Career competencies and skills translation: Helping students prepare for the future of work

Brock University project aims to help students leverage post-secondary experiences in labour market

Laura Fyfe

Research suggests that new university graduates possess the fundamental skills and competencies necessary for success in the job market; however, they often struggle to articulate to potential employers exactly how their post-secondary education teaches them these skills. This disconnect creates a perceived skills gap between the emerging workforce and labour market expectations.

Recognizing the increasing demand for post-secondary institutions to prepare our students for the “future of work,” Brock University’s Co-op, Career & Experiential Education department (CCEE) launched the Competencies and Skills Translation Project in 2018, with the support of the Government of Ontario’S Career Ready Fund. The initial goal of the project was to help students translate their experiences, knowledge, skills and attributes into language used and understood in the workforce/labour market. Three years in, Brock has become an innovative leader in the post-secondary space through the collaborative development and campus-wide integration of the Brock Career Competencies.

Finding a common language

When devising the scope of the Competencies and Skills Translation Project, we decided not to adopt one of the many existing competency frameworks designed for higher education. We felt that these frameworks, while instrumental in our research, did not address what became our guiding question: What makes a Brock student unique? And, by extension, how can we help our students navigate their career journey by leveraging their experiences as opportunities for competency development and reflection?

To answer this question, we focused on the goal of creating a common language around skills and competencies. We wanted to find opportunities to embed competency learning across the student experience and develop ways for students to effectively assess and articulate their level of competency. It was important to the Co-op, Career & Experiential Education department to align our framework with students’ curricular and co-curricular experiences, acknowledging key learning moments from across the student lifecycle.

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Once our goals and scope were established, our next step was to gain a greater understanding of the changing landscape of the Canadian workplace. We did this by conducting a scan of work on skills and competencies in higher education and industry. Our review included research from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, the National Association of Colleges and Employers and the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, along with the ground-breaking work of University of Victoria’s Co-operative Education Program & Career Services.

Consultation and collaboration

Cross-campus collaboration was central to this project from the beginning. We needed to understand the various touchpoints, experiences and learning opportunities that our students have with departments and faculties across campus, as well as how our campus partners support students. 

We accomplished this by forming the Brock Competencies Advisory Committee, which comprised members from all faculties and departments. The purpose of the committee was to review the project goals and research, and to work collaboratively to develop a common language around skills and competencies. The group, led by CCEE, made meaningful connections between best practices highlighted in external research and the Brock student experience, resulting in the first draft of the Brock Competencies.

We deliberately wrote the Brock Competencies using active language (i.e. Apply Knowledge rather than Applying Knowledge). We believe this shifts competency development and skills translation from a theoretical concept to a practical and ongoing part of the career journey. Our framework was designed to reflect the Brock student experience, and nothing speaks to this more than our decision to adopt Surgite! (Latin for “Push on”), the last words of General Sir Isaac Brock – and the university’s motto – as one of our competencies. Surgite! is emblematic of both the resilience of our students and the active language of our 10 competencies.

Brock Competencies

  • Apply Knowledge
  • Think Critically
  • Act Innovatively
  • Communicate Effectively
  • Surgite!
  • Know Yourself
  • Collaborate Effectively
  • Be Curious
  • Engage with Your Community
  • Practice Intercultural Fluency
Student voices

We knew that we could not advance with our competency framework in isolation from the population we were aiming to serve; we needed to invite our students to the table. We reached across campus to form small focus groups to understand how our students perceived and interpreted the draft competencies, and the connections they made to their own learning experiences and career readiness.

We asked students to assess how relevant the competencies were to their experiences. We then asked them to indicate how relevant they believed the competencies would be in their post-graduation career path. Our findings mirrored our research: students believed that the career-readiness competencies are of limited importance to their student life, but of significant importance once they graduate. How, then, could we introduce students to these concepts early, often and impactfully to prepare them for success post-graduation?

To understand how our competencies aligned to the student experience, we asked students to describe key learning moments where they demonstrated or strengthened one of the 10 competencies. When given simple reflective prompts, students were immediately able to draw clear connections between experiences and their skill and competency development. “This makes me realize that I think critically far more often than I thought I did,” one fourth-year student remarked. When asked to reframe their thinking, students were able to effectively translate their competencies into a career mindset.

Student outcomes

Bolstered by student feedback, we brought our findings to the Advisory Committee and began the final revision and approval process.

In 2019, we began the process of integrating the Brock Competencies into all CCEE programming. Our competencies have become an integral part of Brock’s career curriculum, appearing in workshop content and in-class presentations, online career resources and co-curricular programming. At every career touchpoint, our students are introduced to the concept of skills translation and provided opportunities to further understand, develop and strengthen their career-readiness competencies. When asked what motivated them to begin their job search, one Brock student cited the competencies, saying, “Reviewing the competencies every single week got me more and more confidence in myself. And now I know I am ready to take the next step of my job search.” Our framework is introduced to our co-op students early and often, from first-year orientation programming to the conclusion of their final work term.

What makes a Brock student unique?

Our students have access to a unique array of academic pathways and experiential opportunities. The Brock Competencies and Skills Translation Project has created a framework for students to leverage these experiences as opportunities for development and reflection. A next step for our project is to further strengthen the connection between a student’s academic experience and their career development using the Brock Competencies as a common language. Work has begun on the development of faculty-specific competencies in alignment with the original 10. Our framework helps students understand and articulate how their Brock education – and their combination of knowledge, skills and attributes – has set them apart and prepared them for success navigating their career journey.

Laura Fyfe is a career professional with a background in labour market research and a passion for lifelong learning. As Skills Translation Co-ordinator in the department of Co-op, Career & Experiential Education at Brock University, Fyfe facilitates meaningful connections between skills, education and the ever-evolving labour market. Fyfe has been at the forefront of developing Brock’s campus-wide career competencies framework.


University of Victoria Co-operative Education Program & Career Services. (2018, November 28). 10 Core Competencies.

National Association of Colleges and Employers. Career Readiness Defined. (2018, November 28).

Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education. (2015). CAS learning and development outcomes. In J.B. Wells (Ed.), CAS professional standards for higher education (9th ed.). Washington, DC.

Lennon, M.C., Frank, B., Humphreys, J., Lenton, R., Madsen, K., Omri, A., & Turner, R. (2014). Tuning: identifying and measuring sector-based learning outcomes in postsecondary education. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

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How career exploration affects admission and scholarship success

When students develop strong self-knowledge, they can craft personal statements that will help them reach their goals

Janet MacDonald

author headshotMeaningful career exploration activities are important for many reasons, but do you know they can affect students’ success with post-secondary admission and scholarships?

Career exploration is often linked to admission and scholarships through a personal statement. Personal statements are not required by all universities and scholarships, but they are used more each year. Programs that are highly competitive often use personal statements to evaluate students in a more holistic way. In scholarship applications, personal statements help the funder get to know the applicant’s future plans and to evaluate their suitability for the award.

What is a personal statement?

Personal statements go by different names and they vary in their requirements. For example, for admission to most programs at the University of British Columbia, students must complete a Personal Profile. At the University of Waterloo, an Admission Information Form (AIF) is required only for some highly competitive programs.

