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South African Journal of Education

On-line version ISSN 2076-3433
Print version ISSN 0256-0100

S. Afr. j. educ. vol.37 n.4 Pretoria Nov. 2017

http://dx.doi.org/10.15700/saje.v37n4a1476 

Deconstructing career myths and cultural stereotypes in a context of low resourced township communities

 

 

Anouk J. Albien; Anthony V. Naidoo

Department of Psychology, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, Stellenbosch University, South Africa anouka@sun.ac.za

 

 


ABSTRACT

The current research presents the voices of black adolescents struggling to emerge from the shadow of the Apartheid legacy, focusing on the career beliefs that are perpetuated in low socio-economic communities and negatively influence career opportunities. Inaccurate information can result in career myths, which can have a negative impact on career development. The present study uses the Systems Theory Framework (STF) as a means of engaging with clients from marginalised groups. It also offers a mechanism to explore the impact of overlooked career influences such as culture, religion, community and socio-economic conditions. The qualitative career measure, My System of Career Influences (MSCI), was used to explore the factors that contribute to career decision-making. Specifically, widely shared irrational beliefs that had prevented participants from applying to tertiary institutions were examined. Career misconceptions were grouped according to Stead and Watson's (1993) career myths, namely: 1) test myths; 2) misconceptions of exactitude; 3) self-esteem myths; and 4) career anxiety myths. The meaning-making that adolescents from disadvantaged contexts undergo, based on their unique constellation of contextual career influences and their resultant story-telling, is intrinsic to understanding local South African career identities embedded in township communities.

Keywords: career beliefs; career decision-making; career development; career myths; My System of Career Influences; South African township; Systems Theory Framework


 

 

Introduction

Global economic crises, technological innovations and unstable global employment patterns have had a drastic effect on career development processes and the world-of-work (Savickas, 2007). This has resulted in a wider and more diverse range of career issues and clientele that challenge traditional career conceptions (Maree & Beck, 2004). Lifetime occupations and linear upward mobility have become outdated. Instead, temporary assignments or contractual labour have become the norm (McMahon & Yuen, 2009), with individuals who work part-time or are self-employed frequently revisiting career decision-making processes (McMahon & Patton, 2002). These 21st century changes pose complex challenges to previous career counselling theories and practices that have informed South African career counselling (Maree, Ebersöhn & Biagione-Cerone, 2010).

Variances in career decision-making processes are most apparent in multicultural contexts, such as that of South Africa. Iterating the career concerns raised by Morgan (2010), the present research aims to highlight critical research areas that were previously overlooked in career counselling theories and practices. The first concern is the necessity of postmodern career counselling practices to facilitate respectful subjective meaning-making processes to overcome the limitations of traditional career approaches to career counselling and assessment (Maree, 2010; Maree et al., 2010; McIlveen, 2007; Nkoane & Alexander, 2010; Stead & Watson, 2006). Secondly, a heightened awareness has emerged for cultural sensitivity in order to create counselling practices that address an individual's career needs respectfully (Maree, 2010). The third concern is how career development of adolescents can best be facilitated, when the pursuit of culturally centred, meaningful career decisions has become even more challenging due to the changed nature of the world-of-work (McMahon, Watson, Foxcroft & Dullabh, 2008).

In the light of apartheid inequities being redressed, career counselling research should assess the interaction between current socio-political changes, challenging contextual factors, and the resulting career development of adolescents to avoid continuing trial-and-error career decisions (Akhurst & Mkhize, 2006; Stead & Watson, 1998). Career choices may still be affected by lingering apartheid racial or cultural markers, as well as by prescriptive, broader socio-political and economic factors (Naidoo, Pretorius & Nicholas, 2017; Watson & Stead, 2002). Previously, South African Life Orientation (LO) teachers, who are tasked with preparing adolescents to make future choices, targeted subject and career choices at specific points in high school, thus overlooking the process of career development (Ebersöhn & Mbetse, 2003; Watson & McMahon, 2006). Studies now emphasise that adolescents require the development of career adaptability competencies, described as a readiness to cope with predictable and unpredictable career adjustments, in order to master vocational transitions, whether they are self-determined or not (Blustein, 2011; Savickas, Nota, Rossier, Dauwalder, Duarte, Guichard, Soresi, Van Esbroeck & Van Vianen, 2009).

