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Occupational Identity
December 2020


What does the research say about promising activities and practices that support the development of occupational identity for middle and high school students?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Alfeld, C., Charner, I., Johnson, L., & Watts, E. (2013). Work-based learning opportunities for high school students. Louisville, KY: National Research Center for Career and Technical Education.

From the Abstract:
"This report describes the Year 5 work of the National Research Center for Career and Technical Education's (NRCCTE) Technical Assistance (TA) Academy. In 2011-2012, the TA plan carried out by FHI 360 on behalf of the NRCCTE focused on developing a conceptual base for work-based learning (WBL), a strategy that helps students apply academic and technical skills and develop employability skills. To gather information on best practices in WBL for high-school aged students in the United States, FHI 360 used a multi-pronged approach, including a literature review, web searches, telephone interviews, and site visits to examine three WBL models: internships/co-operative (co-op) education, apprenticeships, and school-based enterprises. Findings are categorized and summarized, and recommendations for WBL are presented. The following are appended: (1) Phone Interview Questions; (2) Phone Interview Vignettes; (3) Case Studies from Site Visits; and (4) Examples of Documents Collected from WBL Sites."

Altan, B. A., & Altıntas, H. O. (2017). Professional identities of vocational high school students and extracurricular activities. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 5(7), 46–52.

From the Abstract:
"Vocational high schools are one of the controversial topics, and also the hardly touched fields in educational field. Students' profiles of vocational schools, their visions, and professional identity developments are not frequently reflected in the literature. Therefore, the main aim of the study is to research whether vocational high school students' professional identities are supported with extracurricular activities. It was also researched whether vocational high school students' future professional identities complied with their selected school and/or specialized fields. The research was conducted on qualitative research approach through semi-structured question form and analyzed via descriptive and content analysis of qualitative research methods. Results revealed that vocational high school students did not take part in extracurricular activities regarding their professional identities since the schools did not organize these activities. The responses also emphasized that existing extracurricular activities organized outside of the school were insufficient and there was an immediate need for such activities. Additionally, most of the participants highlighted that they selected their schools/department as an obligation. Based on the results, it was revealed that vocational and technical high schools should not focus on extracurricular activities to improve students' basic and further skills. It is suggested that extracurricular activities should be cared more for students' academic and practice skills. Moreover, the students and their parents should understand and be introduced to the profession before they come to a future decision."

Callahan, J., Ito, Mi., Campbell R., Wortman, S., & Wortman, A. (2019). Influences on occupational identity in adolescence: A review of research and programs. Irvine, CA: Connected Learning Alliance. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"This report synthesizes research and programs centered on youth occupational identity—their vision of their future selves in the workforce, what they like to do, what they believe they are skilled at, and where they feel they belong. The report outlines a three-part framework for understanding influences and barriers that are tied to occupational identity outcomes of self-concept, self-efficacy, and a sense of belonging."

Chen, Z., & Solberg, V. S. H. (2018). Pathways from caring and engaging adults to youth vocational identity: The mediational roles of career search self-efficacy and goal capacity. Youth & Society, 50(6), 780–800.

From the Abstract:
"This study examines the role played by access to caring and engaging adults, career search self-efficacy (CSSE), and goal capacity in the development of youth vocational identity. The study used a bootstrapping approach to analyze data, collected from a survey of 1,579 youths enrolled in 14 U.S. high schools, to test a hypothesized serial multiple mediation model. Results indicate both direct and multiple indirect pathways from adults influences to the youth vocational identity. Two specific pathways of influence were found through CSSE and goal capacity, respectively. Additionally, a serial multiple mediation effect was found whereby CSSE and goal capacity collectively mediated the relationship. This indicates that greater access to caring and engaging adults contributes to higher CSSE, which accounts for a higher level of goal capacity, and eventually leads to the better vocational identity in youth. These findings establish notable implications for practices that are discussed in closing."

Keijzer, R., Admiraal, W., Van der Rijst, R., & Van Schooten, E. (2020). Vocational identity of at-risk emerging adults and its relationship with individual characteristics. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, 20(2), 375–410. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Vocational identity is a prerequisite for enhancing societal inclusion of at-risk emerging adults. School curricula and rebound programs need insights into individual differences of these youths to effectively foster their vocational identity. Identifying three aspects of vocational identity, a questionnaire study among at-risk emerging adults in The Netherlands (N = 996) examined the relationship between clusters of demographic, personality, self-sufficiency, self-competence, and school engagement characteristics and vocational identity performing blockwise entry analyses. Largest proportions of variance were explained by personality traits and, to a lesser extent, motivation, resilience, and valuing school outcome. These malleable characteristics offer opportunities for interventions."

