Resilience at a glance

Resilience has been a significant research topic since the 1970s, particularly in the field of psychology. Tusaie and Dyer (2004) defined resilience as “a combination of abilities and characteristics that interact dynamically to allow an individual to bounce back, cope successfully, and function above the norm in spite of significant stress or adversity” (P.3). The origins of the concept of resilience stem from the early psychiatric literature that examined children who appeared to be invulnerable to adverse life situations (Earvolino-Ramirez 2007).

Over time, the original term “invulnerable” was replaced by the term “resilience,” and a new area of theory and research was born. Resilience, the ability to bounce back or cope successfully despite substantial adversity, has received significant attention from various domains. Within this study, the term resilience applies to behavioral, attributional or emotional responses to the shocks and challenges graduates will inevitably face upon entering the construction industry.

As resilience research has developed, so has the focus of study, away from identifying some of the key factors associated with resilience, to understanding the mechanisms by which they might operate. Resilience promoting factors have commonly been discussed within three broad areas: individual young people, their families and the societies in which they live (Garmezy 1991). A more expanded framework of resilience includes protective processes (resources, competencies, talents, and skills) that sit within the individual (individual-level factors), within the family and peer network (social-level factors), and within the whole school environment and the community (societal-level factors).

Existing resilience research

Awareness of the benefit of resilience to organizations as well as their staff has recently surfaced through studies on positive dispositions (Shirom 2003; Harvey, Blouin & Stout 2006) for teachers (Gu & Day 2007), mental health clinicians (Edward 2005) and nurses (Judkins, Arris & Keener 2005; McGee 2006). Nurses have a particular interest in resilience because they help people and families in dealing with particularly adverse situations (Jacelon 1997; Polk 1997). Nurses have contributed to the discourses on resilience in diverse areas including adolescent resilience (Hunter & Chandler 1999), strategies for developing resilience in nursing students (Keeley & Grier 2005; Judkins et al. 2005), nurse case managers (Bright 1997), operating theatre nurses (Giordano 1997), community resilience (Kulig 2000), and theoretical development of the concept of resilience (Jacelon 1997; Polk 1997; Tusaie & Dyer 2004; Jackson, Firtko & Edenborough 2007).

McAllister and McKinnon (2009) examined resilience in nursing education, arguing for the inclusion of resilience theory as part of the educational content, teaching, clinical experience courses, internships, work integrated learning (WIL) and other work experience courses to build resilience in health professionals. Beltman et al. (2011) reviewed research on teacher resilience and what enabled early career teachers to endure challenges. They considered resilience as the outcome of a dynamic relationship between ‘risk factors’, including factors that can come from sources such as school administration, colleagues, and pupils, and ‘individual protective factors’, such as altruistic motives and high self-efficacy.

A number of researchers came up with different models of resilience (Windle 2011; Tusaie, Puskar & Sereika 2007; Tusaie & Dyer 2004; McAllister & McKinnon 2009; Gillespie, Chaboyer & Wallis 2007; Caldeira & Timmins 2016). The main factors of resilience models or frameworks were described as personal, family and social perspectives of the individual. In addition, mental and physical aspects were also included and emphasized in various models. Having the antecedents, protectives and risk factors and consequences as components of these models, researchers attempted to explain the link between different factors.

Despite this, there is no specific research that develops a framework or model for tertiary, construction management students and graduates. In order to address this gap and recognizing the distinct characteristics of this cohort of students in construction management, the research team conceptualize several resilience themes in construction academia and industry and developed a theoretical framework for resilience in construction management study.

Resilience for University Students

Resilience is shown to be evident in times of transition, where there is a great deal of stress (Beasley et al., 2003). In terms of different developmental and life stages where resilience is evident, research identifies examples of high stress transitions of parental avoidance during adolescence, divorce, and university commencement (Campbell-Sills, Cohan & Stein 2006; Tusaie & Dyer 2004; Urquhart & Pooley 2007). Walker, Gleaves and Grey (2006) argue for the importance of resilience in higher educational contexts when considering the enduring demands placed upon students entering university, namely, increases in cognitive complexity, comprehension of uncomfortable and unfamiliar ideas, and the questioning of accepted attitudes and behaviours.

The importance of resilience in higher education contexts is discussed by (Gardynik & McDonald 2005; Gonzalez & Padilla 1997; Raphael 1993; Tusaie & Dyer 2004; Munro & Pooley 2009). Martin (2002) defines academic resilience as a student’s ability to successfully cope with scholastic setbacks, stress and study pressures. This construct has received little attention in the research literature, despite considerable research identifying minority groups as the main focus (Gonzalez & Padilla 1997; Sennett et al. 2003).

Studies tend to look at resilience in terms of mental health and well-being, and it is suggested that an increase in the protective factors associated with general resilience would enhance academic resilience. In addition, many of the aspects mentioned by Martin (2002), such as improvements in the students approach to academic work, personal beliefs, attitudes towards learning and outcomes, personal study skills, and reasons for learning, are often alluded to in higher education literature as being important for successful adjustment to a university environment (Gardynik & McDonald 2005; Parker et al. 2004; Perry et al. 2001; Walker et al. 2006).

Urquhart and Pooley (2007) posit that there are a number of equally important factors that contribute to successful adjustment to university for any student, including (a) social support, (b) personal/emotional support, (c) expectations, and (d) academic adjustment. These four factors have been consistently shown in the research literature to play a part in developing resilience (Gerdes & Mallinckrodt 1994; Schwitzer et al. 1999).

It has been suggested students beginning the first year of university suffer from higher levels of stress than students continuing their university education (Baldwin, Chambliss & Towler 2003). The first semester is a time of change for new university students where they are meeting new people, develop new friendships, evaluating, renegotiating or maintaining old friendships, homesickness, modification of parental support, as well as knowledge acquisition of university resources (Paul & Brier 2001; Urani et al. 2003).

Perceived social support such as support from extended family, siblings, teachers, schools, mentors and peers have been found to be beneficial in helping individuals positively adapt to the transition to university (Southwick et al. 2007; Urquhart & Pooley 2007). However, Rutter (1999) suggests that risk is inherent in the context of university study and that resilience can be predicted if a satisfactory risk algorithm can be developed.