Currently, the LO curriculum contributes to limited career development due to the considerable time constraints and demands LO teachers face with competing teaching responsibilities and limited curriculum hours allocated to career outcomes (Akhurst & Mkhize, 2006; Stead, 1996). As a result, in some schools, career education activities are prioritised on an ad hoc basis, and township high schools are no exception (Ebersöhn & Mbetse, 2003). In order to contribute to restructuring the LO career development curriculum, the contextual needs and challenges in low-resource schools should be acknowledged in order to provide experience-near career counselling techniques and activities. Specifically, limited self-awareness, acc-ess to career information and world-of-work requirements have been cited as formidable stum-bling blocks to the career development of ado-lescents in disadvantaged contexts (Ebersöhn & Mbetse, 2003; Stead & Nqweni, 2006).

Social influences have also been cited as problematic, with negative peer pressure being associated with gang involvement, substance abuse and risky sexual behaviour (Shefer, 2011). In the family unit, often parents still have an apartheid status of unskilled or semi-skilled workers, which leads to insufficient parental involvement in career development (Seabi, Alexander & Maite, 2010; Stead, 1996). Furthermore, because families are fragmented, with extended family members acting as caregivers, there is a lack of social capital being transferred, with very little face-to-face time with adults (Alexander, Seabi & Bischof, 2010; Cole-man, 1988, cited in Munsaka, 2009). Due to the low-paying jobs that are visible in the formal and informal economies in township contexts, not only are there a lack of role models and job-shadowing opportunities, but severe financial restraints hinder-ing career exploration (Akhurst & Mkhize, 2006; Seabi et al., 2010). In terms of socio-economic challenges, due to the township context, there is a deficit of positive values attached to working hard towards a career (Maesala, 1994; Stead, 1996), particularly because criminal activities seem more lucrative and easier to enter into. In this landscape of limited career information, resources and exposure to vocational realities, acceptable career beliefs can be reduced to career myths by rapidly fluctuating economic markets and socio-political changes (Stead & Watson, 1993).

Career Beliefs and Myths

Career beliefs can be described as positive or negative thoughts that are held by individuals about themselves, their careers or the career development process (Peterson, Sampson, Reardon & Lenz, 1996). Self-efficacy beliefs and beliefs about the world-of-work can affect an individual's career aspirations and actions, often interfering with career decision-making processes (Mitchell & Krumboltz, 1990). According to Amundson (1997), career myths are faulty assumptions, and selective information, misinformation and/or generalisations about the career decision-making process that have been internalised from family or societal messages. Examples of career myths or misconceptions in-clude a career decision being thought of as a once-off event, or that career success in any field is possible as a result of hard work (Lewis & Gilhousen, 1981; Nevo, 1987). Career myths or dysfunctional career thoughts have been linked to career indecision (Saunders, Peterson, Sampson & Reardon, 2000), and increased negative emotions towards the world-of-work and career decisions, impeding career goals, or actions (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon & Saunders, 1996a). In contrast, positive career beliefs, such as career self-efficacy beliefs, facilitate movement through career decision-making processes and aid problem-solving behaviour allowing completion of career goal-related behaviour (Peterson et al., 1996).

Previous research on dysfunctional career beliefs has used assessments that investigate under-lying career thought patterns and how these affect career behaviour (Blustein, Ellis & Devenis, 1989; Gati, Krausz & Osipow, 1996; Gati, Osipow, Krausz & Saka, 2000; Savickas & Jarjoura, 1991). Specifically developed in and for a South African context, the Career Myths Scale is an example of a career beliefs assessment (Stead & Watson, 1993, 1998). Although a vast amount of quantitative research has been undertaken investigating vari-ables that have an influence on career decision-making, qualitative research that focuses on the exploration of career beliefs and myths is scant. The social webs in which individuals are embedded are largely overlooked in these assessments. This is problematic, as career myths are often socialised over generations and individualistic career mea-sures fail to address this. Maree (2016) presents a case study that emphasises the value of using career construction counselling for a client battling with career indecision. LO teachers who recognise learners' thinking errors or dysfunctional career beliefs can address them during career exploration activities by challenging identified career thoughts that need altering to move forward in the decision-making process (Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Rear-don & Saunders, 1996b). Although letting go of beliefs that were once adaptive is difficult, a career belief has to be evidently beneficial in the current context (Roll & Arthur, 2002). Therefore, prac-titioners, school counsellors and LO teachers are encouraged to explore all career beliefs that may currently hinder the career decision-making process (Saunders et al., 2000).

