The Industrial Revolution refers to a societal shift that occurred when agricultural economies changed to economies driven by industry. The Industrial Revolution began in Britain in the eighteenth century and by the turn of the twentieth century had swept many regions of Europe and the United States. The significant and rapid changes brought about by industrialization altered every aspect of American life, including where people lived, their leisure pursuits, and the nature of work. The changes brought by the Industrial Revolution provided the social, political, and economic foundations for the emergence of vocational guidance, vocational psychology, and career development.
Three aspects of the Industrial Revolution had a significant impact on career development: (1) rapid industrialization, which led to a reorganization of the workforce; (2) rapid urbanization due to migration to urban industrial centers; and (3) the birth of reform movements that developed as a response to deteriorating living and working conditions.
Between 1880 and 1920, city centers grew dramatically. Propelling this dynamic growth were railroads, which connected cities across the expanding landscape of America. Oil and steel manufacturing provided economic strength, which sustained technological progress. In a 1999 article, Howard Zinn pointedly observed that during the Industrial Revolution, steam power and electricity took the place of human muscle and more permanent and sturdier materials were used in construction and in the products that were manufactured. He also noted that oil was used to lubricate machines and to light homes, streets, and factories and that people and goods had newfound mobility through the railroad. Products that were previously made by simple machines or by hand were being manufactured in great quantity by technologically advanced equipment. As a result, home-based or workshop-based production declined, and large factories were constructed to accommodate the new manufacturing base. Improved methods for producing goods required new ways of organizing the workforce, including the specialization and division of labor.
The rapid pace of industrialization transformed the nature of work, which began to rely on precise and efficient use of skills. The consequential restructuring of the workforce was intimately related to the emergence of vocational psychology. Fredrick W. Taylor facilitated this process with his idea of scientific management. Taylor analyzed jobs and converted skilled crafts into a series of simplified tasks that unskilled workers could be easily trained to perform with machinery. Next, production was systematically planned, and job tasks were directed through various stages of the manufacturing process. As a result, large industries and assembly lines produced significant quantities of refined goods at improving rates. To handle increased production, more specialists were hired to operate a growing number of distinct machines. In addition, skilled technicians, engineers, and machinists were needed to design and construct new equipment and maintain and repair existing equipment. Many people performed the mechanical work and labor, and others were needed to supervise and direct it. The results were greater divisions of labor, including management, administration, research, sales, accounting, and several others. As divisions in labor grew, equally important changes in the organization of social class divisions emerged.
The disparity between the rich and the poor continued to increase. The wealthy owned the major institutions of the industrial age, including factories, railroads, and banks. In the course of the Industrial Revolution, many members of the traditional middle class became factory owners, supervisors, managers, and clerks. Simultaneously, a new professional middle class emerged, consisting of doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, and engineers. Finally, there was the working class, which was divided into skilled and unskilled labor. Often, members of the working class migrated in large numbers to urban industrial cities in search of a better life.
Rapid Urbanization and Immigration
The overwhelming economic growth brought by the Industrial Revolution was highly dependent on an abundant supply of labor. Because people were tempted to urban areas by new employment opportunities and prosperity, the Industrial Revolution brought intense growth to cities. In 1860, there were 9 American cities with a population of more than 100,000; by 1900, this number had grown to 38 cities. Although technological progress increased agriculture productivity throughout the nineteenth century, many small farms in rural areas struggled to keep pace with large commercial farms. Several farmers went bankrupt; others sold out to larger farms and went to look for work in the burgeoning industrial cities. An analysis of the first federal census demonstrates that from 1790 to the end of the nineteenth century, the percentage of employment dependent on agriculture consistently decreased. For example, in 1790, 75 percent of the workforce consisted of farm laborers, and this rate dropped to about 40 percent near the turn of the twentieth century. Another cause of urbanization during the Industrial Revolution was immigration. Between 1870 and 1920, almost 25 million immigrants came to America, mainly settling in cities in the Midwest and Northeast.
For those relocating to the new urban centers, life could, indeed, be hard. Industrialization created wealth, but mostly for factory owners, not for the working class. Immigrants and displaced farm laborers found themselves in crowded housing with inadequate ventilation and poor sanitation. Many neighborhoods quickly deteriorated into industrial slums. Although there were employment opportunities, members of the working class had few rights. Factory owners could exert considerable control over workers because labor was readily available, replaceable, and cheap. If workers’ wages were too low, their hours too long, or their working conditions too dangerous, they had no legal recourse. In addition, many factory machines could be operated by women and children, making the pool of workers larger and wages lower.
Reform and Vocational Guidance Converge
Federal policy regarding the rights of workers did not keep up with the rapid pace of industrialization and urbanization. Workers found their greatest ally in a rising social consciousness that gave animation to a reform movement that, among other things, allowed for the emergence of vocational guidance.
