Empowering Learners and Building a Stronger Workforce, Fostering Economic Growth

Career Adaptability

Career Adaptability

Career adaptability is created through a system of pathways that connect employment opportunities and advancement. Through career adaptability, workers gain skills such as decision making, planning, exploration, and confidence. These skills allow workers to master vocational transitions as they continue developing in their careers (Hirschi, 2009, pg. 3). The United States is currently spending about $400 billion a year on post-secondary education; however, this spending is not seen as productive because of the misalignment of the skills from schools to the workforce (Austin, Mellow, Rosin, Seltzer, 2012). Career adaptability would align the skills learned in schools and shift to the skills needed in the workforce. 

In order to receive proper education and training, a worker must gain portable and stackable credentials to help increase career adaptability. Portable credentials allow workers’ qualifications to be recognized across the country and follows them if they change locations. Stackable credentials allow a worker to specialize and master a certain area. In the United States, 51% of post-secondary programs take less than a year and 41% take between one and two years (Austin, Mellow, Rosin, Seltzer, 2012). The short period needed for training allows the programs to be easy to complete. This allows students to enter the job market at an accelerated rate and accumulate an individual’s qualifications.   

By having educational programs and businesses work together to create pathways for workers, the skills gap between education and the workforce decreases and makes the transition to the workforce easier. The easy and simple pathway created attracts more people to advance their set of skills. The increase in the number of post-secondary graduates would allow for a ready and trained workforce. By having trained workers in local economies, the United States’ labor market becomes more competitive.  This allows the national economy to benefit through the partnership of government, businesses, and education programs (Albrecht, 2011, pg. 19). Also, the graduates can find higher-paying job that fit their newly developed skills (Ganzglass, 2014, pg. 2). 

Lower-skilled adults, high school students, disconnected students, veterans, and incumbent workers can earn the skills needed in the workforce  through the career adaptability learned with stackable credentials. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, stackable credentials allow an individual to become more educated; therefore, the individual strengthens the workforce leading to a positive change in the entire economy (Ganzglass, 2014, pg. 2). 


Albrecht, B. (November/December 2011). Growing the Economy by Up-Skilling the American Worker. Techniques. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ964085.pdf 

Austin, J., Mellow, G., Rosin, M., and Seltzer, M. (November 28, 2012). Portable, Stackable Credentials: A New Education Model for Industry-Specific Career Pathways. McGraw-Hill Research Foundation. Retrieved from https://jfforg-prod-prime.s3.amazonaws.com/media/documents/Portable_Stackable_Credentials.pdf  

Ebenehi, A., Rashid, A., and Bakar A. (December 2016). Predictors of Career Adaptability Skill among Higher Education Students in Nigeria. International Journal for Research in Vocational Education and Training, 3 (3). Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1127728.pdf 

Ganzglass, E. (March 2014). Scaling “Stackable Credentials”: Implications for Implementation and Policy. Center for Postsecondary and Economic Success. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED561777.pdf   

Hirschi, A. (2009). Career Adaptability Development in Adolescence: Multiple Predictors and Effect on Sense of Power and Life Satisfaction. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74 (2). Retrieved from https://boris.unibe.ch/64670/1/Hirschi_Career%20%20adaptability_2009_unedited.pdf 

Career Adaptability Research

Career Adaptability

  • A central construct in adolescent career preparation and development is career adaptability which can be defined as “… the readiness to cope with the predictable tasks of preparing for and participating in the work role and with the unpredictable adjustments prompted by the changes in work and work conditions.” (page 3) 
  • A number of prospective longitudinal studies showed that adolescents higher in career adaptability in terms of decision making, planning, exploration, or confidence beliefs are more successful in mastering vocational transitions. (page 3) 
  • The study also investigated the effects of several variables which could have an effect on development of career adaptability: gender, age, ethnic background, parental educational level, and attending a vocational or college-bound education after mandatory school. (page 8) 

The Impact of Career Adaptability

  • We propose that people’s career adaptability influences the way in which they search for jobs and the quality of their reemployment. Job-seekers who lack adaptive resources to resolve their current state of unemployment may use a different and less beneficial search strategy than those who have these resources. As a consequence, job-seekers portraying less career adaptability may find a less satisfying job, show more turnover intentions, and end up right where they started. (page 2) 
  • Career adaptability comprises an individual’s ability to face, pursue, or accept changing career roles and to successfully handle career transitions (e.g., Savickas, 1997,2002,2005), such as ending a state of unemployment by looking for a job. Thus, career adaptability should also be relevant for finding suitable reemployment More precisely, we argue that the four dimensions of career adaptability, career planning, decision making, exploration, and confidence, will represent job-seekers’ preparation and mental readiness to use different job-search strategies, which in tum should influence their reemployment outcomes. (page 3)

The Relationship Between Career Adaptability, Person and Situation Variables, and Career Concerns in Young Adults

  • Both of these definitions refer to self-regulatory processes, stress the importance of the interaction between the individual and their environment, and emphasize managing novel, non-maturational problems that confront the individual. (page 4)

Predictors of Career Adaptability Skill Among Higher Education Students in Nigeria

  • Career adaptability skill may be seen as the ability to adjust carefully to enable one participate, cope or fit into changing work situations. Career adaptability skill makes individuals to always create rooms for continuous adjustments in order to smoothly respond to or fit into changing work situations. (page 213) 
  • There are four Cs of career adaptability skill resources, which include concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. (page 214) 

Career Adaptability Turnover and Loyality

  • Inherent in all models of career adaptability (Savickas, 1997, 2005; Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996) is the notion that people need to make informed decisions about what they want and that they need to see a reasonable chance of getting there. Most prominent in helping people achieve this are the complementary behaviors of career exploration and planning.