The present study qualitatively explores what career beliefs and career myths were present in a sample of Grade 12 adolescents in Kayamandi township, using the Systems Theory Framework (STF) to determine how these beliefs were socially constructed. The study further examines how these beliefs had affected the participants' career decision-making behaviour. The STF allows the career development of adolescents to be conceptualised as consisting of complex inter-actions between the individual influence system (e.g., age, personality, gender, beliefs, interests and ethnicity), the social influence system (e.g., family, school, peers and the media) and the environ-mental-societal influence system (e.g., geographic, political and socio-economic factors) (Arthur & McMahon, 2005). In this way, the career beliefs and myths held by township adolescents struggling to enter into a weak national economy, tertiary institutions and higher-status occupations can be voiced (Stead, 1996; Stead & Watson, 2006).

 

Method

Research Design

An explorative qualitative case study research design based on social constructivistic theoretical underpinnings was utilised in this study to provide context-rich and experience-near accounts (Blu-stein, McWhirter & Perry, 2005; Maree 2010; Maree & Beck 2004). In this manner, a complex and layered understanding of black adolescents' constructions of their pertinent career beliefs at systems levels provide a contextualised under-standing of career development trajectories among-st township youth. A qualitative instrument (MSCI) was used to engage the participants in a focus group interview to examine career beliefs that are socially and contextually embedded in order to overcome prohibiting constructions of career development.

Participants

Purposive sampling was used to select participants, with the main selection criterion being that the participants had to be Grade 12 learners from the Kayamandi township. Kayamandi means 'Sweet Home' in isiXhosa, and is an informal settlement of approximately 40,000 residents on the northern outskirts of Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands district, about 50 km from Cape Town. Kayamandi began as a compound for black workers and was incorporated into the Stellenbosch Municipality in 1994 (Rock, 2011). Kayamandi residents are employed predominantly in the service sector in lower paying jobs (e.g., domestic work, gardening, transport and other manual labour) (Darkwa, 2006). High levels of poverty in the community are accompanied by the attendant social conditions, such as crime, substance abuse and malnutrition. There are two high schools in Kayamandi. However, due to logistical constraints the sample was drawn from only one of the two high schools. At this particular high school, the Grade 12 learners were the first group of matriculants at the school. While all Grade 12 learners (47 in total) were invited to participate, the focus group sample consisted of 12 learners, comprising three girls and nine boys. The participants in the sample were between 17 and 20 years old (M = 18.4, SD = 0.65), showing that the age range is extended and includes learners older than a middle class Grade 12 cohort.

Measure

A qualitative career assessment instrument derived from the STF of career development, the My System of Career Influences (MSCI; McMahon, Watson & Patton, 2005), was used to collect data. The MSCI was developed over a timespan of four years and was subjected to a three-stage cross-national trialling process (McMahon, Patton & Watson, 2003, 2004, 2005). The MSCI (McMahon, Patton, et al., 2005:11) is adaptable for either indi-vidual or group career-counselling processes and has been found to be effective in assisting socio-economically disadvantaged learners, who were reported by Dullabh (2004) to have found the experience valuable and enjoyable. The MSCI is a 12-page booklet divided into five sections that enable guided reflection on current career situ-ations, with instructions, examples and space to respond in the booklet.