The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was founded in 1844 as an evangelical reaction to society’s urban problems. Throughout the Industrial Revolution, the YMCA provided social and educational resources aimed at character building and employment. The YMCA operated libraries, reading rooms, and employment bureaus. They offered education and training through vocational and trade schools, and correspondence courses.
Public education was another venue in which reform was beginning to take shape. The public education movement was responsible for enacting new compulsory education laws that kept children in school and tried to end child labor exploitation. Many scholars credit Jesse B. Davis, a school administer in Detroit between 1898 and 1907, with having introduced systematic vocational guidance into the school system. Having seen the vocational and social problems faced by his students, Davis created a specific guidance curriculum that would reach large numbers of students where they were, in the classroom. Other social scientists, such as Helen Thompson Woolly, studied school dropouts and developed programs of in-school vocational guidance to improve graduation rates. Clearly, educational and social reforms were providing a solid foundation from which vocational programs would develop.
In the 1890s and early 1900s, political progressives instigated many social reform efforts. The results were greater government regulation of industry and an attempt to limit governmental corruption. In 1881, Jane Addams, a philanthropic social reformer, opened Hull-House, a settlement home on Chicago’s Near West Side. The settlement home was a new social phenomenon. In cities across America, social progressives were taking up residence in working-class neighborhoods. They provided working families a place to learn English, complete high school, and discover their civic interests, rights, and duties. One of these settlement homes, The Civic Service House in Boston, Massachusetts, was the setting for the birth of vocational guidance.
Advancement of Vocational Guidance
Parsons and the Vocation Bureau
In 1908, Boston attorney and political progressive Frank Parsons opened the vocational bureau as a part of The Civic Service House. Parsons saw a tremendous waste of human potential and industrial inefficiency in the random selection of workers for jobs. To remedy this, he advocated a system of vocational choice based on scientific methods. He set forth an individualized program of vocational counseling using a tripartite model of self-knowledge, occupational knowledge, and matching self to job using “true reason.” This model came to be known as trait-and-factor guidance and earned Parsons the moniker of “father of vocational guidance” (as well as father of career development, vocational psychology, career guidance, etc.). Parsons’s work significantly advanced job-description literature and promoted the psychological measurement of individual differences in aptitudes, abilities, and interests.
The Measurement Movement
In Parsons’s time, the study of individual differences was of interest to psychology. Early applied psychologists developed mental tests to assess individual traits and became skilled at constructing the objective measures of abilities, interests, and aptitudes that provided vocational guidance with a measure of scientific respectability.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, French psychologist Alfred Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon published an intelligence test to identify developmentally delayed children who needed supplementary aid in school. The test measured a variety of functions, including judgment, comprehension, and reasoning. It marked the beginning of intelligence testing as we know it today. The ability to use paper-and-pencil tests to sort and classify children based on intellectual ability soon found its way into group measures of intelligence. The testing movement in America gained popular appeal after the U.S. Army used group-administered tests of intelligence and aptitude to screen recruits for service during World War I. After the war, interest in testing and classification led to significant advances in the principles and practices of personnel selection, vocational guidance, and career development.
Modern career development can trace its beginnings to the Industrial Revolution of early-twentieth-century America. Industrialization created changes in the nature of work, impacted population demographics, and created new calls for social justice. The shift brought with it a need for efficiency and differentiation of function of both workers and machines. The applied psychology of individual differences provided the scientific support for the establishment of assessment tools that became the cornerstone of vocational guidance. Theories of career development continue to evolve, yet they remain committed to the tradition of matching people to the world of work that began with the Industrial Revolution.
- Baker, D. B. 2002. “Child Saving and the Emergence of Vocational Psychology.” Journal of Vocational Behavior 60:374-381.
- Brewer, J. M. 1942. History of Vocational Guidance: Origins and Early Development. New York: Harper.
- Hartung, P. J. and Blustein, D. L. 2002. “Reason, Intuition, and Social Justice: Elaborating on Parsons’s Career Decision Making Model.” Journal of Counseling and Development 80:41-47.
- Kirkland, E. C. 2002. “The Industrial Revolution’s Effect on Education.” Pp. 224-227 in The Industrial Revolution, edited by B. Stalcup. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
- Olson, J. S. 2002. Encyclopedia of the Industrial Revolution in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
- Savickas, M. L. and Baker, D. B. Forthcoming. “A History of Vocational Psychology.” In The Handbook of Vocational Psychology, edited by B. Walsh and M. Savickas. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Spokane, A. R. and Glickman, I. T. 1994. “Light, Information, Inspiration, Cooperation: Origins of the Clinical Science of Career Intervention.” Journal of Career Development 20:295-304.
- Stephens, W. R. 1970. Social Reform and the Origins of Vocational Guidance. Washington, DC: National Vocational Guidance Association.
- Zinn, H. 2001. “Robber Barons and Rebels.” Pp. 253-295 in A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present. New York: HarperCollins.
- Zytowski, D. G. 2001. “Frank Parsons and the Progressive Movement.” Career Development Quarterly 50:57-65.