Careering

Case Study: Bridging the gap through profession-specific mentor matches

Successfully matching clients with mentors requires a lot of preparation, but the outcome can make it all worthwhile

By Ritu Ganju

In this recurring Careering feature, career professionals share their real-life solutions to common problems in the field.

For close to eight years I have worked with immigrants, matching them with professional mentors in their field of work. I have seen magical partnerships form, resulting in life-long friendships. The newcomer mentees I work with arrive with unique skill sets, tremendous hope, courage and aspirations to build a successful career in Canada. In most cases, they also have extensive international work experience.

Pat’s story

The memory of one wonderful mentor-mentee relationship remains very close to my heart. During my first year of making mentor matches, I met Pat, who arrived in Halifax as a government-assisted refugee. He dreamed of becoming a pilot. It would have been quite a daunting task to embark on this challenging career if not for the support he received from the local settlement organization, his community and his mentor.

When I first met with him during my intake session, he said, “It was during my first flight I took from Congo that I dreamed of becoming a pilot.” Very innocently, he inquired if he could become a pilot in Canada and if I could match him with a mentor who could provide him with guidance and support toward achieving this goal.

I wanted Pat to go through the intake orientation and understand that a successful mentoring partnership would require him to drive the mentoring relationship and initiate regular contact with his mentor. I explained he would need to respect his mentor’s time and be available to meet his mentor with planned agenda items at a place and time convenient for both of them. The key to establishing a successful mentoring relationship would include creating a relationship of trust and honesty, establishing short- and long-term goals, and having open communications with the mentor at all times.

While I worked to find a mentorship match, I recommended Pat continue with his research on licensing requirements, complete his education and take up a survival job. During our intake session, I emphasized that his mentor would not get him a job or a pilot’s license.

Pat flew Air Ambulance with EHS.
Finding an ideal match

I did not have a pilot in my mentor rolodex. Recruiting a mentor for Pat would require deeper considerations and some extra efforts.

A mentor’s job is to serve as a positive role model. Mentors build a relationship with their mentee by planning and participating in activities with them, helping build their self-esteem and motivation, and assisting them in setting goals and working toward them.

In Pat’s case, the mentor needed to go an extra mile and understand his background and story. Arriving as a refugee can be quite traumatic. I wanted to match Pat with someone who would be empathetic, dependable and open-minded, as well as honest about challenges and how to overcome them. The mentor needed to support Pat’s larger vision of success and help broaden his professional network.

So, I was extremely fortunate to meet Alan, Pat’s eventual mentor, during a networking event. Professional pilots are extremely busy and have limited time to volunteer due to their extensive flying hours and busy schedules. As luck would have it, Alan had just retired from flying and was looking forward to volunteering and giving back to the community. Alan seemed to be a perfect fit because of his gentle and kind personality. I knew he would be a perfect role model for Pat. I discussed Pat’s background and expectations with Alan and he was more than happy to become his mentor.

In a short time, I was able to fix the first introductory meeting between the two, where goals and expectations were discussed. At the end of the meeting, Alan invited Pat to join him in servicing his personal aircraft over the weekend. I could see the excitement in Pat’s eyes – there was no looking back after that. Alan had taken Pat under his wings! The next time I followed up with them, I received photographs of them flying together. They even invited me to fly with them a couple of times, but I never gathered enough courage to go in the air.

The magic of mentorship

Pat and his mentor worked together, flew together and celebrated together. At every stage of Pat’s success, his mentor supported him. Whether it was providing guidance through the admission process to flying schools or assisting with access to technical materials, his mentor was always by his side.

Today, Pat is a licensed pilot and teaches people to fly. I look forward to one day flying on a commercial aircraft he captains.

Pat shared what the mentorship relationship meant to him in an email:

“Alan helped me in guiding me through my training. He advised me on what route to follow in achieving my childhood dream. After completing my commercial pilot license, Alan advised me to go through instructing. When I completed the course, I was hopeless, as I couldn’t find a job. Alan managed to get me contacts for the director of flight operations at the flight college. I sent my resume and lucky enough I was hired as a flight instructor at what happens to be one of the best flight schools in Canada.”

Ritu Ganju works as Coordinator, Professional Mentorship Program and Team Lead for the Business and Workforce Integration at Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia
(ISANS). She
has over 20 years of experience in the field of education and career development. She constantly seeks creative ways to foster a dynamic learning environment for mentees and integrate immigrants into their work environment. Ganju received a nomination as one of The Top 25 Immigrants in the Maritimes 2018.

READ MORE
two pair of feet standing next to a sign that reads passion led us hereCareering

Evolution of a career development association: Supporting practitioners on the journey toward professionalization

How the Manitoba Association for Career Development has helped CDPs develop skills, share resources and build capacity within the field

By Deanna England

The first meeting of what would become the Manitoba Association for Career Development (MACD) took place in May of 2013. It was held in a local pub with a total of three attendees. Fast forward five years and the association has passed by-laws (June 2016), hosted Annual General Meetings (November 2016 and 2017), has an elected board, has a growing membership body including annual fees, offers professional development events and co-ordinates the provincial Career Development Conference “Let’s Get to Work,” which hosts over 100 attendees annually in November during Career Month.

The journey to creating a provincial association was the culmination of several events. In 2009, the Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF) released the “Pan-Canadian Mapping Study of the Career Development Sector.” This study had considerable Manitoban involvement and signalled a desire for the establishment of a local organization specifically to look at certification. The following year, current MACD board member Ahniko Handford returned from completing her Career Development certificate in BC, having noticed that the significant presence of a sector organization (such as the British Columbia Career Development Association) was absent in Manitoba.

At the same time, current President Troy Mercer and Vice-President Gail Langlais completed their Career Development certificates in Winnipeg. After participating in the CCDF study, many of their classmates acknowledged the same organizational gap in the local community. It didn’t take long before Mercer, Langlais and Handford found each other, and the first steps toward the creation of a network began.

