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Vocational Hope: A Key Factor in Drop-Out Prevention

Young people with positive expectations for their education, jobs and future are more likely to complete their education than young people who do not have those expectations.

Research has shown that adolescents who have a positive orientation to their futures tend to be more involved in their schooling and finish school at higher rates than those who see their futures in less positive terms (Christenson & Thurlow, 2004). For many adolescents, having a hoped-for future that includes meaningful and satisfying work is a key to their school involvement (Kenny et al., 2006). They see that completing necessary education is connected to their hoped-for vocational futures. A key to working with adolescents to ensure that they enroll in and complete their education may, therefore, be in helping them develop a sense of vocational hope.


Steven D. Brown
Ph.D., Professor of Education, Loyola University Chicago, 2010.



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Vocational Hope

The definition of vocational hope that guides my research is "A positive emotional and motivational state associated with envisioning a future in which satisfying and meaningful work is attainable." There are three key components of this definition. First, hope focuses on the future. Second, the envisioned future includes working in a job that will be meaningful to the person and bring him or her satisfaction. Third, the adolescent must see that finding meaningful and satisfying work is a personally attainable goal - envisioning a positive, but personally unattainable future breeds hopelessness and despair.

How to Promote Vocational Hope - Identify Meaningful and Satisfying Work Options

Promoting vocational hope first requires that the adolescent be helped to identify work that may be personally satisfying and meaningful. This means that the guidance worker will help adolescents identify their major work-related values, talents, and interests and generate vocational possibilities that will allow them to fully express their values, make use of their talents, and engage in work that is intrinsically interesting.

I realize that this trait-factor perspective has many critics in your country and elsewhere in Europe (and the United States), but my experience has convinced me that helping people understand their values, talents, and interests and helping them implement these in the world of work is more important today than ever. Many critics have a stereotype of guidance based on this perspective as involving telling people what job they should have for the remainder of their lives.

To the contrary, effective as opposed to stereotyped, trait-factor guidance should generate an array of possibilities for the individual, some of which the person may never have considered - a truly empowering and potentially hope-producing endeavor and one that should serve adolescents well as they may have to move from job to job in our unstable economy. It is also critical to instilling a sense of hope - vocational hope hinges on there being personally satisfying and meaningful work in one's future.

Thus, before choosing a vocational path, adolescents need to be helped to consider how different vocational educational paths will lead to jobs that will allow them to express their values, make use of their talents, and allow them to engage in activities that they find interesting. Otherwise, hope may be impossible to instill and drop-outs likely.

How to Promote Vocational Hope - Build Educational and Coping Self-Efficacy Beliefs

Second, adolescents must see that satisfying and meaningful work is attainable. That is, they must come to believe that they can succeed in their chosen vocational path and that they can overcome obstacles that may stand in their way. We call these beliefs self-efficacy beliefs and there are two types of self-efficacy beliefs that seem to be critical. First, students must have confidence that they can successfully accomplish educational and training tasks of their chosen vocation, educational self-efficacy. Add to this that they can cope with barriers and other difficulties that may stand in their way, coping efficacy.

Both kinds of efficacy beliefs can be promoted via (1) personal performance accomplishments (e.g., reviewing with students past academic successes and coping efforts and helping them achieve further successes), (2) modeling (e.g., exposing students to others like them who have achieved their hoped-for futures), and (3) social support from parents, peers, and guidance workers (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). We have also found that support is most effective when it encourages to people take on increasingly challenging tasks and provides emotional sustenance.

How to Build Vocational Hope - Build Positive Outcome Expectations

Third, adolescents must see that sustaining the work that is required to attain their hoped-for vocational futures is worth their effort - that the outcomes of working toward their vocational futures are more positive than other alternatives (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Thus, vocational guidance workers might also help the adolescent compare the imagined outcomes of finishing their education with alternatives associated with dropping out of training. They might also ask clients what they hope to become and what they fear they might become to enhance motivation. Writing about their hoped-for and feared futures to return to at later dates might help them persevere.

More About Supports

Research over the past decade has revealed that having support for ones plans and goals is critical to sustaining long-term educational and vocational efforts, and also to vocational guidance outcomes. Counselors, parents, family, and peers can be emotional life-lines during times of trouble and provide the types of experiences that aid people in overcoming difficulties and sustaining educational and vocational efforts. Further, we have found that helping people identify and build sources of support for their vocational options is one of the five most important things that a counselors can do to enhance the effectiveness of their work (Brown & Ryan Krane, 2000).

However, not all "support" is supportive. For example, research in the United States has shown that being in a peer group that values educational achievement is one of the strongest protective factors that fosters school completion among adolescents at risk for dropping out of school. However, the opposite is also true - having best friends who do not value educational attainment is one of the strongest risk factors for dropping-out.

Similarly, having parents who expect school completion protects from dropping out and having parents without such expectations increases risk. So what to do? I'd try to get parents involved in your work with their adolescents and try to get your kids to make new friends. If you find out a successful way to do the latter, please let me know!!!!


Brown, S. D. & Ryan Krane, N. E. (2000). Four or five sessions and a cloud of dust: Old assumptions and new observations about career counseling. In S. D. Brown & R.W. Lent (Eds.), Handbook of Counseling Psychology. NY: Wiley.

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (1994). "Toward a unifying social cognitive theory of career and academic interest, choice, and performance". Journal of Vocational Behavior, 45, 79-122.

Cunningham, M., Corprew, C. S., & Becker, J. E. (2009). "Associations of future expectations, negative friends, and academic achievement in high achieving African American adolescents". Urban Education, 44, 280-296.

Christenson, S. L. & Thurlow, M. L. (2004). “School dropouts: Prevention considerations, interventions, and challenges”. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 13, 36-39.

Kenny, M. E. et al (2006). "Setting the stage: Career development and the student engagement process". Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53, 272-279.

Brown, D. et al (2002). "Social Cognitive Career Theory". Career Choice and Development. Fouth Edition. 255-311. San Francisco: Wiley & Sons

Relevant dansk litteratur

Højdal, L. og Poulsen, L. (2007). "Karriereudvikling fra et socialtkognitivt perspektiv. (SCCT)". Karrierevalg. Teorier om valg og valgprocesser. 189-214. Fredensborg: Studie og Erhverv