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Issues Concerning the Interpretation and Assessment of Career Adaptability: Perspective from Hong Kong, China


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The concept of career adaptability has been widely applied across cultural and educational settings in the hope of finding working solutions to facilitate school-to-work transition. In Hong Kong, China, there are signs showing that career adaptability scores are increasingly being used as the dominant benchmark to measure the effectiveness of career interventions designed for student populations. However, this concept is developed primarily based on western values. For it to fulfill its theoretical promises, the concept needs to be reinterpreted in the local context. This means that issues concerning the measurement and interpretation of career adaptability need to be clarified due to cultural differences. This paper attempts to address this issue by reviewing published studies on adaptability across other disciplines of psychology. Results showed that most published studies in Hong Kong on career adaptability did not use data and methodological triangulation research methodologies. Overall, this review shows that a reductionist approach has been applied to the study of career adaptability in Hong Kong. The current understanding of career adaptability remains largely at the psychological level only. Cognitive and behavioral changes are seldom studied or reported despite their importance. Implications on how future research could be enhanced are discussed.
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Citation: Wong, L.P.W. Issues
Concerning the Interpretation and
Assessment of Career Adaptability:
Perspective from Hong Kong, China.
Youth 2022,2, 181–194. https://
Academic Editor: Todd
Michael Franke
Received: 30 March 2022
Accepted: 17 May 2022
Published: 26 May 2022
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Issues Concerning the Interpretation and Assessment of Career
Adaptability: Perspective from Hong Kong, China
Lawrence P. W. Wong
Department of Counselling and Psychology, Hong Kong Shue Yan University, North Point, Hong Kong, China;
The concept of career adaptability has been widely applied across cultural and educational
settings in the hope of finding working solutions to facilitate school-to-work transition. In Hong
Kong, China, there are signs showing that career adaptability scores are increasingly being used as
the dominant benchmark to measure the effectiveness of career interventions designed for student
populations. However, this concept is developed primarily based on western values. For it to fulfill
its theoretical promises, the concept needs to be reinterpreted in the local context. This means that
issues concerning the measurement and interpretation of career adaptability need to be clarified due
to cultural differences. This paper attempts to address this issue by reviewing published studies
on adaptability across other disciplines of psychology. Results showed that most published studies
in Hong Kong on career adaptability did not use data and methodological triangulation research
methodologies. Overall, this review shows that a reductionist approach has been applied to the study
of career adaptability in Hong Kong. The current understanding of career adaptability remains largely
at the psychological level only. Cognitive and behavioral changes are seldom studied or reported
despite their importance. Implications on how future research could be enhanced are discussed.
Keywords: career construction; career adaptability; Hong Kong
1. Introduction
In Hong Kong, China, career adaptability has been regarded as a promising psycho-
logical concept in facilitating the career planning and preparation of secondary students in
Hong Kong [
]. Undoubtedly, the empirical investigation of how career adaptability is
linked to positive adolescent career development outcomes is important to enhancing our
theoretical understanding of the concept. However, for lay consumers of research studies
(e.g., policy makers; schoolteachers) who are mainly interested in how to initiate students’
observable and measurable behavioral changes through cultivating career adaptability,
there are potential problems if they do not understand properly how this concept is mea-
sured and reported. This is because very frequently, there is a lack of clarity and consistency
in how the term “adaptability” is defined [
]. The psychological literature has tended to
conflate adaptability with other closely related constructs [
]. Moreover, adaptability in its
theoretical grounding implies the use of cognitive, behavioral, and affective resources to
manage transition [
]. The contribution of these factors, however, was not clearly delineated
in the career adaptability concept, and its related theory, the career construction theory
(CCT) [
]. From a theoretical perspective, the lack of conceptual clarity concerning the
career adaptability concept is based on the fact that while adaptability related to workplace
and career transitions could be a new concept within the counseling psychology literature,
the same concept, however, is not new at all and has already been systematically examined
in the disciplines of organizational psychology and applied psychology [
]. The lack of
conceptual clarity may have helped to explain why despite the overwhelmingly positive
gains in career adaptability reported by certain local researchers in Hong Kong, results from
Youth 2022,2, 181–194.
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other largescale Hong Kong and international surveys revealed that secondary students in
Hong Kong are still struggling to develop their career [811].