Beyond the 2009 CCDF study, the vision for a Manitoban organization was informed by the needs and priorities of practitioners in the region, which were reflected in additional studies performed in Canada at the time. These studies suggested a gap in terms of support, resources and capacity-building in the career development field. Significantly, in 2011, CERIC sent out a national survey to career service professionals. The results showed that 11% of respondents were considering leaving the field due to burnout. In a 2015 followup, CERIC again found that burnout was listed as one of the most prevalent reasons for consideration of leaving the field.

In 2014 and 2018, MACD performed local surveys. The responses revealed that 59% (2014) and 45% (2018) of respondents had fewer than 10 years in the profession. In addition, when asked what they would find the most useful in terms of professional development, respondents overwhelmingly identified the opportunity to network with others in the field.

Similarly, in 2013, ContactPoint shared an article by Kathy McKee on “Career Practitioners and Mental Health.” McKee pointed out that “career practitioners … were puzzled by the complexity of working with people with mental health challenges and a feeling of inadequacy or lack of expertise in this area.” She indicated that “[t]he research uncovered that almost half of career practitioners themselves report as having mental health problems.” While the MACD survey did not address the mental wellness of practitioners, it did ask whether they felt they had sufficient coaching, mentoring and training opportunities. Only 42% confirmed that they had adequate training, while 85% indicated that they gained their knowledge and skills mainly while on the job.

In 2016, a subsequent article by Deirdre Pickerell and Roberta Neault highlighted the need for increased resilience within the career development field. Pickerell and Neault pointed out that “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.”

“On a national, provincial and local level, having the opportunity to develop skills, share resources and build capacity within the field has been consistently identified with each survey of CDPs.”

In MACD’s 2018 survey, respondents summarized what topics they would like to see at the next provincial conference; 25% reported wanting to learn how to get more done with less staff and 15% wanted strategies for managing workloads. When asked what kind of sponsor industries they would like to see at this event, over 88% selected health and wellness.

In 2017, MACD hosted a strategic planning session to allow Manitoban practitioners to connect and share their professional needs. From this meeting, an Operational Plan from 2017-2020 emerged, with Goal #1 identified as “Bring awareness and highlight the importance of career development.” This confirmed results from the 2014 MACD survey indicating that 70% of Manitoba practitioners feel that developing an identity for the profession should be a very important goal for the organization. Achieving this goal would more clearly articulate the practitioners’ sense of community, professional development and offer increased capacity via the connection to valuable resources. This strategic-planning session highlighted the desire and dedication of the local population to offer their time, energy and expertise to create a network of professionalism and support.

Career development practitioners have expressed a desire to network and build community.

On a national, provincial and local level, having the opportunity to develop skills, share resources and build capacity within the field has been consistently identified with each survey of CDPs. This priority informed the management shift of the “Let’s Get to Work” conference from Career Trek – a local not-for-profit that works with career development for young people – to MACD in 2017. This transition enabled the Manitoba sector to sustain this event and allowed revenues to flow directly back to the local career development community.

This matters, as notwithstanding issues such as staffing limitations and time, an additional barrier to participation in professional development (PD) opportunities is cost. Over 60% of the respondents surveyed by MACD indicated that PD is too expensive for them either personally or organizationally – not a surprising response considering almost 70% of the sector identifies as working either in a not-for-profit agency or as a private service provider. Recognizing the need to mitigate lack of funding as a potential added stressor, MACD’s “Let’s Get to Work” conference offers members discounted rates to enable them to attend. In addition to the annual conference, MACD in 2018 also hosted free workshops on the future of work, planned happenstance, and Manitoba’s labour market and job openings forecast.

The third Annual General Meeting in November of 2018 will display the first “passing of the torch” of the MACD board. The initial board elected in 2016 will have the opportunity to present their achievements since inception and offer the opportunity for others to join in the development of this burgeoning organization. The continuing growth of MACD not only allows the membership to take advantage of valuable resources and opportunities, it also lets practitioners have a voice in its direction and progress. Consequently, each practitioner’s contribution assists in developing capacity, expertise and overall wellness within the field. While still in its nascent stages, the future looks bright moving forward for the small but mighty Manitoba Association for Career Development and the resilience of its members.

Deanna England is a member of the inaugural board of the Manitoba Association for Career Development. This burgeoning organization was created to promote the standards of practice for career development practitioners through education, professional growth and certification throughout the province of Manitoba. More information may be found at: http://www.macd-mb.org/

READ MORE
woman-comforting-friendCareering

How Mental Health First Aid works and why it’s needed

This interactive program helps participants identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness

By Stephen James Landry

One in five Canadians will experience a mental-health problem this year with a cost to the economy in excess of $50 billion, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Given the prevalence of mental-health issues, it is crucial that workplaces are educated on how to respond.

What is Mental Health First Aid?

Mental Health First Aid, a program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, is an interactive training program that teaches participants to recognize the signs that a person may be developing a mental-health problem or experiencing a mental-health crisis.  Participants learn how to provide initial help and guide the person to appropriate professional resources.

It helps participants build mental-health literacy, decreases stigmatizing attitudes, and helps individuals identify, understand and respond to signs of mental illness.

Mental Health First Aid teaches about recovery and resiliency – the belief that individuals experiencing these challenges can and do get better, and use their strengths to stay well.

First established in Australia in 2001, more than 300,000 Canadians are currently trained in Mental Health First Aid. The program is active in 25 countries including Canada, China and the United States. MHFA Canada is available in both English and French.

How it works

MHFA is similar to physical first aid administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained. MHFA is given until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved. The opportunity to practice – through role playing, scenarios and activities – makes it easier to apply these skills in a real-life situation.

