With activities including skills assessment, LMI research and e-portfolio development, learnings guide students to understand how they can leverage their degree to achieve their career goals

Lorraine Godden

Author headshot.As an undergraduate student, I had the transformative experience of taking a career course. I was able to examine what I was learning, and my confidence in applying my knowledge increased tenfold.

Flash forward to 2019, and I found myself in the position of being able to create a career development and employability course for Carleton University undergraduate students. I was thrilled to have the opportunity, as I knew first-hand how significant this experience could be for their career development.

IPAF 3800: Managing and Developing Your Career

The overarching goal of my course, which is offered to third- and fourth-year Faculty of Public Affairs (FPA) students, is to provide students with a better sense of how they can leverage their undergraduate degree to achieve their career goals. Broken down, this translates to the following wish list:

  • to help students connect their degree to what they want from their professional and personal lives;
  • to facilitate students’ thinking and understanding of why we work, how we work and with whom we work; and
  • to appeal to a range of students including those who think they know next their steps, those who have a sense of their next steps, and those who have limited understanding of next steps and what they want from their career.
Learning for career and career for learning

The course is part of a pilot project within FPA aimed at integrating employability skills into the academic curriculum, and is one of a range of courses offered to students registered in any undergraduate program across the twelve units within FPA. To enhance the interdisciplinary nature of the course, I liaise with Carleton’s Career Services for targeted resume and job searching support for students, and Teaching and Learning Services for experiential and immersive learning.

The course is designed as a half-credit optional course that runs over 12 weeks. Assessment components are structured so that students have the opportunity to develop and evaluate their employability skills, investigate and learn about labour market information, create a five-year career plan and compile an e-portfolio. All four areas of assessment are structured so that students can link them to their degree programs, deepening and enriching both their university experience and career development (McCash, 2008).

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Through the labour market information assignment, students further hone and apply their research skills, which helps them in their final-year capstones and thesis projects. Anticipating their own futures through the career planning assignment deepens critical reflection, promotes adaptability and helps students to see connections and pathways. The compiling of the e-portfolio is perhaps the most tangible aspect of the course and empowers students to confidently collate evidence of their learning, skills and experiences.

Rooted in worthwhile practices

As I developed the IPAF 3800 course, I strived to respond to Tony Watts’ (2006) call for career development within higher education to address the narrowness of the skills and employability discourse. For me, this meant that the course should stretch beyond supporting students with getting a job, to provide participants with the space to learn more about themselves, and try out exploration and decision-making techniques they can use to shape their careers. Subsequently, as I developed the course, I intentionally blending my teaching pedagogy with my career development research.

My students benefit from how the course is guided by CERIC’s Guiding Principles of Career Development, CMEC’s Reference Framework for Successful Student Transitions and Carleton University’s Career Competencies, and are deeply rooted in my career development scholarly practice. Ultimately, my goal is for a high-quality transdisciplinary approach that facilitates students’ academic, career and lifelong development.

My key learning

One important learning I have taken away from developing and teaching the course is how much skills matter, but, at the same time, how nuanced the conversation about skills must be. It is not enough to tell students that they need skills and that they must be able to articulate skills. Only when students are able to understand their levels of skills proficiency, how skills help them to execute tasks, apply their knowledge and expertise to solve problems, and relate all of this to different contexts and situations they might encounter, can they effectively use skills to support their life, learning and work. Correspondingly, approximately one-third of the course contact time is spent helping students learn about, further develop and evaluate their individual skills. This process provides a solid foundation for individualized learning that supports each student’s career.

Student responses 

I have now taught the course three times, as both in-class and online courses. As an instructor, the course has seemed to achieve its intended goals, but the best people to speak to benefits of my course are the students themselves.

“Through IPAF 3800, I learned I am more valuable than I had initially thought. It taught me to look at my unique habits and working style as an asset, not a flaw.”

“IPAF 3800 is the only class I have ever had that has actually helped prepare me for life after school. Learning and building career skills, how to build my career, how to work in a group, how to find career information, how to network, how to set goals, etc. These are all things I knew hardly anything about before taking this class.”

“Before the IPAF 3800 class, I never realized that various types of assignments of different courses would develop certain skills, so I was a bit lost and anxious as I am about to graduate and I was feeling that I did not have any special skills. I like how the class taught us that finding a job is not only related to the salary or the future development of the job, but our personal interests also matter. It’s not just employers choosing us based on our skills; we as well have the right the choose a career we like and want.”

In summary

Soon after I developed and began teaching the IPAF 3800 course, the world was faced with COVID-19. Numerous studies published over the past 18 months point to the impact this is likely to have on students for some time to come. Indeed, across Canada, numerous universities that provide essential support to students through their career services are rapidly responding to students’ increased anxiety about what their futures are likely to hold.

I would argue that it is important to continually examine whether we are appropriately supporting students with their careers, COVID-19 or not. Careers work in universities should not be about shaping our higher education systems as production lines for employment. Rather, it could be about helping students to manage change and complexity and learning to be the best with what they have got.

As I have learned from my students, IPAF 3800 is just that. The course makes students feel better prepared for career and life, and ready to become the workers, leaders, entrepreneurs and citizens of the future. What better aim for teaching a career development course could there possibly be?

Lorraine Godden is an Instructor II at Carleton University where she teaches career development, employability, and career management skills courses in the Faculty of Public Affairs. Her research is rooted in understanding how educators interpret policy and curriculum to make sense of career development and employability, work-integrated learning, adult education, school-to-work transition, and other educational multidisciplinary and public policies.