Skills for an Automated Future

Changing how we develop skills, measure them and apply them in the workforce

By Patrick Snider


Canada is heading towards a period of disruption due to technology. We need to prepare our workforce with the skills necessary to make this transition.

This year, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce has been conducting a project with partners in Canadian higher education institutes, businesses and other stakeholder groups to examine the needs of the future workforce. We have conducted a series of roundtables across the country to solicit their perspectives on this issue, bringing together experts and business leaders, as well as synthesizing together reports from other researchers on this topic.

According to many of the leading economic analysts – including the OECD, Brookfield Institute, McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), C.D. Howe, and Employment and Social Development Canada – the coming decade will see significant disruption in the way Canadians work. Estimates vary, but out of the current workforce between seven million and 11 million existing jobs are expected to see a significant share of their activities eliminated or radically transformed through automation and artificial intelligence. More contentious is the estimate of jobs that will be eliminated entirely, which range from a negligible number, to millions of jobs. What is certain is that there will be significant changes to the way that Canadians work in the coming years.

While this disruption presents challenges, the upside to automation can’t be ignored. It is estimated by MGI that the increase in productivity from automation could add up to 1.5% to GDP growth. Growth means new jobs – according to figures from our partners, over 30% of all jobs created in the 1990s during that technology boom did not exist at all previously. Looking forward, we may not know what kinds of jobs will be created in response to technologies that are only just emerging, but we can say with high confidence they will.


So what does this mean for skills in the Canadian workforce?

Canada’s existing skill training programs are designed around assumptions of low turnover, long-term careers, and a direct progression from primary and secondary education, to post-secondary job training, to employment. This worked for the old, industrial model of employment based on specific jobs with a long tenure and little change, but it is at risk of no longer functioning as the pace of technological chance increases, jobs are altered or eliminated, and more business sectors are disrupted.

Our partners identified a number of challenges to finding the skills needed to make the transition towards the new, more automated workforce of the future. The most pressing issue is the need to measure the workforce, to understand the impact of changing technology in a more detailed way.

This needs to go beyond simply listing the jobs that are available, and the majors people graduated in, and to look at the full supply of skills available and in demand. Looking forward, we see more job mobility and examples of students crossing traditional boundaries in education and employment. Employers reported looking for mixed skill sets, combining social skills and technology skills, or mathematical and business expertise. Repeatedly in our conversations, the topic of improved soft skills came up just as often as the issues with finding graduates with the specific technical expertise that was required.


Better measure supply and demand to optimize pathways to employment

We see the diversity in outcomes reflected in data around STEM employment. In US census data from 2014, nearly one quarter of workers in “STEM jobs” graduated from a non-STEM program, and only one third of STEM graduates wound up in a STEM job, with the other two-thirds working in other fields. Businesses, educators and students need better data when it comes to the different pathways their education can take them, especially the directions that are not immediately obvious.

This is why our partners ask for better measures of the specific skills that students acquire, and the skills that jobs use. Mapping the labour market in those terms allows a greater ability for all participants to find opportunities, measure the supply and demand of skills in the economy, and to plan out their future with greater precision.

This new view of skills and employment relates directly to the next priority our panellists outlined. Current educational cycles are long, measured in years, based around an industrial era education that is meant to last a lifetime in a single role. If employers are going to participate in the lifelong training of employees, then that requires more short-duration programs without long absences from the workforce. This means supporting educational institutions in developing programs, such as micro-credentials, professional certificates, and targeted technical training, which fit with the previous model of filling in more specific skill gaps.


Maintaining skills by creating more opportunities for ongoing learning

Core skills need to be maintained as well. We see in existing data, the longer workers are out of education, and the less support they receive, the more their core literacy and numeracy degrades over time. Creating more opportunities to maintain those skills is another priority.

This does not eliminate the need for existing educational programs – there is still a strong value seen in the skills that result from existing college, undergraduate and postgraduate programs. But these are going to have to increasingly coexist with other pathways to acquiring the same skills, mixing self-directed education, badges, micro-credentials and other opportunities for learning.

These changes will require a new attitude by many in the worlds of education and business. Lifelong learning is not yet a part of the culture in either our workplaces or schools, but it can be. This needs to start early – the K-12 system needs to embrace the idea that students need to view their education as an ongoing personal investment. Students require entrepreneurship education, not just in the narrow sense of starting a business but in the broader sense of continually investing in skills, looking for opportunities and seeing ways they can meet demand. These are important considerations for all future citizens, as self-employment and new modes of working increasingly become the norm.

These new modes of studying and working would require changes to financing training as well. Already governments at the federal and provincial levels have taken steps to improve access – this is crucial, since many lower income Canadians have difficulty reaching higher education. But new models need to be explored in addition to existing programs, such as supporting business investment in training. No one else in the economy has a better understanding of the skills in demand. The issue is recognizing the work that businesses do to provide training, and mitigating risks such as employee departure and poaching. By providing a flexible set of incentives, that recognize both formal training programs and the informal training that many smaller businesses engage in, skill development can be encouraged as well as better measured and understood. By lowering risks, businesses can invest with greater confidence.

Building the skill development system needed for Canada’s future workforce is not a simple matter, and will require a long-term program of changing how we develop skills, measure them, and apply them in the workforce. But it is a challenge that will define our economy for the coming decades, and whether technology becomes an asset or not.



Patrick Snider is the Director of Policy for Skills and Immigration at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. He completed the Bachelor of the Humanities program at Carleton University in Ottawa, and went on to a Master’s in Political Science at that same institution, with a focus on political theory. His work has included a range of policy studies on topics as diverse as healthcare, cooperative businesses, education and immigration. In those positions, he used his background to identify issues and offer solutions to political questions.


Nova Scotia Trades Exhibition Hall: Innovation in Youth Engagement

Fighting the knowledge gap to increase young people’s awareness of the diversity in the construction industry

By Madison Tiller


What jobs do you think of when you hear the term “construction?”

Words like « carpenter, » « plumber, » or « electrician » may come to mind. And for many high school students, this is where their knowledge of the construction industry ends.

While electrical, carpentry and plumbing are great choices, they are far from the only options that exist in the industry. Occupations such as ironworker, boilermaker or crane operator are not usually on youths’ radar when it comes to potential careers. Many students, parents and educators are unaware that there are over 100 different jobs to explore in the construction sector.

Why is there this lack of awareness?

“While it is hard to know for sure, it can be partially attributed to the stigma that surrounds the construction industry,” explains Trent Soholt, Executive Director of the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council (NSCSC), a non-profit organization that supports Nova Scotia’s Industrial-Commercial-Institutional (ICI) construction sector. “The industry battles a reputation of being ‘second tier’ in comparison to other sectors, often those that require a university education. Parents may feel familiar with “construction” through watching popular renovation shows, but these shows are not a true representation of the industry. This combination of factors contributes to the lack of discussion around jobs in the construction industry when it’s time for young people to begin thinking about careers.”