Malanchuk, O., Messersmith, E. E., & Eccles, J. S. (2010). The ontogeny of career identities in adolescence. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 2010(130), 97–110. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Exploration and identity formation are primary developmental tasks during adolescence and the transition to adulthood. Yet little is known about occupational identity formation and growth during this period of life. In this chapter, the authors describe their ongoing research on this topic. First, they present their findings on the ontogeny of the complexity of career identities. Then they discuss their findings regarding the relationship between early career identity formation and psychological well-being at ages nineteen and twenty-one."

Praskova, A., Creed, P. A., & Hood, M. (2015). Career identity and the complex mediating relationships between career preparatory actions and career progress markers. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 87, 145–153. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"We tested a cross-sectional, moderated-mediation model of career identity in young adults (N = 667, 72.9% female, mean age = 20 years). In this model, career preparatory activities (career exploration and planning) were associated with perceptions of future employability and career distress. These relationships were mediated by career identity, and career identity was conditional upon level of career calling. We found that career exploration was associated with more career distress, while career planning was associated with less, and both career exploration and planning were associated with higher perceived employability. Career identity mediated between career exploration and planning and both outcomes, and these mediated relationships were stronger when career calling was higher. We interpreted the results from career construction, identity, and exploration perspectives; highlighted the applicability of these perspectives in the development of agency, career calling, and career identity; and made recommendations for testing other theory-based moderators."

Rogers, M. E., Creed, P. A., & Praskova, A. (2018). Parent and adolescent perceptions of adolescent career development tasks and vocational identity. Journal of Career Development, 45(1), 34–49. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"We surveyed Australian adolescents and parents to test differences and congruence in perceptions of adolescent career development tasks (career planning, exploration, certainty, and world-of-work knowledge) and vocational identity. We found that, for adolescents (N = 415), career development tasks (not career exploration) explained 48% of the variance in vocational identity; for parents (N = 415), this was 38% (not world-of-work knowledge). Parent perceptions of career development tasks did not explain additional variance in adolescent vocational identity. There were moderate correlations between adolescent and parent perceptions of career development tasks and vocational identity, suggesting meaningful, but not substantial, congruence of perceptions. The findings provide useful insights into the understanding of, and relationship between, parent and adolescent perceptions of adolescent career development tasks and vocational identity, which suggest avenues for interventions with adolescents and parents."

Stringer, K., Kerpelman, J., & Skorikov, V. (2011). Career preparation: A longitudinal, process-oriented examination. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79(1), 158–169. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Preparing for an adult career through careful planning, choosing a career, and gaining confidence to achieve career goals is a primary task during adolescence and early adulthood. The current study bridged identity process literature and career construction theory (Savickas, 2005) by examining the commitment component of career adaptability, career preparation (i.e., career planning, career decision-making, and career confidence), from an identity process perspective (Luyckx, Goossens, & Soenens, 2006). Research has suggested that career preparation dimensions are interrelated during adolescence and early adulthood; however, what remains to be known is how each dimension changes over time and the interrelationships among the dimensions during the transition from high school. Drawing parallels between career preparation and identity development dimensions, the current study addressed these questions by examining the patterns of change in each career preparation dimension and parallel process models that tested associations among the slopes and intercepts of the career preparation dimensions. Results showed that the career preparation dimensions were not developing similarly over time, although each dimension was associated cross-sectionally and longitudinally with the other dimensions. Results also suggested that career planning and decision-making preceded career confidence. The results of the current study supported career construction theory and showed similarities between the processes of career preparation and identity development."

Williquette, H. A., & Khaliqi, D. H. (2016). STEM academic & career identity formation among middle school students. Educational Research: Theory and Practice, 28(2), 31–35.

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of hands-on STEM education camps on middle school student’s desire to take STEM-related classes in high school and college (i.e., academic identity) compared to their desire to pursue a STEM career (i.e., professional identity). This examination was conducted using data collected over 3 years of STEM summer and academic year programs at a four-year comprehensive university in the western United States through that institution’s STEM education center. This study addresses the following research question: Are hands-on STEM programs equally effective at developing a STEM academic identity as a STEM career identity or is one developed more strongly than the other after participation.


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources: "Occupational identity" OR "occupational identities", "Vocational identity OR vocational identities", "Career identity OR career identities", Middle school", "High school", Students, (Adolescent OR adolescence)

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.