Find a way out: Career barriers and developmental strategies in career navigation among frontline social service providers

Yaojian Wu

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paperpeer-review


Purpose: Career navigation can help frontline social service providers toascertain their preferred fields of practice and devote theirstrengths to addressing increasingly volatile social problems. While the detrimental effects of demanding work environmentson frontline social service providers' workplace well-being and careerbehaviors have been well established, insufficientscholarly attention has been paid to their perceptions of and resistances tocareer challenges. This study aims to explore frontlinesocial services' sense-making of career barriersand development strategies froma career navigation perspective.

Methods: From an initial survey of 708 Chinese frontline social service providersin Guangzhou & Shenzhen, thirty-three participants agedbetween 21 and 29 were purposively sampled based on their workplace well-being disparities in workengagement, burnout, health and collective psychological ownership. Using thematic analysisvia the software of MAXQDA, this study thoroughly investigated 33 transcripts collectedfrom semi-structured individual interviews.

Results: The qualitative data indicated the career navigation of the participantsin four aspects, namely, (1) experiencing inequalities, dignitydiminution and victimization due to professional constraints encompassing low professional autonomy and socialrecognition; (2) striving for vocationaldevelopment by normalizing professional work as ordinary jobs with instrumental values and moving upward to management positionsirrespective of industries or to other decent work; (3) seeking professional development by utilizing professionalflexibility and strengths rather thanunrealistic professional passions, including self-constructed values, expanding experiences and drilling into a preferred field ofpractice; (4) maintaining a calmly dull life outside work by keeping a distance from workplace involutions andengaging in personal and family livesupon the sense of a professional self.

Discussion: Helping ‘the helpers' in their career journeys for ways out is, directlyand indirectly, significant to social problem alleviation. Thefindings of this study indicate that frontline social service providers encounter barriers but develop multiple strategies incareer navigation in an industry withless professional recognition. The instrumentalization of work values,returning to craftsmanship and diffusion of professionalknowledge in the non-work spectrum can be referred to when designing well-targeted career support practices for frontlinesocial service providers.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2022
EventDoctoral Symposium: Global Perspectives on Social Problems, Policy, and Practice, 2022 - Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea, Republic of
Duration: 15 Dec 202216 Dec 2022


ConferenceDoctoral Symposium
Country/TerritoryKorea, Republic of
Internet address

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

User-Defined Keywords

  • frontline social service providers
  • career barriers
  • workplace well-being
  • career navigation
  • career and life development


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