The NSCSC recognized this knowledge gap while travelling to career fairs across the province. “When students would come to our booth, they were surprised at how many opportunities there were in our sector,” says Soholt. NSCSC staff also recognized how difficult it is to engage students with only information-dense brochures and handouts. These events, along with the organization acquiring a large empty warehouse, led to the creation of the Trades Exhibition Hall – a one-of-a-kind career awareness facility located in Halifax.

The NSCSC Trades Exhibition Hall offers high school and junior high students, teachers, career counsellors and jobseekers the unique opportunity to explore careers in ICI construction via hands-on, interactive learning. During half or full-day sessions, visitors try their hand at various skilled trades and management occupations by taking part in activities guided by experienced industry professionals.

The Sector Council, with support from industry and government, has transformed its empty warehouse into a simulated construction site containing 14 interactive booths, each representing ICI trades and occupations. Booths include: boilermaker, bricklayer, carpenter, electrician, elevator constructor, finishing trades, insulator, ironworker, non-destructive tester, operating engineer, pipe trades, sheet metal worker and various management occupations represented in the “management trailer.” Each booth is operated by an industry professional who provides information about their occupation and walk visitors through hands-on demonstrations and activities. Instead of just reading a brochure or hearing a presentation about becoming a bricklayer, participants can speak-one-on-one with an apprentice, journeyperson or manager about what they do and even lay a brick or two. The Trades Exhibition Hall also contains state-of-the-art simulators, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the virtual world of welding and painting.

“We wanted to create a space that feels like an actual job site,” says Soholt. Prior to entering the Hall visitors must undergo a safety orientation and are required to wear full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) while in the Hall. “We have hard hats, safety glasses and slip-on steel toe protection on-hand for students and visitors who come through the Hall,” he adds.

Since opening early 2014, the NSCSC Trades Exhibition Hall has seen more than 4,500 visitors come through its doors. Visitors’ ages range from 14-50+, with grades 10 and 11 being the most common attendees. Over 60 schools from nine school boards all over Nova Scotia have made the journey to visit the Hall with bookings received up to 2019. The Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council host an annual two-day Aboriginal Youth Skilled Trades Fair in the Trades Exhibition Hall, along with visits from other special interest groups, such as the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) and Women Unlimited. The Trades Exhibition Hall operations are funded by the Nova Scotia Apprenticeship Agency.

When asked why he thinks the Hall has been so successful, Soholt says it all comes down to the interactive elements. “People, especially young people, really respond well to hands-on learning. We still provide them with the same career information we did before, but now we incorporate it into activities that get the students involved. And it’s not only the students who respond well to the hands-on; it’s teachers, parents, guidance counsellors and career seekers of any age. When we initially opened, we thought we would have about one visit per month, and now we are booking two to three visits per week!”

For more information about the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council, or the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council’s Trades Exhibition Hall, visit



Madison Tiller is the Communications Specialist at the Nova Scotia Construction Sector Council where she co-ordinates tours of the NSCSC Trades Exhibition Hall.


Career Briefs

CERIC launching three new publications for K-12

Educators and counsellors working with students in kindergarten to grade 12 will benefit from three new research-based resources published by CERIC that will be launching at the Cannexus18 National Career Development Conference in January.

Computing Disciplines: A Quick Guide for Prospective Students and Career Advisors was developed by an international research team led by Calgary’s Mount Royal University and aims to explain the fast-changing field of computing and to inform decision-making around related education and career paths.

Bridging Two Worlds: Supporting Newcomer and Refugee Youth assists schools to become trauma-informed and deliver culturally responsive curriculum that helps students make the connection between the classroom, career development and their futures. This resource has emerged from a three-year, multi-city, multi-province Canadian research program examining the integration of newcomer and refugee youth, led by the University of Winnipeg.

The Early Years: Career Development for Young Children – a Guide for Educators and a Guide for Parents/Guardians – are the result of Memorial University research examining the career development process of young children, aged 3 to 8, and include practical strategies for how teachers and parents can positively influence this process.

All publications are available for free download and Bridging Two Worlds and The Early Years are also available for purchase in print.

For more information, go to


Careers in the curriculum. What works?

A new report from the UK’s The Careers & Enterprise Company examines teaching career development as part of the curriculum, which it describes as a range of interventions that allow students to encounter career learning as part of their everyday classes.

The review looks at over 100 UK and international studies published in the last 20 years and identifies six actions that schools can take to optimize the impact of careers in the curriculum: vision and leadership; a well-designed curriculum; a strong focus on the learning process; trained staff capable of delivering careers in the curriculum; engagement of school partners; and delivering consistency and volume.

In addition, this report provides recommendations for developing the evidence base and underlines the need for further high-quality and better co-ordinated research efforts.

To read the full report, visit


Labour and education: Key results from Canada’s 2016 Census

Statistics Canada’s latest 2016 Census release looks at the evolution of working patterns among Canadians and identifies changes that create new challenges and opportunities – such as population aging, immigration and automation technologies – as well as draws a portrait of the changing face of education in Canada and how Canadians are equipping themselves through education for the jobs of today.

Just a few of the key findings:
• More than half (54.0%) of Canadians have college or university education and Canada has the highest proportion of college graduates among OECD countries.
• A larger population of people aged 65 and older are working. Nearly one in five Canadians aged 65 and over reported working at some point during 2015, which is almost double the proportion compared to 1995.
• Canada’s labour force has been growing in large part due to increased immigration, with immigrants accounting for 23.8% of the labour force in 2016, up from 21.2% in 2006.

For more information on the 2016 Census, go to


NCDA and CERIC partner to offer webinar series on non-traditional career paths

CERIC is partnering with the US-based National Career Development Association (NCDA) for the first time to jointly offer webinars and will launch with a three-part series – Preparing Your Clients to Successfully Embrace a Non-Traditional, Entrepreneurial Career Path with Ron Elsdon, starting February 14, 2018.
In today’s work world and that of the future we can create meaningful and rewarding careers without depending on conventional employment where the nature of our work is defined by others.

Estimates show more than 25% of the working-age population engaging through non-traditional paths, and this is growing.
Participants will learn why, when and how creating an inspiring and practical non-traditional, entrepreneurial career path can be valuable to your clients and to you.

To learn more and register, go to


Canada’s Top 100 Employers (2018) released

Each fall, the national Canada’s Top 100 Employers competition determines which employers lead their industries in offering exceptional workplaces for their employees based on eight criteria: Physical Workplace; Work Atmosphere & Social; Health, Financial & Family Benefits; Vacation & Time Off; Employee Communications; Performance Management; Training & Skills Development; and Community Involvement.

Several new organizations join the ranks every year while many others repeat as the best in their industry. There are 16 new names for 2018, as small as Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) Canada with 265 employees, and as big as Alberta Health Services with 45,975.

Throughout the year, regional top employer lists as well as special interest employer lists are also published, including Canada’s Top Employers for Young People, Canada’s Best Diversity Employers and Canada’s Top Family-Friendly Employers.

For more details, go to


New CERIC literature searches explore emerging issues in career development

CERIC has recently released five new literature searches, providing comprehensive listings of key research in several emerging areas of career development. The latest literature searches include: Changing Workplace, Intersection of Diversity & Inclusion, Volunteerism, Social Enterprise, and Corporate Social Responsibility.

