Image of Careering magazine cover on yellow background with text: Spring-Summer 2022 The Great Careers Disconnect2022

Spring-Summer issue of Careering dives into ‘The Great Careers Disconnect’

For “The Great Careers Disconnect” issue of Careering magazine, we asked people working in all areas of career development to reflect on the question: What gaps are you seeing in career services, career education, the labour market and the workplace – and what are your ideas to address them?

Articles include:

Careering magazine is Canada’s Magazine for Career Development Professionals and is the official publication of CERIC. It is published three times a year and includes select content in French. Subscribe to receive your free copy. You can also access past issues for free online.  

The theme for the Fall 2022 issue of Careering magazine will be released soon. Check back on ceric.ca/careering for the call for article proposals or sign up for CERIC’s free CareerWise Weekly newsletter to get the latest updates.

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Editor’s note

Lindsay Purchase

Author headshotOkay, I’ll admit it. I’m tired of reading the words “The Great Resignation.”

Like the “future of work” and other overused, often misunderstood terms before it, the “Great [fill-in-the-blank]” has become a stand-in for any and all mainstream discussion connected to career development.

So, why use this construct and release a Careering issue on “The Great Careers Disconnect”? Because within this conversational anchor about labour market shifts, there is so much that’s going unsaid. And career professionals are ready to say the quiet part loudly.

Given that 45% of employers say they are not aware of career development professionals, according to a recent survey by CERIC and Environics, and LMIC research shows that only one in five adults have accessed career services, it is not surprising that public conversations around careers are narrowly focused. But it is a problem.

For this issue of Careering magazine, we asked people working in all areas of career development to reflect on the question: What gaps are you seeing in career services, career education, the labour market and the workplace – and what are your ideas to address them?

Those working with youth spotted disconnects between employer hiring practices and student needs, as well as in the piece-meal approach to K-12 career development across the country. One author questioned why career professionals don’t talk more about unions, while another explored the issue of values disconnects at work.

While articles raise key challenges in the “Great Careers Disconnect,” this issue is also about highlighting creative solutions and building bridges.

Several articles reflected a desire to improve equity, diversity and inclusion within career development systems, including building a sustainable future of work for the Black community and supporting jobseekers with disabilities to identify their strengths. Others identified key improvements that can be made to support newcomer professionals and international students.

Of course, we can’t cover it all. If this issue sparks ideas for you about disconnects in work and education, talk about it! Start a conversation with colleagues. Advocate for change. Write about your curious questions and thoughtful solutions (shameless plug: Maybe for CERIC’s CareerWise website? All are welcome.).

For now, happy reading!

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2022

Complete the CERIC Content & Learning Survey of Career Development Professionals!

As an organization with a strategic mandate of building career development knowledge, mindsets and competencies, CERIC is committed to understanding the varied learning needs, preferences and behaviours of people doing careers-connected work. Our 2022 Content & Learning Survey of Career Development Professionals is now open, and we want to hear from you!  

The survey will take approximately 15 to 20 minutes to complete and will be open until Wednesday, May 25, 2022.  

Complete Survey Now  

While the survey has sections focused on CERIC’s learning initiatives, our intent is also to gather vital intelligence around the learning needs, preferences and behaviours of people working in career development. A selection of the results will be shared with the broad career development community and other stakeholders in early summer. By participating, you will be helping CERIC and other organizations in the field that develop learning opportunities to support your professional development.   

Plus, get a chance to win 1 of 2 free registrations to CERIC’s Cannexus23 conference ($375 value) or 1 of 3 free CERIC webinar registrations ($159 value)! 

You do not need to be familiar with CERIC’s learning initiatives to complete this survey. A French version of the survey is available. 

Your participation in this survey is greatly appreciated!  

