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Future-proofing Canada’s workforce using Skills for Success

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The COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst of a major disruption in the already dynamic and frequently shifting Canadian labour market. Leaving thousands of organizations to shift entire business models and millions of workers to adapt to instant and frequent change, the pandemic introduced a vital need for future-focused and versatile workplace skills.

New labour market trends accelerated by the pandemic, such as automation and remote or hybrid work models, also highlighted skills-related inequalities that exist in the labour market. Individuals with lower-level essential skills had fewer options, less flexibility, and were not equally prepared or equipped to adapt and learn new skills. Conversely, individuals with stronger skills were better prepared to adapt to changes in technology, process and work location; had more choices and autonomy, such as having the flexibility to work from home; and were in better positions to find new jobs.

This raises the question: as the labour market stays in flux, how can we future-proof the workforce so that every worker in Canada has the necessary skills to thrive and experience workplace success?

Career development and Canada’s recovery

Career development professionals (CDPs) have been critical to Canada’s economic recovery. Despite challenges faced by the career development sector, many have turned to CDPs over the past 18 months for support and relied on employment services to search for new jobs, adjust to workplace changes or advance their skills to prepare for a different occupation.

As the economy recovers, many people will have to “upgrade or learn new skills to rejoin the workforce.” There is room to change how we think about skills development and to adjust the approaches toward it.

In an email discussion about this topic, CERIC Executive Director, Riz Ibrahim said:  “The pandemic has revealed several critical aspects of our individual and collective career realities … some of the skills we thought were essential to build our futures and thrive in our workplaces were suddenly upended by newer, more resonant and vital skills (think adaptability and collaboration); and the role that career and employment professionals played in easing the path for displaced workers and learners alike in this unsettled landscape was never more critical or essential (think entry or re-entry into an unpredictable and often murky labour market).”

“There is room to change how we think about skills development.”

Career development professionals are in a unique position to help Canada’s workforce successfully navigate the complexities and new demands of the labour market and will continue to play an essential role. To help workers develop the skills they will need and achieve the best employment outcomes, it’s important that CDPs are equipped with the most effective and up-to-date resources, such as the Skills for Success framework.

A new model for all workers

The new Skills for Success framework introduced by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) is a comprehensive renewal of the Essential Skills framework. It outlines nine foundational skills that are necessary for success in work, learning and life in today’s labour market and in the future. Designed to help Canadians at all stages of career development, it strategically focuses on transferrable skills, responds to the needs of all workers and employers, includes critical intersecting skills such as social and emotional skills, and fosters lifelong learning.

This new future-focused framework creates a bridge between career development and meaningful employment by supporting the changing workforce and jobs of the future. Within it are excellent tools for career professionals that offer additional support for their services and clients. When asked about Skills for Success in relation to career development, Sareena Hopkins, Executive Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation, mentioned that, “As career development professionals, you help individuals every day to develop insights, strategies and a range of skills that enable them to know and be true to themselves, make informed decisions, and strategically navigate the dynamic and often unpredictable labour market … The new Skills for Success framework can offer you a current and comprehensive structure to focus, track, and evaluate your skill-building work and its impact.”

The underpinning concept of transferability is a significant feature of Skills for Success. Transferability places greater emphasis on strategies that allow workers to apply skills at various levels of difficulty in different contexts and occupations. This is a key element of the flexibility workers need to be competitive in the labour market and will help workers better adapt and respond to unexpected changes, shifts in labour demands, or new technologies and workplace tasks.

The skills in the new framework are also measurable. CDPs can use the framework to better assess clients’ skills levels, strengths and challenges and match them to suitable opportunities. It also gives CDPs and their clients a way to plan, track and evaluate skills development.

A future of workplace success

To help Canada’s workforce transition to new models of work, it’s important to focus attention on those skills that are long-lasting and will be widely applicable. The holistic integration of the Skills for Success framework into standard CDP practice sets a foundation where all clients have the opportunity to develop and strengthen the skills needed to attain and maintain gainful employment and advance in their occupations. With a skills-centred approach, CDPs can determine clients’ strengths and interests and use them as a starting point for clients to build from. By discovering their strengths and developing their Skills for Success, clients are better prepared to learn new and more complex workplace skills in the future.

Whether due to the effects of the pandemic or changes in the labour market, workers will need to continuously adapt. Adaptability, social and emotional skills, and digital proficiency will be in high demand and critical for success. Increasing skills competencies in the areas highlighted by the Skills for Success framework will help foster better employment outcomes, create job stability and security, give workers more choices, flexibility and autonomy, and help build a stronger, more resilient Canadian workforce better equipped to overcome challenges.

Although the framework is still in development, CDPs have the opportunity to review current services, consider where and how the Skills for Success framework can be integrated, and begin slowly introducing it. The Guided Pathways program introduces the Skills for Success framework and provides CDPs with the opportunity to learn how to integrate it into practice. This fully funded professional development course is available to CDPs across Canada and will have sessions throughout 2022.

Lina Wencel Author
Lina Wencel is a communications specialist with a passion for storytelling and community connection. Lina graduated from MacEwan University’s Bachelor of Communication Studies program in 2021 where she specialized in professional communication. Lina was a communications contractor for AWES at the time of writing.
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Lina Wencel Author
Lina Wencel is a communications specialist with a passion for storytelling and community connection. Lina graduated from MacEwan University’s Bachelor of Communication Studies program in 2021 where she specialized in professional communication. Lina was a communications contractor for AWES at the time of writing.
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