MHFA teaches participants to follow an action plan for a variety of situations, including:

  • Panic attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours
  • Non-suicidal self-injury
  • Acute psychoses (e.g., hallucinations or delusions)
  • Overdose or withdrawal from alcohol or drug use
  • Reaction to a traumatic event
Why Mental Health First Aid is needed

Mental-health problems can affect a person’s ability to work, look after themselves and maintain relationships. This can also be costly for businesses.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, 82% of organizations rank mental-health conditions in their top three causes of short-term disability (72% for long-term).

If unaddressed, the impact of mental-health problems on lost productivity (due to absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover) will cost Canadian businesses $198-billion over the next 30 years.

The vision for Mental Health First Aid is to have every Canadian in need within reach of effective mental health first aid. Too often people suffer in silence, not knowing where to turn. In order for this vision to become a reality, organizations provide a safe space for employees to discuss their mental health in the workplace and provide supports, in addition to Employment Assistance Programs (which are not available in every workplace).

Are you in crisis? Call Crisis Services Canada at 1.833.456.4566, text 45645 or go to crisisservicescanada.ca.

Stephen James Landry is an Employment Consultant at the City of Ottawa. He completed his CDP (Career Development Practitioner) accreditation from Career Development Practitioners Certification Board of Ontario. He regularly advocates for his clients to upgrade their lifelong learning, including taking Mental Health First Aid courses to increase self-awareness and to assist others. He has a strong connection to Mental Health First Aid through his current work and will be taking the Mental Health First Aid for Seniors in September 2018. Landry has helped clients with mental health issues for over 25 years.

READ MORE
self care isn't selfish signageCareering

Self-care can combat burnout for career development practitioners

How CPDs can develop a self-care plan to prevent compassion fatigue and burnout

By Dr Michael Sorsdahl

Career development practitioners (CDPs) are helping professionals who get drawn into their line of work due to their desire to help others. Jacobson’s research[1] in 2012 demonstrated that helping professionals often have a tendency to put others’ needs ahead of their own, which puts the practitioner at risk of experiencing mental-health issues such as compassion fatigue or burnout.

Shannon et al.[2] in 2014 outlined the same risks in the helping professions, and conducted research specifically on social-work students to see what self-care strategies could help build resilience against those risks. According to Shannon et al. and Merriman (2015)[3], some of the most common mental-health issues that helping professionals such as CDPs face are vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout. The articles cited above along with Sansbury, Graves and Scott (2015)[4] found that if these issues are left unchecked, helping practitioners risk doing harm to clients instead of helping them. However, there are ways to build resilience and counter these mental-health issues; it just takes awareness and commitment by the practitioner.

Consider the safety brief on an airplane that tells people to put their own oxygen mask on first before helping others; this concept of self-protection is just as important for helpers to heed, or they risk mental-health issues. CDPs must be aware that burnout, compassion fatigue and other conditions are a common by-product of working in the helping field. This can have consequences not only for the helper, but also for their family and friends if they take these issues home. Exploring and implementing ways to increase resilience, and becoming more proactive in looking after oneself, will lessen the mental-health risks of working in a helping profession.

Understanding what to look for is an important first step in the proper response to and prevention of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue, which can lead to complete burnout. Vicarious trauma looks very much like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma injury symptomology as laid out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. PTSD or trauma reactions may occur after exposure to a traumatic event (including hearing details about one), which can result in the existence of intrusive symptoms such as negative thoughts or behaviours, avoidance of traumatic triggers, changes in mood, changes in reactions and arousal, and feeling highly distressed.

Compassion fatigue is a little different, and includes the following symptoms:

  • Changes in personal identity and world view
  • Social withdrawal
  • Lack of trust in others
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Becoming easily emotionally overwhelmed
  • Numbing or disconnection from any distressing feelings related to the event
  • Loss of connectedness to others and self
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty connecting with joy

If these symptoms are left unchecked, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and reduced personal accomplishment may occur. Ultimately, the perceived demands of the job will outweigh the resources to do it, which may cause people to burn out and leave the helping profession.

Developing a self-care plan

Career development practitioners can build resilience by creating a workable and adaptable self-care plan that is designed for the specific helper. Shannon et al. (2014) along with Sansbury et al. (2015) have shown that this practice increases life satisfaction and can help practitioners build resilience to cope with stress.

When creating a self-care plan, consider that a good self-care strategy meets these three conditions: 1) specific enough to be implementable, 2) flexible enough to fit into your busy life, and 3) enjoyable.

Shannon et al. (2014) and Sansbury et al. (2015) have shown that the best self-care plans span multiple areas of people’s lives. If a CDP creates one or two strategies in each of the following areas, then the plan is likely robust enough to help build resilience.

Examples of self-care strategies include:

  • Physical care: exercise, nutrition, sleep, massages and walking
  • Mental care: meditation, listening to/playing music, cooking, reading
  • Relational care: date nights with partner, games night with friends, dinner with friends and telephone/Skype calls with friends/family
  • Physical environment care: keeping a clean home, spending time outdoors, taking vacations

It can be helpful to reflect on activities that you have found enjoyable, along with things you might like to try in the future. This will give you a database of options to work from. If the activity is not enjoyable, it is not self-care. There are healthy things that we “should” do, but that does not make them self-care strategies – just necessary actions for healthy living. Depending on the helper’s life circumstances, either more strategies or increased time doing selected strategies may be required to counter the negative symptoms outlined above.

Vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue and burnout are a risk for helping professionals such as career development practitioners. If the CDP combines awareness of symptoms that indicate these conditions with a strong self-care plan, resilience to these stressors can be built. Making the helpers’ health a priority is essential to remaining competent in their work.

