Successful Career Progression:
Exploratory Findings from a
Study of Selected Occupations

Executive Summary

Daniel P. O’Shea
Alicia M. Betsinger
Christopher T. King

April 1999

Ray Marshall Center for the Study of Human Resources
Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs
The University of Texas at Austin

This report was prepared with funds provided through Interagency Agreement Number 180 between the Texas Workforce Commission/Texas State Occupational Coordinating Committee and the Center for the Study of Human Resources at The University of Texas at Austin.  The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the positions of the funding agencies or of The University.

Executive Summary

The Center for the Study of Human Resources (CSHR) of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at The University of Texas-Austin prepared this report for the Texas State Occupational Information Coordinating Committee (SOICC) to present preliminary findings regarding the career progression of individuals in ten occupations.  The project was designed to explore the education, training, and work experiences of individuals who are successful in these occupations as a possible basis for career guidance information and further research.  The occupations were selected as probable “apex” occupations projected from “entry” occupations for which job placements are currently favorable.

Researchers conducted face-to-face interviews in the Austin metropolitan area with between five and ten individuals in each occupation.  Participants were identified and recruited through professional or employer associations, training or educational providers, and personal referrals.  Because of the convenience sampling and small numbers of participants, findings are anecdotal and are not generalizable.


Interviews with the small sample of respondents and occupations in the exploratory research revealed the following observations:


The preliminary observations from this limited-sample exploration raise research and policy concerns.  The application of the career progression concept in today’s labor market, as well as the concept of entry and apex occupations, is certainly questionable.  The majority of the respondents entered their field in an apex occupation.  Among those who began their successful careers with low-skill, low-wage jobs, these entry positions were skill-building opportunities, an investment in the future. 

The implication of these observations for policy is significant given the slippage in the human capital development model in our workforce development system for the majority of the less-competitive workers and its replacement by a Work-First orientation.  Continuous education and training, as well as higher education, are crucial components of success in today’s labor markets.