In 2019, CERIC conducted a National Survey of Career Service Professionals that shares unsettling statistics of clients’ career regrets.
Career practitioners report that among their clients:
- 71.7% say “I wish I had understood myself better and chosen a career that is aligned with my values”
- 66.5% say “I wish I hadn’t been pressured into pursuing a career I didn’t want to pursue”
- 61% say “I wish I hadn’t played it safe and let fear prevent me from taking a different career direction”
- 58.8% say “I wish I hadn’t narrowed my options so soon and been able to explore other careers”
Also, a 2015 CERIC survey found that “One in two Canadians who have not had career counselling say they would have sought professional career planning or employment advice if they could do it over again…”. There is clearly great need and desire for Canadians to access career counselling.
Over the past 12 years, I have asked peers to rate how they feel we are doing with providing career decision-making assistance to all Canadians. Answers are consistently in the range of 2-5 out of 10. That’s distressing, because we are working really hard. How do we improve our return on investment?
The career industry has never been static. Over my 40+ years I’ve observed many changes and much growth. Perhaps by reflecting on that history, we can see some possibilities for future development, improve the return on our professional investment and help Canadians avoid future career regret.
Intuitive career counselling
Before the major recession in the early 1980s, jobs were abundant. We weren’t asked to spend much time on the career decision-making aspect of career counselling. Clients wanted help finding jobs (ie, employment counselling).
Post-recession saw a drastic decrease in the number of jobs. A very different labour market evolved, characterized by rapid change, uncertainty, blurred work/home boundaries and constant chaos. We shifted our attention to focus more on helping clients make complex career decisions so they could figure out what they wanted their career to look like. What I will refer to as “Intuitive Career Counselling” came into its own. This counselling methodology is both an art and a science. Armed with formal training in one or more career planning methodologies/theories (eg, counselling psychology) as well as critical intuitive skills, counsellors guide clients (from high school age to retirement) to find the right places in their personal and their work lives so they can become fully contributing, happy, healthy community members.
Although we were effective in using this approach one-on-one, by the mid-nineties it became clear that there simply weren’t enough of us available and that systemic and systematic career decision-making assistance needed to start earlier in people’s lives. We looked to schools to increase their participation in this endeavour. Their answer was to provide students with more and better information.
The Information Exposure Model
In this model, clients (ie, students) receive a vast array of information about options for future work and education so they can see available opportunities. Print materials provided by the public and private sectors, education and career fairs, Take-Our-Kids-To-Work Days, speakers, online resources and compulsory career studies courses are among the information delivery strategies.
The beauty of this Information Exposure Model is that it reaches large numbers of clients. The problem is that the amount of information is overwhelming, and clients don’t know what to do with it. They typically become discouraged and look to others (the external) for answers – “What do you think I should do?”
As is often the case in the gig economy, we turned to algorithms for answers.
Online information resources have been expanded to include more inventories: interest, skills, learning styles, etc. Externally generated questions, answers and algorithms give clients a list of work calculated to be good career choices for them.
The benefit is that inventories give clients a way to contain their career decision-making. The problem is that their computer-generated lists typically include jobs that students or clients would never consider doing. They lose trust in the results and their motivation to proceed is demonstrably reduced.
Clearly something else is needed. In his response to the results of the CERIC survey cited earlier (Canadians Experiencing High Degree of Career Regret), John Horn commented: “The findings point to the need for Canadians to have better career development skills, starting at a young age, and continuing throughout their lives.”
Better career development skills. To me, that means teaching clients the ‘how to’ skills and processes they need to make, own and implement their own career decisions with confidence.
A teachable career decision-making framework
In fact, such a thing has been developing over the past 15 years – a step-by-step, teachable career decision-making process based on the notion that clients can build tools to define work and education that are a good fit for them. They can learn the competencies (analyze, evaluate, decide, plan, implement, review, revise) needed to take control of their lives. At each step of the process they learn how to make targeted use of information from various sources to inform their decision-making. They carry their tools, competencies and know-how with them for life.
This framework does what Horn suggests is needed. It works in both one-on-one and group situations and can begin early in school. Challenges? First, it is a radical conceptual shift to believe we can actually teach career decision-making. Second, it takes time/practice for clients to build and learn how to apply their tools. Time isn’t always available. Third, one program like this is not enough; we need a range of concrete ‘how to’ programs that truly teach career decision-making.
We keep expanding our offerings by identifying gaps and finding ways to address them. Yet, the CERIC survey results and other indicators are worrying. What is next if we want a better return on our collective efforts so that Canadians can enjoy a work-life without regret?