Activating breakthroughs: Online career development programs for transdisciplinary career transitions
What do emerging transdisciplinary career pathways look like?
Tytler, R., Bridgstock, R., White, P., Mather, D., McCandless, T., & Grant-Iramu, M. (2019). 100 jobs of the future.
The Australian report ‘100 Jobs of the Future’ featured many unique job titles and inspiring job descriptions, indicating that future career paths will require transdisciplinary STEM skill sets.
Dockery, A. M., Phillimore, J., & Bawa, S. (2021). Changing demand for STEM skills in Australia and gender implications. Australian Journal of Labour Economics, 24(1), 71-110.
Dockery et al look at the demand for STEM skills from the perspective of current gender imbalance issues that need to be addressed.
PwC EU Services. (2020). Skills for industry Curriculum Guidelines 4.0: future-proof education and training for manufacturing in Europe.
This report highlights the global problem that continued reliance on silo thinking dominating our schools and post-compulsory education and training systems will not serve the needs of future workers and industry.
Battisti, S. (2019). Digital social entrepreneurs as bridges in public–private partnerships. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 10(2), 135-158.
Battisti points to an increasing demand for transdisciplinary specialist “producers”, internal and external to organizations, to enable project team collaborations working across boundaries of academia, policy-making, industry, media and the public or independent consultancy.
Miller, F. (2020). Producing shared understanding for digital and social innovation: Bridging divides with transdisciplinary information experience concepts and methods. Palgrave Macmillan, UK.
Miller highlights elements of transdisciplinary work projects:
Problem and solution-oriented transcending disciplinary boundaries and bridging the natural sciences, social sciences, humanities theory and practice;
Unity of knowledge beyond disciplines;
Holistic and comprehensive;
Consists of multiple perspectives; and
Inform social change on personal and societal levels.
These are key elements that distinguish transdisciplinary projects from interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary projects, where diverse stakeholder participants come together to collaborate on a problem, where the sum is greater than its parts in the short-term, but the participants eventually remain separate and unchanged. By contrast, in a transdisciplinary project, each team member is changed, through evolution and adaptation, throughout the project and beyond, regardless of orientation (Miller, 2020, p. 18-37).
Department of Education and Training Australia. (2018). Pathways in technology (P-TECH). https://www.education.gov.au/pathways-technology-p-tech-0
The Australian government’s Pathways in Tech policy recognises the importance of STEM in schools, tertiary education and industry.
Burford, S., Cooper, L., & Miller, F. (2020). Stolen Knowledge: Student Knowing in Workplace Practice. International Journal of Work-Integrated Learning, 21(2), 163-176.
A key finding of this study is that work integrated learning in projects or placements across multiple disciplines and industries can be highly beneficial for tertiary students.
How are the past methods and experiences of career development evolving to become more relevant in post-pandemic times?
McCowan, C., McKenzie, M., & Shah, M. (2017). Introducing career education and development: A guide for personnel in educational institutions in both developed and developing countries. Sense Publishers.
Career development, in practice within career development programs, is the expert facilitation of a person’s capability to develop self-reliance and build their own career direction and pathways (Miller, 2021)
Cochran, L. (1997). Career counseling: A narrative approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Narrative theories focus on how people construct their own professional and personal identities. Narrative theory is about creating awareness of meanings and patterns through life storytelling which is also a vital first step towards facilitating transdisciplinary work (Miller, 2020).
McMahon, M. (2018). Narrative career counselling: A tension between potential, appeal and proof. Australian Journal of Career Development, 27(2), 57-64.
A career program using a narrative approach offers clients valuable opportunities to deepen awareness of their identity, self-concept and personal values (McMahon, 2018).
Chen, C. P., & Lalovic, A. (2019). Career development for doctoral and postdoctoral trainees in Canada. Australian Journal of Career Development, 28(3), 167-173.
Narrative approaches can enable clients and career development practitioners to co-construct multiple career pathways and future meaningful and purposeful lives (Chen & Lalovic, 2019).
What are some transdisciplinary skill sets and mindsets?
Dyke, M., Johnston, B., & Fuller, A. (2012). Approaches to reflexivity: Navigating educational and career pathways. British journal of sociology of education, 33(6), 831-848.
As suggested by Dyke and colleagues, reflexivity provides a valuable lens with which to understand how people navigate their education and career pathways. It emphasises the role of reflection in learning and provides a coherent account of how people make sense of their circumstances as an attempt to navigate their way through the world. By engaging in the narrative counselling experience, we can raise our levels of self-awareness and ability to communicate to others our sense of purpose.
Daugherty, P. R., & Wilson, H. J. (2018). Human+ machine: reimagining work in the age of AI. Harvard Business Press.
This book identifies eight new “fusion skills” that are imperative for success in an AI workplace, drawing on the blending of human and machine talents within a business process to create better outcomes. 1. Rehumanizing time. 2. Responsible normalizing. 3. Judgment integration. 4. Intelligent interrogation. 5. Bot-based empowerment. 6. Holistic (physical and mental) melding. 7. Reciprocal apprenticing. 8. Relentless reimagining.
Bruce, C. (2008). Informed learning. Association of College & Research Libraries.
Prof Christine Bruce, Dean of Research, James Cook University identified an approach to learning that involves paying simultaneous attention to how people use or interact with information and their learning outcomes.
Miller, F., Partridge, H., Bruce, C., & Hemmings, B. (2017). Designing informal learning experiences for early career academics using a knowledge ecosystem model. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 41(5), 692-705.
This article was based on an interdisciplinary PhD conducted by Faye Miller and colleagues at Queensland University of Technology, which was a synthesis of information ecology, educational and organisational psychology, career development and human resource development theory.