Assessing your need to review self-care strategies
  • Take a Quality of Life Assessment or wellness survey periodically to track dips
  • Journal regularly about your levels of stress
  • Review self-care strategies to see if you still enjoy them (if not, change them)
  • Ask a friend/family/co-worker to help identify any of your negative symptoms
  • Seek supervision in your work to debrief regularly

Dr. Michael Sorsdahl, CD, PhD(Education), RCC, CCC, GCDF-i, Provisional Psychologists (Alberta) is a psychotherapist, provisional psychologist, and educator who works in the areas of Trauma, Career, LGBTQ2+, Couples/Relationships, and counsellor education. He founded Juvenation Wellness, a counselling, coaching, and education service in BC.

References

[1] Jacobson, J.M. (2012). Risk of compassion fatigue and burnout and potential for compassion satisfaction among employee assistance professionals: Protecting the workforce. Traumatology, 18(3) 64-72). DOI: 10.1177/153476561 143 1833

[2] Shannon, P.J., Simmelink-McCleary, J., Im, H., Becher, E. & Crook-Lyon, R.E. (2014). Developing self-care practices in a trauma treatment course. Journal of Social Work Education, 50, 440-453

[3] Merriman, J. (2015). Enhancing counsellor supervision through compassion fatigue

education. Journal of Couseling & Development, 93(3), 370-378.

[4] Sansbury, B. S., Graves, K., & Scott W. (2015). Managing traumatic stress responses among clinicians: Individual and organizational tools for self-care. Trauma, 17(2), 114-122. 

READ MORE
young girl with disability and a woman looking at a laptopCareering

How CDPs can help clients with disabilities navigate legislative changes

Practitioners must stay informed about legislative changes and be aware of provincial programs to best serve their clients

By Jaclyn Krane

As career development practitioners, we are often tasked with helping people make sense of their lives both within and outside of the workplace. We help people understand who they are and how their talents, skills and abilities fit within the world of work. However, clients with disabilities can face additional barriers in their search for employment. How can career development practitioners be prepared to address this?

People with disabilities often experience frustration not only with job searching, but also with the systems designed to help their job search. Some of the frustrations that jobseekers with disabilities experience include short-staffed employment service programs, long wait times to receive service, travel challenges and lack of access to job search tools, such as telephone (TTY) or internet access with screen-reading software installed. Career development practitioners, while sympathetic, are often left feeling just as frustrated, as bureaucratic barriers can limit their ability to help their clients.

Career development practitioners seeking guidance, strategies and suggestions for helping clients diagnosed with disabilities, including mental health issues, are often faced with a challenging task, because there is no national strategy for addressing disability and employment in Canada. Without a road map for those employed in the helping professions, career development practitioners are often left without any clear policies, tools or structure surrounding the employment of people with disabilities.

Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

However, the landscape in Canada is beginning to shift. For example, on June 20, 2018, the Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Kirsty Duncan, tabled the Accessible Canada Act, which aims to make Canada barrier-free in areas under federal jurisdiction.

As identified at the 2017 Disability and Work in Canada Conference, the need to shift Canada’s focus from the “unemployed disabled person” and their circumstances toward fostering a deeper and respectful understanding of social contexts is key for creating career-related long-term employment outcomes. Using local and regional labour market agreements to determine career development service delivery standards has only led to fragmentation across the country, an issue that could be remedied by using the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a guiding document. The conversations to date have often focused around “reasonable accommodation,” but aiming to surpass expectations and embrace progressive transformation is the path to true inclusion and the creation of long-term sustainable systemic accessibility.

What role can career development practitioners play during this time of legislative transformation? Staying informed about legislative updates is paramount to better informing clients and colleagues. Career development practitioners should get involved in legislative consultations and begin the process of collaboration with all stakeholders, including people with disabilities, federal and provincial leaders, and First Nations communities.

As part of regular preparation before face-to-face career counselling sessions with clients with disabilities, career development practitioners should spend time researching their provincial income-support programs and employment strategies, and how the programs interface with looking for work and volunteerism. Jobseekers with disabilities who receive social assistance might have limitations on their work parameters (e.g., the number of paid work or volunteer hours per week) as well as what subsidies (e.g., travel allowances) they might be entitled to. It is important for career development practitioners to stay informed at the legislative level as changes may trickle down to the programming levels, affecting the services or benefits clients with disabilities might be accessing.

“Career development practitioners should get involved in legislative consultations and begin the process of collaboration with all stakeholders, including people with disabilities, federal and provincial leaders, and First Nations communities.”

Career development practitioners should also research local employment programs and their eligibility requirements. Although many employment service providers aim to provide accessible services for all, often specific organizations provide tailored services that can assist with the transition into employment, something that will be beneficial for clients with varying job goals. Picking up the phone to speak with an employment specialist, job developer, or resource and information specialist to better understand the scope of their work when it comes to supporting jobseekers with disabilities will enable career development practitioners to be more knowledgeable and effective, which will only benefit clients in the long run. To better empower jobseekers with mental-health challenges in being the leaders of their own job searches, ensuring that clients actively participate on these calls, along with a debriefing following the call, guarantees the client’s voice is heard and concerns are addressed. In my experience, the majority of employment programs aim to be flexible, and asking questions regarding additional supports and subsidies never hurts.

Also, when making referrals to community agencies for employment supports, don’t hesitate to request success stories of jobseekers with disabilities. You can share these stories to motivate other jobseekers with disabilities, and this also helps you to gauge whether strong accountability measures are in place to guarantee people are receiving appropriate assistance with their employment search.

To best assist their clients, career development practitioners should stay informed about how the Accessible Canada Act will provide income and employment supports for persons with disabilities, and the role employers will play. Career development practitioners should also get involved in upcoming conferences and roundtable discussions taking place over this fall and winter to help ensure Canada’s employment landscape remains accessible to all.