A total of 42 literature searches is now available, covering such topics as Career Development Theory and Career Management Models, Economic Benefits of Career Guidance, Parental Involvement in Career Development, Labour Market Trends, Mental Health Issues in the Workplace, and more.

As a student, academic or practitioner in the field, literature searches are helpful resources if you are researching the latest thinking or proven best practices. They are also valuable if you are considering a submission to CERIC for project partnership funding in order to gain an overview of major work already done in your area of interest.

To access the literature searches, visit


10 Questions for Chief Robert Joseph

Chief Dr Robert Joseph, OBC, is a true peace-builder whose life and work are examples of his personal commitment. A Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, Chief Joseph has dedicated his life to bridging the differences brought about by intolerance, lack of understanding and racism at home and abroad. Chief Joseph is currently the Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada, a member of the National Assembly of First Nations Elders Council and an honourary witness to Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). As Chair of the Native American Leadership Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation, and Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation with the Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IFWP), Chief Joseph has sat with the leaders of South Africa, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and Washington to learn from and share his understanding of faith,hope, healing and reconciliation.


Is It Time to Put Retirement Out to Pasture?

As career development practitioners, we can become leaders in countering the negative effects of the aging mindset that permeates our culture

By Elizabeth Mahler and John Thompson


Like most people in our culture, career development practitioners are subject to the influence of commonly held ideas. To illustrate, we offer the following quiz.

A woman pays a visit to a career counsellor and provides the following information: she recently left a position and is now technically unemployed; she’s in good health with plenty of energy; she believes she has another 20 years of work in her, but would prefer employment that is both less physically demanding and more meaningful; and she senses that she has a unique chance to do something different, but doesn’t know what that is, or how to find out. Consequently, she is feeling discouraged.

Which of the following statements is most likely to be true about this person?

  1. The client is 40 years old and was recently laid off.
  2. The client is 50 years old and recently quit her job after being diagnosed with a neurological disease that will begin to seriously affect her in about twenty years.
  3. The client is 60 years old.

If you share our culture’s aging mindset, we assume that you have chosen answer #1 or #2. We don’t expect people who are 60 years of age to be looking for guidance around the next 20 years of their working lives. We expect them to be thinking about retirement.

This 60-year-old woman can be said to be in a state of transition, but transition from what to what? Our culture provides developmental roadmaps for younger people, but there are few mainstream models of growth and development offered to those over 60. This made sense when life spans were shorter, but changing demographics call this thinking into question.


The results of an increasing life expectancy

A recent report from Statistics Canada (Decady & Greenberg, 2014) details the increase in the life expectancy of Canada’s population over the past century:

  • In 2011, Canadians lived an average of 81.7 years. This is an increase of 24.6 years since 1921.
  • In 1921, life expectancy at age 55 was 20 years. Today, a 55-year-old can expect to live, on average, an additional 29 years (to age 84).


What’s happening is a “Longevity Revolution.”  Starting with the baby boomers, Canadians have been given a “Longevity Dividend” (Olshansky, 2006).  This gift of time is generating a new life stage that manifests between middle age and elderhood. While culturally we have not yet settled on a label to describe this new stage, potential names are emerging, including the following:

  • second adulthood or adulthood II (Bateson, 2010);
  • encore (Freedman, 2007);
  • the third act (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2009); and
  • the third age (Sadler, 2006).


Regardless of what “it” is called, cultural anthropologist Bateson (2010) suggests that “we have opened a new space partway through the life course, a second and different kind of adulthood, that proceeds old age, and as a result every stage of life is undergoing change.” She calls it “a new developmental stage … not an extension tacked on to old age.”

A century has passed since a phenomenon of this magnitude created the need for a shift in our thinking about human development. It was only after adolescence was acknowledged as a separate developmental stage between childhood and adulthood in the early 20th century that social systems such as high schools became integral parts of our culture. We are beginning to experience a similar phenomenon when considering the implications of an unprecedented longevity dividend on both individuals and society. This includes how we define, discuss and prepare for retirement.

Rueckert (2006) warns that, “You have to be careful with your metaphors.” Metaphors have a very powerful effect on how we define situations, and assess what the situation calls for. Our society uses the metaphor of retirement to conceptualize the end of the working life of older adults. To retire is to remove oneself from the field. We also use idioms to convey this idea of withdrawal. Put out to pasture. Implicit in this language of retirement is the idea that the time for accepting challenges and making meaningful contributions has passed.

This metaphor is problematic for a society that has the resources to enable individuals to lead healthy and active lives well into their 80s and 90s. That makes for a lot of years of withdrawal. It also makes for a lot of lost opportunities for both the individuals involved and our society as a whole.


Helping older workers transition into a new life stage

Career development practitioners have a lot to offer individuals who are transitioning to a post-60 working life. To do this, our profession needs to find a new name (or metaphor) to describe what is becoming a new and meaningful period of career development and engagement.

Consider the word “graduation.” Graduation marks a transition, but not as a process of withdrawal. Suzanne Cook’s (2015) term redirection also implies a transition process. Both these words indicate forward movement into a new phase of life that is worthy of esteem and ambition; one that offers individuals an opportunity to continue growing and developing.

As career practitioners, we need to understand that many older adults have the chance to move into another important phase of life. This phase includes contributing through work, even if this contribution takes a new form. This new way of thinking recognizes that a person’s career path does not stop at age 60. Career practitioners have the rare opportunity to create a new understanding of that path – and of the length of time it occupies in one’s life.

It is not the responsibility of the career development profession to solve this problem of language, and the related effect of metaphors on perceptions. But we can play a significant role. We can see the negative effects of the aging mindset that permeates our culture. This is a challenge we are well equipped to address. We already have the expertise to become leaders in this effort.

For these reasons, the time has come to put the idea of retirement, at least as it is currently understood, out to pasture.



Elizabeth Mahler spent 25 years within continuing education, higher education, corporate and K-12 educational environments, leading program development and strategic planning efforts. She is currently an Associate Teaching Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies (Boston, MA).  

John Thompson spent 30 years facilitating learning and decision-making in workplace settings. He holds a PhD in Human Development and Applied Psychology. At age 66, he is pursuing an encore career as a career development practitioner.



Bateson, M. C. (2010). Composing a further life: The age of active wisdom. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Cook, S. L. (2015). “Redirection: An extension of career during retirement”. The Gerontologist, 55(3), 360-373.

Decady, Y. & Greenberg, L. (2014, July). “Ninety years of change in life expectancy”. Health at a Glance. Statistics Canada Catalogue, No. 82-624-X.

Freedman, M. (2007). Encore: Finding work that matters in the second half of life.  New York, NY:  Public Affairs.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (2009). The third chapter: Passion, risk, and adventure in the 25 years after 50.  New York, NY: Sarah Crichton Books.

Olshansky, S. J., Perry, D., Miller, R.A., & Butler, R. N. (March, 2006). “In pursuit of the longevity dividend: What should we be doing to prepare for the unprecedented aging of humanity?” The Scientist, 20(3), 28-36.