In Section 1 of the MSCI workbook, 'My present career situation', seven open-ended ques-tions are presented related to: current career decisions, work experience, life roles, occupational aspirations, decision-making approaches and peo-ple who have provided advice. Each of the interrelated systems of influence in the STF is represented diagrammatically in Section 2. The three most important influences in each step need to be indicated with an asterisk. The first step, Thinking about who I am, is based on the intra-personal system of influences, with reflection on influences such as interests, personality, gender, health and culture. The second step, Thinking about the people around me, is based on the social system of influences, with reflection on family, friends and media. The third step, Thinking about society and environment, is based on the environmental-socie-tal system of influences, with reflection on financial support, local area and public transport. The fourth step, Thinking about my past, present and future, contextualises time, using reflections on past role models and future lifestyle aspirations. The fifth step, Representing my system of career influences, integrates the information gained in the preceding steps and results in a personalised diagram of the individual's system of career in-fluences. Section 3 of the MSCI workbook, Reflecting on my systems of career influences, is a reflection process guided by 11 open-ended ques-tions. However, Section 4, My action plan, and Section 5, My system of career influences 2, were not included in the study. This research was limited to eliciting the adolescents' career beliefs at all systems levels of career influences using the 11 open-ended questions in Section 3 as a semi-structured interview schedule for a focus group interview. The MSCI was not available in isiXhosa at the time of this study; however, as adequate levels of proficiency in English were established, an isiXhosa translator was not needed.

Procedure

Ethical approval was granted by Stellenbosch University's ethics review committee and by the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED) prior to data collection. Written permission was obtained from the principal of the school for the Grade 12 learners to be interviewed. The re-searcher's prior involvement at the school facilitated credibility and access to the learners. Both parental consent and learner assent were obtained based on the assumption that learners would predominantly be under the age of 18 years in Grade 12. This assumption reflects more middle-class, urbanised school environments, in com-parison with the school in question, where the age range is extended principals, educators. Learners were under no obligation to assist with this research and special care was taken not to interrupt edu-cation programmes. Permission to record the interviews electronically was requested. The ano-nymity and confidentiality of the data were assured by coding the data to protect participant identities. Interview data were stored electronically for data analysis and were accessible only to the researcher, the research supervisor and an external researcher for transcription. The participants were provided with contact details of resources to provide further career counselling support.

Data collection constituted a four-phase research process, from May to September 2011. The lengthy structure of the research process was based on recommendations in the MSCI facili-tator's guide, which includes examples of systemic and systematic thinking (McMahon, Patton, et al., 2005; McMahon et al., 2008). A facilitative role was played by the researcher in guiding the group of participants through the various levels of influences in completing the MSCI. Firstly, an introduction to the research was provided, which entailed the completion of a narrative exercise and demographic questionnaire. Secondly, the MSCI booklet was completed in a group setting over three sessions. Thirdly, individual participants were in-vited to discuss their experiences of completing the MSCI booklet, guided by 11 open-ended questions in an interview schedule. Reflective interviews took 30 to 40 minutes to complete and were conducted after school in an empty classroom on the school premises to avoid interference with the academic syllabus. The last research phase was the focus group interview. Due to ethical stipulations, a short career development session was held with the Grade 12 learners of the school, as well as with the Grade 12 learners at the other high school in Kayamandi, who did not participate in this research. This ensured that these learners also had exposure to a career development intervention providing unique opportunities for reflection and career development, which might otherwise not have been received.

Data Analysis

Thematic content analysis based on the STF frame-work was used to extract themes from the focus group interview. Thereby the prominent career beliefs identified at the individual, social and societal-environmental levels during the individual interviews were confirmed, and career development could be facilitated (McMahon et al., 2004; Patton, McMahon & Watson, 2006). However, the current findings focus specifically on the thematic content analysis of the uncovered career myths using ATLAS.ti to assign specific codes to describe the data. The exploration of new and critical issues in career counselling with marginalised South African youth could be enabled by presenting qualitative themes, as well as a description of the adolescents' subjective career stories in order to illustrate township adolescents' subjective career beliefs (Ebersöhn & Mbetse, 2003; Patton, Creed & Watson, 2003; Stead, Els & Fouad, 2004).

 

Results

Individual-Level Career Myths

At the individual level, the career beliefs voiced centre around the learners themselves, training institutions and the labour market (Amundson, 1997). Career misconceptions at the individual level will be grouped according to Stead and Watson's (1993) career myths, namely: 1) test myths; 2) misconceptions of exactitude; 3) self-esteem myths; and 4) career anxiety myths. The respondents' career myths predominantly revolved around the first two types (see Table 1 below).