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CERIC’s Careering magazine seeking article proposals for issue on ‘The Great Careers Disconnect’

The Spring-Summer 2022 issue of Careering will be on the theme of “The Great Careers Disconnect.” It will explore gaps, and solutions to address them, in career services, career education, the labour market and the workplace. Potential topic areas include but are not limited to:

  • employment challenges for internationally trained professionals and students
  • career services access
  • labour shortages and skills gaps
  • career development through cultural lenses
  • employment services funding

We invite a broad range of interpretations of this theme. New contributors are welcome, and can submit in English, French or both languages. Please review our Submission Guidelines and send a 1-2 paragraph description outlining your idea to Editor Lindsay Purchase, lindsay@ceric.ca, by March 1.

Visit ceric.ca/careering to view all past issues of the magazine.

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2022

CERIC national employer survey reveals Canadian executives struggling with recruitment, skills gap

The majority of Canadian executives (81%) are having difficulty finding people with the right skill set to fill positions and 78% agree there is a skills gap in their respective industry, but few have drawn on the expertise of career development professionals to address recruitment and retention challenges, according to a national survey recently conducted by Environics for CERIC.*

For the Career Development in the Canadian Workplace: National Business Survey, CERIC surveyed 500 Canadian executives in more than 11 industries including service, retail, hospitality, construction and manufacturing. The survey reveals keen insights into Canadian organizations’ current views on skills and talent gaps in the labour market; hiring underrepresented groups as part of equity, diversity and inclusion strategies; and the importance of investing in career development. The survey also provides comparability to CERIC’s 2013 survey to track differences within the past eight years.

Top challenges for Canadian businesses

In this fluid pandemic landscape and underlying uncertainty, the challenge of finding young & skilled talent has increased in the past eight years. The top five challenges faced by employers are:

  1. A shortage of skilled workers (75% vs 68% in 2013)
  2. Finding young workers (66% vs 51% in 2013)
  3. Supply chain issues (70%)
  4. General state of the economy (69% vs 77% in 2013)
  5. Regulation and red tape (52% vs 63% in 2013)

While employers in Ontario were the least likely to experience a shortage of skilled workers in 2013, they are now the most likely, followed by executives in Quebec and the Prairies.

Recruiting and retaining talent

Eighty-one per cent of Canadian executives are having difficulty finding people with the right skill set to fill positions in their companies – up from 70% in 2013. Additional difficulties include:

  • Finding reliable candidates with the right work ethic (29%)
  • Competitive job market in their respective industry (23%)

While the importance of resumes has not deviated significantly since 2013, executives are finding a potential employee’s online footprint to be increasingly important (63% vs 52% in 2013).

Despite the growing importance of equity, diversity and inclusion, there has been a modest increase in the proportion of executives putting effort into customizing their recruitment approaches to attract and reach members of underrepresented groups (51% vs 46% in 2013).

Take a hard look at soft skills

Executives who have experienced more difficulty in employee retention (72%) more often identify a skills gap in their industry (42%) and are finding it increasingly more difficult to recruit people with the soft skills they deem important (40%). While positive attitude (29%) and good communication skills (22%) continue to be seen as the two most important soft skills for prospective employers, the importance of reliability and dependability has increased by more than 100% since 2013. The survey revealed executives are most likely to hire someone with soft skills who is a good fit and provide training (78%).

Investing in career development to close the skills gap

While 73% agree employers have a responsibility to provide career management programs for employees, only 27% provide these programs and 45% were unaware of career development professionals before this survey.

“Canadian executives have the unique opportunity to help Canadians take charge of their career by investing in development strategies that help employees identify personal strengths and clarify career goals that can positively contribute to job satisfaction,” says André Raymond, CRHA, Laval University and Chair of the Board of Directors.

The findings from this survey will be released during an industry expert panel discussion at CERIC’s Cannexus conference on Jan. 24 at 1:15 p.m. ET.

*From Nov. 18 – Dec. 17, 2021, Environics conducted a national telephone survey with senior-level employees from 501 randomly selected Canadian businesses across the country. The margin of error is ± 4.4 percentage points, at the standard 95% confidence level.

