Cannexus 2009 – A Huge Success!

CANNEXUS 2009, hosted in Toronto on April 6 – 8 was an overwhelming success! Thank you to all the delegates, session presenters and exhibitors for making this, our 3rd national conference, a success. Thanks also to our Sponsors as well as the many Partnering and Supporting Organizations.

Randell Adjei speaking at event.Careering

10 Questions with Randell Adjei

Author headshotRandell Adjei is an entrepreneur, speaker and spoken word practitioner who uses his gifts to empower the message of alchemy. He was recently appointed Ontario’s first Poet Laureate. Adjei is the founder of one of Toronto’s largest youth-led initiatives, Reaching Intelligent Souls Everywhere (R.I.S.E Edutainment). In 2018, R.I.S.E received the Mayor’s Youth Arts Award from the Toronto Arts Foundation.  

Adjei is the author of I Am Not My Struggles, a powerful anthology released in 2018. He was also named CBC Metro Morning’s Torontonian of the Year in 2015 and NOW Magazine’s Local Hero in 2017. Adjei is a keynote speaker at CERIC’s Cannexus22 conference. 

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

Career development is huge. It is indirectly connected to our sense of vision and perhaps purpose here on this Earth. In many careers, we integrate skills, service into the community/workforce. 

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

I am currently reading God Help the Child by Toni Morrison. I love novels and I appreciate the way Toni Morrison weaves wisdom, history and storytelling into this powerful book. It is as if she has taken my hand and said come with me, journey into the belly of my story. I also appreciate the way she develops characters in the novel. As a poet, reading novels keeps my imagination sharp.

What was your first-ever job? 

My first ever “job” was selling chocolate for a charity. It was called Kare 4 Kids. We sold chocolate to help raise money for children around the world that were disenfranchised and underprivileged. I worked across the city of Toronto speaking with and encouraging shoppers and passersby to help support the charity. It taught me how to speak to strangers, how to sell an idea of hope and gave me the understanding of making change – making change.

Randell Adjei speaking at event.
Photo credit: Ontario Parliamentary Photographer

What do you do to relax? 

I often spend time in nature, writing poetry or reading. I also spend time relaxing in meditation. Both help me quiet my mind and mitigate my overthinking mind. I feel a sense of peace around nature and it is as if I can leave my worries behind and be present with myself.

What is the one thing you wouldn’t be able to work without? Why? 

I wouldn’t be able to work without knowing how my work contributes to a larger part of society. I can’t work without a sense of purpose and how it serves humanity. For me, it feels empty – there is nothing gratifying about making money for money’s sake. I mean, there are so many great organizations and businesses where we have the opportunity to make a difference. I believe participating in our economic system isn’t about numbers, it is about impact and the legacy of those we can help doing the work we do.

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

I want to begin building an artist residence in my parents home country – Ghana. There are so many talented artists without outlets, resources and support to help them achieve their dreams. And I feel privileged having grown up here in Toronto. I feel it is my duty to give back to the land of my ancestry. The residency would support multiple forms of the arts. Professional development, mentorship and self-actualization will be the pillars of the residency.

Who would you like to work with most? 

I would like to work with Stephan James and Shamier Anderson on their inaugural Black is Now Canada initiative to recognize and award Black entertainers and leaders in their industry. They are from  Scarborough, ON, just like I am, and they have surpassed what many have said we can become. In September of 2022, they are planning on hosting the first award show of its kind and it is inspiring to know something like this is coming.

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

My one piece of advice is to see the opportunities in the challenging times. It may be difficult to do but there is beauty in the struggle. In order for us to mine gold we must first dig through the dirt. Adversity is inevitable so we cannot take these things personally. Instead, we can look at the seeds of opportunity in every challenge.

Which talent or superpower would you like to have? 

I would like to have the superpower of cloning myself to experience life in many forms and realms. I would use it to spread positivity around the world with my gifts, visions and talents. I would also use it to fast track my vision for seeing a more unified world. 

What do you consider your greatest achievement? 

My greatest achievement would be evolving into someone I always wanted to be as a child. Seeing where I am right now and what I had to do and sacrifice to get here is rewarding. The younger me would be so proud. I remember being a child and I used to talk to myself about things I wanted to do and of speaking positivity in this world. I would walk around my house pretending to be a speaker in front of thousands. Today, I have the privilege of living this dream out loud, no longer in my mind. I have manifested something that I am grateful for every day.


