Social Work Migration Project

Professional Integration and Adaptation Processes

How does professional adaptation happen?

The results of our research have allowed us to develop a theory about professional adaptation.

Professional adaptation is an interactive process between external factors (systems and structures) and internal factors (personal disposition and worldview). Each of these factors are positioned on a continuum between protective and vulnerabilizing. The concepts of adaptation and integration are non-linear and complex. For example, an external factor could be protective (a job offer) and an internal factor (difficulty with language) could be vulnerabilizing.

  • Participants shared that when the culture of their country of origin had similarities with Canadian culture, adaptation was easier, both personally and professionally.
  • In contrast, participants who identified a great cultural difference expressed difficulty adapting, both personally and professionally.
  • A workplace with supportive colleagues seems to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and by doing so, helps with professional adaptation. Participants who had less supportive work environments expressed more difficulty with professional adaptation. Some participants reported experiences of discrimination and/or racism.
  • Participants without a supportive professional environment expressed having vulnerabilizing experiences. Some of these experiences were related to discrimination and/or racism.
  • The ability for a person to remain positive and motivated was identified by almost a quarter of participants as a very important element for professional adaptation.
  • Some participants identified that their personality traits were a disadvantage to professional adaptation (such as shyness). Others identified that their personality helped them to adapt (such as flexibility and openness).

We can see how the combination of external and internal factors, protective and vulnerabilizing, create unique experiences of adaptation, both personally and professionally.

To learn more about professional adaptation, please view the slide show below, developed for the Knowledge Exchange Forum in Halifax on November 21, 2014.


KEF Emerging Theory from Kate Em

Check back for an article in progress…