Rueckert, W. H. (2006). “Metaphor and reality: A meditation on man, nature, and words”. KB Journal, 2(2). Retrieved from

Sadler, W.A. (Spring 2006).  “Changing life options: Uncovering the riches of the third age”. The LLI Review, Inaugural edition.



Generation(s) Next: Lessons from the ATM

What career development professionals can do to prepare young jobseekers for a labour market defined by precarious employment

By Donnalee Bell


When I was doing my undergraduate degree in the 1990s, I had a History of Labour professor that had an apocalyptic fear of ATMs. Instead of being innocuous places to get cash quick, he believed that ATMs would eliminate full-time, decent teller positions globally. As a result, he implored us not to use them. I’m still a bit wary of ATMs today.

Almost 25 years later, it seems his prediction didn’t quite pan out. There may be fewer teller positions overall but, like so many technological advances created to automate work throughout history, ATMs actually created more jobs than they replaced.

So, what does this story have to do with the careers of the next generations of job-seekers? Perhaps, quite a bit. According to Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s Second Machine Age (2014), my professor wasn’t exactly wrong, just ahead of his time. Since 2000 there has been what they call the “great decoupling”, meaning that developments in technology are no longer resulting in aggregate job creation, but rather been responsible for sluggish employment growth. Combine this with shifts in business practices (i.e. downsizing, outsourcing) and the rise of the gig economy and Generation(s) Next finds themselves transitioning to work in a world that lacks dependable employment and that, for many, does not pay a living wage (Zizys, 2014).


Precarious work, the “new normal”?

In Canada, the dominant result of these trends has been a growing rate of underemployment, with more young adults either overqualified for their job or unable to find enough work hours to comprise full-time employment. The latest statistics show that 40% of university graduates are underemployed, often due to precarious work arrangements (PBO, 2015). Foster (2012) found that the number of Canadian 15- to 29-year-olds working in non-permanent jobs (i.e., jobs that are temporary, contract, part-time, low paid and low skilled) has nearly doubled from 6.9% in 1997 to 11.6% in 2011. According to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound), a stage of precarious work has become the “new normal” for young adults transitioning from school to work (2014).

All of this adds up to economic and psychological challenges for m. Research shows that the hallmarks of a full transition to adulthood are being delayed. In a 2014 survey of Canadian millennials, 43% of 30- to 33-year-olds remained reliant on their parents for financial support and 29% of those aged 25 to 29 still lived with their parents (Carrick, 2014). Youth are also reporting psychological impacts. For youth aged 18 to 24, nearly 90% reported feeling uncomfortable levels of stress; 86% in this age group attributed the stress to underemployment (Sun Life, 2012).

This “brave new” labour market calls for individuals to market themselves differently, manage personal finances to ride out fluctuations in pay, adapt constantly and create work where it may not already exist.  This is a tall order for anyone especially for new entrants who may not have the networks, skills portfolio, experience or the finances to mitigate ebbs and flows in employment. So, what can career development professionals do to prepare Generation(s) Next for this labour market?

  • Be hip – Not in that “I’m so cool” way, but by keeping current on emergent trends in the labour market.  Have you heard of a Certified YouTube Audience Growth Expert? A Vertical Farmer? A Nano-Medic?  Neither had I until researching this article. While it is impossible to stay ahead of the curve on all emerging occupations, “thinking-sector” can help you to know what’s trending. And, be open to your clients knowing more than you. My son (Gen Z) and his millennial music teacher recently enlightened me on careers in video game music composition.
  • Prepare them for gigs – In Good Gigs: A Fairer Future for the UK’s Gig Economy, the RSA Action and Research Centre (2017) found that despite the concerns about workers’ rights in the gig economy, many young people are attracted to the idea of gigging. To support clients here, we need to know the risks to workers’ rights, but also be savvy about using digital self-marketing and entrepreneurial approaches to work development. Jobseekers are now coding interactive resumes to stand out from the crowd (e.g.! We need to know about the tools used for “gigging” to help our clients profile themselves in this rapidly changing environment.
  • Advocate – There is a growing concern about the erosion of decent work worldwide. Advocacy for decent work arrangements (i.e. work that is productive, safe, secure and provides fair income with social protections for workers and their families) could become a core piece of our work. Workforce development and partnership building are a part of this. We’ll likely be out of our offices more and develop working alliances not just with our clients, but with employers, community groups, industry associations, etc.
  • Encourage skill collecting and self-directed learning – Skills are the currency of this labour market.  Workers will continuously need to upgrade skills or risk losing out on opportunities. The Foundation for Young Australians’ report The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order (2017) predicts that by 2030 young people will need to spend more work hours learning than ever before because of the need to upgrade skills and that those who know how to learn will be at a competitive advantage. Career professionals will need to be learning coaches, supporting clients to find opportunities for learning and demonstrating their skills.
  • Inspire and instill hope – Finally, this labour market can equate to unmet expectations and a loss of hope for many young adults. Although the challenges are real, the news is not all bad. Research shows that graduates (especially post-secondary graduates) are generally doing well financially five to eight years after graduation (Finnie et al., 2016) and those with post-secondary credentials are accessing high-skilled work (Frenette and Frank, 2016). It’s important that we help our clients to balance the challenges they face with the opportunities inherent in today’s labour market. We need to help Generation(s) Next to see themselves as able and resilient and to nurture real hope as they move in the direction of their preferred future.


… and to remember the lessons of the ATM: there can be opportunity in the midst of change and uncertainty!



Donnalee Bell is the Managing Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation and has been researching about and supporting the careers of young adults for over 20 years.



Balaram, B. Warden, J. and Wallace-Stephens, F. (2017). Good gigs: A Fairer Future for the UK’s Gig Economy. RSA: Action and Research Centre.

Byrnjolfsson, E. and McAfee, A. (2014). The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Carrick, R. “Gen Y’s lack of financial independence is striking.” The Globe and Mail. May 26, 2014.

Eurofound (2014). Mapping youth transitions in Europe. Publications Office of the European Union.

Finnie, R., Afshar, K., Bozkurt, E., Miyairi, M., Pavlic, D. (2016). Barista or Better: New Evidence on the Earnings of Post-Secondary Education graduate: A Tax Linkage Approach.  “Executive Summary.”  Education Policy Research Initiative and the University of Ottawa.

The Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) (2017). The New Work Smarts: Thriving in the New Work Order. FYA.

Foster, K. (2012) Youth Employment and Un(der) Employment in Canada: More Than a Temporary Problem? Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Frenette, M. and Frank, K. (2017). Do Postsecondary Graduates Land High-skilled Jobs? Statistics Canada.

Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (2015), Labour Market Assessment.

Sun Life Financial. 2012 Canadian Health Index Report. Sun Life Financial, 2012.

Zizys, T. (2014) Better Work: The path to good jobs is through employers. Metcalf Foundation.