24 bursaries awarded to attend Cannexus22 virtual conference

A total of 24 career development professionals from across Canada will be attending the virtual Cannexus22 conference, courtesy of two bursaries administered by CERIC. The Marilyn Van Norman Bursary has been awarded to 13 practitioners from community-based employment agencies and the Young Professionals Bursary granted to 11 early career professionals.

Funded by The Counselling Foundation of Canada, the Marilyn Van Norman Bursary is given in the name of CERIC’s former Director of Research Initiatives and recognizes her more than 40 years of leadership in career development. Recipients of the Marilyn Van Norman Bursary this year represent the country from coast to coast to coast, including British Columbia, Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Bursary winners are non-profit community-based career development and employment practitioners who work with a range of client populations, including Indigenous peoples, refugees, immigrants, international students, Black communities, francophones and unemployed adults.

The Young Professionals Bursary is a partnership between CERIC and the Nova Scotia Career Development Association (NSCDA) designed to support emerging employment and career development practitioners. Bursaries are awarded to ensure the diverse voices of the new generation of employment and career practitioners are represented and that young professionals can benefit from the professional development and networking at the virtual conference. Preference is given to applicants from equity-seeking groups. The young professionals – 30 years of age or younger – who are among the winners this year include those from PEI, Quebec and Alberta. They work for universities, school boards, government as well as community associations.

A bursary provides a full registration for the virtual Cannexus conference. The Cannexus22 conference takes place January 24-26, 2022.  Canada’s largest bilingual career and workforce development conference, Cannexus22 features 150+ sessions and will continue to reimagine how career development can be a powerful catalyst in pandemic recovery.


Cannexus22 shifting from hybrid to fully virtual conference 

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


CERIC to host Virtual Fireside Chat with Policy Leader Alastair MacFadden

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


Graduate students win award to attend the Cannexus22 conference

CERIC has announced the recipients of this year’s Graduate Student Award, providing support for four graduate students to attend the Cannexus22 Canada’s Career Development Conference, January 24-26, 2022 virtually and in Ottawa. 

The recipients are: 

  • Caileigh Wilson, MA candidate, Education, Simon Fraser University 
  • Hélène Brisebois, MA candidate, Education, Université de Sherbrooke 
  • Jordan Ho, PhD candidate, Psychology, University of Guelph 
  • Noah Arney, MA candidate, Education, University of Calgary

The award, presented annually to select full-time graduate students studying career counselling or career development, provides free registration to the virtual Cannexus and $1,000. The Cannexus conference promotes the exchange of information and explores innovative approaches in the areas of career counselling and career development. Student posters will be available for viewing during the virtual conference.   

Eligibility for the award is based on participation in CERIC’s Graduate Student Engagement Program (GSEP), which includes the submission of a one-page article on a career development topicRead the award-winning articles and all the thought-provoking submissions on CERIC’s GSEP Corner. 

GSEP encourages engagement of Canada’s full-time graduate students (Master or PhD level) whose academic research is in career development or a related field. The next deadine to apply to GSEP is March 31, 2022. 


Fall issue of Careering magazine reimagines career development in Canada

Eighteen months into a disruptive and often devastating pandemic, we are in a moment that feels ripe for reflection. This issue of CERIC’s Careering magazine both examines where we have been – the changes the field has made, by choice or by necessity – and where career development needs to go in Canada. The strategies, case studies and ideas this issue’s authors present reflect an inherent belief that we can do better than just going back to “normal.” 

There’s something for everyone in this issue – available exclusively online at – with articles on career education in K-12 and post-secondary; re-envisioning approaches to workforce development; hybrid career services; Indigenous career counselling; inclusive workplaces; measuring and communicating the value of career development; and more. 

Articles include: 

Additionally, in this issue we asked career professionals across Canada what they wanted to see for the future of the field. Watch what they shared in this video:  

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

The Winter 2022 issue of Careering magazine will explore the theme of “Career Mindsets.” New contributors are welcome, and can submit in English, French or both languages. Please review our Submission Guidelines and send a 1-2 paragraph proposal outlining your topic idea to Editor Lindsay Purchase,, by Thursday, Oct. 14. 

