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Are vocational interests valid in South Africa?

04 March 2015

Explore the validity of vocational interests and person-environment fit in predicting job performance, satisfaction, and persistence. Uncover the relevance of Holland's model in SA

Vocational interests and person-environment congruence predict job-performance, job-satisfaction, and job-persistence, but is Holland's model of vocational interests valid in South Africa?

Previously we argued that vocational interests and person-environment congruence are important predictors of job-performance, tenure and well-being at work (cf. Rounds & Su, 2014). Accordingly, there may be great merit in including a measure of vocational interests in selection or development batteries. However, before we begin to use vocational interests to match people to the work environment, we need to ask whether or not vocational interests are applicable in South Africa? But first, let’s look at the most popular vocational model; Holland’s circumplex model of vocational personality types.

Holland’s circumplex model

The most commonly used model of vocational interests is Holland’s (1973) Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional (RIASEC) circumplex model (Gottfredson, 1999). The six types are defined as (Holland, 1973, 1997):

  • Realistic: characterised by a preference for working with tools or with machines.

  • Investigative: characterised by a preference for working with data and ideas.

  • Artistic: characterised by a preference for creative and artistic activities.

  • Social: characterised by a preference for working with people.

  • Enterprising: a preference to work with economic and/or financial activities.

  • Conventional: a preference for ordered and systematic activities.

This model states that the RIASEC types form a circular ordering where the “distances among the types are inversely proportional to the theoretical relationship between them” (Holland, 1997, p. 5). In other words, the correlation between Realistic and Investigative must be larger than the correlation between Realistic and Artistic, which in turn must be larger than the correlation between Realistic and Social (Holland, 1973, 1997). Put simply, this means that the types in the circular model that are the furthest apart, have the least in common with one another. Conversely, the types that are closer together have more in common with one another. But, how do these vocational types apply to the individual and the choice of his/her environment?

Individual and environment types

Holland (1997) posited that both individuals and environments can be classified in terms of the RIASEC types, and that people seek out environments that allow them to express their types. For example, in the teaching profession, which is a Social type occupation, most people will score high on the Social personality type. Conversely, people who score high on Social personality type would most likely seek out professions/jobs that are social in nature (such as teaching). Holland further argued that behaviour is a product of the interaction between individuals’ types and the environment (Holland, 1997). According to Reardon and Lenz (1998) individuals who have vocational interest types that match the environment have lower levels of stress, higher levels of performance and persistence, and greater levels of job satisfaction. Holland’s model may thus be very useful for job-selection and placement where individuals with a specific vocational type can be matched to a job-role or position that overlaps with that type. However, this assumes that the RIASEC model, which was developed in the USA, is applicable in South Africa.

Validity of Holland’s RIASEC model in South Africa

Early research suggested that Holland’s circumplex model may not be valid outside of the USA (Rounds & Tracey, 1996). This is problematic because the theoretical predictions of the model cannot be used if the model is not applicable for the South African population (Darcy & Tracey, 2007). Early South African research on Holland’s model provided mixed support, with Gevers, du Toit and Harilall (1997) finding that the model is valid in the South African context, while Deller (1997), Schonegevel (1997), and du Toit and de Bruin (2002) demonstrating that the model was not valid in some sample groups in the South African context. More recently, Morgan, de Bruin and de Bruin (2014) and Morgan, de Bruin and de Bruin (in press), who applied a circumplex model to South African respondent data, demonstrated that Holland’s model is most likely valid in South Africa. This means that the RIASEC types, and the relationships between the types (the circular ordering), are similar in South Africa to the USA. Consequently, Holland’s model can be applied and used in South Africa for development, selection, career counselling, and placement purposes.


Darcy, M. U. A., & Tracey, T. J. G. (2007). Circumplex structures of Holland’s RIASEC interests across gender and time. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54(1), 17-31. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.54.1.17

Deller, K. (1997). An evaluation of the Myers-Briggs type indicator and the Self-Directed Search as validated by a career typology workshop (Unpublished master’s thesis). Rand Afrikaans University, Johannesburg, South Africa.

du Toit, R., & de Bruin, G. P. (2002). The structural validity of Holland’s R-I-A-S-E-C model of vocational personality types for young Black South African men and women. Journal of Career Assessment, 10, 62-77. doi: 10.1177/1069072702010001004

Gevers, J., du Toit, R., & Harilall, R. (1997). SDS manual. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council. Gottfredson, G. D. (1999). John L. Holland’s contributions to vocational psychology: A review and evaluation. Journal of vocational Behavior, 55, 15-40. /10.1006/jvbe.1999.1695

Holland, J. L. (1973). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities & work environments. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments (3rd ed.). Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Morgan, B., de Bruin, G. P., & de Bruin, K. (in press). Gender differences in Holland’s circular/circumplex interest structure as measured by the South African Career Interest Inventory. South African Journal of Psychology.

Morgan, B., de Bruin, G. P., & de Bruin, K. (2014). Constructing Holland’s Hexagon in South Africa Development and Initial Validation of the South African Career Interest Inventory. Journal of Career Assessment. doi: 1069072714547615.

Reardon, R. C., & Lenz, J. G. (1998). The Self-Directed Search and related Holland career materials: A practitioners guide. Lutz, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Rounds, J., & Su, R. (2014). The nature and power of interests. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(2), 98-103.

Rounds, J., & Tracey, T. J. (1996). Cross-cultural structural equivalence of RIASEC models and measures. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43(3), 310-329. doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.43.3.310

Schonegevel, C. (1997). The structural validity of Holland’s hexagon for Black South African adolescents (unpublished master’s thesis). University of Port Elizabeth, Port Elizabeth, South Africa


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