Models of Career Services in Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions

Universities and colleges with an “impressive” career service model evaluate their services, measure outcomes, proactively deliver services and collaborate with campus stakeholders

By Peter Dietsche


A new CERIC research study has sought to establish the importance that publicly funded universities and colleges place on the provision of career development services and to highlight particularly impressive models of career service provision across the country.

These questions were answered by PSE Information Systems with a mixed-methods research design consisting of: i) an online survey targeting selected career services staff in all Canadian English- and French-language colleges and universities, ii) a content analysis of all college and university career services websites, and iii) targeted in-depth on-site interviews with career services staff at those institutions identified as having an “impressive” model of service. The findings are summarized in two reports, Insight into Canadian Post-Secondary Career Service Models and Insight into Impressive Practices in Career Services: A Reference Guide.


Designing an Impressive Model Scale

The identification of career service models in Canadian post-secondary education (PSE) was achieved with an analysis of the survey data to identify patterns of service structure and delivery. The analysis produced two types of models, institutions with “criterion-specific” models and those with “impressive” models.
Criterion-specific models were identified based on structural characteristics shared by a subset of institutions. Five models were identified based on:

  • Use of student assistants
  • Co-location of career services with other student services
  • Providing services to prospective students
  • Career services funded via student fees
  • Binary structure characteristic of Quebec CEGEPs and universities


Identifying institutions with impressive models of career services began with input from practitioners via the online survey. Respondents were asked to rate the utility of 18 metrics that might characterize an impressive model.

The top seven metrics – those endorsed by two-thirds or more of respondents as being “very useful” – were selected as the characteristics of institutions with impressive career service models. The top seven metrics were:

1. Services are evaluated
2. Student satisfaction measures are used to improve services
3. Outcomes for students and other clients are measured
4. Student use statistics for face-to-face services are collected
5. Career-focused curriculum is embedded in programs
6. Practices that promote student-faculty dialogue on career topics are present
7. Degree of collaboration with campus stakeholders

An Impressive Model Scale Score was then computed for each institution using institutional responses to questionnaire items aligned with each of the seven metrics. This resulted in a total of 43 institutions with an Impressive Model Scale Score. Of these institutions, 24 scored above the scale mean and seven had a score more than one standard deviation above the mean. The latter group was considered to be significantly different from others in the sample and judged to exemplify an impressive model.

In a total of 43 institutions with an Impressive Model Scale Score, the seven institutions with the highest scores are: Wilfrid Laurier University; Queen’s University; Simon Fraser University; University of Toronto (Mississauga); Mount Royal University; Fanshawe College; Nova Scotia Community College.

The seven metrics listed above were collapsed to four key themes. The results show that, overall, career services practitioners in Canadian colleges and universities characterized institutions with an “impressive model” of career service delivery as being those that:

1. Evaluate services regularly
2. Measure service outcomes
3. Are proactive in service delivery
4. Collaborate with campus stakeholders


Achieving an impressive model

To understand the development and implementation of an impressive model in greater detail, focus groups were held with career services staff at the seven top-scoring institutions. A thematic analysis of the conversations revealed significant commonality across the institutions. Strategies used to achieve an impressive model focused on developing relationships and building partnerships with campus stakeholders, faculty members in particular.

Emphasis was placed on being proactive with campus groups by attending stakeholder meetings, for example, to highlight services and opportunities for collaboration. Co-location of career services with other student services departments was also a shared attribute of the impressive model and was cited as facilitating partnership development. Collaborating on programming and, most importantly, measuring service outcomes was regarded as an opportunity to be responsive and meet the needs of campus groups. Doing so would allow career services staff to demonstrate their impact and the value of their department. The result was heightened understanding of and support for career services.

Another key component of the impressive model was the strategic plan. At the department level, developing a strategic plan and ensuring the buy-in of all staff was cited as a pre-requisite for creating an effective career services department. If the related discussions, debates and policy planning could reach a consensus there was a greater likelihood that all staff would be “pulling in the same direction” in order to achieve departmental goals and objectives.

The insight gained into policy and practice via interviews with career services staff in high-performing institutions expanded on the characteristics of an impressive model of career services in Canadian colleges and universities presented above. The findings showed that staff in these institutions were intentional in using specific tactics that were effective in building institutional recognition of and commitment to their career services department.

Institutional commitment

Measures of institutional commitment to career development were examined such as staffing levels, budget and space allocation. Survey respondents were also asked to rate the commitment of their senior administration to student career development. The results show that senior staff at institutions with an impressive model were more committed to career development than those at institutions that did not have an impressive model. In the former case, 86% said their administration was “quite” or “very” committed to student career development, while in the latter case it was 45%.

As a supplement to the online survey, a content analysis was conducted of the career services websites for 207 Canadian colleges and universities located in 10 provinces and three territories. These data provide an additional estimate of institutional commitment to career services.

If post-secondary institutions wish to promote the career development of their students, being able to easily locate career services on the institution’s website is critical. A more objective measure used to assess the prominence of and commitment to career services was the number of clicks a student would need to arrive at the website.

Accordingly, the average number of clicks required to access the career services website from an institution’s home page was calculated for all institutions. For the college sector, the mean number of clicks nationally was 2.28 and for the university sector it was 2.1. The fact that, on average, approximately only two clicks are required to access career services on institutional websites suggests they are prominent, easy to find and that, by this measure, Canadian post-secondary institutions are committed to student career development.

The full reports can be accessed on CERIC’s website at


Peter Dietsche, PhD, is Emeritus William Davis Chair in Community College Leadership at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and the President of PSE Information Systems. For over three decades, his research has focused on the impact of policy and practice on student educational outcomes in Canadian and US colleges.

Free Webinar Series: “Impressive” Post-Secondary Career Service Models
CERIC is offering a free webinar series: “Impressive” Post-Secondary Career Service Models: What Have We Learned? from November 13 to 17 (Monday to Friday) presented by Dr Peter Dietsche and a group of career service leaders across Canada. This dynamic and highly interactive webinar series will be of interest to career services leadership and colleagues aspiring to leadership positions, as well as university and college senior administrators who wish to ensure high-quality and relevant career services.


The Future of the Employment Support System

A job matching system is just a Band-Aid. We need to move to an integrated workforce development model that supports youth facing multiple barriers

By Fabio Crespin


I believe the solution comprises two main pillars: acknowledging specific barriers and targeting them accordingly (moving away from generic approaches), and investing heavily in meaningful and lasting interventions (moving away from Band-Aid, superficial programs and activities).

For almost three years, I have been managing a portfolio of workforce development initiatives in Toronto and York Region that aim to transition youth (in our case, 17-29) facing multiple barriers (YFMB) into the labour market.


And who are YFMB?

According to a recent study from the Conference Board of Canada, more than one in seven Canadian children live in poverty. To put that into perspective, that’s 1,334,930 Canadian children in need.

In 2011, youth 15-24 represented 13% of the total population in Toronto and 26.1%[i] of them (a bit more than one in four) lived in poverty / low-income households (a low-income household yearly income is $35.500 or less – half of the Canadian $71,000 annual median income).

YFMB are primarily from this economic extract of our society.

