Moving into 2021, some early signs of stabilization are showing within Canada’s career services sector while mental health and burnout are growing concerns, according to the latest CERIC Pulse Recovery Survey. The online surveys have been tracking how career and employment professionals across the country are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic and reimagining career services. The most recent survey was in the field from Nov. 30 to Dec. 9 and generated 771 responses with earlier surveys done in June and September 2020. Survey findings underscore the public good that career development offers in this period of massive workforce upheaval and highlights the value of a career mindset.

In terms of how career services operations have changed over the past year, many workplaces dealt with issues such as reduced hours for staff, layoffs, reduced funding, and reduced or closed programs or services. However, some positives can also be seen. In the September and November surveys, respondents noted a significant uptick from June in the hiring of new staff to meet increased demand as well as in developing new partnerships/services. In November, a new response option was added that shows 55.5% of workplaces restructured to meet new realities.

The November survey further explored how demand for career services/supports changed. For respondents who noted an increase in demand, the top three responses were:

  • more 1-1 virtual meetings with clients or students;
  • more email correspondence with clients or students; and
  • more prospective clients or students reaching out proactively to learn more or get support.

For those who noted a decrease in demand, the top three responses were:

  • fewer prospective clients or students reaching out proactively to learn more or get support;
  • fewer clients or students looking to access specific services or programs; and
  • fewer clients or students attending or participating in online webinars or tutorials.

Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, a high percentage of respondents across all three surveys indicated that they would be able to continue to operate, albeit with slight changes to services or programming.

In November, CERIC asked which changes put in place during the pandemic that workplaces planned to keep going forward. The top three responses were:

  • continued or increased use of video meeting technology or teleconferencing to hold meetings;
  • continued or increased services or programs that are offered online instead of in-person; and
  • more flexible work arrangements.

Reflecting the toll of the ongoing pandemic, survey respondents in September and November observed major challenges in the mental health of their students or clients. Also, in November, 54.2% respondents stated their own mental health had declined as compared to 38.1% in September. When it comes to burnout, November respondents were more significantly concerned about burning out themselves as well as their senior leaders burning out compared to September.

Throughout the three surveys, CERIC asked questions about how respondents were dealing with different kinds of challenges. In November, the top two challenges of the pandemic for workplaces related to wellness and productivity. Challenges named in the September survey included:

  • the ongoing uncertainty of COVID-19 and what it will mean for how work is done,
  • the loss of direct connections with colleagues, volunteers, clients or students,
  • changes in the labour market that could affect employment opportunities for clients or students, and
  • maintaining work-life balance.

The single greatest challenge that career and employment professionals reported in November that they foresee is keeping their clients or students motivated over the coming months, which was identified by 37.7% of respondents.

Thinking ahead to 2021, in November, a majority of respondents felt that they were moderately or highly equipped to do the following three things:

  1. promote the value of career development to their clients or students;
  2. support their clients or students to be ready for the changing labour market; and
  3. to engage with employers to support career development for their clients or students.

Overall, survey responses paint a picture of a field finding innovative ways to navigate new realities with their operations, staff and clients. Many career services professionals were called on to work differently, whether that meant learning new technologies, adjusting programs or services, working from home, or dealing with ongoing uncertainty and stress. The story of COVID-19’s affect on the sector is still unfolding as we continue to look towards pandemic recovery. There will be new challenges and opportunities that arise as well as more examples of resilience and adaptation.

Join us at the Cannexus21 virtual conference for a panel on Feb. 1 that will reflect on the CERIC Pulse Recovery Survey findings and peer ahead to what’s on the horizon: Looking back: How COVID-19 affected career and employment services in 2020.