The admissions or scholarship personal statement asks students to address different topics, but one of the more common kinds of questions is the “future plans” question. This question often requires the applicant to discuss their plans for university and/or their career choice, and their suitability for it.

For example:

  • The Waterloo AIF asks students to: “Please tell us about your education goals, your interest in your chosen program(s) and your reasons for applying to the University of Waterloo.”
  • Ryerson University Media Studies asks applicants to:Provide a personal statement as to why you have chosen Media Production and explain what you have done that demonstrates why you are a good candidate for this program. Please include your areas of interest and where you see yourself working after graduating from the Media Production program.”
  • The Zonta International “Young Women in Public Affairs Award” says, “Please describe … your anticipated course of study and current career interests.”

Over the past few years, I’ve seen an increase in the number of post-secondary institutions and scholarship funders that ask “future plans” questions, and I predict this practice will only increase. It’s more important than ever for high school students to learn how to gather meaningful career-related information and how do the important work of learning about themselves – their interests, skills, values, qualities and motivations.

Of course, in addition to gaining admission to their chosen program, and perhaps some free funding, meaningful career exploration in high school has the added benefit of improving students’ selection of program/career, which sets them up for greater success in their education and career path.

Female Student Talking To High School Counsellor
How students can gather information to answer ‘future plans’ questions

Many of the future plans questions require the student to demonstrate “fit.”  The student should know about their chosen program and/or career area, and they should know about themselves, and then they must demonstrate how the two fit together. They need to do quality research on their program choice and/or career area and meaningful self-reflection on their experiences, and pull out what they learned about themselves. Students should be challenged to move past the standard, “I want to be a doctor because I’m good at science and I like helping people.” They must be more specific.

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Making career development ‘stick’ in K-12

Students can gather career-related information online from websites like WorkBC and from school-based platforms such as myBlueprint.  However, to find specific information that will demonstrate interest and fit, here are some additional suggestions:

a) Do informational interviews. One of the best ways for students to gather relevant, recent, quality information is to do at least one informational interview with people in the career area they are considering. This activity has the added benefit of demonstrating initiative and genuine interest in the field, which could help the student gain admission or win the award.

b) Do self-reflection quizzes. For self-reflection, students can do free career quizzes like 16 Personalities and focus their attention not on the career matches, but rather on the descriptions of their interests, skills and values. They should ask themselves and others, “Is this information an accurate reflection of who I am?”

c) Go deeper on university websites. Students should look deeper on the university websites for program-specific information. For example, they can review course descriptions, read about student experiences like co-op work terms and student societies, examine the different kinds of research professors are involved in and read alumni stories to discover what kinds of careers they hold. Suggest students choose something that resonates with them and discuss their interest in it.

More thoughtful choices, more success

Although developing a personal statement requires more work from the student, and it adds another layer of complexity to the admission and scholarship process, there is a silver lining. It “forces” students to do proper research on their chosen path, to truly reflect on why they chose it and to think about the steps they’ll take to reach their goal. When done properly, it teaches young people how to find relevant career information, how to self-reflect to gather self-knowledge and how to align the two.

While we know high school students are young and plans can change, “future plans” questions help students to stop, to reflect, and to make more thoughtful and informed choices for the next important step in their lives.

Janet MacDonald is a former university admissions officer. Now, with her business mycampusGPS, she helps high school students to prepare for university.  Her main service is helping students find and apply for scholarships. Please connect with MacDonald on LinkedIn

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Editor’s note

author headshotWhen I was 5, if you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said an artist. By middle school, I had my eye on a career as a veterinarian. Back then – and through university – I thought of my career options in job titles. While I didn’t expect to do the same thing my entire life, I thought my initial choice would carry a lot of weight and determine which doors were open to me.

After several years of being immersed in the career development world, I can see how short-sighted this was. People pivot in their careers constantly, by choice and by necessity. Skills matter more than titles – and the skill of being able to continuously evolve may be the most important one. It’s both a freeing and an intimidating idea.

The Brookfield Institute’s 2021 report Yesterday’s Gone, which highlights trends expected to affect employment in Canada, captures this tension. Change will bring challenge – but also opportunity. The report authors state, “It is critical to understand the breadth of potential changes ahead so we can better prepare workers for the future of Canada’s labour market.”

This digital-exclusive issue of Careering, on the theme of “Career Pivots,” comes at a time when the workforce is navigating immense shifts. Articles explore the impact of COVID on a Grade 12 student’s career plans and on Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s class of 2020, as well as the experiences of entrepreneurs suddenly thrust into job search.

The broader takeaway, however, is a reassuring one: with the support of career education and career professionals, Canadians can develop the skills to thrive amid change. Careering authors examine theories that support client engagement and the development of a change-ready mindset; they offer strategies for employee career conversations, dealing with employment gaps and supporting lifelong learning; they present effective K-12 career exploration approaches, and much more.

How have you supported students, employees and clients in pivoting over the past year? Are you taking steps to futureproof your own career? We want to hear your Career Pivot stories and strategies! Tag us on Twitter or LinkedIn, or use #Careering to share your stories.

Keep calm, and pivot on.

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Career development as a social justice imperative

These questions for career professionals call for intentional action to address anti-Black racism 

Tracey Lloyd  

author headshotWe are living through unsettling times. Almost a year into the pandemic and on the heels of disturbing incidents of racial strife and injustice, many of us find ourselves reflecting deeply on what this all means for our personal and professional lives. Both the novel coronavirus and the Black Lives Matter movement have converged as daunting influences on our wellbeing and caused us to grapple with uncertainty 

Career development professionals have traditionally supported their clients in navigating periods of ambiguity and anxiety, whether it be a transition from school to work, job loss, career change or upskilling. Some work with those from underrepresented groups already displaced and disadvantaged in the labour market. The pandemic is deepening the social and economic divide, causing career professionals to feel challenged in their capacity to instill hope and be of service to their clients.   

Many organizations have responded to public pressure to address anti-Black racism. While institutions have a responsibility to develop inclusive policies and practices to enhance the lives of marginalized groups, career development professionals also have an important role in facilitating meaningful career and employment opportunities for their clients. Whatever position you hold in the field, I invite you to consider some questions that call for deeper awareness, intentional action and personal accountability. I will share some reflections on the root causes and systemic factors that limit career success for Black people, the impact of recent world events and social justice movements on career conversations, and the critical role of advocacy and employer engagement. 

Understand the context 

Hirschi (2012) describes four capabilities necessary for career success:  

  • Identity resourcesA person’s aspirations and sense of themselves in relation to work; 
  • Human capital: Acquired knowledge and skills;  
  • Social resources: Personal relationships and professional connections; and 
  • Psychological resources: Levels of optimism, hope and resilience.  

Anti-Black racism affects the development of these capacities for many of our clients. Numerous studies have documented the impact of racism and the disparity in educational, employment and health outcomes for diverse Black communities in Canada (Environics Institute, 2017, 2019; Maynard, 2018; Government of Canada, 2020). The Black experience continues to be affected by systems of oppression rooted in colonialism and white supremacy.  

