Help someone make their mark in the world

Career theory is a daunting subject for most people, but it doesn't have to be. I hope the information in this section is going to help you get to grips with theory, how and why theory works in career guidance and the development of career theories and related over the last century. Maybe you'll even grow to like or love theory, if you don't already!

Theory around career guidance started in 1908 with Frank Parsons, and has since then seen major developments and, quite frankly, a lot of progress, as has society. Theory has generally matched developments in the world of work, education and society at large in that it always has mirrored requirements of individuals in the world of work. In Parson's time, this meant the needs of society 'as a machine' in the industrialised era of the start of the 20th century Europe, which was on the brink of it's first industrialised war.

This differs starkly with the requirements of the early 21st century, where the jobmarket is increasingly highly technological, fragmented and uncertain in a very different way to that at the start of the 20th century. Career guidance reflects this. The difference in attitude is one from 'the good of the nation' to that of 'the good of the individual'. Career guidance doesn't focus as much on 'what the nation needs and wants' as it does on 'what the individual needs and wants' in the first decades of the century and the millenium.

It's important to make a couple of considerations around theory however:

  • Different people categorise theories in a different way. No categorisation is fixed but I follow the one indicated in the learning outcomes for the Level 6 qualification in career guidance and career development, where appropriate.
  • Theories are not fixed on the day they become established. Theories continue to develop over time, either by the theorist (eg. Holland) or through the interpretation of others in the context of a new reality (eg the difference between the original conception of trait and factor and the way it’s interpreted now in a very different social and theoretical/philosophical context).
  • Equally, theories are not developed out of thin air but are always developed out of ‘what went before’ and ‘what is around’. They always have a history. Their development and conception can appear to be sudden, but it’s often difficult to pin down to a precise date, or even year.

The timeline below can therefore only offer a general idea of the development of career guidance theory and it is important to see it in that way, as an introduction and overview, rather than as a fixed model. 

As an introduction to this, please feel free to explore the timeline below. There is a full index organised by theory and one organised by theorist on the next pages.

Some of the items will have labels attached to them to indicate which family of theories they belong to. These could be the key theories to consider for your level 4 or level 6 qualification.

Next page - Theorists and Theories Index