It is also true that although poverty and its associated barriers to employment could indeed impact any youth in our country, some youth populations are far more affected by barriers then others including[ii]: youth from low-income backgrounds and living in poverty, Indigenous youth, racialized youth, youth in conflict with the law, newcomer youth, youth in and leaving the care system, LGBTTQ2 (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit and queer) youth, and youth with disabilities or special needs.

Several indicators support the fact above including higher (than average) unemployment rates for youth from these populations, lower levels of educational attainment, higher levels of incarceration rates, higher levels of young age pregnancy, higher incidence of substance abuse and mental health challenges and others.

There is no doubt that some of the barriers faced by these populations are systemic and, for some people, a trap that it is very difficult to overcome.

I believe the solution comprises two main pillars: acknowledging specific barriers and targeting them accordingly (moving away from generic approaches), and investing heavily in meaningful and lasting interventions (moving away from Band-Aid, superficial programs and activities).

During these past years, I had the privilege of learning from different sources that included brilliant colleagues, conferences and training opportunities (courtesy of an extremely supportive workplace), directly from field experts, researchers and practitioners and especially from our own portfolio of initiatives and experiences.

And what are some of the most valuable learnings that I could share?


The full spectrum of youth facing barriers

It is fundamental that we keep paying attention and supporting the transition of those youth completing post-secondary education as some of them are facing relevant barriers to entering the labour market such as lack of work-related networks, disconnect from what was learned in school and the reality of the industry, poorly developed soft skills and a far more competitive job market in general.

That said, it is also fundamental that we start investing much more strongly in equipping and supporting those youth who are even further from the shore and who in most cases, are not pursuing any form of post-secondary education (in 2011, 29.1% of Toronto District School Board high school graduates did not apply to any form of post-secondary education).

Low educational attainment is increasingly becoming the largest barrier to employment.

Although there are certainly trends that impact all youth populations (such as employment precarity, automation and late retirement), if we don’t differentiate needs and develop interventions accordingly, we perpetuate a system that primarily serves those who are closer to the labour market leaving those who are further away, bouncing from one program to another.

It is also fundamental that our society becomes even more supportive and conscious of the need for interventions that will not necessarily lead to employment in the short run.

Some youth require other more intense interventions (before employment / training preparation) that will help them advance their « employability status » but this process will take time and deep investments.

Some individuals who have experienced foundational challenges including food and house insecurity, dysfunctional families, history of mental health and substance abuse, lack of at least one caring adult in their lives and other severe life circumstances (fleeing a war zone, experiencing challenges with the justice system and others), may require longer and more intense interventions in order to become « job ready ».

Very doable but it must have the correct and right dosage of supports.

We need to continue evolving our collective vision for even better supporting, equipping and transitioning to the labour market those young people who are not finding success in the existing model; from those who are completing post-secondary education and still struggling, all the way to those who are leaving the prison system.


The employment support system

We need to continue evolving our model from a job matching system (helping jobseekers to find jobs) to an integrated workforce development model (supporting jobseekers in their career development process).

This would include:

  1. Adopting a sector-based approach where service providers become even more specialized in economic sectors and occupations (rather than serving all sectors) allowing them to apply perhaps the most important shift of all: to work much more directly with employers, from better identifying labour market gaps and opportunities to equipping young jobseekers accordingly. The agents preparing the future workforce (schools, colleges and universities) and supporting the current jobseekers (the employment support system) need to start working with employers more closely, much earlier and much beyond the hiring process itself. In my opinion, we need to adopt a dual clientele service model where our clients are the students and jobseekers but, equally important, the employers.



  1. A co-ordinated system that better defines industry-recognized competencies and credentials that have real value for students, workers and employers. A system that more clearly identifies and articulates the knowledge, skills, abilities, behaviours and credentials that lead to career success.
  2. A comprehensive retention and advancement support system. As hard as it is to land a job, it is even harder to retain the one and advance accordingly.
  3. Evaluation tools and metrics that encourage greater collaboration between service providers could monitor long-term outcomes (long-term job retention and income / career advancement).


Impact of artificial intelligence and automation

Articles and studies about automation, artificial intelligence (AI) and disruptive businesses are in general not conclusive about the « net impact » (jobs created minus jobs eliminated) of such new technologies and innovations.

The fact is that the exact impact of such novelties in the workforce, is indeed unknown.

But one thing for sure, as a result of AI and automation, most entry-level positions that require minimum or no technical skills will continue to disappear.

The gap between those who have poorly developed / no technical skills and the labour market itself will continue to widen.


Capacity building and training

We need far more « learn and earn » type of workforce development initiatives.

We need to continue developing, diversifying and strengthening other more accessible, compact and faster avenues for capacity building and training other than the college, university and trades training options.

There is a need for a radical increase in the number of capacity building and training pathways that could more efficiently equip and integrate youth into the labour market and this would include:

  1. Adapting existing curriculums to different learning styles, making the ones more dynamic, concise and relevant to specific occupations.
  2. Developing more experiential learning opportunities, which are in several cases the best way for some to learn. When “in-class” technical training is also needed, a hybrid between faster “in-class” training and “hands-on” experiences is proving to be very efficient in providing those who are further from the labour market with good jobs.
  3. Increasing career laddering opportunities when training and work is interposed creates a system that allows a steady, monitored and supported career growth path. It also speaks to a relatively new concept of micro credentialing when credentials are obtained slowly and are carried on after the jobseeker transition into the first job is completed.
  4. Introducing / strengthening workforce development pathways that are sensitive and responsive to more specific needs, that is to say training models that are gender-conscious and also more sensitive to different populations (youth with disabilities, LGBTTQ2 youth, Indigenous youth, racialized youth and others).


The use of technology

Although technology can play a big role in increasing access to education and training, evidence shows that animated online training (by an instructor / trainer) in a modified classroom (community setting for example) can be far more effective for those who are experiencing barriers than studying in isolation.

Animating online curriculum allows instructors to create group dynamics and activities that facilitate learning and nurture peer support and healthy competition.

Technology can indeed be a great ally but can’t substitute a dedicated and invested instructor / teacher, the possibility of using classroom’s activities to « mimic the real world » and our need to develop connections and caring relationships, even while learning.


The collective approach

All the successful workforce development interventions (that measure the transition and long-term retention into the labour market) for young people facing barriers are multi-sectoral partnerships that involve different levels of governments, employers, the community services sector, educational institutions, workforce development agents and funders.

Unquestionably, the size and complexity of the youth unemployment issue deeply depends on a collaborative approach to gathering and applying evidence.

To summarize, we need to continue evolving towards a workforce development approach that challenges a system that relies on subsidies and other incentives for youth employment to a system that closes the gap between employers with real labour market opportunities and talented youth equipped with the skills and training required by job providers and ready to thrive in an ever-competitive labour market.

I would also like to acknowledge that although this article covers the issue of youth unemployment only, the same subject for adults in general is equally a critical challenge for our society.



Fabio Crespin is the Manager of Youth Initiatives at United Way Toronto & York Region. With a business administration degree, Crespin initially worked for an Austrian / Brazilian investment bank. Since 2001, he has been working in various capacities related to public and privately funded socio-economic development programs in areas such as entrepreneurship and business education, employment, immigrant and youth services.