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In applying Hirschi’s four career resources in my own workI consider the Black experience in the educational system, which is shaped by low teacher expectations, academic streaming, disproportionately higher suspension, expulsion and drop-out rates. Lack of representation in the curriculum and the classroom affect career identity. I am also mindful of the impact of the socio-political climate and media images of the Black community on a person’s perception of self, feelings of belonging, hope and overall psychological wellbeing. As Hooley (2020) asserts, Our careers are not just an expression of our psychology or personal will; they are embedded in social structures.”  

Career conversations with your Black clients must be grounded in an appreciation of thhistory and context affecting their career outcomesIt also requires an understanding of positionality – in other words, one’s identity, social location and worldview. How does your own positionality and privilege influence your work as career development professional? How does this understanding of history and the Black experience show up in your practice? How comfortable are you engaging clients in conversations about their fears of discrimination?   

Challenge the system 

McMahon, Arthur and Collins (2008) remind us of the historical relationship between career development practice and social justice reformThe authors call upon professionals to examine the social, economic and political contexts of their work. We are encouraged to balance our attention on the individual with a more critical assessment of the systems that determine access, status and career outcomes. Hooley (2020) advances that sometimes clients are helped by individual supports, other times by system change, but more often by both at the same time. How might your approach to career guidance be endorsing standards of the dominant culture and what is the message conveyed to your clients?   

“How does your own positionality and privilege influence your work as career development professional?”

In order to ensure representation and foster a sense of belonging for Black clients, consider the composition of your team, career events, and the images and language that are more prevalent in your promotional and learning materials. What names do you typically use on resume samples? What faces are reflected in program brochures and PowerPoint presentations? If clients are part of your servicedelivery model, are Black student leaders or peer helpers engagedDo you involve Black professionals, industry experts and alumni in career eventsI encourage facilitators of these sessions to pose equityrelated questions to guest speakers, because some of your Black clients may be uncomfortable raising their concerns.  

Employer engagement is also a critical component of our work and allows us to address systemic bias in recruitment and retentionCareer services need to rethink their approach to employer relations by asking questions such as: How do you assess an employer’s commitment to anti-oppressive practice? How do you respond to employers that discriminate? What resources can we develop to support clients in assessing a prospective employer’s commitment to anti-Black racism? 

Career services should also collect race-based data and engage in regular evaluation to assess the effectiveness of programmingEvaluation data will reveal who is participating, the quality of the experience and the outcomes for Black clientsSome important metrics to guide data collection are:  

  • The rate at which Black clients are securing jobs and placements compared to other groups  
  • The types of opportunities they are securing and their experience on placement  
  • The quality of supervision  

Refusal to collect and reflect critically on race-based data upholds systemic racism. Challenging the system means that we continually question the structures we work within, interact with and promote as career development professionals.   

Cultivate strengths 

The career conversation is inherently relational and aimed at unearthing the strengths of the client. Belief in oneself is linked to success. In maintaining positive regard for the client, the career development professional helps to strengthen this belief and conveys what Amundson (2018) refers to as “mattering” to the client 

Challenging our own assumptions and again being mindful of our own positionality and unconscious bias will allow us to move toward more meaningful career development interventions at both the individual and systems level. As a result, the client’s career aspirations and sense of possibilities will naturally expand. A social justice orientation in our work drives us to facilitate professional connections, quality work experiences, valuable mentorship and enlist supervisors as champions to ensure that members of marginalized groups can be successful. This is particularly important for Black clients, who are often the minority in many work environments.  

Continue the conversation 

Career development is a social justice imperative. I close with Hooley’s (2020) five signposts: build critical consciousness, name oppression, question what is normal, encourage people to work together and work at a range of levels. For me, this continues to be a reflective exercise and learning journey in considering my work and leadership in the field.  

Although what I have shared is also relevant to other marginalized groups, I elected to focus on the Black experience to ensure that it is not lost in the larger equity, diversity and inclusion conversation. Within current frameworks, Black clients and students remain at a disadvantage. My hope is that the questions posed throughout encourage a critical view of our practice and highlight our role as career professionals in elevating the career conversation and enhancing career outcomes for diverse Black communities.  

Tracey Lloyd is the Director of Career Services and Co-operative Education at Centennial College, located in Toronto. Prior to joining Centennial, Lloyd was the Director of Employment Programs at Tropicana Community Services. She also taught in the Career and Work Counselling program at George Brown College. Lloyd holds a PhD in Adult Education from OISE/ University of Toronto. 


Amundson, N.E. (2018). Active Engagement: The being and doing of career counselling, anniversary edition. Richmond, B.C: Ergon Communications. 

Environics Institute (2017). The Black Experience Project in the GTA. Toronto, Ontario.—1-overview-report.pdf?sfvrsn=553ba3_2 

Environics Institute and Canadian Race Relations Foundation. (2019). Race Relations in Canada: A survey of Canadian public opinion and experience. Toronto, Ontario. 

Government of Canada. (2020). Social Determinants and Inequities in Health for Black Canadians: A snapshot. Ottawa, Ontario. 

Hirschi, A. (2012). The Career Resources Model: An integrative framework for career counsellors. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, Vol. 40(4), 369-383. 

Hooley, T. (2020, January 26th). Career Development and Social Justice: Developing emancipatory practice. Cannexus 2020 Conference, Ottawa, Ontario. 

Maynard, R. (2018). Policing Black Lives: State violence in Canada from slavery to present. Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Publishing. 

McMahon, M., Arthur, N., & Collins, S. (2008). Social Justice and Career Development: Views and experiences of Australian career development practitioners. Australian Journal of Career Development, 17(3), 15-25. 

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Applying universal design as a pathway to inclusive career education

New Brunswick’s Future Ready Learning K-12 strategy aims to meet needs of all learners 

Tricia Berry  

There is a sense of urgency as we face the educational, societal and financial uncertainty resulting from a global pandemic. Additionally, a focus on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion have ignited important conversations. As a Learning Specialist for Universal Design for Career Education for the New Brunswick government, I believe it is more important than ever to continue implementing a universally designed career education strategy for K-12. This is a pathway to meeting the needs of all learners.  

It has long been predicted that our young people would face a future unlike anything we have experienced. However, we were unprepared for labour market disruption to happen so rapidly, and because of COVID-19. Regardless, great change is upon us and will only continue to gain speed and momentum. If we do not focus on universally designing career education in K-12, many young people – especially our most marginalized – will struggle to access the associated educational, societal and financial benefits. Therefore, we must consider diversity, equity and inclusion in our design and delivery of career education.  

Universal design for career education  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework based in cognitive neuroscience that allows educators to design learning experiences that work across a wide spectrum of learners. This is accomplished by simultaneously providing rich supports for learning and reducing barriers to the curriculum, while maintaining high achievement standards for all students. UDL allows educators to anticipate learner variability and provide every student with equal opportunities to learn (  

If we do not focus on universally designing career education in K-12, many young people – especially our most marginalized – will struggle to access the associated educational, societal and financial benefits.”

Universal design for career education is designing career development experiences to meet the needs of all learners. Using the CAST UDL Guidelines tool, the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (EECD)’s Future Ready Learning K-12 strategy was designed and is being delivered using multiple means of engagement, expression and representation. Using UDL allows us to address systemic barriers that result in inequitable access to career education. This is a means to social justice.  

