Professional obsolescence which is widespread in current society characterized by accelerating technological progress and increasingly changing social environment, has been seen as a threat to individual career development and organizational survival and competition. Related research abroad has been preceded over half a century and has obtained many achievements, but there are still many issues worth exploring, while domestic research has paid little attention to this topic. In order to arouse attention from domestic scholars and build the foundation of follow-up research, this paper reviews extant professional obsolescence research systematically. First, the development history of professional obsolescence research is retrospected. The concept of obsolescence, which means outdating of something or the way to do something, was put forward by Tugwell(1931), and knowledge and skill obsolescence of professionals was extensively noted in America after the Second World War during which the renewal of knowledge and skills began to accelerate. Researchers in early times were mainly engaged in discovering influencing factors and occurrence mechanisms of professional obsolescence, while after entering the 21st century researchers focus more on its outcomes and coping strategies. Now professional obsolescence has been widely concerned by researchers from countries more than America, such as the UK, Singapore and India, and is attracting more attention. Then, the research status is summarized from five aspects including concept, antecedents, occurrence mechanisms, outcomes and coping strategies. In terms of concept, professional obsolescence was defined in two different modes in early stage, namely reduction view and deficiency view. The former places emphasis on that individual knowledge and skills become less effective to satisfy job demand, while the latter focuses on the deficiency of the effectiveness of employee knowledge and skills compared with other objects. Although later researches mostly adopt the first definition mode, none of them give the reason for the choice of reduction view or elaborate the differences in these two definition modes. Some even mix these two definition modes up indiscriminately. In terms of antecedents, multifaceted influencing factors from individuals, organizations and outside environment contributing to professional obsolescence have been revealed theoretically or empirically, but some findings are paradoxical. In terms of occurrence mechanisms, researches explain how and why various factors lead to professional obsolescence from the system and psychology perspectives. However, systematical explanations only outline possible paths that factors interact and lead to professional obsolescence without detailed interpretations, while psychological explanations analyze why factors have effects but limit focus on the mediation role of individual motives or psychological perception. Research on outcomes and coping strategies is just rising. So far, there have been only limited discussions about effects of professional obsolescence on individual psychological stress, turnover and counter-productive behavior, as well as coping strategies for organizations and individuals to deal with professional obsolescence. Finally, potential directions for future research are discussed. On one hand, future research should make some improvement in terms of concept, mechanisms, and outcomes of professional obsolescence. For example, to distinguish the two definition modes in previous research to clarify their similarities and differences and develop corresponding measurement scales; to integrate explanations from system and psychology perspectives to articulate an overarching picture of professional obsolescence process; to explore other possible outcomes of professional obsolescence and enrich the understanding of the outcomes of obsolescence. On the other hand, future research can proceed in the following directions. Firstly, we can deeply investigate professional obsolescence’s process complexity and individual variation to deepen our understanding of obsolescence. Secondly, we can refine the strategies coping with professional obsolescence to provide more practical and detailed guidance for organizations. Thirdly, we can communicate with human capital depreciation research in labor economics which has many similar topics with professional obsolescence research to improve the theory of professional obsolescence and develop new and valuable research topics.
Research on Professional Obsolescence: Theory Retrospect, Status Summary and Future Prospects
Foreign Economics & Management Vol. 39, Issue 11, pp. 90 - 102 (2017) DOI:10.16538/j.cnki.fem.2017.11.007
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Cite this article
Yue Linyang, Huang Weide. Research on Professional Obsolescence: Theory Retrospect, Status Summary and Future Prospects[J]. Foreign Economics & Management, 2017, 39(11): 90–102.