Yesterday I headed out to Fredericton, New Brunswick with Phil Jarvis for a meeting about the Blueprint and career development in the province of New Brunswick. We met at the University of New Brunswick’s campus (which was stunning) and had a whole morning to kick around some ideas. The meeting was made up of a mix of practitioners, managers and strategy people from the employment service, which they refered to as PETaL (Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour) . There was also someone involved in careers counsellor training and someone from the local professional association in attendance.
Phil kicked off by talking about the current situation in Canada and exploring how it provides a context for career development. He describes the current environment as the “perfect storm in the job markets” and focused on four main factors that are influencing how Canadians engage with the world of work.
1 The Great Recession
2 The aging population and declining birthrate
3 The upskilling of jobs
4 The unprepared workforce
This “perfect storm” idea was a very interesting one and I hope to write about it more as the trip unfolds. I then talked a
little bit about my interest in the blueprint (basically a version of the post I put up yesterday). We then moved on to hear from the practitioners about their experience of working with the Blueprint.
The group said that although the Blueprint has been influential on practice in New Brunswick it had never been formally endorsed by the PETaL ministry. Rather it had been engaged with at the level below policy and had been introduced in a number of places by managers who saw utility in it. Phil Jarvis argued that this was fairly typical of the way in which the Blueprint had been engaged with in many provinces. Although some had implemented it more formally as policy, in many places it had been more like a manifesto for those in the careers sector to engage with and reorientate their practice around. Policy endorsement at a provincial level was far more likely on the back of some kind of federal initiative. While provincial governments like to put their own stamp on policy initiatives, the federal government has the potential to play a co-ordinating/leadership role on careers.
One thing that came across was that one of the challenges for a career management skills type appproach within New Brunswick’s employment services was that it was seen as a more thorough, time-consuming approach. Matching people to jobs offered a “quick fix” that enabled the employment centres to meet targets more easily. This is really about the tension between government expectations and the career development paradigm that is being used. If government designs management systems around a matching paradigm, even if they formally endorse something like the Blueprint, practitioners and services are likely to struggle to realise the vision. The Blueprint is an educational curriculum rather than a one off intervention and therefore may require different kinds of services delivered in different kinds of ways. Having said this, it became clear in the session that the PETaL service in New Brunswick has considerably more autonomy at both a practitioner and service level than Next Step has in the UK. The current contractual arrangements in UK adult careers services would make it very difficult to experiment with something like the Blueprint – while pracitioners in New Brunswick described a number of initiatives that they were driving at a local level.
One participant in the group had previously worked within the school system (it tends to get shortened to “K-12”). She talked about how the Blueprint had been used as a resource within schools to inform curriculum and to create careers and personal development programmes. The tension in this context had come with a series of drives from the provincial government to deliver subject based initiatives around literacy, numeracy, STEM etc. These had effectly displaced some of the wider STEM/personal development programmes.
One thing that came across was that in most cases the school-based and adult careers services are poorly linked up. The situation seemed very similar to the one which I’m familar with from the UK. Two sets of practitioners engage with similar issues at different points in an individuals life. But little learning or common approach is passed from one context to another. The Blueprint has the potential to provide some common group around which education based careers services can talk to employment based careers services, but it seems that for the most part this hasn’t happened. Where the Blueprint has been engaged with it has typically been within silos, rather than on a cross-ministry lifelong basis.
The Blueprint has clearly been influential in New Brunswick. However, so far it hasn’t really embedded in the policy or management structure for either employment services or schools. It lives on in the minds of many pracititioners, but a new generation are also coming through who don’t remember the big pushes around the development and rolling out of the Blueprint. If the Blueprint approach is going to survive in this province there is clearly need for a new wave of engagement either at the policy level or at the level of management of career services. Support from the federal government would facilitate this happening, but it is probably not essential as provincial governments have autonomy around both schools and employment services.
I’ve got more meetings exploring the situation in New Brunswick and hope to write more. But I’d be interested in the perspective on anyone reading this from New Brunswick.