Developing an equitable career education strategy  

Using UDL principles, Future Ready Learning K-12 was developed in consultation with all those it represents. The government prioritized the inclusion of diverse perspectives in identifying the best practices that prepare young people for success today and into the future. We conducted student and educator focus groups province-wide to ask what they felt was needed to prepare for the future. We also formed consultative partnerships with organizations representing students with disabilities, the LGBTQ2+ population, newcomers to New Brunswick and Indigenous students. This input informed our career education strategy, including the identification of our future-ready learning best practices. These practices are not subject-specific, allowing them to be universally and intentionally integrated across the curriculum.  

Wide Angle View Of High School Students Sitting At Desks In Classroom Using Laptops
All educators can be career influencers. (iStock)

Delivering career development across the curriculum K-12 creates equitable access to career education. Adriano Magnifico’s article “Making Career Development ‘Stick’ in K-12” (2020) does a remarkable job outlining the steps needed to sell, prioritize, plan and scale career development programming in K-12 schools. Inclusive and equitable career education requires the use of future-ready learning best practices starting in kindergarten and continuing throughout all grades and subjects.  

Traditionally, career education has been the responsibility of a few and takes place only within designated classes, which limits access. We are working diligently at changing the narrative surrounding the idea of career development. We are helping educators to see career education as the development of students’ skills, strategies, supports and resilience needed to successfully transition and pursue their preferred futures. When framed in this way, all educators, regardless of grade or subject, become career influencers.  

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Examples of New Brunswick’s universal design for career education  

New Brunswick has many new initiatives to help ensure career development is reaching all learners, from professional learning for educators to experiential learning at the middle school level. Here are a few examples of universal design for career education 

Train the trainer: Educators need career development training to be able to offer career education to all students (Councils of Ministers of Education, Canada). EECD has developed a series of professional learning modules for educators that include various instructional strategies and ideas for engaging, expressing and representing career learning. Educators develop a “toolkit” that provides the resources and ideas for offering universal career education. Further, educators are provided with an online course called Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms that will increase their proficiency in working with newcomers and English Language Learners.  

The early years: In elementary schools, educators were given the opportunity to select from a list of curated, free classroom books for facilitating children’s exploration of occupations while also considering the social-emotional competencies needed to prepare for the future. Based on the chapter “Children’s Reasoning about Career Development: The Conceptions of Career Choice and Attainment Model” (K. Howard & S. Dinius) in CERIC’s 2019 publication, Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice (, educators were encouraged to incorporate UDL and storybooks to help students understand occupations and careers. Each educator applied the UDL principles to meet the needs of their learners. Multiple means of expression included reading aloud independently, with reading buddies or using audio recordings. Educators engaged students through independent work, small and whole group experiences, and with the use of assistive technology. Most importantly, the students had choice in how they would represent their knowledge. To support the use of UDL, the educators were provided with a UDL Checklist and a UDL Lesson Plan Template to ensure all learners were considered in the development of the career learning associated with the books/lessons.  

Middle school experiential learning: The New Brunswick Investigate! Invent! Innovate! (I3) Careers pilot, developed with The Learning Partnership, was used across the middle school curriculum and entire classes were able to participate. In this model of experiential learning, students focus on solving a real-world challenge and then work backward to discover more about the careers and skills related to their areas of interest, rather than job titles. Using UDL principles, educators were able to provide multiple means of representation such as online research, informational interviews with community members and/or guest speakers. Further, students were engaged through co-operative learning, station learning, independent work or the use of technology. Finally, expression of learning included the use of digital portfolios and/or poster presentations.  

Considering culture: Recognizing that we have students and families who may have difficulty accessing information due to language barriers, we have been working with local immigrant-serving agencies to have provincial Education Support Services materials translated into the 14 most common languages spoken in New Brunswick (including two Indigenous languages and American Sign Language). This includes a recent career development document titled Hope for the Future: The Benefits of Planning for the Future,” using myBlueprintMyBlueprint is an online career/life planning tool that is available to all educators, students and families in New Brunswick. It provides 24/7 assess to career development tools and can easily be used in a variety of languages.  


As we take stock of our current situation and consider the challenges that have surfaced because of COVID-19, we are reminded that the time is now to systemically advance universal design for career education. As we work to bridge the career education gap, let us not forget the guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning. Every young person needs to be provided with equal opportunity for Future Ready Learning.  

Tricia BerryBA, BEd, MEd, is a Learning Specialist for Universal Design for Career Education with the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development. She comes to her position with 16 years of guidance-related teaching experience and training as an employment counsellor. Further, Berry works part time in the School of Education at St. Thomas University.  


Arthur, N. (2019). Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice. CERIC  

CMEC Reference Framework for Successful Student Transitions.   

Council of Atlantic Ministers of Education and Training (CAMET). (n.d.).   

Magnifico, A. (2020). Making Career Development Stick K-12. Careering.  

Novak, K., & Thibodeau, T. (2016). UDL in the cloud: How to design and deliver online education using universal design for learning. Wakefield, MA: Cast Professional Publishing. 

Paniagua, A. and D. Istance (2018), Teachers as Designers of Learning Environments: The Importance of Innovative Pedagogies, Educational Research and Innovation, OECD Publishing, Paris,   

Stewart, J., & Martin, L. (2018). Bridging two worlds: Supporting newcomer and refugee youth: A guide to curriculum implementation and integration. Toronto: CERIC. 

Thoma, C. A., Bartholomew, C. C., & Scott, L. A. (2009). Universal design for transition: A roadmap for planning and instruction. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. 

Universal Design for Learning.   

mom on video call while son gives her a hugCareering

Equitable, affordable child care key to ‘she-cession’ recovery

Efforts to rebuild Canada’s economy that do not also address systemic racism will continue to leave people behind 

Carmina Ravanera 

author headshotThe writer and feminist Audre Lorde said in 1982 that “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives.” Today, this idea must be central to Canada’s COVID-19 recovery efforts as we look toward building our economy back better.  

Women in Canada have been disproportionately affected by the economic fallout of COVID-19, particularly women who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour (BIPOC). One solution to mitigate this gender inequality is a national affordable childcare system, which experts agree will help boost women’s labour force participation. But the outsized impacts of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities underscore that any recovery policy, including a childcare program, must simultaneously address systemic racism.  

The she-cession and the need for affordable child care  

Many women have faced an increased burden of care work during the pandemicleading some to cut their paid work hours or drop out of the workforce. On top of this, women have experienced disproportionate job loss because women-majority sectors, such as retail and hospitality, have been the most affected by COVID-19As a result, women’s participation in the Canadian labour force reached its lowest level in over three decades this summer (RBC Economics, 2020). BIPOC, especially BIPOC women, are now facing higher rates of unemployment and financial insecurity than those who are white (Statistics Canada, 2020). Such circumstances have led many to deem this recession a “she-cession. 

