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Thursday, December 2, 2021
Students in lecture
Students & Youth

Widening jobseekers’ views of education-to-career pathways

Recently, a job advertisement came across Liana’s desk as the Director of the University of the Fraser Valley’s Centre for Experiential and Career Education. It was the holy grail of jobs that can launch someone’s career. Her team was equally enthusiastic about this opportunity and set to work in aggressively advertising this job and talking it up with their jobseeking students.

When the time came to open up the applicant folder; they were shocked to see that none of the students they thought were ideal candidates for this position had applied. What was even more shocking was the reason why the jobseeking students didn’t apply: “I didn’t see how it fit with my education.” To Liana and her team, the match was obvious. This led her to wonder how prevalent the disconnect between education and career opportunity is among our jobseeking students.

Leveraging her professional experience in academic and career advising, Gena offers her perspective to this. A central theme for the disconnection between education and careers for jobseeking students is their perception that career development is sequential to, instead of concurrent with, their educational development. Therefore, many students do not expect to start thinking about their career pathway until they are entering their post-graduation transition. This is unfortunate, as learning and skill-building is an ongoing process that takes time. Therefore, career growth needs to be interwoven with students’ academic and personal development.

Likewise, as a faculty member teaching career development courses, Candy sees a similar disconnect. Semester after semester, in her teaching, she consistently challenges a major misconception many students hold: that their education provides a direct pathway to employment opportunities. The reality, as we know in the career development field, is that life operates in less linear and more complex ways. Our role and responsibility to our students and clients, then, is to empower them with information and resources that help them understand labour market information and workplace demands, and how to articulate and demonstrate their value and transferable skills. A part of this process also means we help them overcome functional fixedness.


This article is the first in a four-part series by Liana Thompson, Gena Hamilton and Dr. Candy Ho that will examine the role of different stakeholder groups in promoting career education and development in post-secondary institutions.


Functional fixedness

It is difficult to perceive how skills can be transferable to other career opportunities, partly due to a cognitive bias called functional fixedness. When we experience functional fixedness, we fixate on the traditional application of an object instead of innovative uses. For example, we might experience functional fixedness if we only use a stapler to staple papers, but not as a door jam, a hammer or a back scratcher when needed. Functional fixedness becomes an issue when preconceived ideas inhibit creative problem-solving, negatively impacting individuals’ educational, career and personal growth.

“… many students do not expect to start thinking about their career pathway until they are entering their post-graduation transition.”

A common example of functional fixedness for students is identifying how their skills apply to other positions, institutions and sectors outside of the subject matter of their current educational program, as Liana has highlighted in her opening example. Functional fixedness may also be at play for jobseekers who exclude relevant volunteer experiences from their resume, as they believe that they “don’t count.” Liana reminds us that employers are not immune to experiencing functional fixedness in their hiring decisions if candidates do not identify their transferable skills and spell out how those skills apply to a position.

Strategies for drawing connections

To help students overcome career functional fixedness, we can integrate career education and work-integrated learning across campus in curriculum, services and support instead of offering it as a stand-alone service. Examples of strategic career education programming to integrate career development throughout the student life cycle include teaching them how to collect career information, helping them identify and overcome functional fixedness, and building their confidence through hands-on experience. We’d like to feature some notable examples at University of the Fraser Valley (UFV).

In 2021, the UFV Centre for Experiential and Career Education (CECE) launched an interactive online Career Mapping Tool designed to support students to explore future career paths. Using a student’s interests in programs, or current educational trajectory and goals, the Career Mapping Tool identifies career options available from various programs. Students can explore occupations they are qualified for upon graduation and how they can continue to build on their education to expand their future career options.

UFV CECE is developing an interactive Career Pathway Navigator that identifies career development learning outcomes for students parallel to their academic development. Students can use it as a roadmap to see the big picture of how their career parallels their education. They can also focus on their current stage of development, using it as a checklist to track their progress and access tools, services and opportunities at the institution. It also incorporates opportunities for career development outside of their education, such as student membership in a professional association.

On the curriculum front, UFV College of Arts is revising their portfolio (PORT) courses: for-credit, required courses for students in the Bachelor of Arts degree. In particular, PORT 399 is the senior career capstone course that uses the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to challenge students to first consider the global issues they can help address, followed by identifying career possibilities that align with the global issues they chose, along with their skills, strengths, educational and professional experiences. Essentially, students are asked to consider their purpose before position.

Conclusion

We’re excited by these initiatives, and through our relationships with students, campus and community partners and employers, are working together to enhance students’ career success. In this four-part blog series – which will run on CareerWise through the fall and winter – we’re going to discuss how we collaborate with these key partners, starting with career influencers within our institutions.

We’d like you to know that Liana’s original career story has a happy ending. A student who couldn’t see the fit did end up applying for and landing the holy grail job! We encourage you to read his career story here.

Until next time…

Liana Thompson (pictured, left) is the Director of UFV’s Centre for Experiential and Career Education. She is an educational leader, strategist, and skills trainer with an interest in values-based community and organizational leadership. | Gena Hamilton is a Career Education Coordinator at the University of the Fraser Valley with a passion for learning design and innovation in career education. | Dr. Candy Ho (pictured, right) is honoured to serve as Vice-Chair of CERIC. She is the inaugural Assistant Professor, Integrative Career and Capstone Learning in the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. She also holds teaching positions in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Educational Studies department and in Douglas College’s Career Development Practitioner Program.
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Liana Thompson (pictured, left) is the Director of UFV’s Centre for Experiential and Career Education. She is an educational leader, strategist, and skills trainer with an interest in values-based community and organizational leadership. | Gena Hamilton is a Career Education Coordinator at the University of the Fraser Valley with a passion for learning design and innovation in career education. | Dr. Candy Ho (pictured, right) is honoured to serve as Vice-Chair of CERIC. She is the inaugural Assistant Professor, Integrative Career and Capstone Learning in the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia, Canada. She also holds teaching positions in Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Educational Studies department and in Douglas College’s Career Development Practitioner Program.
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