This article was selected as the winning entry for the BCCDA’s Canada Career Month essay writing competition in November 2020 on the topic of “The Importance of Career Development in the Time of Economic Downturn.” The winner, Karen Begemann, received a one-year free professional membership with BCCDA, as well as the opportunity to be published on CERIC’s CareerWise website.
For most of us in Canada, there has been no other time like this. The popular expression “who knew?” takes on a deeper significance when we consider how an unforeseen event like this could have such a sweeping impact on our lives and the lives of people around the globe.
We have seen unprecedented job loss. According to Statistics Canada, almost one-quarter of unemployed Canadians in October 2020 had been without work for six months or more. Close to 450,000 were considered long-term unemployed, making up 24.8% of Canada’s total. This translates to 1.8 million people, given how the short-term layoffs that occurred in the spring have continued into the fall.
Like so many industries, career development service delivery has had to pivot from “high touch” to physically distanced in a very short time. What does this mean in terms of our collective commitment to serve our clients? May the following strategies serve as guidance or simply reminders of the very actions many of you are already taking.
Promote client adaptability
Career development practitioners (CDPs) as change agents
H.B. Gelatt outlines in his theory of decision making, Positive Uncertainty, that there are two important attitudes when it comes to uncertainty:
- “Accept that the future is uncertain – and will always contain uncertainty despite any efforts to make it more certain.”
- “Be positive about this uncertainty – because things are not determined in advance, there is room for you to make a difference.” Our clients are in transition and facing probably more uncertainty than they ever have before.
Work is different.
Whether or not clients are seeking work in a new area or in what they’ve done before, clients need to recognize and be prepared for that work to be different. They may need to adapt to working from home, worksites that have safety measures and physical distancing protocols.
As practitioners we can:
- Talk to clients about transition, acknowledge the pain of their experience and explore possible opportunities that may arise due to the pandemic.
- Encourage clients to do virtual informational interviews with people currently doing the job they are interested in; learn how the industry is adapting to the pandemic and how this may look, post-pandemic.
- Discuss the skills they may need to develop to adapt to the “new normal” of that job and what they need to do in order to smoothly transition to the job as it is now.
Promote connectivity with integrity and creativity
Accessibility of virtual services
With many employment services offering virtual services, this has raised the ethical conundrum of how to serve clients who have no access to digital technology. “As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, digital exclusion is reinforcing income and social inequality,” an April 2020 report from the OECD noted.
Privacy and confidentiality
A further ethical consideration is maintaining confidentiality and a sense of safety in the career counselling relationship. Clients accessing virtual services may not be able to guarantee privacy if they share their home and are in close proximity to others. They may be aware that their CDP is working from home and have concerns about the privacy of their information.
As practitioners we can:
- Make best use of any in-person services to clients by prioritizing meetings for those who lack access to virtual services. Be mindful to be clear about your own or your organization’s safety plan prior to the meeting and adhering to it. Arrange phone calls where in-person meetings are not possible.
- For those clients accessing virtual services, find out ahead of time if and how they may be able to arrange for privacy during their call. Assure them that all their information is kept confidential.
- Capitalize on ways to use tools like Zoom to build closer relationships with colleagues and employers. In an article in The Free Press, “Kootenay Employment Services reflects on working from home,” KES’ regional employer and community liaison shared: “We are in fact putting more into connecting with people to compensate for safety and distancing and it’s bringing people closer together.”
Promote client engagement, hope and resiliency
Double whammy: unemployment and the pandemic
There is no question that the pandemic has caused hardship for many. Job loss due to the pandemic itself can be actually called a traumatic experience. This is to be fully acknowledged before we can engage a client in any next steps. Norm Amundson talks about the importance of the “backswing” – his metaphor for the reflection or step back he advises job seekers to take rather than reflexively moving into job search. This can be a rich time of self-reflection and self-assessment to determine transferable skills, values, interests and to consider possible opportunities. As the client reconnects with who they are now and what is important to them, they can tap into and build on the resiliency that is already within them.
Pandemic-proof client engagement
Beyond individualized service delivery already discussed, virtual tools have opened up possibilities for group activities to support clients in job search. Studies have shown that clients achieve greater success when job searching with others. Virtual job fairs and speed “dating” events are examples of ways engage clients collectively and connect to employers, and are being done in countries around the world.
As practitioners we can:
- Normalize feelings of disorientation and confusion clients may be expressing due to job loss from the pandemic. Reminding them that it’s not their fault can address the unforeseen nature of the pandemic and that there is nothing the client could have done differently. Learning to hold the paradox of a negative and uncontrollable situation against the potential new emerging opportunities is part of building hope (Bassett, 2020).
- Encourage clients to focus on “backswing” activities such as self-reflection, assessing transferable skills, online research and additional training. According to Leah Nord, Senior Director of Workforce Strategies and Inclusive Growth for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, there is urgency for the government to roll out skills training programs given the rates of joblessness. “Lifelong learning, upskilling and reskilling were important before the pandemic, but the pandemic I would say has really accelerated the need for this,” she was quoted as saying in an article from CP24.
- Host virtual job fairs and “speed dating” events to engage and connect employers and clients.
- Encourage volunteering. Part of the experience of unemployment is feeling the lack of making a contribution. Assisting people in the community to pick up groceries or helping out at food banks can bring back a sense of purpose.
While we live daily with uncertainty and the hope of seeing the end of this pandemic, let us build adaptability, connectivity, hope and resiliency in our clients and remember to do this for ourselves as well. Stay safe. Keep doing the good work and keep working together to do what we do best.