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2021

Cannexus22 shifting from hybrid to fully virtual conference 

CERIC has made the difficult decision to shift from a hybrid Cannexus22 conference to a fully virtual one. This decision was made with a heavy heart, knowing how much our career development community wants to be able to gather face-to-face again in Ottawa. The decision was based on a range of factors that have changed over the past few months, combined with ongoing uncertainty.  

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2021

CERIC to host Virtual Fireside Chat with Policy Leader Alastair MacFadden

Starting this Canada Career Month, leading current and former policy leaders from across the country will sit down with Lisa Taylor, future of work expert and author of CERIC’s recently released Retain and Gain: Career Management for the Public Sector playbook, for a series of conversations on “Careers & Canadians.” Lisa’s first guest will be former Saskatchewan Deputy Minister Alastair MacFadden, for a virtual fireside chat hosted by CERIC on Monday, November 22, 2021. MacFadden currently serves as the Interim Director and Executive-in-Residence, Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.

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The importance of a whole-person approach in Indigenous career development

Indigenous career practitioners integrate cultural world view of interconnectedness to support clients in wide-ranging ways

Tina-Marie Christian, Seanna Quressette and Kevin Ned

Author headshotsWhat was your first memory of a conversation you had as a child about education and the relationship to work? How old were you? Was it with parents, grandparents, a favourite aunt or uncle?

For some, the memory of that discussion has long since faded. What you may not have realized then was that these conversations shaped your world view of education and employment. For Indigenous people, these conversations were very different.

Career development from an Indigenous perspective is both similar to and qualitatively different from career development in non-Indigenous settings. There is important historical context that influences the educational and employment experience for some Indigenous individuals and there are current lived experiences that also influence the career paths of Indigenous workers.

The idea of a cookie-cutter approach to career counselling is outdated. Today’s employment counselling practices are much more focused on the needs of the individual – a person-centred approach. This is particularly true for the Indigenous jobseeking client. Before we look too deeply into the current and future opportunities for Indigenous people, we need to stop to consider the source of knowledge and life experiences that shape their choices.

The traumatic legacy of residential schools

The recent news of unmarked graves of children being found at the sites of former Canadian Indian residential schools is being felt across Indigenous communities. Residential school survivors and their children and grandchildren are re-experiencing the trauma of the residential school experience.

In 1996, a report by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples exposed the trauma and abuse suffered by several generations of Indigenous people who were forced to attend residential schools. These institutions purported to educate and acculturate Indigenous students; that was not what happened. Education was several rungs below religious indoctrination, domestic and field labour, and life lessons of servitude. The actual learning experience and any scholarly accomplishments were abysmal.

For many children of residential school survivors, school stopped at the mandated age of 16. It wasn’t easy to attend post-secondary education because there was no family support or interest from family members to pursue this education. There was little family value placed on participation in the Canadian school system. To compound matters, the patriarchal system of the Department of Indian Affairs presented many roadblocks to post-secondary pursuits. As noted in the 2009 book A Short History of Aboriginal Education in Canada: “Needless to say, few students progressed past the primary grades regardless of how many years were spent in school. In 1930, only 3% of Indigenous students had progressed past grade 6 and three-quarters of all those in school were in grades 1 to 3.”

A woman and her two young children leave flowers at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, where the remains of 215 children were found buried earlier this year. (iStock)

This kept many Indigenous people out of the labour market. Some Elders believe that this was by design, as laws also prohibited entrepreneurial and employment efforts by restricting mobility and preventing access to capital. Indian agents employed by the federal Department of Indian Affairs had to provide passes to leave the reserve, which of course limited access to the job market.

When Indigenous students did make it to post-secondary education, they were often ill-prepared academically and found that the teaching methods did not align with their ways of learning and knowing. The inter-generational trauma and impact of residential schools continues to affect today’s jobseekers and students. Many children of residential school survivors have experienced mental health challenges including anxiety and addictions as they move through post-secondary education.

