5 questions on career development

Recent report shows age- and gender-related gaps in use of career services

5 questions on career development

How are career services being used in Canada, and how can they be improved?

Canadian HR Reporter spoke with Tony Bonen, director of research, data and analytics at the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC), about the results of its November 2021 report on the use of career services in Canada, which was produced in conjunction with the Future Skills Centre.

Q: What can professional career services provide and how can they benefit both workers and employers?

A: “Professional career services span a very wide range of activities, servicing different people at different points in their learning and career trajectory, or their place in the labour market.

“Generally, regardless of your circumstances, when you go to a career service professional, you have the chance to receive clarity on pathways forward, both in terms of the short term and the long term — career objectives you have, as well as the training and educational resources that you would require to meet those goals along the way. Particularly for folks who are looking for entry-level jobs or who are in a state of unemployment, career services also offer a lot of resources in terms of employers who are hiring, where to look, and so on. It can really help people, especially those who are on the margins of the labour market.”

Q: According to the LMIC report, only one-in-five adults but half of 18- to 24-year-olds have used professional career services in the past five years. Why aren’t more older adults using these services?

A: “The specific question in the survey was about using career services in the past five years, so the fact that half of young adults have used them speaks to the integration of these services into high schools and post-secondary institutions. And I think that's the big difference really, between the younger folks and people over the age of 25.

We asked respondents why they didn't use them and about half said that they didn't think they needed them. Now, you could disagree with them and say that they could benefit from them, but I think that speaks really to the need to increase the outreach and promotion of the sector and the services that it can provide.

Of the 50 per cent that give other reasons, the biggest ones were that they don't have the time or they didn't even know that career services existed. And another one-in-five said that they don't have the money to go to career services. It's just an extra burden or demand on their limited resources.

I think there's space for the services to be improving — not just promoting what they're doing, but improving what they're doing to try and match individuals with a career development practitioner who has a similar lived experience. You can imagine a newcomer to Canada looking for career guidance. Getting that advice from somebody who's lived in Canada their entire life might not be able to speak specifically to the challenges that they’re facing. There's a matching issue that I think can be improved, but I think the biggest thing is really just getting the word out that these services exist and what they offer.”

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Q: The report found that men are more likely to use career services than women. How can employers and recruiters level the playing field?

A: “We found that people who are already in a fairly good position in the labour market — those with higher education levels, higher income, and men — are more likely to use those services.

What we think could be really helpful is thinking about how these services can be provided to those who maybe don't feel as deserving of the services or don't feel that they have the time, energy or money to use them. That goes back to the outreach issue — targeting groups that can most benefit from career services and making it clear that this isn't going to be a major burden on them.”

Q: What role can employers play in improving access to career services for employees and potential employees?

A: “In a large firm with hundreds or thousands of employees, the HR department can provide a lot of career planning and services because there are so many career pathways within the organization to identify who's a superstar or who might be better suited to the type of work in a different division or department.

There's a lot of opportunity within large organizations, but in smaller organizations it's important to encourage people to explore career opportunities, education and training and think about their career pathways. But the Catch-22 is that will likely mean some of those people leaving and putting the burden on the employer to find a replacement.

And I say that speaking as a leader in a relatively small organization, it's a challenge when people land their dream job or move into something that is more in line with what they want to do. You increase the marketability, so to speak, of the individual when you offer that training, support and forward-looking guidance, and that's a bit of a risk for the organization.

On the other hand, one would hope that by doing that, you’re increasing employee retention, making them feel valued, and making them feel like there are opportunities within the organization. There are contrasting forces here and it can be a difficult decision for employers, but I think if you want your employees to be constantly evolving and developing their skills, that needs to be part of the culture that you have. Training people, even with the risk of people then leaving with the skills they've developed.”

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