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Students & YouthWorkplace

The career competencies employers are looking for

Many employers struggle to find and hire young people, despite actively seeking them out.

This challenge can result from a disconnect between employers’ sole focus on skills and the competencies they need. While similar, focusing on skill alone does not offer the insight into potential performance that competencies do.

Here’s the difference: Skills are specific learned activities and abilities – like operating specialized equipment. On the other hand, competencies intersect with knowledge, skills, ability and attributes that guide success. Ultimately, competencies determine if someone is fully capable of doing what is required of them in a role.

When young people master the competencies most valued by employers, they get the jobs they want and provide employers with the talent they need – fuelling Canada’s economic engine.

Competencies fall into three categories: behavioural, functional and leadership.


Nicole Stogrin will be participating in a panel discussion on “Quality Workforce Opportunities: Bringing Youth and Employers Together” at CERIC’s hybrid Cannexus conference, taking place Jan. 23-25, 2023. Learn more and register at cannexus.ceric.ca.


Behavioural competencies

Behavioural competencies – also called soft skills – are behaviours, attitudes and personality traits. They directly impact workplace culture, contributing to employee engagement, loyalty and performance of those around them. That’s why many employers have shifted their view of behavioural competencies from something that was nice to have to a prerequisite for employment.

CCYP finds that the behavioural competencies most wanted by employers include:

  • communication
  • teamwork
  • empathy
  • adaptability
  • active listening
  • creativity
  • innovation
  • critical thinking
  • resilience

Career development professionals can help young people identify behavioural competencies through self-reflection and honest feedback. Together, they can plan how best to showcase strengths during the hiring process and make a plan to overcome gaps through coaching, mentoring and other training.

Functional competencies

Functional competencies are also known as technical abilities. These are the specific skills and knowledge required to do a job effectively. Without them, an employee would fail in their duties, costing their employer greatly in productivity and turnover costs.

Naturally, functional competencies vary by role and industry. Here are a few examples:

  • a hairstylist should know how to cut and dye hair in a manner that maintains its health and aesthetic appeal
  • a tax accountant should be well-versed in the regulations and requirements of the Canada Revenue Agency
  • a general contractor should know building standards and codes relevant to the structure and location

Functional competencies can be learned and are easily measured. These also tend to be the functions included in job descriptions.

Those who work with young people can ready them for the workplace by identifying the education, training, practice or other preparation needed to develop the functional competencies required for the job they want. That plan could include post-secondary education, a technical school, an apprenticeship, or other learning opportunities.

Leadership competencies

Leadership competencies are the skills, abilities and knowledge of an effective leader who supports the success of the organization and its people. The leadership competencies required by an employer will evolve with the business. For example, change management and problem-solving may be critical at a time of rapid growth or during a recession. Later, when things stabilize, building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships may be of more value.

CCYP finds that the leadership competencies most wanted by employers include:

  • active inclusion
  • effective communication
  • change management
  • relationship building
  • problem-solving
  • people management
  • ability to coach and mentor

Young people who can demonstrate well-developed leadership competencies, or who show potential for them, are more easily identified for opportunities to progress professionally. Career development professionals can support the young workforce by helping them focus on goals rather than tasks, matching them with a mentor and broadening their exposure to different types of leaders and leadership styles.

Thriving through partnership

Career development professionals are natural partners for employers to help find and hire a productive young workforce.

The role of employers in the partnership is to clearly define the competencies that matter most to their business and assess what resources are required to recruit and support young workers with the potential to develop them. Career development professionals can then prepare young people to meet these needs through information, advice, access to services, and career solutions.

When the two groups come together, they can create a blueprint for a great performer and how to become one.

As a trusted partner to all players in the youth workforce network, the Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity identifies gaps and creates bridges to support a thriving young workforce.

Nicole Stogrin, CCDP, Employer Strategies, Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity.
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Nicole Stogrin, CCDP, Employer Strategies, Canadian Council for Youth Prosperity.
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