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Adolescents’ education transitions: Multiple insights into the process dynamics of goal-construction and youth actions over time

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - TeenEduGoals (Adolescents’ education transitions: Multiple insights into the process dynamics of goal-construction and youth actions over time)

Reporting period: 2017-06-01 to 2019-05-31

What is the problem being addressed?
Two inter-related ideas are at the backdrop of our project:
(1) Research addressing adolescents and young adults’ development and careers is in need of strategies and conceptualizations that move beyond the field’s current emphasis on individual processes, and that push researchers to systematically understand and investigate the person from an integrative perspective.
(2) The deep social and historic changes influencing today’s world, in particular in education and work, and the implications these changes have had in the ways in which youth construct their careers.
We addressed these two ideas (1) by adopting a more holistic, dynamic understanding of how youth build meaning across time and in certain contexts; (2) by applying such understanding to improve our knowledge of the of the ways in which young people address events and transitions in the career domain. Our core research questions were: (1) What are the processes that at different levels of functioning adolescents and young adults in Finland use to engage and disengage with career goals? (2) How do such processes relate to one another and to the education and/or work pathways young people construct for themselves?

Why is it important to society?
Education and work are two domains most influenced by ongoing changes in our societies, and key areas where adolescents and young adults set goals and construct plans for the realization of these goals. Well-formulated goals, and a sense of one’s potential and capabilities enable young people to envision different future alternatives for themselves and plan strategies to attain these goals. Goals are end states or processes young people strive to achieve (e.g. entering into higher education, finding a job). To date, little is known about (1) the specifics of the ways in which a young person goes from engaging with a career goal to disengaging with the goal; (2) the ways in which these processes of career goal (dis)engagement are reflected in or influence how youth make career choices and address education or work-related transitions. Dealing with career-related events and transitions, which typically require choosing and pursuing career goal(s), is not always simple and it may even be daunting. Failure in or a radical postponement of tasks such as accessing the labour market or securing financial independence predicts problems in wellbeing and development.

What are the overall objectives?
The project’s main objectives were:
1. To investigate the developmental trajectories of the career goals of adolescents and young adults in Finland, and the relationships these trajectories establish with specific career pathways youth construct for themselves.
2. To design and implement a study that combines the building of a dynamic systems model with the CAT framework and its associated research method (A-PM).
3. To develop a holistic framework integrating multiple insights into the process dynamics of adolescents’ goal-construction and education-related actions over time.
4. To disseminate and communicate study findings and their implications for future research, interventions and policy.
Project activities are ongoing. Funding from the MSCA provided me with the opportunity to start working on and further develop what is evolving into an independent research programme, which will allow me to progress from the early career stage to a consolidated position as a researcher.

WP1: Adolescents’ education pathways. The core aim of the task was achieved through the implementation of the following activities: (1) attendance of research seminars, summer schools and other training associated to research methods related topics; (2) learning through research, hands-on training and mentoring were other activities I engaged in that allowed me to update and/or expand the range of my expertise on research methods; (3) systematic analysis of the Finnish Educational Transitions (FinEdu) Studies data sets.
Overall, findings from our research based on the FinEdu Studies contributed to the existing literature by providing a comprehensive picture to the phenomenon of career-goal regulation in a diverse group of young people from adolescence to young adulthood. Several outputs were produced/are being developed based on our systematic analysis of the FinEdu data sets. Examples include the conference presentation “Finnish youth career pathways” at the EARA 2018 Conference (Ghent, Belgium), and the manuscript “Developmental trajectories of career goal appraisals during adolescence and young adulthood: A 13-year longitudinal study in Finland” (under submission).

WP2: Study combining DSA with CAT/A-PM. The task is ongoing and we are currently collecting data within the framework of an intensive longitudinal study. The study data is collected weekly (start: March 2019; end: December 2019) and relies on AWARE, which is an Android instrumentation framework for logging, sharing and reusing mobile context that is open source (Apache 2.0) and is freely available for academia and industry. The focus of the study is on how young people set, pursue and renegotiate career goal(s) during a period where multiple critical education and work-related transitions take place (e.g. end of high school, higher education admission, gap years). Preliminary analyses of the data are ongoing.

WP3: Holistic framework. The WP is ongoing. The following activities were implemented: (1) networking/learning activities (e.g. project presentations to diverse audiences, attendance of research seminars), and (2) dissemination of results (e.g. poster presentations at diverse scientific events, conference presentations).

WP4: Manage, Disseminate and Communicate. Dissemination efforts were cross-sectional to the project and will persist beyond the action’s life. There is a project website that everyone can access and browse and that we will maintain operational after the end of the project. Additional communication activities: (1) Mindwise blog post (2 Researchers’ Night at the University of Jyväskylä.
Our study will contribute to (1) expand current knowledge on how ongoing processes of social and historic change affected young people’s career development; (2) provide youth with more effective support while making choices and addressing transitions in the career domain. As research showed, while some young people flourish and experience smooth and immediate career transitions, others flounder and experience delays and instability. In addition, a growing number of youth exhibits profiles or pathways that are less adaptive and often are linked to lower wellbeing or to a higher likelihood of marginalization or social exclusion (e.g. youth not in education, employment or training). It is crucial to understand (1) how young people engage with career transitions and make choices, that is, how they negotiate goals, strategies and identity; (2) the behaviours adequate to meet the challenges imposed by career tasks and transitions at key points before, during and after these transitions. Our integrative framework will contribute to such understanding. The knowledge we will/have generated is applicable to interventions and policy and is relevant to disciplines like education or youth studies.
Youth looking ahead