However, the Career Myths Scale is not able to capture a large number of irrational career beliefs (Stead, Watson & Foxcroft, 1993), es-pecially at the social level of career myths. Therefore, social career beliefs will be grouped below, as proposed by Arulmani (2010) (see Table 2).

Social-Level Career Myths

At the social level, career myths are created by being immersed in social relationships, as well as in a social contextual reality, and this highlights the milieu that serves to create and sustain habitual patterns of thinking about career decision-making and planning (Arulmani & Nag-Arulmani, 2004). In the sample, the focus group highlighted four distinct unanimous career beliefs namely: pro-ficiency beliefs, self-worth beliefs, common-prac-tice beliefs, and persistence beliefs.

Examining an individual's careers myths as situated within social webs, contexts or environ-ments presents an important shift away from career development approaches of the past.

Environmental-Societal Level Career Myths

The disconcertingly high number of disadvantaged youth in South Africa who are not in school and unemployed, calls for research into the environ-mental or societal career challenges faced by these adolescents (Janeiro, 2010; Stead, 1996). In the sample, the general perception held by participants was that job opportunities could not be found in the township. The availability of opp-ortunity structures and the underlying power relations in society are unseen forces that impact career choices (Naicker, 1994). Movement from rural locations to urban settings for educational opportunities were seen to create a tension between the former rural community environment with a more western lifestyle (McIlveen, Morgan & Bimrose, 2012).

As can be seen in Table 3 above, at en-vironmental-societal level, there were three pre-dominant career myths which were common-practice beliefs of tension between traditional and western worlds in career choices; the common-practice belief of a loss of township roots; and a shared persistence belief of overcoming hardship to future career success.

 

Discussion

Although, disadvantaged black adolescents now have access to a multitude of career opportunities that were previously not accessible to their parents, the task of choosing a career remains formally unaided (Hickson & White, 1989). Therefore, a desperate need exists for career counselling to dispel the career myths mentioned below at individual, social and environmental-societal levels (Nel & De Bruin, 1991, cited in Watson, Foxcroft, Horn & Stead, 1997).

Individual-Level Career Myths

Currently, South African adolescents are negoti-ating the development of their own career identities and adapting to post-Apartheid social changes. Participants face huge difficulties in navigating a labyrinth of work opportunities and training re-quirements with little guidance, highlighting the need to engage with career beliefs or myths that may hinder effective school-to-work transitions (Nel & De Bruin, 1991, cited in Watson et al., 1997; Watson, Stead & De Jager, 1995).

Test myths

The belief that an individual's traits should be matched to an occupation through an assessment forms the basis of this career myth (Stead & Watson, 1993). All the respondents wanted to be told what they needed to know, instead of engaging in a facilitated process of self-exploration, demonstrating residual traditional career coun-selling expectations. Measurements or lists of traits linked to different occupational task descriptions were thought to be the most helpful in indicating the best career. The excerpt below, transcribed verbatim, indicate the unmet expectation of what career counselling normally entails, with 'testing and telling' approaches alluded to:

Participant 12: The requirements for the career. And the characteristics, sorts of those things you know when you do the research in those big career books. They usually have the characteristics of a person and the career and how can you go about to finding finances for this career, so all of those things.

Participant 3: So that you can cover your abilities that, they are fitting in that career now. So when there's no information about the career, you won't know if your ability doesn't match it.

Anouk: If you have that information, where it says characteristics that a person should be for a job, do you think you can tell if you would like the job or not without trying?

Participant 12: But it will depend. I wanted to be a CA first. So I've looked into those career and I saw the characteristics were exactly as those that I have and there were very few that I didn't have; and I thought that I will get them along the way. But then eventually I've come across another career: actuary. Now I've discovered this one has more characteristic than the other one that I saw, so you see when comparing my abilities to the characteristics that one should have to follow this career path, I was able to say that my first choice is actuary and CA is my second choice.

These findings emphasise the need for the limi-tations of testing and matching procedures to be explained. Test scores may provide a direction, but high school learners need to be made aware that these are not final answers (Stead & Watson, 1993). Participant 12 investigated abilities and traits linked to occupations in which he was interested, using his love for calculations and maths as a matching process.

