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La multiplicité des ancres de carrière chez les ingénieurs québécois : impacts sur les cheminements et le succès de carrière

La multiplicité des ancres de carrière chez les ingénieurs québécois : impacts sur les cheminements et le succès de carrière

Yvon Martineau, Thierry Wils et Michel Tremblay

Volume : 60-3 (2005)


Multiple Career Anchors of Quebec Engineers

Impacts on Career Path and Success

In the new information-centered economies, professions related to engineering, information technologies, management of information systems and R&D are becoming increasingly important. It is therefore not surprising that organizations consider these professionals a strategic resource that enhances their competitiveness. This phenomenon has engendered employers’ preoccupation with topics such as motivation or career management of engineers (Igbaria, Kassicieh and Silver, 1999). The fact that Schein’s career anchor model (1978) allows a better understanding of this new management challenge explains researchers’ growing interest in the concept of career anchors. Schein’s career anchor model (1978) is considered a major contribution to the understanding of individual career paths. A total of eight anchors have been defined: (1) functional/technical competence, (2) managerial competence, (3) autonomy/independence, (4) security/stability, (5) entrepreneurial creativity, (6) sense of service, (7) pure challenge and (8) lifestyle. This theory rests on the implicit postulate that an individual has only one dominant anchor. This phenomenon of dominance is known as “differentiation”. Moreover, numerous researchers extrapolate from Schein that only the career anchor with the highest score should be retained to operationalize the concept of dominance or differentiation. However, some individuals exhibit several high anchors, which raises the question of the multiplicity of anchors, here referred to “undifferentiation”.

In addition to verifying the existence of multiple career anchors, four sets of formal hypotheses were tested: (1) career outcomes (career satisfaction, job success, financial success, hierarchical success or relationship success) are poorer for engineers that have undifferentiated profiles than for those that have differentiated profiles, (2a) the managerial anchor is associated with the managerial path, (2b) the technical anchor is associated with the technical path and anchors not related to managerial and (2c) technical talents are associated with non-traditional paths (hybrid and project-based), (3) an engineer pursuing a non-traditional path is more differentiated than an engineer who pursues a traditional path and (4) a stable career choice is associated with traditional paths and vice versa (an unstable choice with non-traditional paths). New measures of differentiation as well as multiplicity of anchors (e.g., a measure of dominance based on standard error of measurement) were used.

This study is based on a survey administered by questionnaire to Quebec engineers. The data was collected on two occasions. First, questionnaires were sent to engineers belonging to three organizations (two private companies and one municipality). From this mailing of 720 questionnaires, 374 were used, equal to a response rate of 54.2%. The second set of data was collected from the Quebec Engineer’s Institute. A random sample of 808 men was selected, which provided a return rate of 147 usable questionnaires. In parallel with this mailing, another mailing was sent to all the female members of the Institute in order to adjust the proportion of women in our sample to offset the masculinity of the profession. Of the 1295 questionnaires distributed, 379 usable questionnaires were received. The response rates to these mailings are respectively 18.2% and 29.3%. Note that the response rate obtained in the first phase is higher than that of the second phase owing to the co-operation of the organizations involved in the project. Overall, the response rate for this study is 32% with a usable sample of 900 engineers. According to statistics compiled by the Québec Engineers Institute, our sample is highly representative of the population in several respects. For instance, the average age in the sample is 38, compared with 40.3 for the population. No significant difference was detected for other variables such as seniority or degrees obtained. Lastly, all of the statistical analyses were performed with SPSS (t-test, exploratory factor analysis, discriminant analysis) and AMOS software (confirmatory factor analysis). It should also be noted that the questionnaire was pretested and that the data was verified before the analyses were performed.

This study shows that “undifferentiation” is more frequent than previously believed, that it is not a pathological phenomenon and that it allows better identification of a poorly understood career path, namely the hybrid path. First, very few studies have investigated in depth the possible existence of multiple anchors. Our results show that the multiplicity of anchors is a more frequent phenomenon than the literature implies: nearly 70% of our sample are undifferentiated versus 30% reported by some authors. Second, our research findings indicate that the multiplicity of anchors is not necessarily a pathological phenomenon, in contrast with the views of several authors. The fact that no significant difference was found between differentiation and the career outcome seems to indicate that it is equally satisfying to possess several anchors and a single anchor (first hypothesis). Naturally, these results must be confirmed by other studies, because the link between differentiation and the success variables remains poorly understood. The third contribution of this research is that it helps shed light on a yet to be clarified path, namely the hybrid path. Results show that engineers pursuing a technical path have a stronger technical anchor than do those in the hybrid and managerial paths combined (3.97 versus 3.51 for the technical anchor, t test significant at p < 0.000), which verifies hypothesis 2(b). It is interesting to note that engineers that pursue hybrid or managerial paths have a higher managerial anchor than do those in the technical path (3.77 versus 3.25; t test significant at p < 0.000). The hybrid path may therefore attract individuals who aspire to managerial positions. Hypothesis 2(a) is consequently partly verified, because the managerial anchor is not intended to predict the hybrid path. Lastly, Hypothesis 2(c), whereby anchors not related to talents are more strongly associated with non-traditional paths, is only partly verified. In effect, engineers that pursue a project-based path have a lifestyle anchor that is stronger than those in the hybrid path (3.87 versus 3.57; t test significant at p < 0.004), which confirms the hypothesis. However, the security anchor is more strongly associated with the technical path than the non-traditional path (a security anchor of 3.78 for engineers in a technical path versus 3.46 for those in the hybrid path and managerial path combined; t test significant at p < 0.000). Hypothesis 3 is verified for the hybrid path, but not for the project-based path, which is also a non-traditional path. Hypothesis 4 is verified solely for the managerial path. It should also be noted that engineers pursuing a hybrid path are more differentiated than those who pursue a managerial path (5.71 versus 5.11; t test significant at p < 0.015). It is interesting to note that undifferentiation and the stability of career choices allow distinction of the hybrid path from the managerial path. Engineers that pursue the managerial path are less differentiated and demonstrate greater stability of career choice.