Career decisions of chemical engineers across their professional lives
Scholtz, Jacob Johannes
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Chemical engineers are expected to make a major contribution to the world’s sustainability challenges, due to the nature of their training, their mode of thinking, and their understanding of key fundamental scientific concepts. Chemical engineering graduates can choose from a large number of employment options and career routes. The question arises: how, when and why do they make which career decisions? Such an insight can help facilitate the career growth of chemical engineers, streamline their career decisions from an early stage, and overall benefit the profession, and society. A grounded theory study was conducted to investigate why chemical engineers make the career decisions they do throughout their professional lives. Twelve individuals who hail from diverse occupations in chemical engineering were interviewed on their career experience. The research participants were also diverse in terms of race, gender, and age. From these interviews a theory was constructed grounded in the data, and a model proposed, on how chemical engineers in this sample decide to make career decisions. The theory constructed was that values dissonance after an event influences the decisions that chemical engineers take on their career path. A chemical engineer has a values system, and reality, such as working in a particular work life situation, will not match all their values. When an event precipitates the consideration of these values dissonances, the chemical engineer may make a decision that will minimise their overall values dissonance. The nature of the decision then depends on the person’s particular values system. The values-based decision-making system has commonalities with the protean career orientation, although the focus is on the minimisation of overall values dissonance, rather than being driven by values. Interview data revealed that older participant chemical engineers have been making career decisions in a manner found in this research from as early in their careers as the 1970s, more than 40 years ago, the protean career became popular in literature after 1990.