Misconceptions of exactitude

Another assumption that created obstacles to career development was perfectionism in choosing a career, which prevented necessary tasks from being completed. Three respondents held misconceptions of exactitude, with the result that they did not apply to any tertiary institutions, even though the first deadline had passed. Upon further questioning, five main reasons were revealed as to why their applications had not been completed. The first was a perceived information gap about the application procedure itself. Participants seemed uncertain regarding how to approach this complicated task. Participant 12 explained that this attitude was mirrored in the entire Grade 12 group: "A lot of guys at our school, I don't think others haven't applied yet because there is no information for them how to apply." Secondly, it was believed that an application to an educational institution needed certainty in a career choice. It was believed that an individual should take enough time to make this choice, because no changes could be made afterwards.

Thirdly, participants 2, 3 and 6 indicated that they were waiting for their final results and would apply with improved marks. Participant 7 explained that the main problem was that other learners did not realise better results could be sent once the application had been processed and was already on the university system:

"They are waiting for the good results, so that they can apply to the university. They are not aware that you can apply with your bad results, but they will check your performance."

The fourth reason was based on the inaccurate perception that applications would be considered even if deadlines had passed. The tertiary insti-tutions' capacities were severely underestimated. The expectation was that, once the final results had been received, the universities would still have places available. Participant 5 explained: "If you are academically good if you've applied when they've closed they will consider your application." This could explain the stampede that took place at the University of Johannesburg in 2011, when late applications were processed in January 2011.

Lastly, the fifth career myth is based on the idea that a career choice is for life. The importance of choosing the right career was emphasised by Participant 10, who described that: "in order to have a brighter future the correct career choice would have to be made." Similarly, Participant 4 said that she wanted "to make the only right career choice." A modified career idea acknowledges the compromise that is integral to addressing changing circumstances. A change in career ideas was taken as an indication of personal failure, as Participant 9 exclaimed: "Whoa! It can never change. I'll battle it out." A career path change was related to a lack of effort, rather than to a shift in priorities or interests.

It is a rarity that a career choice is perfectly congruent with interests, abilities, personality, needs and values (Stead & Watson, 1993). A career choice is inextricably linked to personal and environmental factors that will alter individuals' perceptions of the world-of-work throughout their lives (McMahon, Watson, et al., 2005). Although it has been suggested by Stead and Watson (1993) that all career myths need to be addressed before career counselling can begin, Amundson (1997) argues that career myths can only be addressed as they emerge during counselling phases. Specific-ally, at the individual level, learners may be thinking too narrowly about possible options (i.e., not entering courses due to duration of training), or they may believe themselves to be lacking the skills needed to enter a profession (Amundson, 1997).

Social-Level Career Myths

In order for career interventions to be meaningful in addressing career beliefs, they must be attuned to the habitual ways of thinking and living that compose the fabric of that particular community (Arulmani, 2010), which has been defined as the cultural preparedness framework (Arulmani, 2011). This is the transmission of information not only between members of the culture, but information that is drawn from a deep repository of accu-mulated inter-generational experience. This high-lights the importance of cultural heritage, which includes the social cognitive environment in which attitudes towards work, livelihood and career de-velopment are forged (Arulmani & Nag-Arulmani, 2004).

The focus group consolidated the participants' unanimous proficiency belief (Arulmani, 2010) of the importance attached to education. For example, Participant 7 explained: "I am hungry for studying, working hard to in order to achieve my dream and soul." Participant 2 stated that her: "plans for the future is to go to University and study further." This seemed to be the dominant viewpoint in the sample. University was seen as the pinnacle among higher education training institutions. However, these participants would be the first generation in their families attending university and had limited insight into the demands or structure of tertiary education.

Tertiary education would enable entry into white collar work and a different lifestyle. They would have property for "My own home" (Participant 11), and the future would lead to changes of which "one of them is money" (Participant 3). This is supported in Participant 6's vision that: "Since my childhood, I have been fantasising and dreaming about this beautiful house, this beautiful car and beautiful life" and that the only way he would be able to "get there, is through education."