Jaclyn Krane is the Special Projects Manager of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW), a non-profit organization committed to promoting and supporting the meaningful and equitable employment of people with disabilities across Canada. Before joining CCRW in 2011, Jaclyn worked with students, recent graduates and young professionals at the University of Ottawa’s Counselling Services department and Youth Employment Services Montreal – a non-profit organization dedicated to helping young Montrealers explore career options and engage in the career development process.

READ MORE
Careering

Principles in Action: Uncovering interests to find the best career fit

By Lisa Noonan

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, policymakers and families.

Each issue of Careering features a Guiding Principle “in action,” exploring how a career professional is applying a Principle in practice.

Guiding Principle: Career development entails determining interests, beliefs, values, skills and competencies – and connecting those with market needs. ceric.ca/principles

One of the simplest questions we as career practitioners can ask our clients, and often one of the most difficult questions for our clients to answer, is: “What do you want to do?” Having a realistic career goal is the first step to developing an action plan, but from a client’s perspective, choosing a career goal can be daunting. How can career practitioners assist clients in setting their goals?

Interests

The first and often easiest place to start career exploration is to examine what interests our clients. There are countless interest profiles and assessments available to help with this. The reason personal interests are important is simple: we work harder when we are doing something we find interesting. From a jobseeker’s point of view, doing something that appeals to their interests means they will find more joy in work. Not every task at work will be enjoyable, so it is important for career practitioners to make sure their clients seek job opportunities that balance uninteresting tasks with engaging ones. This is also an opportunity to explore a variety of career goals, weighing the interesting and uninteresting aspects of each.

Skills and competencies

Often when we find something that we enjoy doing, we practice it and become skilled, so it is not uncommon for a client’s interests and skills to complement each other. When clients have competencies and skills in areas that are outside their interests, they can feel like they are “stuck” doing work they don’t want to do. I have worked with clients who, due to injuries or illnesses, could no longer do the kind of work they loved and so were facing retraining into new careers. Helping clients recognize links between what they loved about their past work, other things that interest them and the skills they have that are unrelated to their injuries can greatly improve confidence and help them come to terms with career change.

Self-exploration around the transferable skills clients use every day can also help with goal setting. I remember a client who claimed she had no skills because she had never held a paid job in 35 years. After doing some exercises to identify her skills, her attitude shifted and she could articulate unique skills she gained from her volunteer experiences. She uncovered career options in areas she enjoyed, using skills she already possessed, and was so successful that within a year she had won a performance award with her new company.

Values and beliefs

Perhaps the most important component of job maintenance is finding a career choice that supports or matches a clients’ core values. Simon Sinek (startwithwhy.com) says, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Jobseekers who can articulate why they are drawn to a certain kind of work or why they perform certain tasks will appeal to employers who understand and share those values. It is not easy to uncover why we do what we do; it often takes hard work, introspection and motivational questioning by career practitioners to help clients uncover their values. We can learn a lot from asking ourselves why we do things the way we do or why we choose to do the things we do. If a client’s job is to enter customer contact information into a database, ask “why do you do this?” “What benefit does this task bring to the company/to the customer/to your work load?” Clients who can articulate their “why” make the employer’s job of determining their “fit” much easier.

Connecting with labour-market needs

When I am talking to clients about their job search, there are two key messages I try to convey to them: first, don’t settle for a job that is a poor fit, and second, be open to new and unexpected opportunities.

Several of our workshops talk about “fit” – demonstrating how our skills and values match the job or the company, and how we as jobseekers can assess a company’s fit for us. A couple of years ago, I was working with a client on his resume for a butcher’s assistant job. His resume was very short, unfocused and lacked personality. When I began questioning him about what he enjoyed about meat cutting and why he was interested in the field, he confessed that he had no interest in it at all. He was feeling so desperate for work that he decided to apply to a job he thought others would find too disgusting to apply to. With further conversation and motivational questioning, it came out that he had worked summers painting houses with his uncle and loved the work. When we ended our meeting, this client had an entirely different career focus, a well-targeted and well-supported resume, and a new excitement about his job future.

Sometimes opportunities come from completely unpredictable sources. I facilitate a workshop about networking, where we offer clients strategies to more effectively reach out to their existing networks and to build strong professional networks. A recurring theme is “network with everyone”; you never know where a lead might come from. One client shared a story about when she was having an interview for a “survival job” at a coffee shop, and a patron stopped her on her way out to offer her a job with her husband’s company, which was a much better fit for both her experience and her interests. Another client was looking for a payroll position when she accepted an invitation to take dance lessons with a friend. After the class, the two women were chatting with the dance instructor and learned that they were getting ready for an upcoming festival and were looking for temporary help in marketing. My client had no direct experience in marketing but felt she had the technical skills to do the job. They spoke on several occasions and the dance company agreed to hire my client and train her in marketing. She had never considered this as a career choice but loved every minute of it.

Every client is unique, and only they can find their paths. As career practitioners, our goals are to help our clients know themselves better – to uncover their passions and talents. We can help them foster a positive attitude and excitement about exploring their career options. We can build their confidence, so they have the courage to explore new opportunities and find a “fit” for their values and interests to realize their career goals.

Lisa Noonan is a Workshop Facilitator with Job Junction, a Nova Scotia Works employment resource centre. She started in the career development field in 2010 and has worn a variety of “hats,” including Information Resource Specialist, Case Manager, and is now the Team Lead for job search workshops. Celebrating the success of her clients when they achieve their career goals and believing that she makes a difference in their lives are what motivates her.

READ MORE
three business women sitting beside tableCareering

Assisting adults with autism transition from post-secondary into the workplace

Many people who live on the autism spectrum are under- or unemployed, but with some support, this differently talented group can offer a lot to the workforce

By Sarah Taylor and Dr Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo

Autism Spectrum Disorder is commonly thought of as a childhood condition but in fact, ASD is a life-long neurological difference. Children will rarely lose the diagnosis as they get older, and an increasing number of individuals are being diagnosed as adults. Statistics from the U.S.-based Center for Disease Control in 2016 indicate that as many as one in 68 children were diagnosed, and statistical trends across various sources suggest that the number of individuals identified on the spectrum is growing considerably.