The objective of this paper is to clarify potential conceptual ambiguities concerning
the study of career adaptability among secondary students in Hong Kong. To this end,
this paper begins by first reviewing the conceptual definition of the term “adaptability”
by drawing on published research in the study of adaptability from other disciplines
of psychology. Then, recently published studies concerning the development of career
adaptability of student populations in Hong Kong secondary schools are reviewed to
examine how the career adaptability concept has been operationalized locally. These issues
must be examined because a lack of clarity and consistency in defining adaptability will
impede the users of the research data to make meaningful interpretations [1,8,10].
2. Theoretical Background
Throughout the paper, I use the term “adaptability” to refer to the concept as a distinct
psychological construct that is not bounded to domain-specific influences. In this sense,
career adaptability is regarded as a context-specific realization of the general adaptability
concept. Such a differentiation is important to our analysis as it can help to illuminate the
subtle differences in relation to how adaptability is defined across psychological disciplines
and life domains.
At the outset, it is first important to define what “adaptability” as a discrete psy-
chological construct is. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology [
], it has the
following definition:
1. “The capacity to make appropriate responses to changed or changing situations.”
2. “The ability to modify or adjust one’s behavior in meeting different circumstances
or different people.”
The study of adaptability has generated popular research interest across disciplines.
Several all-purpose conceptual frameworks have been proposed to examine adaptability
applied in different life domains. The career adaptability concept proposed in the career
construction theory is a good example of such a framework. Martin [
] has cautioned that
these all-purpose frameworks may contain serious validity and reliability issues. Citing
a newly proposed adaptability model as an example, he examined how adaptability was
defined in the model by referring to the APA dictionary. He showed that the model
conflated the adaptability concept with resilience, which is a related but distinct construct.
Referring to the APA definition, Martin [
], further clarified that the following conceptual
attributes can be used to define adaptability as an independent construct:
1. “Cognitive, behavioral, and emotional regulation.” [6].
2. The research context is a situation where individuals react to “change, variability,
novelty, uncertainty, and transition.” [6].
Martin’s [
] analysis has offered several critical insights concerning the meaningful
interpretation of adaptability research. First, due to the lack of understanding of the defini-
tions of concepts related to adaptability, very frequently, researchers confused adaptability
with other related constructs, or in the extreme, they are not measuring adaptability at
all. A good example is the conflation of resilience, which is defined as “difficult or chal-
lenging life experiences” [
] with adaptability [
]. Second, the operational definition of
adaptability adopted in existing theoretical frameworks may not be consistent with the
standard APA definition. This means that it is possible for empirical research that has
claimed to have examined adaptability to derive results that are not very meaningful to
the understanding of adaptability as they diverge from the standard definition [
]. Third,
psychological change alone is not sufficient to prove the existence of adaptability. Cognitive
and behavioral factors must be considered as well. Last, adaptability is to be measured in
situations where individuals experience transition, change, and uncertainty.
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3. Issues Concerning the Concept of Career Adaptability
Savickas [
] proposed the career construction theory with an aim to converge different
career theories to explain and predict modern vocational behaviors across contexts and
cultures. Its central premise is that individuals are assumed to take full control and make
autonomous decisions in constructing their career development trajectories. In this sense,
the CCT follows a constructivist approach to career development. Career adaptability is
the theoretical construct that governs the process of career construction. It is measured by
the career adapt-abilities scale (CAAS) [13].
Career adaptability consists of four resources for managing transitions. They are
concern, control, curiosity, and confidence. Individuals possessing high levels of career
adaptability are oriented toward preparing themselves for future changes (concern), self-
regulated (control), active in seeking career information and engaging in career exploration
(curiosity), and believe in their ability in achieving their career goals (confidence). Recently,
a fifth dimension “cooperation”, which refers to the ability to work well with others has
been included in the conceptual framework [14].
Recent developments within the psychological literature have seen the common use
of a reductionist approach toward psychological assessment, and the direct application
of the theory with little cultural adaptation [
]. Within the Chinese context, the
Positive Psychology movement is a good example [
]. Another example would be despite
its widespread reported questionable cultural validity and reliability issues in Chinese
settings [
], Holland’s hexagonal model of vocational personality is still being widely
used within the secondary school sector in Hong Kong to assess vocational personality
fit [
]. Key information concerning the statistical model fit of Holland’s model (e.g.,
root mean square error of approximation) was never reported when it is used in Hong
Kong [
]. It is also unclear whether Holland’s model has been updated to reflect current
changes in the Hong Kong labor market [1,9,10].
