Discussions about the future of work in career development often focus on the outcomes of students and clients – the shifting labour reality, the skills they will need and the roadblocks they may encounter. But career professionals are not immune to the challenges of modern work.
It would likely surprise no one working on the front lines of career development to learn that their colleagues highlight a lack of time and money as major challenges. Respondents to the 2019 CERIC Survey of Career Service Professionals highlighted the heavy workload, insufficient time with clients/students and inadequate financial resources as the top three elements affecting their ability to deliver career development services. (1,350 people from across Canada completed the survey, conducted last November.) Of the respondents who said they were planning to leave the field in the next few years, 41.8% cited burnout and 34.3% chose poor salary/income as a reason for wanting to switch.
So, how can career professionals navigate these challenges? What can the field do to prepare for changing job demands, government priorities and labour market shifts?
The professional development paradox
A lack of time and funding make it difficult for career practitioners to put their own professional development first. However, in prioritizing clients over PD, practitioners may limit their ability to provide effective guidance in the long term.
“I’m all in with professional development,” Career Professionals of Canada Executive Director Sharon Graham says. “I really do think that it’s the best way to prepare for whatever comes to us.” That may include challenges such as labour market shifts, increased use of online services and working with more clients/students facing barriers – all among the top expected changes to their work survey respondents identified.
However, Graham recognizes the reality of resource constraints. Over 26% of career professionals report they have no PD budget provided by their employer and 21.6% receive less than $500 annually. To help make its learning more agile, Career Professionals of Canada has condensed its courses and is going to be doing a push for micro-learning. Graham is also a big supporter of informal PD – anything to help career professionals engage in “continuous learning and continuous knowledge-building.”
PD for career practitioners is also about walking the talk. Career agility and commitment to learning are vital skills for succeeding in the future of work. Practitioners can model this to students by engaging in PD, suggests Adriano Magnifico, Career and Entrepreneurship Consultant for the Louis Riel School Division. In K-12, where guidance counsellors are often too busy handling student crises to provide career advice, it is vital for students to develop skills in career management. “As long as you’re on a path of learning and curiosity, something good will happen,” says Magnifico.
We’re going to need a bigger tent
Hiring for career services roles was another major challenge that emerged in the survey results. Leaders are struggling to find the right people to fill jobs, pointing to challenges including:
- No direct education/training in career development (20.9%)
- Insufficient career development skills (18.5%)
- Limited experience in the field (15.1%)
The survey also found that although around 11% of respondents are planning to retire in the next five years and 28% are over 55, nearly a third (29%) of organizations are not involved in any kind of succession planning.
Blessie Mathew, Director of the Career Centre and Experiential Learning at the University of Alberta, says hiring is made more difficult by the increasingly complex skills career professionals need. Fifteen years ago, the primary requirement for a career advisor at her university was one-to-one advising skills. Now, advisors are also negotiating agreements between the Career Centre and faculty, and helping deliver course material. “The skills are getting far more robust,” she says.
Part of the solution for hiring gaps may lie in targeting professionals outside of the traditional career development sphere. According to Graham, this means reaching out to recruiters, HR workers, organizational development professionals, life coaches, mental health specialists, social workers and others who are doing career development work, but don’t consider themselves career professionals. “We need to be a big-tent profession,” she says.
Mathew agrees that the profession needs to cast a wider net in its approach to hiring. “This is a field where we’ve got such an amazing mix of people with different backgrounds and different skills.” However, she’s unsure whether bringing in more standardized credentials – which she feels can protect vulnerable jobseekers by assuring quality of service – could hinder that outreach. “When we’re looking at needing skills in new areas, if you just kind of slap credentials on everything, you in a way cut off that pipeline of people transitioning into the field,” Mathew says.
Time to get loud
Improving public perception may also have a role to play in mitigating challenges faced by career professionals. In his presentation at CERIC’s Cannexus20 conference in January, UK-based researcher Tristram Hooley argued that the career development field needs to assert its social and economic value. That comes back to an advocacy issue – do politicians, businesses and everyday Canadians understand the importance of this work? Survey results suggest not all do.
More than 85% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “Most Canadians don’t know that career guidance is available beyond high school.” Over the past few years, 30.6% felt public perception of career development had improved, 40.9% said it was unchanged and 5.2% thought it had worsened.
“There’s just a lack of perception of career development as a system process or system that permeates learning from high school right through to workplaces,” Magnifico says. He suggests that his own role as the single career development person for an entire school division reflects the lack of value placed on these services.
“If people don’t know what it is that we do … I think that our services become very vulnerable,” adds Donnalee Bell, Managing Director, Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF).
However, she believes that over the past five years, there’s been a tipping point in the public perception of career development – a by-product of the unfortunate reality that many young people are struggling to map out their future path. Bell sees great opportunity for awareness-raising through the field’s ongoing efforts toward professionalization. The development of Pan-Canadian Career Development Professional Competency Framework, driven by CCDF, is part of this.
“I find it really exciting,” she says. “I think that just gives us leverage to be able to go to the public and say, ‘This is what we can do for you, these are the kinds of competencies, this is the training that we have,’” she says.
By sharing powerful stories about the impact of career development with government and the public, career professionals can make a strong case for the value of their work. While this is not a complete solution to the challenges facing the field, it can help move the needle, bringing more resources and more people to the career development tent.
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