The diagnostic criteria according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) include persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by deficits in social-emotional reciprocity, non-verbal communicative behaviours used for social interaction, and in developing, maintaining and understanding relationships. Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that there is a wide degree of variation in the way it affects people, but they have a shared core of traits. The level of (dis)ability and the combination of traits varies tremendously from person to person. In fact, two people with the same diagnosis may have very different behaviours, abilities and life outcomes.

Providing support in post-secondary

Although the specific reasons for the increase in the prevalence of autism are unclear, it is incumbent on post-secondary institutions and the world of employment to learn ways to better engage and support this different but valuable talent pool. The 78% increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism between 2002-2008 (Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 2012) is now being observed by post-secondary accessibility staff. Many of those students are now entering higher education and require some level of accommodation to be academically successful.

As these examples suggest, students on the autism spectrum may have difficulty coping with the post-secondary environment, which may cause them to drift from one field of study to another, leading to frustration, anxiety, depression and dropping out (Dipeolu, Storlie, & Johnson, 2015). As such, these students can experience greater challenges in general with career planning and the school-to-work transition.

Barriers to entering the workforce

Recent American statistics indicate that 85% of people living on the autism spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. The study also found that only half (53%) of young adults with an ASD diagnosis had ever worked for pay outside the home in the first eight years following high school, representing the lowest employment rate among disability groups even when controlling for impairment severity, household income and social demographics (Howlin, 2013).

What are the workplace barriers that contribute to these concerning statistics? One issue is that autism is an invisible disability and people tend to be more compassionate and understanding about disabilities they can see. The increased emphasis on social versus technical skills, and finding the “right fit” for the team, in addition to the increased role of behavioural scenario questions in the interview process, can make it difficult for a prospective employee on the spectrum to present as a desirable candidate in an interview situation.

Once hired, there can be additional challenges with developing relationships and communicating effectively with colleagues.  Individuals living on the autism spectrum can have difficulty understanding language with multiple meanings, including humour, sarcasm, synonyms, idioms and metaphors. The desire for fixed schedules and routine can mean that employees on the spectrum may seem inflexible with changing work expectations and environments.

In spite of these challenges, employees on the spectrum offer many strengths to the workplace. They are reliable, dedicated employees who offer strengths in attention to detail, concentration, long-term memory, special interests and tolerance for repetitive tasks. They are attentive listeners who will follow the outlined protocol carefully, focus intently on the task, and are less likely to gossip or be caught up in office politics.

Easing the transition

So, how can we best help young adults on the spectrum successfully transition from post-secondary studies into the workplace? Briel and Getzel (2014) identify a number of best practices:

  • Provide information that is clear and precise – avoid using metaphors or jokes to communicate career-planning information.
  • Provide experiential learning opportunities related to the job search. For example, train jobseekers through role play how to demonstrate interest in a position through their body language and active listening, and how to become comfortable with being asked open-ended questions in an interview.
  • Assist with goal setting, problem-solving and decision-making. Help jobseekers address challenges such as disorganization, inability to multitask and literal-mindedness. Encourage them to look for a work environment where they can function well, rather than the “perfect” job.
  • Aid with time management and stress management. Expose them to situations in which time management, sustained effort and delayed gratification can be demonstrated and learned through discussion and role play. Stress-management strategies such as regular exercise, listening to relaxing music and reframing negative thoughts can be helpful to jobseekers on the spectrum.
  • Help prospective employees develop a disclosure plan or self-efficacy script to articulate functional limitations and areas of strength. Encourage students to thoroughly assess the situation during the interview process before deciding whether or not to disclose. Functional limitations can be the focus of disclosure, as the employer does not need to know a diagnosis.
  • Assist students with transition planning and skill development as soon as possible to appropriately prepare high-school students for post-secondary life and beyond, with parental involvement (Dymond, Meadan, & Pickens, 2017).
  • Help them understand accommodations they could request in the post-secondary and/or work environment (e.g., periodic breaks, alternatives to open cubicles, limited exposure to ringing phones and soft lighting) to reduce sensory overload (Dipeolu et al., 2015).

While there are challenges involved and resources required to support people who live on the autism spectrum to be successful in post-secondary studies and in the transition to employment, we reiterate that there are tremendous benefits to engaging this increasingly prominent and differently talented group of students and workers.

Sarah Taylor began her career in autism treatment in 1996. Her many years of experience in assessment, consultation and advocacy help provide a framework for curriculum/project development and sensitivity training for employers.

Dr Anna-Lisa Ciccocioppo is a Registered Psychologist and Counsellor at the University of Calgary. She focuses much of her research and practice on the career development of post-secondary students.

References

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network (ADDMN) (2012). Prevalence of autism spectrum disorders— autism and developmental disabilities monitoring network, 14 sites, United States, 2008. MMWR Surveillance Summaries, 61(3), 1–19.

Briel, L. W., & Getzel, E. E. (2014). In their own words: The career planning experiences of college students with ASD. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 40, 195-202.

Center for Disease Control. (2016). CDC Estimates 1in 68 school-aged children have autism; no change from previous estimate [Press release]. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0331-children-autism.html

Dipeolu, A. O., Storlie, S., & Johnson, C. (2015). College students with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder: Best practices for successful transition to the world of work. Journal of College Counseling, 18, 175-190.

Dymond, S. K., Meadan, H., & Pickens, J. L. (2017). Postsecondary education and students with autism spectrum disorders: Experiences of parents and university personnel. Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities, 29,  809-825.

Howlin, P. (2013). Social disadvantage and exclusion: Adults with autism lag far behind in employment prospects. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 52 (9), 897–899.

