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Vocational Maturity as Part of Human Maturation

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The "mature" individual is one who, in taking responsibility for decisions he makes, is able to answer in a reasoned and knowledgeable fashion the following three questions: "What is important to me?" "What is possible for me?" and "What is probable for me?" Each of these questions is easily translatable to those who ponder the problem of occupational choice. Elementary school children cannot be expected to arrive at anything approaching "mature" answers to any of these three basic questions by the time they complete the sixth grade. However, this does not mean that significant positive contributions cannot be made during the elementary school years toward helping students begin to formulate answers to these questions.

The first question-What is important to me?-involves work values when one is considering vocational maturity. Here it is important to point out that we are dealing with the basic problems of why people work... in the expectation that the child will see himself in a positive light as a future worker. Work can and should be pictured to elementary school children from at least two perspectives. First, these pupils should be made generally aware of the necessity for work, in some form, for economic survival. The necessity of work for societal survival can and should be pictured as quite independent of the desirability of work for individuals in that society.

Unless work is performed, society disintegrates. Some people must work to provide us with food and shelter, and to teach each new generation what has been learned in the past. Technology may reduce the proportion of the population which must work to enabled society to survive, or it may reduce the proportion of time we must each spend in work. Already it has reduced the amount of physical effort which must be expended in work. But no conceivable technology can remove the necessity of work for a substantial proportion of society for a substantial portion of adult life. No matter how sophisticated our machines become, someone must design them, produce them, and repair them. The more sophisticated our society becomes, the more it needs capable workers to enable it to survive.

Second, it is less apparent, but equally true that man needs work if he is to survive. Everyone is familiar with the person who retires from work without having prepared for retirement, and quickly dies or lapses into senility. Clearly, for such individuals work is essential to health and survival. We do not understand fully why this is so. It may be that work is our best means of expressing our feelings of self-worth or of associating with our fellowmen. Regardless of the reason, however, it seems clear that for most people, work is necessary for individual welfare and survival.

The ways in which economic rewards, benefits, and handicaps are associated with specific occupations can and should be pictured in relation to the way in which work operates as an influence on and of the economy. Basic understandings of work from this economic viewpoint can help pupils move toward vocational maturity. In a total program of career development, work as a generic concept must also be understood from a sociological point of view. It is both unfair and unrealistic to emphasize the societal worth and dignity of all honest work unless simultaneous attention is given to the varying degrees of worth our society has afforded various occupations, and the dynamics by which such differential worth is assigned.

From a psychological point of view, work must be seen in terms of interests, aptitudes, skills, and values that are held or may be developed by the individual. While elementary school students can and do consider these topics in terms of possible occupational choices, their limited aptitudinal and vocational skills development limits the degree of personal relevance of these considerations. This in itself makes occupational awareness no less important in helping the pupil think and learn about himself.

The second question-What is possible for me?-is closely related to a psychological view of work itself. Again, vocational immaturity is expected when elementary school students ask themselves this question. We know that differential vocational aptitudes are not highly developed during the elementary school years, and that our ability to measure those that are present in elementary school students is extremely limited. Yet there is no classroom in which abundant opportunities do not exist for demonstrating the concept of differential aptitudes to students. Some students are better at one kind of task and some at others. As all students observe these differences, they are sure to begin to ask themselves where their highest aptitudes are located, what they are able to do best, and what tasks they seem to be relatively unable to accomplish in a successful manner. As they do so, they are moving toward vocational maturity. At this stage particularly, the teacher must be careful not to place high value only on those aptitudes which are useful in school-type learning.

The third question-What is probable for me?-can be answered only through a clear and comprehensive view of the nature of the occupational society at a particular point in time. With the current rapidity of change existing in that society, there is really no good way that today's elementary school student can come up with firm answers to this question that will still be valid when he actually enters the labor market. This in no way means that it is futile or foolish to teach elementary school children something of the basic nature of the occupational society as it exists today. Despite the rapid changes occurring, the occupational world of the near and distant future will be more like than unlike that of today. Students can certainly be exposed to concepts of the great size of the occupational society, the major kinds of occupational families that now exist, the concept of specialization that is present in all broad occupational families, and the concept of occupational change itself. It is here that the fifteen broad career clusters1-into which the U.S. Office of Education has seen fit to subsume most of the occupational world-can provide a useful and manageable framework for increased awareness. To become aware of the significance of the question and the fact that it will have to be continually reassessed is in itself helpful in development of vocational maturity among elementary school students.

Though vocational immaturity will characterize the elementary school years, beginning steps in the career development process can help students make significant strides toward vocational maturity by the time they reach junior high school.
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