Within the field of counseling psychology, the popular support of the career construc-
tion theory is another good example of such a trend. Several researchers have cautioned
that the CCT, and its related construct “career adaptability” should be carefully examined
as the clarity of concepts has yet to be fully established [
]. Xu [
] reported issues
concerning the incremental validity of career adaptability. In a sample of 284 employees
and 279 university students in the United States, while the CAAS total score additively
predicted career decision self-efficacy, the CAAS total score has failed to predict other
career-related constructs. There are also validity and reliability issues when CAAS is ap-
plied in non-western settings such as South Africa and Hong Kong, China. Watson [
attempted to apply the career construction theory to explain career issues in South Africa.
He failed because of major cultural differences as career adaptability is a concept that is
developed based on western values [
]. Likewise, Su and her colleagues [
] attempted to
validate the CAAS in Hong Kong. They failed to replicate the factor structure of the CAAS
as hypothesized by the career construction theory.
The career adaptability concept could be better understood if we examine its compo-
nent structure by referring to how adaptability as a discrete construct is studied in other
psychological disciplines [
]. The first step is to clarify potentially conflating parameters
that are critical to the understanding of adaptability by referring to the APA dictionary. To
this end, there are potential theoretical and linguistical issues concerning the interpretation
of the four dimensions of career adaptability. First, compared to the formal APA definition,
the term “adaptability” used in the career construction theory has its own theoretical and
pragmatic meanings [
]. Second, career adaptability is being described as a collection of
abilities, but it is unclear whether these abilities are cognitive, emotional, or behavioral
in nature, and whether they are in fact teachable/learnable or not [
]. Third, there
are other personality and behavioral traits that are found to be related to career-related
adaptability but have not been included as dimensions of career adaptability as defined by
the career construction theory [
]. Last, the distinction between individual and team
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level adaptability is unclear given the fact that individuals function differently when they
work in teams [28].
4. Issues Concerning Researching Career Adaptability
Based on Martin’s suggestions [
], research designs can be better formulated to avoid con-
ceptual conflations. Overall, the problems concerned with current career adaptability research
are: (1) Lack of a clear understanding of variables related but distinct to adaptability, (2) a lack
of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional coping change measurements deployed simultaneously
with the CAAS at each measurement points, and (3) a lack of clarity of the context of the study.
As an example to show how conceptual conflations are found in published empirical studies,
Harry and Coetzee [
] studied the relationship between career adaptability and burnout in
a highly stressful call center environment in South Africa. The research context involved no
scenarios related to career transition. The researchers hypothesized career adaptability as a
“resiliency resource”. This is a perfect example of how the resilient construct is conflated with
adaptability [
]. More recently, Maree and his colleagues [
] assessed the effectiveness of
a career adaptability intervention with a group of 116 disadvantaged prospective university
students who were in transition. In this study, the students were clearly in distress, but only
career adaptability was measured. Also, changes in cognitive and behavioral outcomes of the
research participants were not reported. Based on the research context, resilience should have
been the core psychological construct to be examined as it is more concerned with distress
coping [
]. However, there was also no detailed disclosure of the research context. It is unclear
whether the research participants were in distress (resilience), transition (adaptability), or both
(resilience + adaptability) [5].
5. Hong Kong as the Research Context
Hong Kong is a unique city in China due to its colonial history. As a former British
colony, Hong Kong is a place where Western and Eastern philosophies converge. Despite
its former colonial background, parenting and schooling practices in Hong Kong largely
subscribe to traditional Chinese values. That is students, should be obedient, hard-working,
and prioritize collective wellbeing over personal merits [
]. These indigenous beliefs were
a product of the influence of traditional Chinese philosophical thoughts exemplified by
Confucianism and Taoism [
]. In particular, Taoism has its own unique interpretation of
adaptability. That is, as a part of nature, humans should seek to live harmoniously with the
ever-changing environment and should learn to understand that change is inevitable [
To do so, they should act in a creative and flexible way to find balance with the ever-evolving
world [32].
In Hong Kong, it is well-established that the pressure for secondary students to succeed
in public matriculation exams is great. Students are taught the importance of adhering to
established successful examination strategies [
]. Creativity and critical thinking are not
prioritized in the classroom as examination preparation is deemed more important [
]. Under
this examination-driven learning culture, secondary students in Hong Kong have limited
opportunities to develop novel ideas such as career construction [
]. To exacerbate the problem,
due to their limited knowledge of the world of work, secondary teachers in Hong Kong have
found it difficult to teach career construction skills to their students [3335].
