Success in the protean career : a predictive study of professional artists and tertiary arts graduates

Bridgstock, Ruth Sarah (2007) Success in the protean career : a predictive study of professional artists and tertiary arts graduates. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


In the shift to a globalised creative economy where innovation and creativity are increasingly prized, many studies have documented direct and indirect social and economic benefits of the arts. In addition, arts workers have been argued to possess capabilities which are of great benefit both within and outside the arts, including (in addition to creativity) problem solving abilities, emotional intelligence, and team working skills (ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation, 2007).

However, the labour force characteristics of professional artists in Australia and elsewhere belie their importance. The average earnings of workers in the arts sector are consistently less than other workers with similar educational backgrounds, and their rates of unemployment and underemployment are much higher (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2005; Caves, 2000; Throsby & Hollister, 2003). Graduating students in the arts appear to experience similar employment challenges and exhibit similar patterns of work to artists in general. Many eventually obtain work unrelated to the arts or go back to university to complete further tertiary study in fields unrelated to arts (Graduate Careers Council of Australia, 2005a).

Recent developments in career development theory have involved discussion of the rise of boundaryless careers amongst knowledge workers. Boundaryless careers are characterised by non-linear career progression occurring outside the bounds of a single organisation or field (Arthur & Rousseau, 1996a, 1996b). The protean career is an extreme form of the boundaryless career, where the careerist also possesses strong internal career motivations and criteria for success (Baruch, 2004; Hall, 2004; Hall & Mirvis, 1996). It involves a psychological contract with one's self rather than an organisation or organisations. The boundaryless and protean career literature suggests competencies and dispositions for career self-management and career success, but to date there has been minimal empirical work investigating the predictive value of these competencies and dispositions to career success in the boundaryless or protean career.

This program of research employed competencies and dispositions from boundaryless and protean career theory to predict career success in professional artists and tertiary arts graduates. These competencies and dispositions were placed into context using individual and contextual career development influences suggested by the Systems Theory Framework of career development (McMahon & Patton, 1995; Patton & McMahon, 1999, 2006a). Four substantive studies were conducted, using online surveys with professional artists and tertiary arts students / graduates, which were preceded by a pilot study for measure development.

A largely quantitative approach to the program of research was preferred, in the interests of generalisability of findings. However, at the time of data collection, there were no quantitative measures available which addressed the constructs of interest. Brief scales of Career Management Competence based on the Australian Blueprint for Career Development (Haines, Scott, & Lincoln, 2003), Protean Career Success Orientation based on the underlying dispositions for career success suggested by protean career theory, and Career Development Influences based on the Systems Theory Framework of career development (McMahon & Patton, 1995; Patton & McMahon, 1999, 2006a) were constructed and validated via a process of pilot testing and exploratory factor analyses. This process was followed by confirmatory factor analyses with data collected from two samples: 310 professional artists, and 218 graduating arts students who participated at time 1 (i.e., at the point of undergraduate course completion in October, 2005).

Confirmatory factor analyses via Structural Equation Modelling conducted in Study 1 revealed that the scales would benefit from some respecification, and so modifications were made to the measures to enhance their validity and reliability. The three scales modified and validated in Study 1 were then used in Studies 3 and 4 as potential predictors of career success for the two groups of artists under investigation, along with relevant sociodemographic variables.

The aim of the Study 2 was to explore the construct of career success in the two groups of artists studied. Each participant responded to an open-ended question asking them to define career success. The responses for professional artists were content analysed using emergent coding with two coders. The codebook was later applied to the arts students' definitions. The majority of the themes could be grouped into four main categories: internal definitions; financial recognition definitions; contribution definitions; and non-financial recognition definitions. Only one third of the definition themes in the professional artists' and arts graduates' definitions of career success were categorised as relating to financial recognition. Responses within the financial recognition category also indicated that many of the artists aspired only to a regular subsistence level of arts income (although a small number of the arts graduates did aspire to fame and fortune).

The second section of the study investigated the statistical relationships between the five different measures of career success for each career success definitional category and overall. The professional artists' and arts graduates' surveys contained several measures of career success, including total earnings over the previous 12 months, arts earnings over the previous 12 months, 1-6 self-rated total employability, 1-6 self-rated arts employability, and 1-6 self-rated self-defined career success. All of the measures were found to be statistically related to one another, but a very strong statistical relationship was identified between each employability measure and its corresponding earnings measure for both of the samples. Consequently, it was decided to include only the earnings measures (earnings from arts, and earnings overall) and the self-defined career success rating measure in the later studies.

Study 3 used the career development constructs validated in Study 1, sociodemographic variables, and the career success measures explored in Study 2 via Classification and Regression Tree (CART - Breiman, Friedman, Olshen, & Stone, 1984) style decision trees with v-fold crossvalidation pruning using the 1 SE rule. CART decision trees are a nonparametric analysis technique which can be used as an alternative to OLS or hierarchical regression in the case of data which violates parametric statistical assumptions.

The three optimal decision trees for total earnings, arts earnings and self defined career success ratings explained a large proportion of the variance in their respective target variables (R2 between 0.49 and 0.68). The Career building subscale of the Career Management Competence scale, pertaining to the ability to manage the external aspects of a career, was the most consistent predictor of all three career success measures (and was the strongest predictor for two of the three trees), indicating the importance of the artists' abilities to secure work and build the external aspects of a career. Other important predictors included the Self management subscale of the Career Management Competence scale, Protean Career Success Orientation, length of time working in the arts, and the positive role of interpersonal influences, skills and abilities, and interests and beliefs from the Career Development Influences scale. Slightly different patterns of predictors were found for the three different career success measures.

Study 4 also involved the career development constructs validated in Study 1, sociodemographic variables, and the career success measures explored in Study 2 via CART style decision trees. This study used a prospective repeated measures design where the data for the attribute variables were gathered at the point of undergraduate course completion, and the target variables were measured one year later. Data from a total of 122 arts students were used, as 122 of the 218 students who responded to the survey at time 1 (October 2005) also responded at time 2 (October 2006).

The resulting optimal decision trees had R2 values of between 0.33 and 0.46. The values were lower than those for the professional artists' decision trees, and the trees themselves were smaller, but the R2 values nonetheless indicated that the arts students' trees possessed satisfactory explanatory power. The arts graduates' Career building scores at time 1 were strongly predictive of all three career success measures at time 2, a similar finding to the professional artists' trees. A further similarity between the trees for the two samples was the strong statistical relationship between Career building, Self management, and Protean Career Success Orientation. However, the most important variable in the total earnings tree was arts discipline category. Technical / design arts graduates consistently earned more overall than arts graduates from other disciplines. Other key predictors in the arts graduates' trees were work experience in arts prior to course completion, positive interpersonal influences, and the positive influence of skills and abilities and interests and beliefs on career development.

The research program findings represent significant contributions to existing knowledge about artists' career development and success, and also the transition from higher education to the world of work, with specific reference to arts and creative industries programs. It also has implications for theory relating to career success and protean / boundaryless careers.

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ID Code: 16575
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Patton, Wendy, Irving, Kym, & Lim, Roslyn
Keywords: Career success, protean career, boundaryless career, career development, career transition, school to work transition, university to work transition, work experience, higher education, career self-management, career management, career education, artists, arts graduates, creative industries, creative workforce, graduate attributes, employability, generic skills, transferable skills, scale development, confirmatory factor analysis, structural equation modelling, content analysis, decision tree, regression tree, CART, HERN
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Ruth Sarah Bridgstock
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:06
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:49

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