The impoverished context of Kayamandi provides few opportunities for enhancing self-esteem. This could manifest in being preoccupied with self-worth beliefs (Arulmani, 2010) by focusing on acquiring fashionable items, socially desirable jobs, managerial positions, and luxurious homes and cars (Swartz, 2009). Further ideas revolved around money-making, where money was viewed as a precursor to other life roles, such as having a partner or building a family. Participant 3 explained: "First like have my money of my own, no woman. Money wasted."

An individual's likes and interests were not always taken into consideration when attaching value to careers. Instead, the amount that an in-dividual earned was viewed as more important than whether the individual was suited to that occu-pation. This is an example of a common-practice belief (Arulmani, 2010), an unwritten norm due to the shared desire for financial security, as well as the materialistic status indicators that are linked to the self-worth beliefs of the participants (Swartz, 2009). The rating of higher or lower status careers was explained by Participant 12:

"There are some careers that people thought are good and there are some careers people think are lower levels of a career. So if you said that you love to become a teacher one day, most the people will criticise and say that a teacher is not earning much and there is no life in teaching."

This contrasts with previous research studies (Dullabh, 2004; Watson et al., 1995), which found that social and investigative occupations were chosen by black adolescents. A desperate ambition existed in the sample to overcome the challenges that had formed part of their narratives for so long and to show "that they are somebody" (Participant 7). Thus, the protagonist in their career stories was an individual "that will make it" (Participant 1), with the intention of helping their families to lead a better life and to provide role models for the youth of their communities. Participant 5 wrote: "I do not give up in what I do because I need a better future." Similarly, Participant 8 conveyed that his aim was: "to live the best and satisfying life until I reach that I shall never give up." These excerpts are a clear indication of a persistent belief, which reflects the determination of the individual to work towards future goals with a sense of purpose and resolve, in order to strive for positive outcomes in the future (Arulmani, 2010).

Environmental-Societal Level Career Myths

The environmental-societal level included respond-ents' descriptions of surrounding environmental resources and barriers which contributed to creating career myths. Participants began to question how they would continue to keep friends and commu-nities close if job opportunities were far away from Kayamandi, and took up most of their time. Participant 11 explained this complex scenario and his insight is as follows:

"I never thought that my career affects my relationship with my family, but now I've realised that ... if I take that career path, I will be travelling a lot, actually I won't stay at home most of the time. So I see that, but I've accepted [...] that ok I can take that career and I can still be ok with my family I think. Because I think if I can make it, I mustn't say that. I will make it."

This realisation was important, because construc-tive adaptation to the Kayamandi context has been theorised to result from protective mechanisms associated with resilience, believed to be shaped through Africentric values that are assembled from stories of suffering and of support from the extended family (Theron & Theron, 2012). Thus, the respondents were anxious about leaving the world they knew and understood. A western lifestyle was anticipated, in which their Africentric meaning-making processes may not be beneficial or as strongly reinforced as they were by community members in Kayamandi. Cultural mechanisms of resilience have only been re-searched recently (Albien & Naidoo, 2016; Theron & Theron, 2012). Therefore, the irreconcilability of the traditional and western worlds manifested itself as a common-practice belief that was shared by all the participants (See Table 3).

Paradoxically, this western lifestyle and money were both desired and feared by the sample. The respondents acknowledged that they would have to leave the township for training: "We have to travel to other places and leave our communities behind" (Participant 8). An Africentric narrative was evident in the sample, where it was another common-practice belief collectively held that the western lifestyle would remove them from their roots, that their morals would be corroded, and that they would forget "where they came from and who they were doing this for" (Participant 9).

Africentric beliefs and value structures are believed to create resilience mechanisms in disad-vantaged adolescents (Theron & Theron, 2012) that emphasise setbacks as opportunities and act as an indication of a shared belief in persistence. All 12 participants mentioned that "to grow under struggle" would enable success at a higher level than someone who had not grown up in a shack. This study highlighted the cultural irreconcilability in the common-practice beliefs in a sample of peri-urban township black adolescents, an aspect that has not been investigated previously. Africentric cultural practices may conceal personal strivings, whereas 'western' training may oppose cultural norms and common-practice beliefs, resulting in dissonance in career beliefs and a lack of non-western support in career trajectories (LeVine, 1977, cited in Dass-Brailsford, 2005). Further comparative research is needed to determine whether the cultural pressures and common-prac-tice beliefs of maintaining a racial and cultural identity result in constraining narratives, or if a longitudinal revision of these common-practice career beliefs occurs.