Building a better future in education

The natural progression of learning through discovery and perpetual advancement that Canadians experienced was vastly different than the prescribed autocratic and paternalistic Indian Affairs approach.  Colonization jumped over the whole process of development that Canadians experienced through the Industrial Revolution. Indigenous people went from traditional land-based learning and teaching styles to that of a highly structured classroom approach that didn’t factor in experiential learning.

“For many Indigenous students, learning is best done in a relational, experiential and visual context.”

Despite the challenges they have faced, Indigenous leaders and their communities have held the course for self-governance and self-reliance. Formal political lobbying started as far back as 1972, with the National Indian Brotherhood’s Indian Control of Indian Education policy paper that spearheaded changes to the education system for Indigenous people.

As educational institutions begin to understand the challenges some Indigenous students face, they are adopting more inclusive ways of learning with the support of Elders, Indigenous advocates and Indigenous Learning Centres. For many Indigenous students, learning is best done in a relational, experiential and visual context. In an Indigenous integrated world view, learning includes the heart, the mind and the body. Indigenous ways of knowing include providing context for why the learning is taking place, understanding the relationships being built through the learning, and using images and real-life examples in teaching.

In March 2021, the Conference Board of Canada reported there are currently 80+ national Indigenous institutions that serve over 10,000 students a year. This represents an increase of 15% in 15 years. It will be through these institutions that we begin to see significant changes in Indigenous students’ post-secondary participation and graduation rates.

A 2018 Assembly of First Nation fact sheet on Indigenous education revealed that nearly half (47%) of Indigenous post-secondary graduates have completed a college diploma. Some of the challenges Indigenous students continue to face include lack of confidence/preparedness, not a personal priority, cost, personal/family responsibilities and personal health.


Read more on supporting Indigenous career development

16 resources to help settlers understand and advance Indigenous reconciliation

Allyship in career development: An honour, privilege and responsibility

Trina Maher: ‘Our communities are so rich in terms of resources and creativity’


Connecting to the labour market

We also know that Indigenous people may face other challenges to pursuing employment. Low literacy, for instance, is a barrier to employment rooted in intergenerational trauma and colonial history. Other practical considerations such as limited access to daycare and transportation and lack of a driver’s licence are due in part to living in remote locations. Cultural differences, communication skills, social mores and negative stereotypes also affect Indigenous jobseekers’ employment opportunities.

These stereotypes include the skewed image most non-Indigenous people have of reserves. Many think of the poverty and lack of opportunity. They don’t see the economic development in many communities and the existence of wrap-around services for community members including education, employment, health, mental health and social development.

These services play an important role in supporting Indigenous students and jobseekers – and may be in higher demand going forward, with the Indigenous labour force growing three to five times faster than the labour force as a whole. Youth supports may be especially needed, with approximately half of the Indigenous population under 25.

The role of Indigenous career practitioners

Fortunately, today, there are many robust training programs – on and off-reserve – to assist Indigenous jobseekers to access employment opportunities. These training programs include vocational training and academic training.

Importantly, services often do not stop at career counselling. In keeping with the cultural world view of interconnectedness, Indigenous career counsellors are often tasked with supporting their clients in wide-ranging ways, from referrals to counselling or addiction services, to client data management, to providing intake interviews and working on resumes, as well as assisting workers to communicate with employers.

It is this whole-world, whole-person view that makes the Indigenous CDP invaluable. A federally funded program under the Employment Skills and Development Canada (ESDC), Indigenous Skills Employment Training (ISET) is designed to help Indigenous people find improve their skills and find employment.

ISET provides funding to Indigenous Service delivery organizations that design and deliver job training services to First Nations, Inuit, Metis and urban/non-affiliated Indigenous people in their commities.

Resources for career practitioners to support Indigenous clients:

The program also provides career path training and certification for Indigenous career development counsellors (certified career development practitioners).

One of the great things about the ISET program is that Indigenous jobseekers sometimes experience a sense of comfort working with another Indigenous member. These Indigenous CDPs are knowledgeable about protocols, they are not shocked by family histories and are able to connect with individuals at all stages of their career journey.