At the societal level, concerted efforts have been made to enhance the quality of
career guidance and counseling services provided in secondary schools in Hong Kong.
Since 2014, the Hong Kong government has been generously providing curriculum and
financial support to secondary schools in Hong Kong by initiating the “Career and Life
Planning Education” curriculum reform [
]. The business sector and NGOs in Hong Kong
also worked collaboratively to develop career assessment tools and interventions to help
secondary students in Hong Kong to develop career adaptability [
]. At the university
level, training courses with specific reference to the development of career adaptability are
now being provided to equip secondary school teachers with the necessary knowledge and
skills in career guidance and counseling [3,21].
Youth 2022,2185
At the school level, however, there is little evidence showing that reforms in career
guidance and counseling have been executed as intended. For example, a large-scale study
on more than 700 young people aged between 12–24 from 103 secondary schools in Hong
Kong found that nearly 30% of the participants felt that their schools did not help much
in facilitating their career preparation [
]. Another recent international research study
showed that the participation of students in school-based career guidance in Hong Kong
was the second-lowest among 31 OECD jurisdictions [
]. These realities all point to the fact
that students are experiencing difficulties in gaining access to quality career guidance in
school, which will certainly hamper their adaptability development.
The slow development of career guidance and counseling in Hong Kong secondary
schools can be attributed to several reasons. The first reason being the heavily entrenched
social belief in Hong Kong that obtaining high scores in matriculation exams is the only way
that can guarantee future career success [
]. Because of this belief, many schools do not
see the provision of quality career guidance and counseling services as important [
Second, career guidance and counseling initiatives in Hong Kong schools are mostly
conducted by personnel who do not possess working experience outside of the education
sector [
]. This means that they would find it difficult to help students respond to changes
in the world of work [
]. Third, there is an over-reliance on the use of psychological
assessments. The personal qualitative needs of students are seldom catered for [
]. Last,
unlike countries such as Australia and Britain, there are currently no statutory quality
monitoring mechanisms governing the appointment and promotion of schoolteachers and
other personnel who are carrying out career guidance and counseling duties in secondary
schools in Hong Kong [
]. In some situations, the person in charge of career guidance and
counseling in a secondary school could be appointed simply based on seniority or even
randomly [1,11].
Currently, students from Hong Kong, China are experiencing increasing difficulties
transitioning from school to work due to the mainstreaming of higher education [
declining English standard and international competitiveness [
], and a lack of access
to quality career guidance [
]. In recent years, competition for a local university place
fell to as low as 1.4 students for one university place [
]. Due to this mainstreaming of
higher education, Hong Kong students are experiencing a range of social and employment-
related problems [
]. One legislator in Hong Kong cautioned that coupled with the
falling English standard, recent graduates will struggle to stay competitive in high-end
job functions [
]. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has only made securing employment
more difficult for recent university graduates [
]. A few local researchers suggested that
helping students to develop career adaptability could be a solution to the problem [
However, two emerging social phenomena can stifle the development of adaptability.
First is the new phenomenon of “lying flat” (Chinese:
), which refers to a laid-back,
apathetic, and indifferent attitude toward life and work [
]. Second is the emergence of
“monster parenting”, a parenting style that centers on the belief that the child is always
right [
]. This belief has resulted in many teachers in schools in Hong Kong frequently
being complained about by parents for a variety of unreasonable reasons. This also means
that teachers in Hong Kong are experiencing great difficulties in helping young people to
develop adaptability because of the parents’ overprotective behaviors [9,10,45,46].
6. Career Adaptability Research in Hong Kong
Career adaptability is hypothesized as an important resource to facilitate a student’s
transition from one important life stage to another [
]. For us to better understand the
development of career adaptability research in Hong Kong, it is helpful to first understand
the historical development of career guidance and counseling practices in Hong Kong
secondary schools. As summarized by Wong and Yuen’s review of more than 60 years
of development [
], career guidance and counseling practices in Hong Kong secondary
schools had long been underdeveloped due to a lack of recognition and awareness of their
importance. There has been little evidence showing that career guidance and counseling
Youth 2022,2186
practices in schools are systematically carried out and evaluated in a transparent manner.