[i] Toronto Community Data Program, 2011, National Household Survey City of Toronto.

[ii] As described in the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services’ strategic framework on youth and includes the populations who are most impacted by the barriers.


Female Entrepreneurs: Fear of Failure and the Restorative Role of Resilience

Helping female entrepreneurs requires an understanding of their unique experiences

By Lori Padley-Lee


Women in Canada are choosing self-employment in record numbers. In 2015 there were over one million self-employed women in Canada, and at last count these women had contributed nearly $150 billion dollars to our economy. Yet while the number of women entrepreneurs is growing at twice the rate of men, this group’s sense of anxiety is also surpassing that of their male counterparts. According to Babson College’s 2012 Global Entrepreneur Monitor, fear of failure is a major concern of women who start their own businesses, spurred in part by lower perceptions of their entrepreneurial abilities than their more confident male peers. The questions for the career practitioner, then, are what is contributing to this fear of failure, and how can we help our female clients reach their entrepreneurial potential?

Fear, of course, can be healthy. It’s fear that keeps us from chasing balls into traffic and petting growling dogs. But fear can also be a detriment, clouding our perceptions of reality and blinding us to our own potential, if we let it. As any career counsellor is aware, fear of failure is often a major factor in a client’s inaction, either in terms of finding a new career or seeking advancement in their current one. For women stepping out into the unknown territory of business ownership, the fear of failure can be especially paralyzing. Why? Because a woman often faces societal barriers that can heighten her sense of being “not good enough”, discouraging her long before she hangs the “Open for Business” sign on her door.

The challenges are many, and this list is not comprehensive. The problem of money is paramount. Several studies cite women’s difficulties in securing loans from banks due to assumed financial incompetency (banks in the studies wanted to see hard numbers as an indicator of probable success, and reacted negatively towards women’s slow-but-steady, relationship-driven approach to growth). Women also struggle with building a support network. If the world of entrepreneurialism seems a “boy’s club” to some, not knowing where (or how) to access female mentorship is partly to blame. Advice, networking, even just “tea and sympathy” from someone who’s been there can make a significant difference in a female entrepreneur’s success and emotional well-being.  Finally, in talking about barriers that lead to fear of failure, we cannot discount the impact of a woman’s work-life balance. In a society that still views women as the primary caregivers of children and keepers of the home, women entrepreneurs who also happen to be parents face additional hurdles. Finding time both for raising children and cultivating a new business is undeniably stressful even with support systems, and in the age of “mommy wars” many self-employed women feel the strain of being judged from both sides.  Stretched thin, they fear failing as businesswomen and failing as mothers.

Fortunately, career counsellors can help women mitigate these clients’ fears of failure. Women embarking on entrepreneurship are often embarking on a career transition unlike any they’ve made before. One of the theories we turn to when helping clients tackle transitions is that of resilience. Nurturing resilience is largely achieved “by placing an emphasis on the already realized positive capacities of [the] individual.” Successful entrepreneurialism is highly dependent on qualities such as creativity, determination, people skills, and the ability to multi-task. The list goes on and on. What better way to alleviate the fear of failure than by helping a female entrepreneur to appreciate the relevant qualities she already has?

When we strive to build resilience in our clients we strive to make them adaptable to change, prepared to overcome challenges and open to creating and finding opportunities for learning and growth. Part of this journey typically includes goal-setting, an essential component of launching a business. Setting attainable, realistic goals helps people feel in control of their situation (Think about a time when you were feeling overwhelmed and you created a to-do list. How satisfying was it to put a checkmark next to each item as you completed it, no matter how small?) From the initial business idea to signing contracts on the dotted line, a woman’s entrepreneurial journey is comprised of many steps. We need to help clients feel they’ve got all their bases covered and can handle each step as it comes along. Empowering women with the resources to draft a successful business plan, to access information about her customer demographics, and to understand her obligations as an employer – these are just some the puzzle pieces that, when put together, can give our clients a clear sense of their own preparedness and competency.

Resilient clients – rather than wait for success to find them – get out and make things happen, even when obstacles make it seem impossible to move forward.  Anyone with entrepreneurial dreams already has that go-getter element to their personality, but for a client fearing failure, the ability to cultivate opportunities can easily get lost in self-doubt. We can help by fostering optimism, self-esteem, intrinsic motivation, and self-efficacy. One strategy to achieve this is narrative therapy, with clients telling us their stories and reflecting upon the successes and dreams that have led them to self-employment goals. Ultimately, this approach can help to re-awaken their belief in themselves and their own potential.

Resilient female entrepreneurs will have more confidence to effectively sell their business ideas to prospective investors, to actively seek out likeminded peers and mentors for support, and to unapologetically balance work and family and ask for help when needed. Slowly, some of the barriers that these women face are being eroded by progressive financial institutions that have taken strides to support them, and by a growing movement towards more equitable approaches to parenting and homemaking. There’s still a long way to go, but in the meantime we can help make the entrepreneurial path a much easier one for women to follow.



Lori Padley-Lee is currently enrolled in the Career Development Practitioner program at Conestoga College. She has worked as an educator, marketing writer and editor, and is interested in assisting disadvantaged youth and adults with job skills development and self-marketing to help them reach their career potential.


Beckton, Clare and Janice McDonald (January, 2016). “A Force to Reckon With: Women, Entrepreneurship and Risk”. Retrieved July 16, 2016, from

Flavelle, Dana (May 3, 2016). “Women Entrepreneurs Embrace Risk Differently: Report Procedures”. The Toronto Star. Retrieved June 1, 2016 from:

Mielach, David (July 31, 2013). “Failure Tops Women’s List of Startup Fears”. Business News Daily. Retrieved July 10, 2016  from:

VanBreda, Adrian DuPlessis. “Resilience Theory: A Literature Review (2001)”. Retrieved July 18, 2016 from


Obvious and Unexpected: The Benefits of Volunteering for Youth

Research shows that volunteering helps improve employability and acts as a route to employment – among other positive outcomes

By Melanie Hientz


Weeding an organic farm in Costa Rica with a machete. Fertilizing the soil with cow dung. Eating dinner on a mountaintop with strangers from around the world.

All things I never thought I’d experience – and all of which took place on a single volunteer trip after graduating high school almost 15 years ago.

At the time, I thought the whole thing was just an amazing experience in a neat place. So I was amused when I found myself drawing on that story in a job interview – with Volunteer Canada.

Those days in rural South America had more of an impact on me than I had thought.


Why would a young person volunteer in the first place?

In 2010, Volunteer Canada undertook a pan-Canadian study, Bridging the Gap: Enriching the Volunteer Experience to Build a Better Future for Our Communities.[i] I helped co-ordinate the research component of the study, and guide the roll-out of a series of subsequent Building the Bridge tools for volunteers and volunteer-involving organizations. Bridging the Gap explored the key motivations for volunteering among a number of Canadian cohorts, including youth. It revealed what Canadians are looking for in a volunteer experience today, and how organizations are engaging volunteers. The findings? There are a number of reasons why young people volunteer: professional, social and personal in nature.