Also, Indigenous career practitioners act as role models for folks entering or re-entering the workforce. They see the Indigenous career counsellor as someone from their community who completed training and is now there to offer services.

Indigenous career practitioners also play an important role in educating employers about how to work with Indigenous employees, as well as helping industry learn about Indigenous culture and history and protocols that affect employment.

We’ve heard many success stories from Indigenous graduates of the Douglas College Career Practitioner program that remind us of the important work yet to be done on the road to reconciliation. That road starts with remembering … and then we can create a new vision.

Tina-Marie Christian, MAOM, BEd is from the Syilx Nation (Okanagan) and a member of the Splatsin First Nation (Enderby, BC).  She holds a Master of Arts Degree in Organizational Management, a Bachelor of (Adult) Education and an Associate Business Administration degree (Marketing). She has over 40 years of experience working for Aboriginal organizations in education and staff development, advocacy, community and personal development, and health and wellness. Christian teaches the Aboriginal Career Development Course at Douglas College. 

Seanna Quressette, MEd, CCDP has 30+ years’ experience in career development and has taught Indigenous career practitioners for over 20 years. Quressette is the Co-ordinator of Continuing Education in the Faculty of Applied Community Studies at Douglas College.

Kevin Ned is a member of the Upper Nicola Band and is the Employment Training Facilitator for Westbank First Nation. Ned has been involved in training and employment for over 20 years, including 14 years as the Education Director for the Okanagan Indian Band. He also served for 12 years as an elected band councillor for his band, and has a business diploma from Nicola Valley Institute of Technology, a Career Development Practitioner Certificate and Essential Skills Certificate from Douglas College.

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Employer-engaged workforce development: Strategies to address sector shock

The sharp decline in hospitality and tourism employment during COVID highlights the need for new approaches to workforce development

Vanessa Wong

Author headshotSector shocks such as the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry are nothing new and will continue to happen in the future. They can affect employment opportunities for jobseekers and the ability of employers to retain experienced workers as the industry navigates the novel impact of a shock. Within this context, workforce intermediaries like the Hospitality Workers Training Centre (HWTC) will have to change how we look at workforce development strategies that aim to support workers and help employers manage and recover from sector shocks.

What is a sector shock?

A sector shock occurs when there is a change that affects the amount of goods produced and/or services provided by the sector. The impact can be positive or negative and the sector shock can result from events such as natural disasters, technological change, pandemics and/or politics. It can also displace a significant number of workers (Keane, 1991 & Chehal, Lougani, & Trehan, 2010), affect the types of jobs available and change the skillset required of workers. Displaced workers may also remain unemployed longer because of the time it takes to find work in other industries where their skills are transferable (Keane, 1991; Chehal, Lougani, & Trehan, 2010).

The sharp decline in the hospitality and tourism industry as a result of COVID-19 is an example of a sectoral shock. Employment data from May 2020 shows that employment in hospitality and tourism decreased by 43.3%, with an overall unemployment rate of 28.8%. The pandemic has also accelerated the impact of technology and automation in the hospitality industry, changing job roles and work environments. It has also highlighted the importance of soft skills such as initiative, adaptability, communication and customer service in workers and employers to navigate uncertainty and support recovery (Boudreau, Rose, & Landine, 2021).

What is a workforce intermediary?

A workforce intermediary is an organization that brings together key stakeholders across a local labour market – such as industry representatives, employers and workers – to improve workforce conditions, supply and skills. The work of the workforce intermediary is to plan, develop and implement strategic approaches that would meet local employers’ recruitment and retention needs, while also elevating local jobseekers’ employment and skills development opportunities. – Urban Institute, 2021

As the industry begins its slow road to recovery, employers have also expressed challenges in retaining experienced workers and hiring qualified workers because of employment instability within the sector and higher wages and better career prospects in other industries. Full recovery from this devastating shock is not expected (by the most optimistic projections) until 2023.

