ tool that provides the most value to the coachee in question and so understanding a range of tools is an advantage.
Several of the assessments are particularly detailed and can take significant time to complete and therefore less suited to a tool that is to be used to promote self-awareness.
Certification and accreditation
Before carrying out the research involved with this paper, I was skeptical about the requirement for certification or accreditation associated with the use of the Strength-Based tools for use as part of my Coaching process.
However, this research has highlighted the need for suitable certification, and I can see this bringing further value to my Clients. This is further upheld by the ICF published data from their studies regarding coaching certification, of which I personally see strength-based coaching assessment certification as a natural progression.
- 77% of coach practitioners agreed that clients expect them to be certified or credentialed - 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study
- 83% of consumers who experienced a coaching relationship reported that it was important for coaches to hold a credential - 2017 ICF Global Consumer Awareness Study
Finally, I have used the High 5 Test with two of my Clients who each are searching for a better understanding of an ideal job role. Their feedback on the use and application of the test was positive and both confirmed that they were able to associate the results as largely accurate. Where they were surprised by the results, we explored these further in our sessions and it helped them to acknowledge traits they had not previously seen as strengths and understand previous situations and decisions they had made and how they had reacted to them. This acknowledgment has allowed further exploration of strategies to capitalize on these traits and explore more possibilities about themselves.
On this basis, I plan to continue to use strength-based assessments to assist in future coaching relationships and investigate certification in the use of the.