READ MORE
Careering

Well-being-based career practices and interventions for preventing and treating mental illness

Career development practitioners should take a holistic approach, supporting their clients’ mental health while helping them navigate career planning

By Derrick McEachern

Career planning is a mental-health intervention and a well-being practice. What people do each day shapes who they are and how they feel about their daily lives.

People who are disengaged from their work, unemployed, undergoing a work transition or ambivalent about their career path may struggle to varying degrees with stress, uncertainty, low self-worth, anxiety and, in many cases, depression. However, government programs traditionally focus solely on employment: helping people find work using their current skills or retraining them in specifically targeted fields with a high probability of employment.

Well-being and mental-health research (Walsh, 2011) suggest a more holistic approach is necessary. There is a need for more comprehensive services that account for employees’ lifestyle factors and support employee engagement and retention while also addressing mental-health problems.

Well-being and mental health

In their book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, Tom Rath and Jim Harter document research conducted across 155 countries that suggests five interconnected elements are predictive of overall well-being.

  • Career well-being: liking and finding purpose in what we do each day
  • Social well-being: having positive, supportive relationships
  • Physical well-being: having good physical health and energy
  • Financial well-being: having financial stability and security
  • Community well-being: taking pride in, and contributing to, our communities

Well-being goes beyond happiness. According to Gallup, people with high well-being in these five areas have the resources to meet and manage the challenges of everyday life.

Research from other organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, no date) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, 2016) emphasizes the importance of comprehensive and holistic approaches to improving individual and community well-being.

Although Canadians in general score high in well-being, some worrying trends have been identified by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (Canadian Index of Wellbeing, 2016). Since 2008, Canadians on average are spending:

  • ⅓ less time on vacation
  • 16% less time volunteering
  • 30% less time with friends
  • 15% less money on culture and recreation

In his book Lost Connections, Johann Hari documents research from social scientists around the world challenging the prevailing wisdom that depression and anxiety are the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. This research provides a new window into the rise and prevalence of mental illness as a result of disconnections in people’s lives from:

  • meaningful work
  • other people
  • meaningful values
  • childhood trauma
  • status and respect
  • the natural world
  • a hopeful and secure future

Such research may begin to explain the prevalence of mental-health issues – one in five Canadians in any given year experiences a mental-health or addiction problem (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). It also supports a more comprehensive approach to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness.

The relationship between well-being, mental health and career development

Career service providers work at the cross-section of where work, well-being and mental health meet. Therefore, they should be skilled at recognizing and supporting client well-being and mental health while helping clients navigate the career-planning and employment process.

The following example illustrates this complexity:

Toniesha is 28 years old and has been working full-time at a grocery store for the past eight years. She is currently going through a divorce and is struggling financially. She has two children ages 4 and 7. Concerned she cannot provide for her children’s needs on her current income, she is considering moving to a small apartment in a more affordable but less safe community. With only a high-school education, she fears finding more reliable work with a significantly better income isn’t promising. She says, “I know it’s the middle of August, but I am thinking about going back to school and I’m looking for help. I can’t afford to make a colossal mistake.”  

Given Toniesha’s personal and financial situation, the pressure she is under, and the short timeline she has to make a decision, choosing an unsuitable career path is a real risk.

The above case is not a unique one faced by guidance counsellors, post-secondary counsellors, employment advisors and other career practitioners. Companies and organizations also encounter employees like Toniesha who are suffering, disconnected, unable to make ends meet financially, or longing for more meaning in their life or work.

Career well-being as a mental-health practice

Career well-being occurs when a person’s life and work are aligned with their mental-health needs. They like what they do, are highly engaged in their work, have a feeling they belong and are making contributions through their work.

Reversing our trends in mental health and increasing individual well-being require greater understanding of what makes people thrive, as well as the causes of mental illness. It requires greater compassion and a more holistic approach in government-funded programs, companies and organizations, schools, colleges and universities. We all have a part to play in facilitating career planning, employee well-being and improved mental health.

Government-funded programs could:

  • Provide well-being-based career-exploration and planning services for employees in low-paying jobs with little long-term security to retrain and advance their careers
  • Ensure people who are unemployed have access to career counsellors and practitioners who are trained in well-being-informed career services and interventions as an integral part of the career development process

Employers could:

  • Implement employee success planning that incorporates well-being and career planning into their annual reviews
  • Ensure access to employee assistance program (EAP) services that offer well-being-based career counselling, interventions and planning

Schools, colleges and universities could:

  • Provide well-being-based career planning for high-school students to help them envision and identify their career and well-being needs
  • Provide comprehensive career-development services for prospective students, helping them make informed, well-being-based life and work decisions
  • Train counsellors and advisors in assessing and improving student well-being by identifying areas of disconnection as risk factors for mental illness

Career counsellors could:

  • Include assessment of five interconnected elements of well-being as a central part of career counselling services
  • Incorporate well-being-based career interventions that support behavioural and lifestyle changes to sustain long-term well-being and mental health

Preventing mental-health problems and supporting people who are living with them requires institutions and individuals to take a more proactive and compassionate approach.

It is important that we remember that employment isn’t enough. Organizations need healthy, productive, engaged employees. People need work and lives where they can make meaningful contributions and have a hopeful, secure future.

Well-being-based workplace practices and career interventions can improve mental health, sustainable employment, an organization’s productivity and, ultimately, the economy.

