By Heather Powell

We make a living by helping clients transitioning into new careers. But what about our own ability to adapt? The new Employment Service Model in Ontario has challenged us to “walk the talk.”

Career practitioners spend the majority of their time guiding clients through the transitions and challenges that come with unemployment: the emotional ups-and-downs that hit the ego when losing a job, creating job search materials, preparing for interviews, being rejected from opportunities or never hearing back at all. We provide words of comfort and guidance when faced with statements like, “I just wish I was still working. Everything would be fine if it wasn’t for the company closing,” or “I don’t know why they let me go. It’s not fair, I worked so hard,” and of course, “I feel like I am too old/overqualified/under-qualified to find a new job. No one wants me!” We respond by reaching into our toolbox of counselling techniques and provide support, positive feedback and suggestions. We tell them, “You can’t change the labour market, you can only adapt.”

Despite our incredible ability to do this for our clients, we seem to freeze up when dealing

with transitions in our own workplace. Most of us living and working in Ontario can remember August 1, 2010 as the day the Employment Service Model was implemented. No longer did assessment agencies, job search workshops, employment resource centres and employment counselling stand alone, facilitated by various community agencies; they were condensed to a select few agencies that were to offer a buffet of employment services. Not only was the structure of services changed, a new software system was launched as well, which would be used all across Ontario. Soon, we began to hear the moans of confusion and frustration about time being spent on data entry instead of serving clients.

Those of us who remained in the field dealt with the transition in several ways. Some of us went silent, unsure of what the future would hold; some of us vocalized our concern about not being able to serve clients like we used to; and some of us were just angry.

We went through the same stages of grief as our clients. At first, most of us were probably in shock and trying to wrap our heads around how we were going to provide all these services in one centralized location. Then came anger: how could this happen to us? It’s not fair! The old system was just fine. We will never be able to serve clients the same way again.

After this, we moved into bargaining. Okay, we will try this for a while, but then the government will see that it doesn’t work and they will have to go back to the old model. Depression occurred about a year into the new model: time has passed and things are not going back, we are still struggling with the new way of doing things. We begin to think, it will never work.

Then, something changes. Maybe we start to use the same counselling tools that we did with clients. We start telling ourselves that the system will not change, we need to adapt to the system. We need to modify our thinking and challenge ourselves to do things differently. And that is exactly what we did.

I currently work in Mississauga and I see the amazing job the community agencies are doing every day in meeting the needs of unemployed clients. Partnerships have been developed and adaptations have been made to ensure that clients are getting the best service possible. Of course, there are challenges and some days are better than others but, for the most part, we are now working with the model, not against; all because we came to the acceptance stage of transition.

So, when you are sitting in your office with that client who feels so frustrated about the employment transition he is experiencing, remember the journey that all Ontario career practitioners have been taking since August 2010 and continue to take. You may be able to relate with them more than you realize.


A career development professional with over 10 years of experience in the not-for-profit sector, Heather Powell is currently employed with the Centre for Skills Development and Training in Mississauga, ON. She has a passion for assisting clients with meeting their employment goals.