Experts agree that we need an affordable, safe and high-quality childcare system to ensure an effective and equitable economic recovery (Bezanson et al, 2020; Yalnizyan, 2020). Currently, child care is prohibitively expensive across most provinces and territories: the median cost of preschool-aged child care per month is around $1,000 or more in cities such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver (Macdonald and Friendly, 2020). Childcare advocates have recommended that the government contribute at least 1% of the country’s GDP (about $17 billion) each year to create an early learning and childcare system with more affordability and higher capacity – an OECD benchmark that other countries have already surpassed (Friendly, 2015).    

Some may balk at this 1% benchmark, but there are crucial social and economic benefits to increased investment in this social infrastructure, not least of which is that affordable and accessible child care is proven to boost women’s participation in the labour force. Mothers still shoulder the majority of care work in Canada: they spent an average of 68 hours per week on child care prior to the pandemic; during the pandemic, this number rose to 95. Fathers’ childcare hours only increased from 33 to 46 (Johnston et al2020). Further, those who are Black and Indigenous are more likely than those who are white to have had to give up looking for paid work in order to carry out their increased unpaid work (Oxfam Canada, 2020).

Steps career professionals can take to advocate for this issue: 

  • Commit to learning more about how childcare responsibilities and systemic racism pose significant and intersecting barriers for the careers of your employees, clients or others you work with, especially if they are women and / or BIPOC.  
  • Keep apprised of the government’s plans for a Canada-wide childcare plan. Have conversations about why it’s important within your networks and in your workplace.  
  • Partner with or support organizations working toward racial equity, affordable child care and / or equitable recovery from the pandemic.  
  • Advocate for policies on anti-racism and flexibility for caregivers within your workplace.  

Affordable care would remove some of this care burden from women, especially BIPOC women, and facilitate their return to paid work. This translates to better economic outcomes across societyIt is estimated that each additional percentage point of labour force participation for women aged 25-54 would add $1.85 billion to Canada’s GDP (Bezanson et al, 2020).  

More from Careering and CareerWise

Career development as a social justice imperative

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An increased investment in the care sector would also create much-needed jobsOne study from the United Kingdom showed that investing 1% of a country’s GDP in child care would create almost three times more jobs than an equivalent investment in construction (De Henau and Himmelweit, 2020). Care jobs are “green” jobs – the care sector does not contribute heavily to carbon emissions or environmental damage, but to a healthy population with educated children (Cohen and Macgregor, 2020).  

More investment in child care could further ensure that care workers are better paid and protected, which would draw more people into the sector and result in higherquality care. These workers, many of whom are women and / or BIPOC, make an average of between $25,000 and $37,000 a year, despite the essential services they provide (Child Care Now, 2018).  

Young mother sitting at the table at home. She is holding her baby son whilst using a laptop. Her other son is sitting with his back to the camera, colouring in at the table.
Affordable care would remove some of the care burden from women, especially BIPOC women, and facilitate their return to paid work. (iStock)
What does systemic racism have to do with affordable child care 

Enduring systemic racism in Canada means that BIPOC need targeted recovery policies. BIPOC make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases: In Toronto, they comprise 83% of cases despite representing about half of the population (City of Toronto, 2020). Part of the reason for this, and for why BIPOC are facing relatively high unemployment rates and financial insecurity now, is because they are more likely to hold low-income, unprotected jobs that lead to vulnerability, such as cleaning and personal support work. They also experience limited access to opportunities and services that many mistakenly believe are equally available to everyone, from health care to housing 

Early learning and child care are no exceptions hereIndigenous children face numerous barriers to accessing quality early learning programs. There is a lack of funding and infrastructure for Indigenous child care, particularly in remote communities, as well as a lack of cultural relevancy within these services (Preston, 2008). Black parents have reported that their children experience racial profiling and other discrimination in early learning and throughout their schooling (Maynard, 2017). Black and Indigenous students in the school system are disproportionately expelled or suspended compared to other students (James and Turner2017).  

A national affordable childcare system will boost our economy and contribute to gender equality. But it will not be fully effective if BIPOC parents are not able to access this service because it does not meet the needs of those in underserved areas. It will not be fully effective if BIPOC children continue to experience discrimination within it. And it will not be fully effective if new jobs are created, but employment discrimination keeps BIPOC women at the bottom of the ranks of the sector. The implementation of anti-racist training and policies across the system, as well as ensuring targeted services and funding for BIPOC communities, are some ways to address these problems within a new national childcare program.   

Policy solutions to the gender inequality that has arisen from the pandemic require commitment and action to ensure that all forms of discrimination, including racial discrimination, are tackled head-on. Without this lens, we risk implementing solutions that continue to leave people behind.  

Carmina Ravanera is a Research Associate at the Institute for Gender and the Economy. She is also the co-author of A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada: Making the Economy Work for Everyone.  


Bezanson, K., Bevan, A. and Lysack, M. (2020). National childcare system is crucial for recovery and rebuilding. First Policy Response. 

Binesi, B. (2018). Fast Facts: Indigenous language revitalization and child care. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

Child Care Now (2018). Fighting for a Living (Wage). 

City of Toronto (2020). COVID-19: Status of Cases in Toronto. 

Cohen, M. and Macgregor, S. (2020). Towards a Feminist Green New Deal for the UK. Women’s Budget Group. 

De Henau, J. and Himmelweit, S. (2020). A Care-Led Recovery from Coronavirus. Women’s Budget Group. 

Friendly, M. (2015). Taking Canada’s Child Care Pulse: The state of ECEC in 2015. 

James, C. and Turner, T. (2017). Towards Race Equity in Education: The Schooling of Black Students in the Greater Toronto Area. York University. 

Johnston, R.M., Mohammed, A. and van der Linden, C. (2020). Evidence of Exacerbated Gender Inequality in Child Care Obligations in Canada and Australia During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Politics & Gender. 

Macdonald, D. and Friendly, M. (2020). In Progress: Child care fees in Canada 2019. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

Maynard, R. (2017). Canadian Education Is Steeped in Anti-Black Racism. The Walrus. 

Oxfam Canada (2020). 71 per cent of Canadian women feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked or ill because of increased unpaid care work caused by COVID-19: Oxfam survey. 

Preston, J.P. (2008). Enhancing Aboriginal Child Wellness: The Potential of Early Learning Programs. First Nations Perspectives 1,1 (2008): 98-120. 

RBC Economics (2020). Pandemic Threatens Decades of Women’s Labour Force Gains. 

Statistics Canada (2020). Labour Force Survey, August 2020. 

Yalnizyan, A. (2020). Recovery depends on childcare strategy to get women back to work. First Policy Response. 

colourful sticky notes on wallCareering

Why we need to share our ideas about connecting career development to social justice

Career professionals must come together to challenge systems that limit clients’ ability to reach their potential 

Tristram Hooley 

Life isn’t fair.  

Author headshotThe fact that life isn’t fair won’t be news to anyone involved in career development work. Everyone has seen a client or a student who has enormous potential, but whose life is so complex that it is impossible for them to build the career that they dream of. Or been frustrated that the educational system is so rigid or the employment or benefit regulations so limiting. And everyone has felt empathy for clients who are struggling, bullied and undervalued. But what can you do about it? 