Growing the Economy by Up-Skilling the American Worker

  • One of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed solutions to this dilemma is to increase industry-recognized stackable credentials with a clearly defined system of competencies linked to employment opportunities and advancement. (page 17) 
  • The DOL suggests as part of the increasing value of credentials that state and local workforce agencies “work with local and regional employers around identification of in-demand credentials…(which) may involve developing or customizing competency models.” (page 17) 
  • Educational institutions are responsible for producing a highly skilled labor pool for local and regional businesses. Businesses sustain local and regional economies which feed into the national economy. It is a cyclical process that includes local and national governments, community based organizations, educational institutions, and workforce development organizations working together to lessen the skill gap. This enables the United States to sustain its economy and compete at a global level. Collectively we can meet industry expectations and grow our economy through up-skilling the American worker. (page 19) 

Scaling “Stackable Credentials”

  • Driven by economic mobility and competitiveness concerns, policy leaders at all levels are setting goals for increasing postsecondary credential attainment. In 2009, President Obama challenged all Americans to commit to at least one year of postsecondary training or education and set a national goal of 5 million community college graduates with associate degrees or certificates by 2020. America’s governors are also setting specific goals for credential attainment and elevating the message that “a relevant workforce certification or postsecondary degree is the ‘New Minimum’ to access the middle-class and beyond.” For example, Oregon has set a goal that “by 2025, 40 percent of Oregonians will earn a four-year degree, 40 percent will achieve a postsecondary certificate or associate’s degree, and the remaining 20 percent will earn a high school diploma or equivalent and be ready to enter the workforce.” (page 1-2) 
  • Since this is still an emerging field of practice, there is yet no standard definition of stackable credentials. However, the definition articulated by the U.S. Department of Labor reflects a common understanding of this approach. It defines a stackable credential as one that is “part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to build up an individual’s qualifications and help them to move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to different and potentially higher-paying jobs.” As discussed in this paper, states and colleges are achieving stackability in a variety of ways to optimize credential attainment and build multiple on and off ramps to postsecondary credentials for people as they prepare to enter the workforce, aim to upgrade their skills to keep a job, advance to a better job, or move from one field of work to another. (page 2)

Portable Stackable Credentials

  • The United States spends over $400 billion a year on post-secondary education.1 By most measures, the country is not getting a good return on this investment. Too many U.S. students emerge from our secondary and post-secondary educational institutions without the knowledge, skills, or credentials necessary to meet the challenges of the 21st century’s increasingly global and technology-based jobs market. (page 2) 
  • As the world’s labor markets evolve, so do the demands on its educational systems. (page 2) 
  • However, there is also a lack of understanding and communication between – not just the heretofore separate worlds of education and business – but also different areas of the education world (K-12, college and adult education – both public and private). Each has its own unique language and way of doing things, making it difficult for all stakeholders to arrive at a vocational or career and technical education system that can meet the needs of 21st century employers, education providers, and the students and workers seeking to acquire education and training credentials that are both “portable and stackable. (page 6) 
  • Portable, so that they are trusted by employers and educational institutions throughout the country and perhaps even the world. To accomplish this, they would be independently verified or accredited, as in the case of “Qualification Frameworks” that are currently being adopted around the world in such places as India, the European Commission, the Philippines, and Australia. According to the recent McKinsey report cited above22, by adopting innovative technologies, educational institutions can now reach many more students at a much lower cost. Online learning offers the promise of providing millions of students access to the best teachers and teaching systems, and can be customized to suit individual learning objectives. (page 7) 
  • Stackable, so that students are able to earn shorter-term credentials with clear labor market value and then build on them to access more advanced jobs and higher wages. These stackable postsecondary certificates and credentials would offer an accelerated entrance to the job market, which is essential for students who need to work while in school and may not be able to wait four to six years to finally earn a marketable credential. “The majority (51%) of post-secondary certificate programs take less than a year of instructional time to complete, while 41% take between one and two years.”23 Stackable credentials also increase the persistence and motivation of the learner by offering smaller, yet recognized subgoals. (page 7) 
  • Part of a Career Pathways System, with clear education, training strategies, mechanisms, and supports for moving from the acquisition of core skills and credentials for job entry on through increasingly higher levels of relevant skills and credentials to advance to higher levels of employment within sectors and industries.
    (page 7) 
  • Here is a growing recognition of the problem and a beginning consensus on the solution set, but to move in the direction of a stackable, portable credential approach, all stakeholders in all areas of education, government and business with an interest in education, labor, and training need to get together and agree upon the most effective methods and the responsibilities each area will have in making such a system work. (page 25)