The year 2014 marked a monumental turning point for the development of career guidance
and counseling practices in Hong Kong secondary schools. It was in this year that the
introduction of a new curriculum initiative entitled “Career and Life Planning Education”
(CLPE) was launched. This new initiative aimed at initiating a paradigm shift in career
guidance and counseling practices in which modern approaches to career counseling would
be adapted and made accessible for schoolteachers in Hong Kong to facilitate their students’
career development. To this end, several prominent career theories and concepts were
adapted from the West. The concept of career adaptability was one of them.
In recent years, Hong Kong has seen an increasing number of research projects aiming
to develop career interventions that can nurture the development of career adaptability
among local secondary students. One common feature is that these studies all used self-
reported career adaptability scores as measured by the CAAS as the dominant outcome
measurement of the effectiveness of career interventions. Data and methodological triangu-
lation were not evident. Findings from these studies will certainly be valuable to enhance
our theoretical knowledge of career adaptability. However, we must be cautious when we
use changes in career adaptability scores as the sole indicator in assessing the effectiveness
of career interventions. This is because based on Martin’s [
] analysis, the way how these
studies measured and reported career adaptability can be potentially problematic. In
many cases, the associated cognitive, behavioral, and emotional change outcomes were not
studied nor reported. This means that it is uncertain whether the interventions were able
to elicit behavioral and attitudinal change, which is something that most educators and
career professionals are concerned about.
To illustrate these problems within the Hong Kong context, there were early signs
showing that the career adaptability construct is not applicable to explain adolescent career
behavior in Hong Kong. For example, Su and her colleagues [
] attempted to validate the
CAAS with a group of adolescents who were not in education, employment, or training
(NEETs) in Hong Kong. They failed to replicate the original factor structure. They instead
used a qualitative approach to report details of their career adaptability intervention [
Data triangulation was not evident. The research context also showed that the research
participants were in distress due to their NEETs background, this means that it would
be more conceptually correct to examine resilience rather than career adaptability. If
the research participants concerned were undergoing transitions, then adaptability could
be examined in conjunction with resilience [
]. Su and her colleagues’ study [
] thus
illustrated a common type of conceptual conflation concerning the study of adaptability.
Leung [
] for example developed a self-access computer system for Hong Kong
secondary students to engage in career exploration. It used self-reported scores of career
adaptability as measured by the CAAS to indicate whether career adaptability has increased
or not over time. It is important to note that, Leung used the career adapt-abilities scale
validated with university and college student populations in China but not secondary
students in Hong Kong for measurement [
]. This may not best reflect the career develop-
ment needs of secondary students in Hong Kong as research has shown they have their
unique situational and developmental needs, which are different from university students
in China [
]. In addition, when validating his instruments, Leung [
] did not report the
fit indices of the CAAS and other instruments used in his study. It is unclear whether these
instruments are valid and reliable to be used to explain the career development behaviors
of secondary students in Hong Kong [5,37].
The above review provides further support to Martin’s [
] suggestion that the op-
erational definition of adaptability needs to be unified and consistent with established
APA standards for research to yield meaningful results. Attention must be paid to the
interpretation of career adaptability in the Hong Kong context. This is because although it
is designed to be a unifying concept [
], its operational definition may not be consistent
with the official APA definition of what adaptability means [4,5].
Youth 2022,2187
7. Methods and Purpose of This Review
This review sets out to synthesize processes and concepts related to research in adapt-
ability to provide an overview of how this construct is studied. A merit of this approach is
that it aims at examining the extant literature and highlights the current state of knowledge
relevant to the concept under review [
]. This review does not claim to be exhaustive,
rather it aims at contributing to the theoretical convergence movement initiated by Sav-
ickas [
] by providing insights on how the theoretical examination of the career adaptability
concept could be enhanced.
8. Literature Search and Inclusion Criteria
Keyword searches were performed on library databases (e.g., ProQuest) and online
academic search engines (e.g., Google Scholar). First, a combination of keywords was
used to locate the scholarly works (e.g., career adaptability, adaptability, adaptability
career, career adapt, adapt, adaptative, adaptability student). Searches were conducted
in major psychology journals across the following disciplines: (1) applied psychology,
(2) cognitive psychology, (3) communication psychology, (4) developmental psychology,
(5) educational psychology, and (6) organizational psychology. These journal titles are for
example American Psychologist, British Journal of Guidance & Counseling, Developmental
Disorders, Educational Psychologist, Frontiers in Psychology, International Journal for
Educational and Vocational Guidance, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Applied
Sports Psychology, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personnel Psychology,
Psychological Science, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Quarterly Journal of Speech, The
Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, The Journal of Psychology.
