“Tell me about yourself.” For many career practitioners, that statement is the starting point of the client-counsellor relationship. For career coaching to be effective, it is important to know a client’s educational background, employment history, motivations and goals – in fact, anything that can help to determine the next steps in the client’s career pathway. Every career practitioner also knows that there is a difference between “knowing” and “understanding,” and that this distinction is especially important when the client is a skilled immigrant. For at least 40 years, career counsellors have looked to prior learning assessment to facilitate acceptance and comprehension of an individual’s skills and knowledge. As technology reshapes our work, so too will it transform how we assess and recognize education, skills and experience.
Since the 1970s, academic institutions in Canada have turned to Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) to validate learning for admissions and academic placement purposes. PLAR often used portfolio exploration or challenge for credit processes but was lacking in its application outside of academia to meet the needs of jobseekers and employers, especially relating to immigrants. In light of ever-increasing global mobility and Canada’s growing dependence on immigration as a source of human capital, we need to align our assessment and recognition efforts with labour market demands and technological changes. Exploring and adopting more competency-informed practices is one way career practitioners can empower jobseekers during this time of transition.
Competencies and the Canadian economy
The recent WES discussion paper Beyond Academic Credentials outlines the looming changes to both the skills required and the sources of labour needed to sustain the Canadian economy. Skills gaps are a growing concern, specifically with regard to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and immigration has been identified as a crucial part of the solution. Recent figures show that immigration will account for all of Canada’s net labour force growth over the next 20 years. Without a way to understand the skills that immigrants bring in the context of new and emerging occupations, Canadian employers will be ill-equipped to tap into this talent pool.
More from WES:
New tools for integration: Credential assessment for displaced individuals
To enhance capacity in the immigrant-serving sector and support employers to effectively leverage immigration for meaningful labour contributions, WES has begun to explore a competency-informed approach to evaluating immigrant talent. A competency-informed approach “involves looking holistically at an individual’s ability to apply knowledge and skills with appropriate judgment in a defined setting. It can include an assessment of the cognitive, social, and interpersonal skills required to fulfill certain tasks and work functions.” Competencies are complex and must be contextualized; they are a person’s knowledge and skills expressed through judgments and behaviours. This complexity leaves career practitioners and employers asking the same question: How can we begin to contextualize competencies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution?
Testing technology-enabled solutions
Approaching skill identification and competency assessment with the same standards that have made WES the leading authority in academic credential evaluation and verification, we have been testing various tools to determine value and utility in the market. While the evaluation of specific tools and resources is ongoing, we have seen that tech-enabled skill identification and competency assessment tools offer unparalleled insight at both the micro and macro levels.
“Exploring and adopting more competency-informed practices is one way career practitioners can empower jobseekers …”
We have already identified several exciting technology applications, including those of the Immigrant Employment Council of British Columbia (IECBC), SkyHive, and Skilllab. An advocate of immigrant inclusion in the labour market, IECBC harnesses technology in its FAST program, which helps immigrants overcome employment barriers. With a mission to tackle global poverty, technology company SkyHive uses machine learning and deep learning to perform labour market supply and demand analysis, while making this same technology available to individuals so that they can identify their skills and explore dynamic pathways. Skilllab uses artificial intelligence to empower refugee jobseekers and build the capacity of service providers.
Much has been said—with a significant amount of fear and skepticism—about the impact of automation on jobseekers in the future of work. It is essential for career counsellors to parse fact from fiction and leverage all available tools and resources to support their clients’ career pathways. In the same ways that technology can enhance employer outputs, it can increase the capacity of service providers and empower jobseekers. With more nuanced language and newer approaches, the recognition of prior learning and experience is key not only to the success of immigrant individuals, but to the overall sustainability of the Canadian labour market.
 Conrad, D. (2008). Revisiting the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL): A Reflective Inquiry into RPL Practice in Canada. Canadian Journal of University Continuing Education, 34(2), 89–110.
 McArthur-Gupta, A., Kareem, E.-A., & Bajwa, A. (2019, May 3). Can’t Go it Alone: Immigration is Key to Canada’s Growth Strategy. Retrieved from https://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-Library/document.aspx?did=10150
 Beyond Academic Credentials-Toward Competency-informed Hiring. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://knowledge.wes.org/canada-report-beyond-academic-credentials-toward-competency-informed-hiring.html
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