Brittany Gilbert

With a goal of bringing greater clarity and consistency to our national conversations about career development, CERIC developed a set of “Guiding Principles of Career Development” that have been enthusiastically embraced across Canada. These eight Guiding Principles are intended as a starting point to inform discussions with clients, employers, funders, policy-makers and families. This is the final article in our series exploring how career professionals are applying each Principle in practice. CERIC has recently released six Action Plans based on the Guiding Principles that provide starter questions, practical interventions and fun exercises to apply with different client groups.

Guiding Principle: Career development means making the most of talent and potential, however you define growth and success – not necessarily linear advancement.

Who better to explore the Guiding Principle of Career Development of “making the most of talent and potential” than our young people?

And young people we have in droves at HIEC Career Lab.

Each academic year, 7,000 students throughout Halton Region in Ontario cross the threshold of our building for an informative, hands-on, research-based experience in career exploration thanks to a partnership between the Halton school boards, many corporate partners, three generations of enthusiastic educators and a very supportive bus line.

While our entire activity bank targets any one or more of the eight Principles of Career Development, there is one activity in particular that best illustrates the importance of making the most of talent and potential, however you define success: The Career Path Myth.

The career path myth 

For this activity, we show the students an illustration representing the Career Path Myth from Cathy Campbell and Peggy Dutton’s book Career Crafting the Decade after High School published by CERIC. It outlines the steps of how many people think career paths are supposed to look:

  1. Finish high school
  2. Choose a post-secondary pathway (ie, apprenticeship, college, university or workplace)
  3. Graduate
  4. Get a job
  5. Work
  6. Retire

And the conversation goes something like this:

“You’re off to high school in about a year and a half. After high school, you are going to choose a post-secondary pathway – all pathways are equally valid. If you choose to do a post-secondary program, you will graduate from that program and get a job right out of the gate. You will work that job for 40 years or roughly 80,000 hours and you are going to retire at 65. Is that pathway familiar to everyone?”

As the program instructor, I am met with a sea of smiling, nodding faces.

Time to lay down the gauntlet.

“What if I told you that your career path doesn’t start when you finish high school, but instead you’ve already begun?”

Deadpan faces.

“What if I told you that your career pathway is very unlikely to look much like what is on the screen at all?”

One eye brow on each face rises towards the roof.

Of course, these responses are unsurprising. This is the formula that our young people have been taught by their parents and/or possibly their grandparents – “That pathway worked for them, so why wouldn’t it work for me?”

Most youth want the answer – now!

Much of this has to do with the anxiety that our young people feel when they think about their futures. There are a multitude of pathways, a plethora of job titles and endless decisions to make.

Ultimately, they don’t feel in control of their lives because they haven’t been able to make any decisions for themselves at their age. We aim to alleviate a lot of those anxieties in the rich dialogue that follows, which explores a number of non-threatening actions that students are already doing or could be doing in order to make them feel just a little bit more in control of their futures.

Don’t miss our past Principles in Action articles:

The career path truth 

First, we have to inform the students of why the traditional, linear pathway simply doesn’t exist for most today. It is based on the assumption that young peoples’ career paths only begin once they graduate high school. This suggests students have no power to start developing the skills or making the decisions they need to be successful in adulthood until they have their high school diploma. We know this is inaccurate and detrimental to the professional development and emotional well-being of young people.

Second, the linear career path model appears to be a race to the finish line – retirement – as opposed to an ongoing winding path of building skills and improving talent and potential.

Finally, this model can create a dangerous culture of competition, which could result in a number of people feeling as though they are failing in the “game of life.” “Why did I wait so long to choose a post-secondary program – all my peers are already working full time?” 

This can create a low sense of self-worth in individuals, therefore negatively affecting their motivation to increase their talent and potential and contribute positively to the economy.

Having sufficiently satisfied most of the young peoples’ doubts at this point, I show them a new illustration of a pathway that looks nothing like the model with which they are familiar. This career path is more like a web and is disruptive to say the least – the kids are excited by it!

In this model, we’ve included components that better illustrate how the things students are already doing contribute significantly to their career paths. We also stress the fact that this model is flexible, adaptable and forever changing.

“What if I told you that your career path doesn’t start when you finish high school, but instead you’ve already begun?”

A rich dialogue begins to unravel and students start to understand the real value of the following:

  • Part-time work:

    Some of our young people are already getting paid work for things like babysitting or pet sitting. While they think it’s just something to do for pocket money, we help them understand that they are optimizing their talent and potential through building useful skills such as problem solving, communication, relationship building and self-reliance.

  • Volunteer opportunities:

    Our young people know that volunteering is an important part of being a global citizen, but we help them recognize how the act of volunteering benefits their career by further maximizing their talent and potential through building skills such as strength and stamina, co-ordination and, in some cases, technical/mechanical skills.

  • Apprenticeship/co-op:

    We also highlight some opportunities that students can partake in as they move forward through their academic career in order to support their full potential.

Through this conversation, we see students recognize that their career journey has indeed already begun because they are building on the key skills they need to make the most of their talent and potential in the early stages of their lives, and they begin to understand that this adventure is ongoing and lifelong.

After 30 years of talking to students about career development, it never fails that the conversation on the way back to the bus signifies a clear change in students’ perspectives about their career journey from when they arrived – a decreased level of anxiety around the unknown and an excitement in the air of student ownership around their own career paths.

Brittany Gilbert has a BA in English Literature and Theatre from the University of Ottawa and a BEd from Queen’s University. She is currently the School Program Coordinator at Halton Industry Education Council (HIEC) in Burlington, ON, where she offers Career Awareness Programming to Grade 7 students from all across Halton.