Resilience Within the Career Development Sector
By Deirdre Pickerell and Roberta Neault
The career development field needs to build resiliency within the sector in order to address disengagement, apathy, burnout and feelings of underutilization
Resilience is the ability to adapt to stress and adversity; it is a quality that allows people to rise above their challenges, perhaps emerging stronger than ever. Although one component of the dictionary definition is “the power or ability to return to the original form,” sometimes that original form isn’t quite the goal. Instead, perhaps, resilience needs to be more about growth, evolution, and the ability to re-invent oneself whenever it may be required. In any case, resiliency is typically focused on individuals—how well a person responds to stress, how well a person adapts to adversity, or how quickly someone “bounces back.” What if, however, we consider how resilient the Canadian career development sector is (i.e. the sector’s ability to bounce back from setbacks or stay flexible and adaptable in times of change)? Would such resilience be solely dependent on the resiliency of individual workers, or is there something we could do to facilitate the resilience of the sector overall?
In 2011, the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) published a study noting, in part, that 50% of the Canadian career development practitioners (CDPs) who responded intended to leave the sector. Pickerell (2013) identified groups of workers within the sector who struggled to be engaged with their careers; ironically, these groups were at opposite ends of the age and experience continua, representing the sector’s most senior and oldest workers, as well as its most junior and youngest. These workers reported feeling concurrently overwhelmed and underutilized, in part due to the changing nature of their day-to-day tasks (e.g. more complex caseloads, new client tracking software) as well as the evolving landscape of both the labour market and the funding models shaping their practice.
The Career Engagement Model (Neault & Pickerell, 2011) offers a unique lens through which to consider sector resilience. Career engagement comprises two main components—challenge and capacity—and is achieved when these are in balance. However, when the challenge is too great for the available capacity, individuals can feel overwhelmed; unaddressed, this can lead to burnout and, ultimately, disengagement or apathy. Conversely, when there is too little challenge for available capacity, individuals can feel underutilized; long-term underutilization can result in boredom and, eventually, disengagement. Although the state of disengagement may look the same for workers in each of these scenarios, the two routes they travelled to get there (i.e. via being overwhelmed or underutilized) are important when considering interventions. This notion of directionality is a distinguishing feature of the career engagement model when compared to other models of engagement.
The challenges facing the career development sector are numerous. Though none are insurmountable, at times the combination can feel overwhelming. One of the biggest challenges the sector has experienced, with no end in sight, is an ongoing realignment of funding as political priorities shift. Other challenges are related to professionalization of sector workers; across the country, career development leaders have grappled with creating professional standards and a certification system comprehensive enough to ensure labour mobility yet flexible enough to accommodate regional differences. The sector has been criticized for its confusing and sometimes arbitrary language (e.g. trying to differentiate between jobs, careers, work, occupations or vocations) and there is little consistency in terms of job titles., There are numerous professional associations serving the sector, each with different priorities. Finally, CDPs are challenged by the shift towards evidence-based practice, as they try to balance the funder’s requirements with their desire to collect data supporting the softer impacts of their work on clients’ lives.
The sector, however, is not without sufficient capacity to rise above these challenges. Acknowledging and celebrating current capacity, alongside preparing for the future, is akin to building resilience. The Canadian Council for Career Development (CCCD) has done significant work to build sector capacity. Its various sub-committees (e.g. media, certification, workforce development) have launched several key initiatives in the last few years, including the Career Development Challenge and associated quizand the recent strategic Vote Youth Jobs political campaign. Canada’s continued participation in the international symposia on career development and public policy demonstrates a keen commitment sector leaders have in identifying and sharing best practices that also serve to build resilience; learning from leaders in other countries builds capacity, establishes important connections, and helps ensure Canadian career development leaders are exposed to leading-edge research and practice initiatives that could be implemented locally. Through CERIC’s ContactPoint and OrientAction online communities, the annual Cannexus National Career Development Conference and other professional development events, and The Canadian Journal of Career Development, as well as generous research support, the career development sector has a wealth of resources that continue to strengthen capacity and build resilience by enhancing the skills and knowledge of Canadian CDPs. The Canadian Research Working Group for Evidence-Based Practice in Career Development (CRWG) has amassed an impressive body of research demonstrating the impact of career services far beyond what funders often look at. Although CDPs may be easily overwhelmed by the challenges they face, we hope that the broad set of programs and initiatives outlined here will serve as a reminder, and a source of inspiration, of the vast array of available resources.
At international symposia, such as the one we were both privileged to attend in summer 2015, it’s clear that the Canadian career development sector is admired from afar. However, at a local level, many individual CDPs seem unaware of this big picture. It’s easy to focus on what we used to have or wish we had, losing sight of the overall strength of the sector—a sector that has proven its resilience, bouncing back and continuing to thrive despite shifting priorities and limited resources.
Perhaps the sector can now contribute to the resilience of its workers, providing a dynamic environment in which individuals CDPs can thrive, personally and professionally. To begin, we encourage sector leaders to avoid assuming front-line workers are aware of the various contributions Canada has made to international career development discussions and to adopt an active and far-reaching approach to information sharing. We also encourage agency/organization directors and managers to avoid information hoarding; although this is not deliberate, the busyness of life often has directors and managers “fighting fires” and forgetting to pass on information they’ve received through their networks, volunteer roles within the sector, and board participation. Hope is foundational to resilience and, in earlier research, we found optimism to be the most significant predictor of both career success and job satisfaction. Sharing success stories, promising practices, and relevant highlights is both encouraging and inspiring, and can contribute to the resilience and engagement of workers throughout the career development sector.
Deirdre Pickerell, PhD, CHRP, GCDF-I, is Vice-President of Life Strategies Ltd. and recipient of the 2014 Stu Conger Award for Leadership in Career Development and Career Counselling and the 2006 Human Resources Association Award of Excellence. She is co-developer of the career engagement model and focused on the career engagement of Canadian career development practitioners (CDPs) in her doctoral work. She led Team Canada at the 2015 International Symposium on Career Development and Public Policy and was a symposium catalyst speaker on the topic of emerging technologies.
Roberta Neault, PhD, CCC, CCDP, GCDF-i, is President of Life Strategies Ltd. and Associate Dean of the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program at Yorkville University. An award-winning career development leader, in Canada and internationally, she has over 35 years of relevant experience in consulting, research, writing, curriculum design, training, counselling and coaching. Neault is co-developer of the career engagement model and speaks and writes on optimism, hope and resiliency.
 Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (2011). Survey of career service professionals: Highlights report. Retrieved from ceric.ca/survey-of-career-service-professionals/
 Neault, R. A., & Pickerell, D. A. (2011). Career engagement: Bridging career counseling and employee engagement. Journal of Employment Counseling, 48(4), 185-188.
 Pickerell, D. A., & Neault, R. A. (2012). Where’s the work? Helping career practitioners explore their career options. Aldergrove, BC: Life Strategies Ltd.
 Bezanson, L., O’Reilly, E., & Magnusson, K. (2009). Pan-Canadian mapping study of the career development sector. Retrieved from http://www.ccdf.ca/ccdf/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/PAN-CANADIAN-MAPPING-STUDY-OF-THE-CAREER-DEVELOPMENT-SECTOR.pdf