As career development superheroes, we want to empower our clients and give them the best chance to fly. We can fill them with hope and optimism, support them to tell their story, help them to decode the labour market and aid them to apply for jobs and courses. But in many cases this won’t be enough. The cards are stacked against so many people.  

Everyone has a career, but not all careers are equal. Maybe you are a woman facing a pay gap, which means that you only earn 87 cents for every dollar a man earns (Statistics Canada, 2019). Or perhaps you are someone born in a low socio-economic community realizing that you have less chance of achieving a university degree and a professional job than those born in the richer neighbourhood down the road. Or you might be an immigrant struggling with getting your qualifications recognizedOr someone growing up in the Global South, learning about the wealth and opportunity that exists to the north, but with little opportunity to access it. 

Career is where our hopes, dreams, skills and potential interact with wider social, political and economic systems. And all too often these systems are not fair. They constrain rather than enable; they oppress rather than empower.  

Facing up to the system 

The constraints that people face in their career are not just the fault of bad luck. So many people face barriers in their career because inequality is systematic and structural. People have come up with lots of names for the system that oppresses and constrains us. Some call it patriarchy, others neoliberalism, the political philosophers Hardt and Negri (2001) refer to it as Empire because it describes how the powerful bring the rest of us under their control. I like this terminology because of its simplicity 

Career is where our hopes, dreams, skills and potential interact with wider social, political and economic systems.”

Whatever you call the system, the philosopher Iris Marion Young (2004) reminds us that “For every oppressed group, there is a group that benefits from that oppression and is privileged in relation to that group.” In other words, some are kept weak, so that others can be powerful; some are poor because others have all of the wealth. Our world is carefully designed to ensure that some people find it easy to build a fantastic career, while for others it is incredibly hard to do anything beyond survive.  

More from Careering

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Career development as a social justice imperative

To help others reach their career goals, use your privilege for good

The five signposts

Paying attention to the systematic oppression that exists across the world can lead us toward despair. If so much is wrong with the world, what can career development possibly do to challenge it? 

In the book Career Guidance for Emancipationwhich I co-authored with Ronald Sultana and Rie Thomsen, we drew together a range of ideas that have been articulated by researchers, practitioners and theorists and proposed the five signposts to a socially just approach to career development. If career development practitioners want to challenge oppression, help people realize their dreams and undermine corrupt systems they need to: 

1. Build critical consciousness. Help people understand the bigger picture and not see every problem as wholly their fault and their responsibility. This is about building an understanding of students’ and clients’ situations and helping them to link these situations to the wider context; 

2. Name oppression. Recognize the specific needs of oppressed groups, listen to their experiences and help them to identify injustice and inequities in careers. It is also about organizing in solidarity with them to ensure they can access a decent career; 

3. Question what is normal. Spend time discussing what people assume to be normal and natural in their careers and consider where these assumptions come from; 

4. Encourage people to work togetherFacilitate social interaction, solidarity, collaboration and collective action. Help people to recognize that their friends, colleagues and communities are resources for their career and that, often, we can all move forward together; 

5. Work at a range of levelsRecognize that career development isn’t just about work with individuals. It also requires intervention into social systemsThis includes advocating on behalf of clients when they find it difficult to represent themselves, identifying common problems experienced by multiple clients, suggesting reforms to systems and processes, and campaigning to remove systemic barriers from your clients’ careers.  

Come together, right now 

The movement for social justice in career development is an international one. It is gathering pace all around the world in the UK, Norway, Brazil, India and many more countries. There is no single template, no right way to do social justice in career development. The signposts are a useful starting point, but they are designed to be inspirational rather than prescriptive.  

Social justice is a movement, not a theory. It is the coming together of lots of people with lots of ideas and a desire to increase equality and expand the possibilities available to people in their career. Because of this, one of the most important things that we can do is to share our dreams, practices and frustrations. To talk about the challenges that we and our clients face and to explain things that we have done to help people overcome them.  

This is why a group of us have started the Career Guidance for Social Justice website. It is designed as a global meeting place for careers practitioners and researchers interested in social justice, as a clearing house for ideas and experiences and as a growing repository for practice, resources and materials.  

If you are inspired to engage more deeply with social justice, please visit the site. We are looking for people to read, comment, write articles and spread the world. As the placards say, there is a world to win.  

Tristram Hooley is a researcher and writer on career and career guidance. He holds professorial roles at the University of Derby, Canterbury Christchurch University and the Inland Norway University of Applied Science and is the Chief Research Officer for the Institute of Student Employers. He has published seven books, including Career Guidance for Emancipation: Reclaiming Justice for the Multitude. 

Don’t miss Tristram Hooley’s popular CareerWise article: Moving toward emancipatory career guidance


Hardt, M. & Negri, A. (2001). Empire. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Hooley, T., Sultana, R. and Thomsen, R. (2018). Career guidance for social justice: Contesting neoliberalism. London: Routledge. 

Hooley, T., Sultana, R. and Thomsen, R. (2019). Career guidance for emancipation: Reclaiming justice for the multitude. London: Routledge. 

Statistics Canada. (2019). The gender wage gap in Canada: 1998 to 2018. 

Young, I.M. (2004). Five Faces of Oppression. In Heldke, L. & O’Connor, P. (Eds.). Oppression, privilege, & resistance. Boston: McGraw Hill. 

diverse group of young people working in modern officeCareering

Allyship in career development: An honour, privilege and responsibility

To be an ally, we must first know who we are and what shaped us 

 Natasha Caverley and Kathy Offet-Gartner 

 I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. Toni Morrison (2013) 

author headshotsToni Morrison’s quote provides a foundation to explore the topic of allyship. Specifically, anti-oppressive practices such as engaging in allyship aid in challenging oppression, racism and colonialism that harm BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) clients. At the same time, Morrison’s remarks are a call to action for individuals to engage in advocacy and join efforts geared toward reconciliation, equity and inclusion. This article invites readers to join in the important reflective practice of allyship  in the spirit of working with and alongside BIPOC individuals and groups who face oppression and discrimination in society. 

Self (social) location 

My name is Natasha Caverley. I am a multiracial Canadian (of Algonquin, Jamaican and Irish heritage) who resides on the unceded traditional territory of the W̱SÁNEĆ people on the Saanich Peninsula in British Columbia, Canada. I am a cis-gender educated woman who endeavours to seamlessly live and work as a “boundary walker” – walking softly within and between diverse cultures as a helper, recognizing that allyship is a source of strength that can aid in uniting voices and populations across cultures and the lifespan. 

My name is Kathy Offet-Gartner. I am a white, cis-gender, educated woman, who is privileged to be a mother and nana/Kukom. I have a home, a stable job and an occupation that I love. I live and work on the hereditary homelands of the Niitsitapi (the Blackfoot Confederacy: Siksika, Piikani, Kainai), Îyârhe Nakoda and Tsuut’ina Nations, which is home to the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region III. As a counsellor, I have worked with and alongside BIPOC clients for nearly four decades. I am aware of the many privileges that I have – both earned and bestowed. I am also cognizant of the power that these many privileges accord me and strive to use them as an ally. Allyship is not mine to proclaim, it is accorded to me by those I work and interact with, like Dr. Natasha Caverley. 