Young woman wearing backpack sitting on rock in forested area overlooking water.Careering

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

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

Tina-Marie Christian, Seanna Quressette and Kevin Ned

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

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

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

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

The traumatic legacy of residential schools

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

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

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

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

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

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

Building a better future in education

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read more on supporting Indigenous career development

16 resources to help settlers understand and advance Indigenous reconciliation

Allyship in career development: An honour, privilege and responsibility

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

Connecting to the labour market

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

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

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

The role of Indigenous career practitioners

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

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

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

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

Resources for career practitioners to support Indigenous clients:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man shaking hands with other person in office.Careering

Employer-engaged workforce development: Strategies to address sector shock

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

Vanessa Wong

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

What is a sector shock?

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

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

What is a workforce intermediary?

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

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

What is an employer-engaged workforce development strategy?

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

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

Read more:

The hybrid future: Shifting employment services to meet client needs

Geography matters: The value of place-based workforce development

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

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

Examples of employer-engaged workforce development strategies

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

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

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

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

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

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

A strong foundation

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

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


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

Group of masked people sitting in circle on chairs talking.Careering

The hybrid future: Shifting employment services to meet client needs

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

Manjeet Dhiman and Aimee Holmes

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

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

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

More from this issue of Careering:

Geography matters: The value of place-based workforce development

Employer-engaged workforce development: Strategies to address sector shock

Increasing inclusion and engagement in virtual career workshops

Setting up for digital success

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

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

Woman wearing earphones and waving at computer screen.

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

Reflecting on pandemic challenges

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

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

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

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

Meeting future needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What students want from employers to create safe, inclusive workplaces

Dalhousie University interviewed students and graduates belonging to equity-deserving groups to better understand their experiences in the labour market

Vicki Mackintosh and Michelle Patrick

Author headshotsEquity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility (EDIA) have been major buzzwords in the labour market in the past 18 months. But it goes beyond language. The onset of a global pandemic has exposed inequities in the workforce experienced by historically excluded communities. What does EDIA actually mean to the people facing inequities in the workforce, and how can career development shift to appropriately serve them?

It is no surprise that jobseekers from equity groups – including Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), 2SLGBTQIA+ individuals and people with disabilities – report that they feel underrepresented and lack support in the workplace. Members of equity groups are often denied employment opportunities, and even when hired, face inequities and discrimination. In Canada, people of colour experience significant hardship securing employment, even if they are highly educated. They are also less likely to attain higher positions such as management and senior roles and are more likely to experience substantial wage gaps.  Career development must acknowledge these inequities and provide effective strategies to support diverse individuals.


Dalhousie University Career Services – within Student Affairs, the Faculty of Management and SITE (science, information technology and engineering) co-op education – wanted to better understand the experiences of students and graduates belonging to equity groups in accessing the labour market and gaining meaningful employment (including work terms or co-op placements). In July and August of 2021, as part of a pilot project, EDIA Outreach Assistant Vicki Mackintosh facilitated conversations with 13 individuals to identify their barriers, challenges and needs.

Dalhousie University campus. (iStock)

In these virtual one-on-one discussions, participants spoke about their career goals, and what they looked for when applying for a job and in an employer. They opened up about the challenges they faced in employment and while accessing supports from employers or the university – often describing how frequently they encountered discrimination. Students shared how they needed to work twice as hard as others who did not represent an equity-deserving group. Mental health was frequently mentioned as a challenge stemming from the discrimination and oppression they met daily. Students and alumni spoke about their experiences disclosing their identities with others and acknowledged areas of support to make this, and the overall experience, more comfortable.

Below are some of the priorities for supportive action identified by students and graduates, which can inform career development practices in a post-secondary context and beyond. Institutions and employers should take the time to build relationships and trust with these communities and listen to their specific needs, as regional and cultural difference can further shape practices. Significant consideration should be given to the equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility of services and the workplace, as well as the positions being recommended to jobseekers, and employers should actively encourage diversity in upper management.

More from Careering magazine:

Hiring a Chief Diversity Officer isn’t enough to make workplaces safer for racialized employees

Career development as a social justice imperative

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

Inclusive environments

Jobseekers shared that an equitable hiring statement was a critical element that they looked for in a job post. However, they also wanted further information to determine the employer’s true culture, policies and practices to recruit, train and retain equity groups in the workplace.

