In June, CERIC released the Recovery Pulse Survey with the aim of learning more about how COVID-19 was affecting career services in Canada. Nearly 1,150 career professionals from across the country responded. The results revealed a remarkable resilience and innovation from career professionals as they have reimagined their work. However, it also highlighted challenges for organizations and client groups.
To shed more light on the experiences of career professionals working in different areas of the sector during COVID-19, Ben Liadsky, Pulse Survey research analyst and Program Manager at The Counselling Foundation of Canada, reached out to survey participants to hear about how their work has been affected by the pandemic, their advice for their peers and more.
This interview with Marina Hai of Bow Valley College is the second in a series of Recovery Pulse Survey interviews that will be published on the CareerWise website over the summer. Don’t miss the first interview with Dan Walters of Ontario Tech University.
Can you tell me a bit about where you work?
I work at Bow Valley College in Career Services, which is part of the Learner Success Services department. We help all current students and alumni with anything related to job search and career development. This includes providing employment readiness supports and career planning and exploration assistance. Most of our students are in career certificate or degree programs, but we also have students in non-career programs such as English language learning and high school bridging programs.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
My job title is Career Advisor. I’ve been in the field since 2014. I’m coming up on five years at Bow Valley College, where I first started working in the registrar’s office. I graduated with a music and education degree and had originally intended to work as music teacher. Over the past few years, I’ve worked in both the non-profit and post-secondary sectors.
I like that I can change the way students think about the present situation they are facing. I can teach them new ways of thinking and develop new strategies to approach challenges. I think I’m also good at meeting students where they’re at and recognizing that one approach may not work for everyone.
How has COVID affected the college?
We moved pretty quickly to working online. The college as a whole reported a 98% success rate moving staff and students online. It wasn’t perfect. We lost some programs due to low enrolment and had some temporary layoffs as a result. All classes will be online until December. From March to April it was pretty rocky, but students are doing pretty well now.
We heard lots of anxieties among students, especially those who were about to start a practicum or work placement. We also had students who just started come to us wanting to know how this situation would affect them.
How has COVID affected how you work?
I consider myself a tech-savvy person, so it was a pretty seamless transition for me. It was a bit weird to see students virtually at first, but overall, I’ve adapted pretty well.
The one significant challenge has been helping students with lower digital literacy. Here, it does become harder to deliver career advice over the phone and describe how to develop a resume – for instance, when the individual may not know how to work with Microsoft Word.
Unfortunately, we also had to cancel our April hiring fair. We have had a couple virtual sessions since then, but it’s still a work in progress.
On the flip side, the Learners Success Service took the initiative to develop a series of three- to five-minute videos and invited all different sub-departments to create content. The purpose was to increase access to information. My department has completed four videos so far. It was a bit tough to do — I had to do multiple takes and spent a bit of time trying to tidy up a space at home. The response has been positive though. It’s especially helpful as we have quite a high international student population, some of whom are overseas. We plan to have about 10 to 15 videos available on different topics (some of which are already completed) such as how to job search during COVID and how to prepare for virtual interviews.
What is something that has surprised you during these past few months?
The fact that we were able to transition so smoothly with classes that were still in progress was a pleasant surprise. When the pandemic first started, I was worried that our students would be overwhelmed or that they wouldn’t be able to find their classes, but that didn’t turn out to be an issue.
I would also say that our productivity is higher as a career services team. We finished a few projects in the past few months that normally wouldn’t have got done so quickly given the interruptions that occur when we’re all in the office together.
What have you learned from your students about what they need most right now?
Financial concerns have come up and we do have a few areas within our department to help with bursaries or grants opportunities as well as how to apply for government programs like CERB. A lot of students are also wondering more generally about what they should do now (i.e., what types of jobs they can get). We also have some alumni coming back to us looking for career support, because they have been laid off.
It’s really case-by-case though. I would say that a majority of the students I talk to aren’t in a position of despair. Mostly, they want to know what actions they can take during this time. In these situations, I might help them to think about their priorities right now such as whether they need to generate income or gain experience. I might offer advice to focus on transferable skills, even if the job they might apply for is not related to their ultimate career goal. This point is especially true for international students looking to gain experience in the Canadian workforce.
What advice would you give to others in the field based on your experience regarding how to work differently?
Any kind of online activity that you’re looking at doing, make sure to think about how to make it engaging. I don’t think the career advice changes so much in the one-to-one, but the platform you use can really affect how that message comes across or whether it gets heard. So, in short, get up to speed on technology and invest the time in learning new tools or platforms. For instance, an in-person facilitated career workshop for us would usually last two hours, but it would be painful for a student to do this on a computer. Learning how to communicate information in an interactive way becomes really important.
You can learn more about Marina and her work in Career Services at Bow Valley College by visiting their website.