Don’t miss Part II of this article: Allyship terms, tips and tools to support career development work

In earlier editions of Careering magazine, Jodi Tingling (2020) shared suggestions on how to assist BIPOC clients. It is an important read and sets an excellent stage for this article. Likewise, Lindsay Purchase (2020) wrote – in the Tips and Training section of CERIC’s CareerWise website – a wonderful piece on including social justice in our career development practices. Together, these two seminal pieces provide much of the preamble to this article. Both articles remind us of the oppression and “ism’s” BIPOC clients face on a daily basis – a weight they should not have to bear on their own, but far too often do. To assist BIPOC clients and individuals and groups who face oppression, allies are needed who can and will use their power and privilege(s) to challenge the status quo (e.g. the colleague who makes an offhand discriminatory remark; the policy that privileges one individual or group over another). 

What is allyship? 

Allyship requires listening, seeing, reflecting, learning about, appreciating and respecting all aspects of cultures and identities. This begins with each of us examining our own cultural identities and influences: where we come from; how we got to where we are; at whose expense we arrived; our values, beliefs, principles, biases and self (social) locations. To be an ally, we must first know who we are, and what and who shaped us, addressing the good, the bad and the ugly we find, so that we can acknowledge all of oneself. Understanding oneself and the historical and present-day influences on who we have become better prepares us to accept the “other” and their realities, influences and truths. Even though we might not be able to relate to another person’s perspective, it is vital to recognize their experiences of racism and oppression are real, hurtful and far too common. 

Engaging in allyship 

Allyship requires action and using one’s power and privileges to confront injustice and oppression. It is not good enough to call oneself an ally; one must be an ally. In Dare to Lead (2018), Brené Brown shares that if we want to learn about race and oppression, we must first listen. Brown also states that difficult conversations take courage and reminds us that silence is never courageous. In Strong Helpers’ Teachings: The Value of Indigenous Knowledge in the Helping Professions, Cyndy Baskin (2016) echoes the same sentiment. Inspired by the works of Brown (2018) and Baskin (2016), and many others, allyship is about  

  • Examining your own social location, privilege and worldview: Be aware of your biases, values and cultural norms, and how these shape your worldview. Recognize that worldviews influence how we selflocate and how we locate others. Know the privileges and power you hold.  
  • Expanding your knowledge: Expand your knowledge about ways of life that are different from your social location. Learn about the impacts of oppression, racism, discrimination and stereotyping. Never assume that an individual and/or group feels oppressed. Hence, never speak for an individual and/or group’s lived experiences and never take credit for what is not one’s own (e.g. cultural appropriation). Ask, listen and learn. 
  • Using power and privilege effectively: Endeavour to live and work in the service of others; choose carefully how to use what powers and privileges that we have in a “good way.” This includes a willingness to share power and privileges with individuals who do not possess them. Ensure actions are always focused on assisting individuals whose voices are silenced, and not for personal gain. Do not expect praise for doing what is right. 
  • Honouring BIPOC ways of healing and helping: Recognize differences between BIPOC helping and mainstream helping. Use a strengths-based approach that recognizes individuals and groups of people have competencies, including resilience, which they can draw on to identify and address their own concerns. 
  • Being open to receiving feedback – actively listening and learning anew: Examine blind spots and check common assumptions. Ensure there are congruent and mutually held expectations within the helping relationship. Do not dismiss or de-emphasize social and political systems that affect clients’ challenges and needs. Actively seek feedback. 
  • Engaging in anti-oppressive practice: Engage in activism on a structural and system-wide level. This includes calling out oppressive practices and language even if there are personal and professional consequences. Challenge ideas such as the “colour blind” myth (ignoring and failing to take culture and diversity into account). Choose to be uncomfortable rather than silently complacent. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will assist in the fight for justice, harmony and equity. 
  • Maintaining a learner’s stance and curiosity: Be humble; own your errors and faux pas. We cannot know everything we need to, so use mistakes as learning opportunities. 

Angela Davis (n.d) states, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Drawing from this quote, allyship is about transforming awareness and words into tangible actions. From recognizing one’s own social location and privilege to challenging system-wide oppressive, racist and colonial laws, policies and practices, allyship is an ethical responsibility as citizens and professionals. 

Dr. Natasha Caverley is the President of Turtle Island Consulting Services Inc. She holds an MEd in Counselling Psychology and a PhD in Organizational Studies from the University of Victoria. 

Dr. Kathy Offet-Gartner is a Registered Psychologist whose counselling research, teaching and practice focuses on strengths-based, culturally informed career-life development. 


Baskin, C. (2016). Strong Helpers’ Teachings: The Value of Indigenous Knowledge in the Helping Professions (2nd ed). Toronto, ON: Canadian Scholars’ Press. 

 Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. New York,  Random House.

 Davis, A. (n.d.). Angela Y. Davis – Quotes – Quotable Quote. 

 Morrison, T. (2003, November). The Truest Eye: On The Greater Good. O, The Oprah Magazine, 4. 

 Purchase, L. (2020). Tips and Training: Resources on Career Development and Social Justice (Part 2). Careerwise. 

 Tingling, J. (2020). Supporting the Careers of Individuals who are Black, Indigenous, and  People of Colour. Careering. 

Zabeen Hirji chats with participants at CivicAction’s YouthConnect event in 2017. YouthConnect helps youth prepare for the future of work through free online skills-building events focused on job searching, networking, and financial literacy. Careering

10 Questions with Zabeen Hirji, Future of Work Executive Advisor at Deloitte

author headshotZabeen Hirji is a strategic advisor to the business, government and universities sectors, and a director on corporate and not-for-profit boards. Prior to that she had a distinguished career at RBC, including Chief Human Resources Officer from 20072017. Current roles include Executive Advisor Future of Work at Deloitte, Board Chair of CivicActiona city-building organization, and executive-in-residence at Simon Fraser UniversityHirji is a long-standing champion of building inclusive prosperity through unlocking the potential of people and has been recognized for her leadership through numerous awards.    

Hirji will be delivering the opening keynote address at CERIC’s virtual Cannexus21 conference on Jan. 25, 2021. Cannexus is a bilingual, national career development conference that explores innovative approaches in the areas of career counselling and career and workforce development. 

In a sentence or two, describe why career development matters. 

Career development is about lifelong learning, skill building and choices about the work we do. Work provides meaning to our lives. Career development is about creating our best meaning. What’s life without personal growth?  

Which book are you reading right now and why did you choose it? 

Promised Land by Barack Obama. Need I say moreHow you build power, not by putting others down, but by lifting them up. This is true democracy at work, democracy earned, the work of everybody. 

Other takeaways: Leadership is not a title; it is actions and behaviours. (Obama’s team was filled with passion-driven people in the background.) Also, do what’s right, not what’s easy.  

What was your firstever job and what did you learn from it?  

McDonalds customer service, $2.10/hour. Part timeshortly after my family immigrated to Canada. It wasn’t glamorous, but I learned teamwork and taking initiativeIt helped me integrate into my new home.  

What do you do to relax and how does it help you? 