What is an employer-engaged workforce development strategy?

Employer-engaged workforce development strategies are an example of how workforce development intermediaries can support workers and employers to navigate sector shocks. Currently, programs implemented by workforce intermediaries are focused on helping jobseekers access training, certification and job search supports for specific positions, and connecting them to employer partners who will hire them. During a sector shock, this strategy is less effective as employment opportunities may be shifting or the skillsets required for those jobs change as business owners adapt their operational model to ensure viability in shifting markets.

Employers representing small- to medium-sized businesses have also said that they struggle to access the support of workforce intermediaries because the services they provide do not necessarily meet their just-in-time recruitment needs (Boudreau, Rose, & Landine, 2021). Businesses report that they would like workforce intermediaries to collaborate with them and play a bigger role in connecting them to training programs and tools that represent the best solutions to their workforce needs (Boudreau, Rose, & Landine, 2021).


Read more:

The hybrid future: Shifting employment services to meet client needs

Geography matters: The value of place-based workforce development

3 ways to transform your organization by creating a culture of continuous learning


An employer-engaged workforce development strategy offers a more transformational approach that addresses the concerns expressed by employer partners while meeting the employment stability needs of jobseekers. This is especially helpful in industries that are experiencing sector shocks and have concerns about unwanted employee turnover rates. Those strategies focus on the development of meaningful relationships with employers as key labour market stakeholders. When employers are invested and involved in the collaboration, workforce intermediaries are better able to understand and identify their current and future employment needs and work with them to co-create and deliver relevant responses to address them. Employer-engaged workforce strategies look at opportunities for jobseekers to access employment while supporting nimble and responsive processes for employers, workers and workforce intermediaries to work together.

Examples of employer-engaged workforce development strategies

Based on our experiences, best practices in the field and industry input, these are three examples of employer-engaged workforce development strategies we have found to be the most impactful. We recognize that sector shocks are not static and that all of these strategies and activities will evolve based on changes in industry and the needs of employers, employees and jobseekers.

“An employer-engaged workforce development strategy offers a more transformational approach that addresses the concerns expressed by employer partners while meeting the employment stability needs of jobseekers.”

Leverage live labour market information to support demand-driven labour market attachment strategies: Access to accurate, timely and relevant labour market information is critical to understanding changes and trends in the labour market. HWTC has leveraged technologies such as SkillsPath Ontario, FutureFit AI, Vicinity Jobs and Burning Glass Technologies to provide real-time data about job vacancies and in-demand skills. This approach provides current insights into what employers are looking for when hiring. This information enables us to better support workers navigating challenging career transitions to explore training opportunities and make informed decisions about their job search – right in line with the most current employer demands.

Engage employers with customized tools to support recruitment and retention: The loss of employees is one of the greatest challenges for employers and this is exacerbated by job uncertainty as a result of a sector shock. Many employers will be required to recruit, on-board and train new hires to support re-opening, as their pre-COVID workforce many not be available or willing to return. Retaining workers will be critical to the speed at which a business will recover and regain profitability.

Pre-COVID research showed that retention issues were ascribed to a deficit of workers’ soft skills (Boudreau, Rose, & Landine, 2021). HWTC’s Retention Skills Enhancement Tool (ReSET) is an online platform that enables employers to articulate and share soft skills performance expectations with their employees and objectively measure soft skills performance. With ReSET, employers can develop targeted training interventions to support soft skill development and improve performance and retention of their top talent. ReSET assumes that skills development does not stop at hiring, and employers and employees need to work together to develop strategies for an engaged, highly skilled and resilient workforce.

