A Note by Stu Conger


It is trite to say that we will work in many very different careers during our lives. Oddly, we lack systematic information on the migration paths from one occupation to another, yet this is probably the single most important question on the minds of adult workers.

There are many reasons why inter-occupational mobility is an urgent issue:

  • Workers who can no longer tolerate the physical demands of their work need very different occupations. Typical of these are hairdressers, dentists, nurses, construction workers, sales clerks, and table servers whose feet or legs are giving out and who must therefore find another career. Workers with a variety of other medical conditions face the same need.
  • Job loss due to the phasing out of an occupation.
  • Need to move geographically to remain in one’s occupation. Roadmaps for geographical mobility are commonplace but they are non-existent for occupational mobility, yet the latter could save much personal, family, community and economic distress.
  • Need to get a job with more pay and benefits. Typical of these workers are young people who have been working in low level jobs but now want to get on with building a career and gaining a higher standard of living.
  • Underemployed workers who took their jobs to get work experience and now want to find a new job “with a future” that will recognize their skills and experience.
  • Workers who want to take part-time post-secondary courses to qualify for something better but do not know what occupations they could qualify for with just a few courses plus their present work experience.
  • Workers who are “trapped” in small companies and know they must move but don’t know how their work skills apply to occupations in larger firms.
  • Curriculum developers who want to make their courses generic to as many fields of endeavour as possible.
  • Occupational forecasters need to understand the ebb and flow patterns between occupations to accurately predict supply and shortage.

Occupational mobility “road maps” need to be constructed to show the interchanges between occupations. Such road maps would contain familiar features such as:

  • One way streets (e.g. chemists can get jobs as biologists, but biologists cant get jobs as chemists, engineers often get jobs as sales managers, but sales personnel don’t get engineers’ jobs)
  • Two-way streets
  • Dead ends (a number of jobs are considered to be dead-ends but perhaps many people have found good escapes)
  • Crossroads (informed decision-making does not end with one’s first occupational choice but is required at many junctures)
  • Bridges from one occupation to another may be specialized training or experience or something else.
  • Identify heavily populated and remunerative occupations that appear to counsellors to be “islands” that have no access roads – such as insurance adjusters.

Inter-occupational mobility needs to be mapped. This has not been done. It is very feasible to collect the data because it is empirical information that many people have lived. The methodology that can appropriately be used to gather the information necessary to construct the road maps or tables of inter-occupational mobility might involve the following:

  • Ask people what jobs they have had and in what sequence – and to what extent they gained additional qualifications to make the moves. The questions can be posed via telephone, postal survey, popular relevant websites, etc.
  • Ask employers “If you can’t get a person with the qualifications you want, what qualifications would be your second choice?”
  • Review occupational histories.


One of the problems with career planning that is not grounded in empirical data such as inter-occupational mobility is the need to rely on other indicators such as matching on interests or other talents. Many adults who undergo this process are very impressed with the results, but later question the realism of the alternatives given their own resources and obligations. There is a need for a career planning system that indicates to an individual how occupationally near he or she is to other significant occupations so the person can determine realistic options and the steps and resources required to achieve an occupational goal.

Stu Conger has been involved in the career development field starting as a career counsellor with Canadian General Electric in 1953! His past involvements include Saskatchewan NewStart; Worker Client Services of HRDC; National Consultation on Career Development (NATCON); Canadian Guidance and Counselling Association (CGCA); Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF) and the International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance (IAEVG). Stu is retired and living in Ottawa and can be reached at stu.conger@sympatico.ca.