I love hosting conversations – during COVID in my garden or via ZoomRelaxation is about breathing new life into yourself, and authentic conversations with colleagues, friends and family give me energyConventional response: PilatesSelf-care is good for my soul.  

What is one piece of advice you have for Canadians as we navigate these challenging times?  

Don’t waste a good crisis. Dare to dream of the world you want and act boldly to make change. Leadership has become more human: Make it a leadership movement. 

What is the most unusual job interview question you’ve ever been asked and how did you respond? 

Q: Where are you from?  A: Vancouver. Q: Where are you really from? A: Vancouver, and you, where are you really from?  

What’s something you want to do in the next year that you’ve never done before? 

Create a social movement to make meaningful change toward equity, diversity and inclusive prosperity for all. 

Who would you like to work with most and why? 

My father, who died when I was 11. A loving dad, brilliant entrepreneur, feminist ahead of the times, who touched so many lives through his volunteer leadership. He lived a balanced, happy life and taught me about paying it forward.  

Which talent or superpower would you like to have and how would you use it? 

Self-care: healthytasty eating, exercise, meditation, enough sleep, time with friends and family, being kind. Why? To be my best self for myself and for others. I’d encourage younger women to build this superpower. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement and why? 

My two children, now in their 20s. They care about people, help others and judge their success by their own standards.   

Two female graduates taking a selfieCareering

Equipping international students to navigate culture difference in job search

Students need to become their own brand ambassadors to help align their experiences with employers’ needs

Jolene Sangster and Karn Nichols

author headshotsThe seed for this vital conversation was planted back in 2018 when we observed an international student participate in an interview competition. Chidi brought over four years’ experience and was pursuing a graduate degree. On paper, this student met all requirements of the job. He had the direct work experience to be successful in the role. The second candidate in this competition was a domestic student who was pursuing an undergraduate co-op degree. This individual also benefitted from a strong professional network facilitated by her parents. There was no denying that the domestic student leveraged her privilege and portrayed a level of confidence throughout the interview. She was also able to use examples that related to the interviewer’s worldview.

Regardless of the number of hours Chidi had spent planning, preparing and practising for the interview, it was obvious he would never be able to successfully compete against this candidate. Although he answered all questions appropriately, including identifying examples to educate the employer on the alignment of his experiences abroad to the Canadian context, he was still unsuccessful.

Due to the structure and design of the interview, the employer missed the opportunity to lean in and uncover the important nuances of Chidi’s international experience. Conversely, Chidi was unable to dive into the deeper, richer elements of his work history and demonstrate how his worldview could offer unique breadth and depth of experience and knowledge that would positively impact the organization.

Chidi’s level of confidence and ability to navigate the nuances of the interview simply did not compare to the domestic student, who was able to leverage her domestic privilege and network to easily relate and communicate her experience to all aspects of the interview. It was not lack of confidence or preparation for the international student; it was simply the invisible force that was working against him. Perhaps it was the interviewer’s inability to relate to Chidi’s worldview or Chidi’s inability to relate the interviewer’s worldview. Cultural nuances were present as we watched the interview competition unfold.

young man sitting outside train station looking at phone
Navigating cultural differences

In a school that hosts over 3,300 students from 80 countries, this story plays out in our career services office daily. Saint Mary’s University (SMU) is known as one of the post-secondary institutions with the highest proportion of international students in Canada (Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, 2020). From preparing for interviews, to presenting their pitch during corporate tours or having coffee chats with industry leaders and employers, students default to the behavioural tools that are familiar to them.

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This impact is demonstrated in a number of ways: students from countries that traditionally practise rote learning and memorization in school often find it difficult to “be themselves” in an interview; cultures that are grounded in a high power distance, where “lower-ranking” subordinates defer to those in power, tend to minimize job titles or dismiss previous leadership experience to avoid perceived conflicts; acting “shy” as a form of politeness or coming across as aggressive when the student was simply trying to be direct in respect of the employer’s time, are other common points of tension.

To help international students reach their fullest potential, we have had to dig into the context of what it takes to successfully compete in the Canadian job market. We often hear employers defining the soft skills and core competencies their businesses need. How do we best assist our students in demonstrating that they are the right person for the job, despite cultural differences?

A framework to support students

Cross-cultural differences between the interviewer and interviewee can affect interview judgment and evaluation (Manroop, Boekhorst & Harrison, 2013). What is our role as career coaches in mitigating this impact? What role do we play with students, employers and within our career development profession? It is our view that we need to nurture a more holistic approach to our roles. This starts with naming the unconscious bias that exists within ourselves, as well as throughout the systems in which we work. As career coaches, we need to provide a framework to support students and newcomers who are seeking employment, so they are well equipped to present themselves as competent candidates regardless of past cultural influences.

We have developed a framework called You Inc. that offers students the ability to explore, create and own content, enabling them to become the best brand ambassador of themselves. We know that in order to be successful, it is important for businesses to be thoughtful about their strategy. What is their mission and vision? Who is their target audience? What is their brand? In the same way, we ask students to consider their strategy. This approach applies the elements of planning a business to students’ career development. It allows students to discover and define the sweet spot where passion and purpose intersect while being intentional in identifying and developing strategies to communicate this to their target audience.

This work provides them with the fodder to develop their own “mission statement” and become grounded into their power. It has been gratifying to watch the students identify who they are at their core and what attributes of their authentic selves they are able to offer to an employer. Students have the ability to lead from a place of authenticity rather than fitting into a cookie-cutter mold of the do’s and don’ts for successful interviewing or networking.

We further strengthen the students’ ability to deliver on this strategy by facilitating opportunities for them to meet with employers and industry leaders through events such as corporate tours, speaker series and world cafes. Through these platforms, we have been able to witness the energy and alignment that occurs when students connect more deeply with employers because they have agency. Students operate much more effectively as their own brand ambassadors.

Our engagement with the student begins with the completion of a Self Inventory followed by a series of evidence-based activities. This foundation for success is built upon a number of fundamental steps including completing an environmental scan, evaluating market competition as well as other factors such as industry, societal and customer trends. This preliminary research offers students the opportunity to work from a place of curiosity and a desire to ask provocative questions. Simply put, they have gathered the data to ensure that they are well armed to step out into this new world.

This ownership of You Inc. is a framework that has created a foundation for students and an opportunity for employers to navigate within a contextual system without influence of past cultural norms or differences. International students can succeed in the Canadian job market when they are given the right tools to help them effectively express their value to employers.

Jolene Sangster is an Employment Coach for Graduate Career Services with the Sobey School of Business and has over 10 years of experience in the career services industry. She specializes in supporting students in developing career search strategy plans, identifying appropriate skills for resume writing and creating opportunities to strengthen networks. 

Karn Nichols is the Manager of Graduate Career Services with the Sobey School of Business. She enjoys leveraging her 20 years as a human resource professional to work with both students and employers to create the conditions for strong labour force attachment within Nova Scotia and beyond.


Laxmikant Manroop, Janet A. Boekhorst & Jennifer A. Harrison (2013) The influence of cross-cultural differences on job interview selection decisions, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 24:18, 3512-3533, DOI: 10.1080/09585192.2013.777675

Maritime Provinces Higher Education Commission, 2020