In this review, articles were included if the following criteria were met: (1) theoretical
and methodological papers containing any of the keyword searches, (2) measured career
adaptability and its effects on secondary school students, (3) measured adaptability and its
effects on secondary school students, (4) measured adaptability against any of the keyword
searches. Only published peer-reviewed materials were included. Nonpeer-reviewed
materials were all excluded. Figure 1shows a flow diagram of the literature search and
selection of papers through the review.
Figure 1. Overall flow of literature search and inclusion.
9. Data Synthesis and Analysis
The identified adaptability research studies were grouped based on the psychological
discipline to which they correspond, which is indicated by the journals they were published
in. They were then classified following the framework proposed by Martin [
] concerning
the study of adaptability. That is, adaptability should be analyzed based on cognitive,
behavioral, and affective domains in responding to change [6].
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10. Results
10.1. Cognitive Aspects of Adaptability
Research in the areas of developmental and biological psychology suggests that the
successful development of adaptability can be influenced by factors such as heredity. Hered-
ity has been found to be a crucial factor influencing the development of communicative
adaptability, which is referred to as the ability of individuals to use cognitive and emotional
resources to change their communication behaviors based on their immediate surround-
ings [
]. In their study with 390 adult twins, Beatty and her colleagues [
] found that
communicative adaptability was largely heritable, that is two out of three dimensions of
communicative adaptability as measured by the Communicative Adaptability Scale [
were found to be heritable social composure (88%), wit (90%), and social confirmation
(37%). In keeping with these findings, similar previous research studies also reported that
the ability to vary one’s cognitive communicative style is largely heritable [52,53].
Empirical research in the field of educational psychology revealed similar findings.
Krapohl and her colleagues [
] compared the achievement results of 13,306 twins in
the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examination together with their
questionnaire results on nine noncognitive and behavioral domains. It was found that
achievement results were largely influenced by heredity and intelligence. Altogether,
cognitive and noncognitive variables accounted for 75% of the heritability of academic
achievement. In particular, scores in English, Mathematics, and Science were found to
be more heritable (62%). These results suggested that successful learning acquisition is
influenced by genetics and not purely by intelligence.
Concerning the possible effects of a constructivist orientation of learning on students’
achievement outcomes, Hattie [
] in his seminal synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses
related to student achievement outcomes found that how adolescents are taught in schools
was also instrumental to successful learning. Constructivist approaches to learning (d= 0.17)
were found to be significantly less effective in enhancing student achievement compared
to teachers’ direct teaching (d= 0.60). These results concurred with a wealth of evidence
reported in similar important empirical studies that had found that the constructivist
approach to learning was largely detrimental to adolescents’ academic achievement [56].
Several scholars in the field of educational psychology and organizational psychology
argued that adaptability refers to the ability to be flexible to change. Bertollo and her
colleagues [
] for example showed that helping autistic students to develop adaptability is
to develop cognitive flexibility, which is “a central executive function skill and involves the
ability to efficiently switch between multiple mental sets, tasks, or operations in response
to changing situational demands”. The application of this cognitive flexibility concept has
also been applied in several adaptability frameworks within the field of organizational
psychology. For example, Ployhart and Bliese [
] developed the Individual Adaptability
Framework to explain workplace behavior. Flexibility is regarded as an interpersonal
construct that is related to the ability to adapt to different situations when working with
different people. Similarly, in another workplace-related adaptability framework, the
Taxonomy of Adaptive Performance [
] suggested that being flexible and open-minded
when dealing with others is an important interpersonal adaptability resource for effective
teamwork to take place.
Other than flexibility, creativity has also been suggested to be an important cognitive
adaptability resource. Pulakos and her colleagues [
] proposed that an important process
for successful transition was the ability of individuals to develop original solutions to solve
novel problems in unfamiliar environments. In keeping with this suggestion, Ployhart
and Bliese [
] suggested that creativity and the ability to learn new things quickly are
important cognitive abilities that are strongly related to overall work-related adaptability.
Creativity and flexibility as work-related adaptability resources have both found support
within the organizational psychology literature. For example, the Hogan Personality
Inventory (HPI), the Motives, Values, Preferences Inventory (MVPI) [
], and the Dutch
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Adaptability Dimensions and Performance Test [
] recognized these two constructs as
important adaptability resources in occupational settings.