Alternative credential recognition: As jobs are reallocated and changed as result of a sector shock, attracting skilled workers becomes more competitive for employers. Tools to assess skills when recruiting and hiring employees will need to evolve. Micro-credentials in the form of e-badges offer a quick and reliable indicator of competency for employers to identify and screen for in-demand skills. Micro-credentials also provide an accessible training opportunity for individuals who have low levels of literacy and/or face system barriers to accessing traditional academic learning opportunities. HWTC in partnership with Bow Valley College and industry partners is developing a hospitality-specific series of micro-credentials aimed at supporting employers to recruit for the skills they need.

A strong foundation

Sector shocks will occur again in the future. These will affect the number of employment opportunities available and the skillsets required for jobs as business owners adapt their operational models. With the implementation of relevant employer-engaged workforce development strategies, such as those mentioned above, workforce development intermediaries can support workers and help employers manage and recover from sector shocks.

Vanessa Wong has been successfully developing and implementing community-based literacy and employment programs for over 10 years. She is a lifelong learner who recently received her designation as a project management professional and is currently completing her second degree in social work.

References

Boudreau, A., Rose, H., & Landine, J. (2021). Soft skills in the post-pandemic hospitality and foodservice sector in Ontario – A report for the Hospitality Workers Training Centre. Hospitality Workers Training Centre.

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The hybrid future: Shifting employment services to meet client needs

ACCES Employment reflects on its digital transformation, and what it wants to bring forward – and leave behind – as service delivery continues to evolve

Manjeet Dhiman and Aimee Holmes

Author headshotsLike many other businesses, ACCES Employment had to respond quickly to the sudden and significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the employment services sector overall moved swiftly to adjust years of honed service delivery practices to align with public health restrictions and safety protocols.

The things that we took for granted were suddenly and significantly disrupted – foot traffic leading to new client intake, the spontaneity of collaboration among colleagues and the energy in a room when dozens of people interact at a networking or hiring event. As a community-based service provider grounded in human connection, it was a tremendous shift from the established norm of in-person service delivery. And yet, we did it.

Now, we are eager to begin envisioning the post-pandemic landscape of employment services. Unlike at the beginning of the pandemic, we now have more time and opportunity for thoughtful reflection and informed decisions. There are clear benefits to offering a hybrid model of employment services, even if it is not out of necessity. For some jobseekers, who have professional backgrounds and digital literacy, their ability to access our services is enhanced when they can learn remotely and on their own schedule. For other clients, who are seeking to re-enter the workforce after a gap in employment, who lack digital literacy or who have lower levels of English proficiency, they will often be better served through in-person career counselling and job development. In this article, we aim to contribute to the sector-wide conversation on how to create a hybrid model of employment service delivery.


More from this issue of Careering:

Geography matters: The value of place-based workforce development

Employer-engaged workforce development: Strategies to address sector shock

Increasing inclusion and engagement in virtual career workshops


Setting up for digital success

Prior to the pandemic, ACCES was already on a pathway to digital transformation. The technological capacity and infrastructure that we developed over a period of several years allowed us to quickly pivot to full online service delivery as the pandemic forced businesses across Canada and around the world into lockdown. Our ability to change and respond to the technological requirements of online service delivery enabled ACCES to continue supporting our staff and clients with little to no interruption. But by no means was this an easy endeavour.

The online capacity and infrastructure we developed in our offices needed to be resourced differently for remote delivery from home. The skills and technological acumen of a select team of individuals now needed to expand to all staff. We embraced a range of tools and systems to be able to meet with our clients and employers online. We adopted technology into all aspects of our business, not only in service delivery but also in program administration and organization-wide operations.

Woman wearing earphones and waving at computer screen.
iStock

One tool we found particularly useful was a chatbot that we built and launched just before the pandemic hit. VERA (Virtual Employment and Resource Attendant) uses artificial intelligence to understand user inquiries and direct people to programs, register them for events and answer their job search questions. The chatbot is available 24/7, offers client-centred interaction and frees up staff time for more complex tasks. VERA has demonstrated to us how technology, used alongside traditional pathways to service, can help increase clients’ access to services. Thousands of people have interacted with VERA, which indicates to us that clients are increasingly comfortable with this kind of technology, and appreciate – if not expect – the ability to self-serve online.

