Cannexus21 was the first-ever virtually held Cannexus conference, but it was also the first time that our team of career counsellors was able to attend all at once, because of its accessibility and cost effectiveness. It was my first Cannexus conference as well. It was so helpful to be able to actively digest, discuss and share our learning even during the conference.
I was most curious to see how CERIC would re-create the interactive aspects of the typical conference in an online format. I was impressed by their tremendous work of envisioning and translating the spirit of Cannexus into reality. Some initial technology glitches aside, everything ran smoothly, and it was easy to navigate the sessions (no running between rooms!) and to interact with other attendees both during sessions (via the chat box) and in between programming. Through “Hallway Meetings” and the “(Not your Typical) Cocktail Party,” we still had informal opportunities to connect with fellow career practitioners.
There is still much from the conference I am reflecting on, but here are a few themes that resonated with me.
The power of emotion and perception
Even in the midst of the rapid evolution of technology adoption and demand for digital skills, numerous Cannexus sessions highlighted the ever-growing importance of social and emotional skills such as adaptability and resilience. These skills were also referred to as EQ skills, power skills and 21st-century skills by various presenters. As Perdita Felicien pointed out in her keynote session, a skill like “resilience is an adaptation” – a skill that one can develop. More than ever, these are the enduring skills that enable individuals to be adaptable to the ever-changing nature of work.
I was also struck by Kris Magnusson’s session focusing on perception and emotions in career helping. As career practitioners, we can have the tendency to jump to providing support to our clients in the form of information. However, Magnusson highlights that having more information may in fact increase anxiety. Instead, it is an “ethnical obligation to work with the client’s emotion,” to directly address and engage with what the client is feeling and how they are looking at their situation.
I continue to reflect on how we often focus on changing behaviour, and perhaps don’t spend enough time to sit in the domains of emotions and thoughts, in order to help our clients move through change. I also appreciated the tools that several other sessions discussed, including journalling, meditation and visualization, tools that have proved to be even more crucial to process the effects of the pandemic.
The power of language in creating equity and advocacy in our practice
In JP Michel’s “Challenge Mindset” session, he quoted Jaime Casap, who said “Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problems they want to solve and what they need to learn to be able to do that.” I have seen how this reframing is not only helpful for kids, but can benefit anyone trying to identify their purpose and meaning in their next steps. This framework will also help to retain intrinsic motivation for continual learning of new skills, and learning how to learn into the future, as keynote speaker Zabeen Hirji remarked. No longer are we limited to what is known of current job titles and labour market information, but we can think about the challenges we want to take on and to test our ideas in myriad ways. Language can transform what we consider to be possible in work and career.
At the same time, I have also grown in my interest in exploring the intersectionality of language, power and privilege, especially when it comes to supporting and relating to individuals of underrepresented and equity-deserving groups. The power of language can be easily overlooked in our client interactions. As Catherine Hajnal discussed in her session, language has the potential to create a climate of safety and mattering, but also the potential to trigger and disempower.
“Language can transform what we consider to be possible in work and career.”
How do we communicate in a way that invites all of someone’s intersecting identities into the space, that does not further disenfranchise and oppress? How do we show each individual that they are seen and heard and matter? This does not happen in one single moment, but in the accumulation of every interaction someone may have with us. Our language is a signifier of our awareness of our own positionality, privilege and biases. As a practitioner, our social justice advocacy work begins with the very words we choose to use and our choice to be unlearning and learning continually.
Collaborating for public good
Fellow career practitioners also shared at Cannexus how they continue to extend career conversations in creative ways within and outside of their organizations, and with other sectors. Amidst the challenges of the pandemic, I appreciate how my peers have been creatively and flexibly continuing to advance career development. In the Ninja Challenge 2.0 session, there was a common thread of finding opportunities in the new circumstances. Atifa Karim shared how she “planted seeds” of her idea right before COVID hit, and learned to trust herself to “not move” until the time was right. She highlighted how collaborating with others requires us to “embody planned happenstance.” Indeed, we must be agile and creative in the how and when.
I also reflected on what Tristam Hooley pointed out as part of his five signposts: that we need to recognize that career development is not just working with individuals, and that “helping people build meaningful careers is going to require intervention into organizational, social and political systems.” Increasingly, we must have the ability to explain and translate career development more broadly to collaborate effectively with other sectors and industries. In advocating for career development as an essential investment on our road to recovery, we must be able to demonstrate and articulate in accessible ways how it contributes not only to economic development, but also to building a more just world.
Post-Cannexus, I am grateful for the year-long access to be able to watch the other sessions I wasn’t able to attend and to refer back to the ones that have stirred my thinking. The energy was palpable even through various media as we interacted with attendees from all across Canada and around the world. Congratulations to the Cannexus organizers on successfully creating a virtual atmosphere for collegiality, learning and networking to continue to happen – my experience at Cannexus21 brought many pedagogic moments. I know I am not alone in coming out of this conference feeling inspired, rejuvenated and even better equipped in what I do as a career professional.