People of colour stated that company culture, diversity and positive leadership were essential to their consideration when applying for a job. All participants who identified as part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community said that they sought compassionate female leadership. These participants added that while it was a start to hang the Pride flag, they wanted to know what was being done to create an inclusive and supportive environment. Students and alumni who identified as having a disability suggested they sought employers who would consider accommodating them in their work environment, including with paid sick days.

“Career development for jobseekers within equity groups must include building self-efficacy to be able to advocate for their needs at each stage of the employment process.”

Career development then has a place to assist jobseekers to understand their own needs from an employer to feel safe and included. This may include helping jobseekers learn how to evaluate job postings to determine whether a potential employer’s policies and practices are reflective of their EDIA statements.

Building empowerment

Providing students with the resources and skills to advocate for themselves is another important recommendation that emerged from the conversations. Many of the participants experienced feeling undervalued, unheard and harassed during their work term or employment.

Those who identified as having a disability spoke about how often co-workers and managers made them feel guilty about taking time off for illness, working at a slower pace or receiving accommodations. Participants were also discouraged by the lack of clear communication after submitting applications. They shared that they would appreciate being asked if they required accommodations prior to a meeting or interview. Those with learning disabilities who struggled to think on the spot identified that having clear meeting goals or being provided the interview questions in advance would be beneficial.

Career development for jobseekers within equity groups must include building self-efficacy to be able to advocate for their needs at each stage of the employment process. Career services can help empower students and graduates to ask for what they need, which can include education and information on labour laws to help jobseekers understand their rights and responsibilities. Employers can provide confidential, culturally competent employee supports and include ongoing diversity and sensitivity training for all staff. Both career services and employers must understand their own power and privilege, and the impact this can have for equity groups in a workplace setting.

Supportive networks

The value of mentorship and networking was also a significant topic of discussion among most participants. Having mentors with shared identity and similar lived experiences, or in their chosen field of work, was something participants felt strongly about. Those with mentors spoke about their positive experiences, with some saying they would not be where they were today without mentorship.

Career development must include the fostering of networking skills, particularly to support students in building their network within their own community – not just their industry of interest. Similarly, general mentorship programs must focus on recruiting a broad range of diverse mentors and equip mentors and mentees with a clear understanding of their roles to encourage a healthy and lasting relationship. To promote cultural safety, mentors who do not share the identity of their mentees should be educated on the systemic barriers faced by equity groups and to recognize their own power and privilege.

Safer spaces

Creating safer and more open space for jobseekers is vital. When asked what would make equity-deserving folks feel more comfortable in the workplace, students suggested:

  • open, honest conversations regarding identities and accessibility needs
  • pronouns on name tags and in email signatures
  • information specific to equity policies and practices in the workplace available to employees, as well as the general public
  • seeing themselves reflected in all aspects of the workplace such as diversity in senior management

Career development practitioners should consider these suggestions within their own practice and engage in professional development to learn more about employment equity and discrimination and their effects in the workplace. This includes but is not limited to using a trauma-informed lens and collaborating with diverse colleagues.

It is clear in Canada we have a long way to go to reach equality and equity in the workforce. The global pandemic has shown how equity groups are disproportionately affected, and career supports for them are more essential than ever. It is our hope that this knowledge will be used to strengthen the future of equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility in recruitment, hiring and employment. If we are to reimagine career development, we need to acknowledge and understand the individual and their identities, and the impact of the intersection of identity, and honour their lived experience by providing inclusive, relevant supports.

Vicki Mackintosh (she/her) is a master’s student in Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture, in Truro, NS. She has been working with the Bissett Student Success Centre as the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Accessibility (EDIA) Employer Outreach Assistant on the discovery of equitable hiring and recruitment. She participates heavily in equity advocacy and sits on many boards and committees for women’s rights as well as 2SLGBTQIA+ inclusion.

Michelle Patrick (she/her) is the Student Success Career Advisor at Dalhousie University, located in Halifax. Prior to this, Patrick was the program manager for PLANS (Promoting Leadership in health for African Nova Scotians), which aimed to increase representation of Black health-care professionals in Nova Scotia. She is also a member of the Racial Violence policy development group and co-chair of the Student Affairs EDIA committee at Dalhousie.