Reflecting on pandemic challenges

The pandemic has had a disproportionate effect on marginalized communities, front-line and essential workers. Our clients are predominantly newcomers, who lack professional networks in Canada and need orientation and introductions to the local labour market. If they sought to work in an industry that was hit with widespread layoffs due to COVID-19, their job search process has been more challenging. The pandemic has exacerbated the barriers faced by our clients who lack digital literacy and access to digital resources, including the internet or a computer.

Going forward, all of these factors need to be considered in our service planning and delivery. Approximately 80% of ACCES Employment’s clients are newcomers to Canada, so a reduction in immigration numbers has moved us from a position of having consistent waiting lists to needing innovative strategies to connect with those who need our services.

To make informed decisions about how to evolve our services, we gathered input from our staff on the effectiveness of virtual delivery of each program component, from intake through to post-hire support. We have added related questions to the evaluation surveys that clients fill out at the end of our programs. The responses show that virtual services offer clear advantages for some clients, staff and employers. Clients save time and money accessing virtual services without commuting and arranging childcare. The flexibility for clients to participate on their own schedules by watching recorded sessions and engaging in e-learning is also an advantage. Employers that we work with have embraced virtual hiring events and found it easier to engage with our programs when they don’t have to come to one of our physical locations.

On the other hand, clients and staff also identified limitations of a virtual approach. Some clients told us that they consider virtual hiring events to be less effective than those done in person. They have found it more difficult to interact with their peers and thus build their professional network in Canada. There are also clients who have simply not been able to access our services because they cannot get online. While our teams at ACCES Employment have worked hard to stay connected and improve their technology skills, many staff lament the lack of interpersonal contact, interactions with those outside of their team and ability to do creative brainstorming work.

Meeting future needs

To balance the needs and preferences of all stakeholders, ACCES Employment is creating a hybrid model of service delivery, where there will be a combination of virtual and in-person delivery. This will include live broadcasts of sessions, where some clients will be in-person and others will participate online. This will require us to examine best practices in engaging virtual attendees and determining the best set-up and equipment to ensure effective service delivery.

In addition, our post-pandemic hybrid model will provide greater options for clients, to ensure that all elements of our services can be accessed either in-person or online. This includes individual intake and assessment, job search support, mentoring, peer networking, workshops and follow-up support.

ACCES Employment’s hybrid service model will capture many of the recommendations made in a comprehensive study conducted this year by the Settlement Sector and Technology Task Group, which emphasized the need to meet clients where they are in terms of digital literacy and typical online usage: “Organizations should not rely on any one specific technology, but create multi-platform, multi-channel communications strategies rooted in the actual use of technology by clients.”

We look forward to opening our doors once again to serve our clients, especially those who face significant barriers to employment. There will be adjustments, both practical and psychological, for staff and clients as we return to in-office work. Our hybrid service delivery model will intersect with our hybrid work model for staff, which will be consistent with trends and expectations in the post-pandemic workplace.

In this article, we have shared some of the questions and considerations that we will take into account as we shape our programs and services in the coming months. If the COVID-19 pandemic has silver linings for the employment services sector, they would include the opportunity to deeply reflect on how we should be delivering services to meet the needs of our various stakeholders.

Settlement Sector and Technology Task Group recommendations:
  1. Develop a roadmap to support organizational digital transformation.
  2. Establish a common and sector-wide vision for digital literacy.
  3. Establish a hybrid settlement service delivery lead at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
  4. Establish baseline sector competencies.
  5. Establish a national sector capacity-building approach.
  6. Ensure sector nuances are taken into account.

Manjeet Dhiman is SVP, Services & Strategic Initiatives and Aimee Holmes is Director, Online Services at ACCES Employment, which serves 40,000 jobseekers annually. Services are primarily delivered through seven locations in the Greater Toronto Area, with some programming available to jobseekers across the province and pre-arrival programs for those who have been approved to land in Canada.

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