10.2. Behavioral Aspects of Adaptability
Research from counseling psychology, social psychology, and organizational psychol-
ogy was able to show that heredity and environmental variables are influential factors in
guiding the development of adaptability. First, Rushton and his colleagues [
] investigated
573 pairs of adult twins of both genders. It was found that altruistic and aggressive traits
such as empathy, aggressiveness, and assertiveness have a broad heritability ranging from
56% to 64%. These results helped to show that the occurrence of certain behavioral traits
is largely genetically influenced. Second, in terms of environmental factors, Mei and her
colleagues’ empirical study in China [
] showed that career adaptability was found to be
negatively correlated to levels of participation in career training workshops and deliberate
practice of the career-related skills taught. This negative correlation was influenced by
environmental factors such as the course difficulty and the course instructors’/supervisors’
negative responses. This observation also provides further evidence on the role cogni-
tive variables played (e.g., perceived difficulty of the training content) in determining the
successful development of career adaptability. Similar to research evidence shown in the
educational psychology literature, their study [
] illustrated that deliberate practice of
cognitive skills is an essential behavioral adaptability resource [55].
Several scholars across different psychological disciplines suggested the importance
of using behavioral/performance variables to provide evidence of observable behavioral
change concerning the development of adaptability. Within the organizational psychol-
ogy literature, The Multidisciplinary Model of Reemployment Success [
] suggested that
behavioral indicators can be used to measure the outcomes of work-related transitions.
These outcome variables are for example current employment status, employment speed,
duration of unemployment, job expectation, intention to quit, and intention to look for a
new job. These outcome indicators can be used to provide supporting information to evi-
dent work-related adaptability [
]. Within the educational psychology literature, similar
behavioral indicators could be used to assess observable behavioral changes. One example
proposed by Collie and her colleagues [
] would be to use class attendance/participation
to assess behavioral changes in class engagement within the school context.
10.3. Affective Aspects of Adaptability
Research across various psychological disciplines all suggested that emotional coping
is an important adaptability resource that helps individuals to cope with psychological
setbacks, distress, and uncertainty when they are in transition [
]. Martin and his col-
leagues [
] showed that within the educational context, adaptability is linked negatively to
distress, poor mental health outcomes, and fear of uncertain situations.
Within the work context, research in organizational psychology showed that the
ability to cope with stress and control one’s emotions in teamwork settings is an essen-
tial adaptability trait [
]. Ogbonnaya [
] showed that in a sample of 4311 workers in
664 workplaces, performance gains resulting from working in teams came at the cost of
higher levels of job-related anxiety. This observation concurs with the theoretical features
of other adaptability frameworks in the field of organizational psychology. For example,
the three adaptability frameworks that were designed to explain organizational adaptive
behaviors agreed on the essential role flexibility plays in successful adaptation during
transition [27,58,59].
Other than the ability to learn new skills and knowledge quickly [
], there are affective
aspects of flexibility as an important adaptability resource. First, when working in teams,
social/interpersonal adaptability, which is the ability to control one’s emotions and be
agreeable and open to criticism is critical to successful workplace adaptation [
]. Another
important affective aspect of adaptability is the concept of cultural adaptability [
]. This
concept refers to the ability of individuals to be able to sense the work practices of the
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company, and subsequently modify their behaviors to fit themselves into the workplace
culture accordingly [
]. Within Chinese settings, due to the influence of Confucianism
and Taoism, cultural adaptability refers to the ability to adhere to the principles of obedience,
prioritizing collective good over individual gains, loyalty, and being flexible and creative at
the same time [31,32,66].
11. Discussion
This review has found a body of literature across several disciplines of psychology
concerning the study of adaptability. Overall, these studies highlighted the important role
cognitive, cultural, behavioral, and affective variables play in the formation of adaptability.
The identification of these important factors can be used to aid our understanding of how
the career adaptability concept could be better examined and interpreted.
At the theoretical level, first, it is important to clarify that although not specifically
mentioned and addressed, the career adaptability concept draws heavily on the use of an
individual’s cognitive resources. This can be inferred by the wordings of the career adapt-
abilities scale [
]. Items such as “learning new skills” and “making decisions by myself”
are clearly cognitive attributes that are related to the development of career adaptability.