Practical Implications of the Present Resarch

Although the sample had undergone cognitive and career development processes, irrational beliefs had only been successfully reframed and accepted by some of the sample members. Attitudes towards career development can be ineffective and not easily changed (Dorn, 1990). Reframing occurs as clients develop and accept new images of their career identities and decisions that support a constructivist career counselling process (Amund-son, 1997). More attention has been paid to the effect of career beliefs on career decision-making than it has to practical career counselling strategies to help challenge career myths, or strengthening self-efficacy beliefs. According to Roll and Arthur (2002), the main strategies focus on the language used by learners in their subjective career stories, including anecdotal evidence or phrases from family and friends. Furthermore, a downward or upward arrow technique (Burns, 1980) can be used to establish the associated consequences of career beliefs. Personal pressures and sources of interna-lised expectations need to be explored in order to challenge whether current beliefs serve the indi-vidual's career goals and the generation of alter-native beliefs about self, others, viable careers and the world-of-work should be facilitated (Roll & Arthur, 2002).

 

Conclusion and Recommendations

In conclusion, career beliefs are an important component of career exploration and decision-making. The results of this study have demon-strated the negative consequences of dysfunctional beliefs for career decision-making processes and vocational identity. This is supported by previous research that linked irrational career beliefs and lower career maturity (Özkamali, Cesuroğlu, Hamamci, Buğa & Çekiç, 2014). From the results of this study, suggestions can be made for further career counselling and guidance practices. School counsellors and LO teachers should determine whether learners hold irrational career beliefs, how these beliefs are socially constructed, and whether these beliefs may have served a protective function in order to survive the psychological stressors of the daily hardships faced in townships. Cultural sensitivity is needed to assess whether incorrect career beliefs may perform an adaptive function, protecting individuals from hopelessness and despair. Therefore caution should be exercised in trying to change irrational beliefs using career exploration activities, whether at the individual or the group level.

The research findings, while very informative, cannot be generalised to the Kayamandi popu-lation, nor to disadvantaged adolescents in other townships. However, the findings of this research study open possibilities for further studies in similar contexts, using the same or other theoretical underpinnings. The limitation of using an English-based measure with non-mother tongue English participants is central to the contextual findings of this study. While being helpful in facilitating a reflective dialogue which enabled an awareness of meaning-making patterns by tying personal and career variables together, indigenous language variations may encourage more effective career exploration processes.

The present research has demonstrated the complexity inherent in adolescent career decision-making processes, especially in low socio-eco-nomic environments that provide multiple exam-ples of vocational barriers. However, the primary outcome of the present study for counselling and vocational psychologists is the creation of awareness of the social context in which learners are embedded and how this context may have served to create and sustain career beliefs and career myths. Unique environments, such as town-ships, may cause individuals to follow set patterns in career choices which could contribute to pre-viously documented early career foreclosure in township youth leading to career decisions pre-dominantly driven by materialistic status and stereotypical career ideals (Alexander et al., 2010; Mdikana, Seabi, Ntshangase & Sandlana, 2008).

The call for culturally sensitive and relevant career interventions is addressed in this research so as to remove career beliefs that could impede career routes or serve to reinforce marginalised status (Maree, Ebersöhn & Molepo, 2006; Naicker, 1994; Stead & Watson, 1998, 2006; Watson & Stead, 2002). Adolescents from low-income communities are an under-researched group, and this research elucidates the unique constellation of career beliefs present in township adolescents' career decision-making processes. This research is intrinsic to understanding local South African career identities embedded in township commu-nities and enabling protection against vulnerability (McMahon & Watson, 2008).

 

Acknowledgements

We thank the participants for participating in the study. We also express our gratitude for the Stellenbosch University Postgraduate Merit Bur-sary, which funded this Master's research project.

 

Note

i. Published under a Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

 

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