Derrick McEachern is a Registered Counselling Therapist (RCT) in Nova Scotia, and Canadian Certified Counsellor (CCC). He has worked as a Therapist and Career Counsellor in post-secondary student services for 12 years and is the owner of Five Star Wellbeing Counselling and Coaching. fivestarwellbeing.com

References

Canadian Index of Wellbeing. (2016). How are Canadians really doing? Retrieved from https://uwaterloo.ca/canadian-index-wellbeing/sites/ca.canadian-index-wellbeing/files/uploads/files/c011676-nationalreport-ciw_final-s_0.pdf

Center for Addiction and Mental Health. (n.d.). Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics

Centres for Disease Control. (2016, May 31). Well-Being Concepts | HRQOL | CDC. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm

Hari, J. O. (2019). LOST CONNECTIONS: Uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solutions. S.l., NY: BLOOMSBURY.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (n.d.). Measuring Well-being and Progress: Well-being Research – OECD. Retrieved from http://www.oecd.org/statistics/measuring-well-being-and-progress.htm

Rath, T., & Harter, J. K. (2014). Wellbeing: The five essential elements. New York, NY: Gallup Press.

Walsh, R. (2011, October). Lifestyle and mental health. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/amp-66-7-579.pdf

World Health Organization. (2018, March 30). Mental health: strengthening our response. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

READ MORE
Careering

Case Study: Building confidence to tackle a mid-life career transition

In this recurring Careering feature, a career professional shares their real-life solution to a common problem in the field.
Identifying skills and successes to help illuminate a new, meaningful career path

By Teresa Francis

Change has been a recurring theme in my own career journey, so it is perhaps fitting that adult career transition became a focus of my work. Successful navigation of this significant event often requires revisiting personal identity as clients learn to see themselves in new ways. This case study tells the story of Stefan, a stage actor seeking career change. For Stefan, reflecting on the career he was leaving was an important step in preparing to reframe his skill set and open himself to new opportunities.

Stefan’s story 

“I’m desperate,” Stefan said as he walked through the door. The look in his eyes confirmed his words. “I need to leave my career,” he stated, his voice thick with emotion, “and I have no idea what else I can do.”

Stefan was a stage actor with an extensive portfolio. For 30 years, he had performed in, produced and directed shows across the country. As he shared a little of his story with me, I realized who he was – a well-known and well-loved personality in local theatre. I noticed my own resistance to his desire for a career change. “What a loss that would be,” I thought.

Stefan loved his work and had given it his all. But the theatre world was changing, and he no longer felt a part of it. Although acting had defined him, the years of performing had taken a toll. He was exhausted, disillusioned and sad. He was also terrified, feeling as though he’d lost his identity, and wondering, as a 55-year-old man, what he had to offer.

Stefan didn’t know what skills he possessed or how he might apply them in another field of work, but he did express a desire for a job with greater stability and more structure – something 9 to 5ish. He wasn’t ready to (or in a position to) retire and felt that he had more to give; he just didn’t know what that was.

Developing a career narrative

As we began our work together, we explored Stefan’s background. His acting CV was extensive and he had directed more than 50 shows. He had led a theatre company, with responsibility for programming, scheduling, hiring and budgeting as well as for building and maintaining community relationships.

Reflecting on his experiences through writing a career narrative was therapeutic for Stefan. This career change was his decision, but he felt a great sense of loss at leaving his life’s work. Revisiting performances, productions, accolades and challenges helped Stefan to acknowledge the achievements and contributions of his career. It allowed him to appreciate and honour where he’d been. At the same time, “it also confirmed that I was ready to move on.”

Stefan’s career narrative served another important purpose: It provided a jumping off point for conversations about Stefan’s career highs and lows, his proudest moments, problems he solved and experiences he might not have otherwise mentioned. For example, for many years he had volunteered as the producer of a local high school musical, working with students, staff, parents, administrators and the public. Because this role was voluntary, he hadn’t considered it a source of demonstrated skills.

From these conversations and other exercises he completed, we began to identify Stefan’s transferable skills (easy!) and name them (more challenging!). Gradually, Stefan began to own them (very challenging!). He recognized himself as an actor, director and producer, but did he believe he had leadership skills? As he worked to find terms to describe his abilities to potential new employers, Stefan periodically stepped away to reflect, integrating this new perspective into his view of himself.

New awareness, new opportunities

When Stefan began to craft a new resume around his skills, I saw a change in him. He had a new awareness of his strengths in managing people and resources, his strong work ethic and his commitment to excellence.  As his confidence grew, an interest in a career in arts administration emerged. Stefan tested out his ideas with trusted colleagues and friends, and the positive feedback he received encouraged him.

“When Stefan began to craft a new resume around his skills, I saw a change in him.”

What happened next illustrates key points of one of my favourite career development theories: John Krumboltz’s Planned Happenstance. Krumboltz’s theory encourages us to remain open-minded in our planning and preparations, ready to embrace opportunity when it presents itself.   Stefan had identified a number of steps toward his new career goal, including further education (he felt his lack of a completed degree was a barrier). As an interim step, he applied for a temporary, part-time role with a local arts organization. He sent off his new resume and got an email back: “Did you know we are looking for an Executive Director?” The rest, as they say, is history.

Several years later, Stefan inhabits his role with confidence, enthusiasm and grace. In many ways, he seems like a different person from the one I first met. In a simple statement, he sums up what the career development process meant to him: Without it, “I could not have seen myself in that way.”

Working with Stefan brought me valuable insights. Among them:

  1. No matter how successful we are, career change can be terrifying. Any of us can lose confidence, regardless of how skilled others tell us we are.
  2. Transition takes time and may be different for each of us. Naming our skills is only half the battle – integrating them into how we see ourselves can take much longer.
  3. Even when we have moved on, the journey isn’t over. Stefan’s transition continued as he accepted, began and learned his new role.
  4. Seizing the moment takes courage. Stefan wasn’t at all certain that he was ready to be an E.D. when the opportunity presented itself, but a new-found courage and belief in himself helped him make the leap.

Teresa Francis, MEd, CCC, RCT, is a career counsellor and a consultant in Career Development and Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR). She draws upon tools and strategies from both areas in the services she offers through her company, Teresa Francis Consulting. 

READ MORE