Metaphors of Career 4: Construction

Construction is to do with making. I like Inkson’s definition of contruction as “… an ongoing piece of craftsmanship through which we simultaneously express who we are and endeavor to meet our ongoing needs.” What I like about this definition is its focus on making something personal. Questions like who we are? What is important to us? What our values are? And what terms like work and career mean to us are seen as questions that we answer ourselves in a personal way rather than us receiving pre-packaged answers from some external source. For example Mark Savickas looks at construction as “imposing meaning” on work. This is very much a post-modern theory of career. That is to say it moves away from an objective definition of career where concepts are fixed to one where what the individual thinks is primary. It says to the individual “your ideas and your personal meaning are most important.”

Linked to the metaphor of construction is the idea of constructivism. Constructivism is at core a learning theory. It can be seen to have its routes with thinkers such as John Dewey, Maria Montessori and David Kolb. Central to the theory is that we learn through experience, through active engagement in the world. Maria Montessori says,

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society.”

You may think that Montessori gets a bit grand towards the end of this quote but the general thrust is that their is not a set knowledge that the teacher can give and that can be communicated by words but only knowledge that can be personally gained by experience from direct contact with an environment.


So what does this mean for defining career? Well it moves the definition of career from the expert to the individual. It says that we all develop our own view of careers as we actively engage with the world. Someone teaching career from a constructivist stand point wouldn’t start with a pre-packaged definition of career but would help the class explore the concept for themselves to come up with their own definition. This also seeks to honor the existing views and perspectives of the individual. It accepts that active learning is something that has already gone on in the individuals life and is involved in what Montessori calls “… the great work that is being done.” Constructivism is not just concerned with the current experience of learning but with their previous experiences as well. While other teaching methods may encourage the learner to set aside previous opinions and views and approach the subject objectively, as it were “from a blank slate”, constructivism focuses on the learner as already having views and opinions which they will learn in light of. Constructivism casts the learner as a meaning maker who is in the process of making and re-making meaning in their life. Technically therefore constructivism does not define career but describes how we learn about career.


This highlights the importance of action for the individual. If you read the quote from Montessori again then you can see that the active person is the learner. As Montessori says “education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual”, the individual is no longer a passive victim but is the one who has a vision for the future. So what does the individual actually do? Simply put they build their own understanding of what reality is. They make meaning out of the chaos of life by labeling things and giving them personal meaning. This includes career. Career has the meaning that you give it. You can then work towards and manage your career on your goals using the actions you see as worthwhile. Then as you live out life you experience different things, are challenged on your views, consider alternatives and experiment with these. There is an ongoing process of learning and re-learning. But the big question always remains what does career mean? And how are you actively involved in finding that meaning.

Kolb’s Learning Cycle

I think Kolb’s learning cycle is a good way of trying to conceptualise constructivist learning theory.

Kolb talks has four stages in his learning theory. We start with our experiences, then reflect on them, then conceptualise our experiences and finally experiment on the basis of these concepts. A career’s worker using Kolb’s cycle would firstly want to know about someone’s experiences, this is the basic subject matter. They would then want to reflect on them with the client to try and draw out themes. These themes would then be arranged and ordered into a summary concept that could then be tried out in practice by the client. This would create further experience and round the cycle would go. This is in contrast to starting with a theory (let’s say that career is about providing for your family or rising up the corporate ladder) this may be a conclusion that is reached at the conceptualisation stage but we get there through experience and reflection.

Just to finish I want to highlight an activity that could be used to put this into practice. Try this out.

1) Write down three events in your life where you have achieved something that meant a lot to you.

2) Reflect on what you think the themes are that makes these three similar.

3) Try and summarise your reflection in a statement starting “I find meaning in…”

4) Think of a scenario that you could actually create in your life where you could try out and see if you find the same experience again.


Inkson, K. (2002) “Images of career: Nine key metaphors” in Journal of Occupational Behaviour 65 (2004).

Kolb D.A. (1984) Experiential Learning experience as a source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall

Montessori, M. (1946). Education for a New World. Madras, India: Kalakshetra Publications.

Savickas, M. Career construction theory. Accessed 15/09/2012 <>

Savickas, M. (2005). “The Theory and Practice of Career Construction.” Pp. 42-70 in
Career Development and Counseling: Putting Theory and Research to Work, edited by S. D.
Brown and R. W. Lent. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Wilson, T. (2012). A Review of Business–University Collaboration. London: Crown Copyright. available at

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