In career development service delivery, client-led work is key. It is the fulcrum balancing the before and after of an individual’s journey to success. What happened before no longer matters, what comes next is an adventure and all that matters in that moment is meeting that individual where they are right now.
Why should we prioritize meeting clients where they are and insisting that they lead the way? Because this approach puts the individual in control of their own path. It gives them the ability to make their own choices and mistakes, and carve out a beautifully independent future. They do this with supports and cheerleaders – people who genuinely care about how they are doing. This enables them to take back control of their own futures, reminds them that they are worthy of good, and that they are capable of meaningful work that makes their heart and soul happy and content.
Client-led service delivery also allows the individual to recognize that they do not have to travel the path alone in community-based career development practice. There are no proverbial boxes that they need to check in order to move forward. The focus shifts from what they have not achieved, to what they can achieve.
In our experience at the YMCA of Western NL, especially during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, client needs are deep and the barriers to career development have become more and more apparent. To accommodate the needs of individuals in their employment journey, our services had to pivot from group-led to individual supports and with that came the beginning of our use of social work in employment counselling. We are continuing to fine-tune our work and incorporate best practices in assisting individuals to find meaningful employment.
“It gives them the ability to make their own choices and mistakes, and carve out a beautifully independent future. They do this with supports and cheerleaders – people who genuinely care about how they are doing.”
We do this by trusting our ability to focus on relationship building. Having mutual trust between practitioners and clients is incredibly important. They are trusting us to do our jobs and we are trusting them to meet their own expectations of themselves. And then we move forward, one step at a time. We, together with the client, tackle the challenges and celebrate the victories, however small they may seem. We are advocates for our people.
The impact of this essential partnership has been incredible to watch. We have seen individuals regain confidence and hope, once again recognizing that they are so incredibly worthy, despite the struggles of their lives. We get to work alongside individuals who have overcome many hurdles – including just walking through our door and asking for help. As a career development practitioner, that is a privilege.
This dynamic is not built overnight. The progress an individual makes is wholly dependent on the extent to which their basic needs are being met. People who need but have limited or no access to mental health and addictions treatment, transportation, affordable childcare and stable housing, or are experiencing food insecurity need support. Without addressing these needs, clients are at risk of shutting down and not moving forward. We have found that incorporating Social Work into our employment services to support individuals with complex needs has been invaluable to clients and the organization.
Some people have preconceived notions about social work. The idea that social workers come with biased opinions is feared by clients whose belief in themselves and their abilities has been diminished by any number of factors such as intergenerational dependence on income support, and mental health and substance use challenges. However, we have found that social workers have a deep understanding of how a person’s journey ebbs and flows. They understand that the most meaningful interaction for an individual might be a listening ear in a safe space, where judgment is pushed aside and the focus isn’t on what brought them in, but taking care of their needs in that moment.
Incorporating social work into our practice came naturally. Both Employment Counsellors collectively work together, one providing a social work lens to properly meet the individual’s needs. They work together to help the client establish their individual action plan and to ensure the client’s needs are addressed and met. We spend much of our time providing employment-based counselling, but the shift to true client-led service has deepened our practices to focus more on helping individuals meet their basic needs and then expanding on their employment goals and action plans. Career development expanded beyond helping someone write a resume or prepare for an interview. It now includes helping an individual break down barriers and rediscover themself – shifting their focus from day-to-day survival to looking toward the future.
Social work paves the way for clients to receive wrap-around supports. It eases their ability to navigate systemic barriers and makes referrals to government services simpler. The referral process to services such as counselling, addictions treatment and some community-based health programs require referrals from social workers or other health-related authorities. The ability to do this in a community-based practice is essential to truly meeting the client’s needs.
The shift to a client-led focus and the incorporation of social work into community-based employment services has had major impacts on our clients’ lives. One client who required numerous interventions, with supports ranging from referral to in-patient addictions programs, shared the impact of their experience: “Thank you for all you have done for me. I cannot put into words everything you have tried to help me with.” They feel seen, heard and know they are supported in making decisions about their own future.
The continuum to employment will always, for each individual, vary. The barriers experienced by one individual are not the barriers of another. We are actively taking predesigned employment programs and shifting focus from the number on the file to the individual. No longer will our clients be afraid of what they can or cannot do based on their ability to check all of the boxes on a form. Our practice combines social work and career development in a process that relies on trust, relationship building and a future focus.