The model was based on in-depth qualitative data analysis from interviews with early career researchers across Australian regional and metropolitan universities, who had made career transitions into academia from being practitioners in a range of industries such as health, business, engineering and entertainment.
One of the key findings was that successful career transitions depended on people’s abilities to communicate, network and collaborate using transdisciplinary skill sets and methods, including being able to adapt and learn from different disciplinary approaches and shedding the traditional silo mentality.
Baggio, J. A., Brown, K., & Hellebrandt, D. (2015). Boundary object or bridging concept? A citation network analysis of resilience. Ecology and Society, 20(2).
Baggio and colleagues examined resilience as a transdisciplinary bridging concept. In the context of sustainable development goals, going beyond individual capacity to recover from difficult events, resilience has been referred to as a boundary object or a bridging concept that is able to facilitate communication and understanding across disciplines, coordinate groups of actors or stakeholders, and build consensus around particular policy issues.
Mental health and wellbeing
Ji, J. L., Baee, S., Zhang, D., Calicho-Mamani, C. P., Meyer, M. J., Funk, D. & Teachman, B. A. (2021). Multi-session online interpretation bias training for anxiety in a community sample. Behaviour Research and Therapy.
A recent major study from University of Western Australia and University of Virginia has shown that online counselling was more effective in assisting people experiencing anxiety to retrain their brains to think positively and overcome inhibitions related to their negative thoughts, fears and self-doubt. These findings are particularly important right now because most of the world has been operating under highly stressful and anxiety-provoking conditions. The study provides key evidence that it is possible to provide freely accessible, digital interventions that can help us change the thinking patterns that keep our minds and bodies in states of anxious arousal.
Steps in the Activating Breakthroughs career development program
Developed by Dr Faye Miller, adapted from:
18. Reid, H. (2015). Introduction to career counselling & coaching. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
1) Individual narrative counselling sessions are based on guiding people to craft their career stories which help them understand their personal values and professional identities and how they might align with their current and future career issues or goals.
2) The counsellor encourages the client to tell three detailed stories from their youth. It is important that the client is reassured that their stories will not be judged and it is about focusing on what is important to them and not to impress a listener.
3) The client is asked to summarise the message or meaning of each story through writing them creatively into “newspaper headlines”. The counsellor reflects back the words the client used in the stories, listening for the first verb the client uses each time and noting it down.
4) The career practitioner summarises the stories, reflecting the client’s own words and collaboratively identifying potential patterns and themes.
5) Together they relate these patterns and themes identified back to the main career issue(s) discussed at the beginning of the interview. This is not the practitioner interpreting and analysing the client’s stories, but about co-constructing life interests, in order to better understand how these relate to the client’s future career goals. The practitioner will be doing this through using reflective feedback and summary skills. This could be the point in the session where counsellor and client begin to address self-efficacy, agency and identity issues, leading to potential action steps and reflections.
6) From there, they look at how the client can move forward on a task or project that is important to them or their job, engaging in three months of regular coaching sessions using the GROW technique – talking through their goals, realities, opportunities and wrap-up with action steps – while making decisions informed by their new understanding of themselves, their evolving professional identity and values.
7) After they have completed a project successfully, they engage in informed reflection of the experience, considering the five transdisciplinary mindsets and skill sets:
reflexivity through journaling habits;
fusion skills blending human and machine learning;
informed learning - how information from many different sources can contribute to personal change and creativity; and
how their resilience and mental health has been experienced during the coached project, tracking any changes towards their desired transition or adjustment.
Implications for researchers
While evidence based research or trials have not yet been conducted in career counselling for transdisciplinary careers specifically, it is challenging to formally assess how appropriate the approach is.
While narrative career counselling continues to expand, the evidence base for its application and outcomes is relatively limited according to leading career development researcher Dr Mary McMahon, University of Queensland. More research needs to be done in this area.
In-depth qualitative empirical research into early career experiences from the UK, Canadian and Australian higher education sectors suggests that the focus on enabling holistic career storytelling can be an effective approach to develop clients’ self-efficacy, agency and identity. i.e 19. McAlpine, L., & Amundsen, C. (2016). Post-PhD career trajectories: Intentions, decision-making and life aspirations. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.
There needs to be further research examining these potential outcomes to strengthen the evidence-base.
There is also a need to research ways of integrating online narrative approaches and transdisciplinary skill sets in individual coaching sessions and organisational learning and development.
How does the collective team engagement and performance change with the individual sessions?
Also broader research questions need further study such as:
What do emerging transdisciplinary career pathways look like?
What are the career development needs of transdisciplinary workers?
What are the skill sets and mindsets required by transdisciplinary workers?
Implications for practitioners
The benefits of online narrative career development programs and sessions are greater levels of 1) proactivity through agency development, 2) self-awareness through identity development and 3) self-confidence through self-efficacy development.
Professional career counsellors, specialising in narrative career counselling or other constructivist approaches, could be a more valuable and impartial source of support in reducing anxiety, self-doubt and mental health issues by dedicating time to exploring and developing workers’ self-efficacy, agency and identity.
Practitioners and researchers working together in transdisciplinary teams should have empathy for each other’s work and help foster communication, interpersonal skills and collaboration. The narrative based approaches help in developing that interpersonal empathy.
Transdisciplinary career development has implications for recruitment and training needs that could be more driven by how well candidates and employees know and articulate their values and identity, and how these align with the work role or organisation.
On a human level, even if you don't work in career counselling, it is invaluable for developing empathy for the psychological complexity involved in navigating careers (and future careers) towards life fulfilment and being a better human being.