Results from this review showed that cognitive variables play a highly influential role
in governing learning success. Research in educational psychology and communication
psychology has shown that heredity and genetic factors are highly influential in determining
successful learning outcomes and the deployment of motor skills and knowledge. To this
end, this means that genetic factors and other cognitive factors such as intelligence govern
to what extent career adaptability could be developed. In short, there is a limit to how career
adaptability could be developed. This is an important point the career construction theory
has yet to clarify clearly. Second, results from the review showed that compared to other
published frameworks of adaptability, the career adaptability concept lacks a psychological
coping mechanism. Research has shown that the ability to console oneself and to seek
support from others is an important adaptability resource within the educational and
occupational context [
]. Third, this review has also shown that flexibility and
creativity are important adaptability resources within occupational settings and Chinese
cultural contexts. However, these factors are not included as domains of career adaptability.
This may help to suggest why as illustrated in Su and Wong’s study [
], the factor structure
of the career adapt-abilities scale did not hold within the Chinese context. This may also
help to shed light on the reasons why despite the fact that career adaptability interventions
are increasingly becoming available to adolescents in Hong Kong [
], multiple
survey reports have shown that secondary students in Hong Kong are still struggling in
career planning [8,36].
At the practice level, first, this review shows that caution must be exercised when
interpreting the results of successful career adaptability interventions. This is because as this
review has shown, adaptability is a multi-dimensional concept that involves the interplay
between cognitive, behavioral, and affective variables [
]. Mere reporting on self-reported
career adaptability scores is insufficient to show the successful development of adaptability.
Corresponding changes in cognitive, behavioral, and affective domains need to be shown
as supporting evidence [
]. Second, attention must be paid to the data collection and
analytical plan of career adaptability studies. This is because conceptually, as defined by
the APA dictionary, adaptability has its own conceptual definition. Because the career
adaptability concept is primarily developed based on conceptually similar constructs [
conceptual conflation can easily take place and hence, research on career adaptability may
not enhance our understanding of adaptability [
]. Third, due to cultural differences, the
career construction theory and the career adaptability concept need to be deconstructed
and then reconstructed according to Hong Kong’s local cultural values [
]. Last,
regarding the constructivist nature of the career adaptability concept, it is important to note
that students should not be left alone to discover a career themselves [
]. To facilitate
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career construction, students should be taught directly and explicitly by teachers the steps
in career construction [1,55].
It is also worth noting that currently in Hong Kong, career guidance and counseling
practices still focus predominantly on university admission counseling [
]. This approach
is inadequate in helping students to develop a career in our technologically disrupted
employment market today. This is because what students learn in university now can
easily become obsolete by the time they graduate [
]. Another reason is that prelim-
inary evidence has shown that young people in Hong Kong are increasingly raised in
an overprotective environment. Recent empirical research conducted in Hong Kong has
already shown that overparenting in Hong Kong is associated with maladaptive develop-
mental outcomes [
]. A more sustainable way to help young people in Hong Kong
to develop adaptability, therefore, is to help them to develop skills in cognitive, behav-
ioral, and emotional regulation [
]. Students should also be informed on what possible
academic/occupational development outcomes a particular decision they make may lead
to [1,8,31,37,68].
In addition, a second problem worth addressing concerns how meaningful action
research on adaptability could be conducted. Currently, induction courses are available to
train regular schoolteachers to become career guidance teachers. However, these training
courses do not have a practicum component, and it is not mandatory for schoolteachers to
attend these courses before they perform career guidance duties [
]. A major drawback
to this approach is that teachers are not given sufficient opportunities to learn how different
career theories and concepts could be applied empirically to their school context [
]. Also,
inherent problems within the career adaptability concept itself can create further problems
for effective career guidance practices to take place [4].
Future research direction can focus on establishing convergent and divergent validity
of the career adaptability construct in the Chinese setting. This clarification is essential as
although surface-level linguistic relevance between the terms “career adaptability” and
“adaptability” is evident, compared to the APA definition of adaptability, career adaptability
carries a different conceptual meaning [
]. To enhance the study of career adaptability,
future studies can also examine and analyze cognitive, behavioral, and affective variables
in conjunction with scores of career adaptability indicated by the career adapt-abilities
scale [
]. Data triangulation can also be applied to provide multiple perspectives on the
assessment of career adaptability. Twin studies could also be performed to examine genetic
influences in the formation of adaptability. Exploratory studies could also be performed to
compare the CAAS with other published adaptability theoretical models for measuring
career adaptability.
Funding: This research received no external funding.
Institutional Review Board Statement: Not applicable.
Informed Consent Statement: Not applicable.
Acknowledgments: I thank the journal reviewers for the constructive comments.
Conflicts of Interest: The author declares no conflict of interest.
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