The professional benefits are likely obvious to you – young people can improve their skills, network, maybe even make connections with an organization, or in an area, where they could one day work.

The social benefits are also deep and impactful. People become close with one another by going through things together – and volunteer experiences can be some of the best shared experiences, full of challenges and successes. Plus, it can grant you access to worlds you might never otherwise see.

The personal benefits, meanwhile, are some of the most profound – and often overlooked. A young person can really learn about themselves, and figure out what they want – and don’t want – out of life, by taking on volunteer opportunities. It builds character. It shows you your strengths and weaknesses.

A national study in England found that youth volunteered for reasons that were altruistic first, then instrumental, in this order: to help someone in their community; to learn new skills; to respond to their needs or skills; to help gain experience to benefit their future career.[ii]

It makes sense that a lot of young people would volunteer simply because it helps later in life with job security and networking – but it has a ream of other hidden benefits too.


Have a dream job in mind? Start today

A relative of mine took business administration in undergrad and went on to start a landscaping business with a friend. A couple of years earlier, during university, he had become curious about firefighting – a childhood dream of his – so he signed on as a volunteer firefighter. Today, he’s 10 years into an amazing career with a fire department near Vancouver.

Studies have even shown that volunteering contributes to feelings of great confidence in youth, making them feel more employable. Plus, employers have highlighted that volunteering is looked upon favourably on a CV, and that positive work ethic such as self-motivation is modelled in employees that have volunteered.[iii] An American study recently tracked 70,000 jobless people for 10 years (between 2002 and 2012), and found that those who volunteered had a 27% better chance of finding a job than those that didn’t.[iv] There is considerable other research showing that volunteering helps improve employability and acts as a route to employment.

Literature also shows that the effects of volunteering on gaining employment vary according to a number of factors (demographics, frequency of engagement, duration of unemployment, motivations for volunteering and the type of volunteer role), many of which have a combined effect.[v] In other words, it is not a clear link to employment. However, several studies suggest that volunteering does, in the long term, contribute to “individual employability” factors, as it can enhance knowledge and skills, build work attitudes and confidence, and improve mental and physical health and well-being.[vi]


Plus, Canadians are good volunteers

We’re polite and friendly, sure, but did you know Canadians are also some of the most engaged volunteers in the world? In 2013, more than 12.7 million Canadians volunteered – that’s 44% of the entire population. The federal government’s 2013 General Social Survey – Giving, Volunteering and Participating found that Canadian youth stand apart, volunteering more than any other age group at 53% of Canadians aged 15-24 volunteering.[vii]

That said, in many of these studies – as is the case with most academic research – context matters. Canadian youth have the highest volunteer rate among cohorts, for instance, while British youth (aged 16 to 25) volunteer less than most other age groups.[viii] Why? In Canada, there is a requirement in some school districts to perform community service to graduate from high school. The same Canadian youth also had a below average contribution of annual volunteer hours (126, compared to the national average of 154).[ix] Mandatory volunteering in high school might partially explain this coupling of high youth volunteer rates and low hours contributed.

So we’re not off the hook quite yet…


Altruism lives!

In the end, the benefits of volunteering are as diverse as the motivations that get youth involved in the first place.

But let’s consider one last thought: it’s more than fine if young people’s decision to volunteer has nothing to do with them. Our modern society – educated and advanced as it is – is plagued with social justice issues, problems so complex that it’s nearly impossible for the public and non-profit sectors to solve them alone. The environmental crisis, mental health challenges, addiction, homelessness – the list goes on. The world needs volunteers.

In fact, research has found a positive relationship between youth volunteering and increased civic engagement later in life.[x] Volunteering influences peoples’ development, not just their experience. Volunteers are getting out to vote, engaged in community service and contributing to building strong communities.

Another research review of student volunteers highlighted the more frequently a person volunteered, the more likely they were to perceive altruistic motivations and benefits. In other words, the more someone is engaged in volunteering, the greater the impact they feel on personal and social levels.[xi]

Youth may find their reason to volunteer is simply to help people, give their time to something positive and meaningful, or make the world a better place. But they shouldn’t be surprised if they end up helping themselves in the process, too.

I started volunteering because I thought it would be fun – a cool way to meet some interesting people and learn new things. As it turns out, it fundamentally shaped my career path. And today, I’m working at a university I once dreamed of attending, working on projects I believe are making real, important social change – and the future looks just as bright.



Melanie Hientz is the CHEQ/EDI Implementation Lead at the Human Early Learning Partnership, a collaborative, interdisciplinary research unit based at the University of British Columbia. She has worked in research and evaluation in poverty reduction, and as manager of special projects at Volunteer Canada. Hientz has Master in Geography and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.



Collamer, N. (2013). “Proof that volunteering pays off for job hunters”. Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Forbes

Corden, A, Sainsbury, R, 2005. “Volunteering for employment skills: A qualitative research study”, York: Social Policy Research Unit, University of York.

Hart, D., Atkins, R., & Donnelly, T. M. (2006). “Community service and moral development”. In M. Killen & J. Smetana (Eds.), Handbook of moral development (pp. 633-656).

Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; Metz, E., McLellan, J., & Youniss, J. (2003). “Types of voluntary service and adolescents’ civic development”. Journal of Adolescent Research, 18, 188-203.

Holdsworth, C. (2010). Student volunteers: A national profile. London: Volunteering England/Institute of Volunteering Research

Kamerade, D and Paine, A. (2014). Volunteering and employability: implications for policy and practice. Voluntary Sector Review Vol. 5, no 2, 264-5.

McQuaid, RW, Lindsay, C, 2005. “The concept of employability”, Urban Studies 42, 2, 197–219.

Nichols, G, Ralston, R, 2011. “Social inclusion through volunteering: the legacy potential of the 2012 Olympic Games”, Sociology: The Journal of the British Sociological Association 45, 5, 900–14 in Kamerade, D and Paine, A. (2014).

Paine, Angela, et al. (2013). “Does volunteering improve employability? Evidence from the British Household Panel Survey”. Third Sector Research Centre. Retrieved August 21, 2017 from

Smith, et. al (2010). “Motivations and Benefits of Student Volunteering: Comparing Regular, Occasional, and Non-Volunteers in Five Countries”. Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and Social Economy Research. Vol.1, no.1. 77.

Spera, Chris, et al. (2013). Volunteering as a pathway to employment. Corporation for National and Community Service. Retrieved August 21, 2017 from

“The 2013 General Social Survey – Giving, Volunteering and Participating (GSS GVP)”. Table 119-0009. Retrieved August 21, 2017 from;jsessionid=0BA6843B97CF3D31D2B6F99EAC2542E8?lang=eng&retrLang=eng&id=1190009&tabMode=dataTable&p1=-1&p2=31&srchLan=-1

Volunteer Canada (2010). “Bridging the Gap: Enriching the Volunteer Experience to Build a Better Future for Our Communities”. Retrieved August 21, 2017 from