On Wednesday I went to an employment centre in Dieppe to meet a group of career counsellors to talk about their practice. It was a real privilege to have some time with this group as I got to hear about their practice and what life was like for careers workers at the sharp end.
This group mainly worked with clients who were currently or imminently unemployed but who had some kind of postsecondary education. However, they also received some referrals from New Brunswick’s Social Development agency which is where the long-term unemployed and individuals with complex needs would be found.
I heard a range of stories about how engagement in careers counselling had helped to turn people’s lives around. Sometimes this was about helping them to get skills or to make a decision about their career, but more often it was about supporting far more complex thinking about the individual and their relationship with the world. The counsellors were clearly all very knowledgeable and skilled in dealing with complex clients and helping them to develop their self-image and progress in the worlds of learning or work. All of the counsellors had Masters degrees and were able to develop and discuss distinctive counselling approaches.
I spent some time exploring the customer journey to them. My understanding would be that it typically goes something like this.
– An individual goes into Service Canada to receive benefits.
– They are then directed to PETaL if they have the relevant level of education.
– They will then see an employment adviser who will discuss ways forward for them.
– If they have complex needs or are uncertain about their career path they will be referred to a career counsellor (the group I met with).
– Typically they will meet with a career counsellor 1-6 times in hour long one-to-one sessions.
– If necessary they will then be referred on to other agencies including agencies that provide job search support and recruitment advice.
What came across to me was a strong sense of a high quality, well qualified and highly committed service, but also on which was fragmented. In the customer journey described above each step might involve clients moving between different providers. What occurred to me as we talked was that the organisational fragmentation has a highly limiting impact on professional autonomy. While professionals remain free to innovate and develop their own practice, where a service is fragmented it is much more difficult to build alliances with other people in the customer journey and to rethink the overall service paradigms. In the UK we’ve become very familiar with this process of chopping up services into packets and then micro-managing the packets through targets etc. In New Brunswick they don’t seem to have gone as far down that road as we have, but it is clearly a road that is being travelled.
I talked to the practitioners about the role of something like the Blueprint. They were positive about the Blueprint, but were not actively involved in using it as part of their day to day practice. They felt that their practice routinely covered the competencies of the Blueprint, but were generally more focused on an alternative competency framework around Essential Skills. It seems to me that the Blueprint might be a tool that could be used at government level as a guiding and co-ordinating document which could help to address some of the service fragmentation and ensure that all government (and government paid) services are working towards the same vision. I think that many of the practitioners who have experience of the Blueprint would endorse this idea, but it has been eight years since the federal government have funded Blueprint and in New Brunswick it isn’t part of the current policy landscape.
My experience in Dieppe left me impressed with the quality of adult careers services in Canada, but also a recognition that they are experiencing many of the same pressures as the UK. The ideal situation of a supportive policy framework, good funding, coherent service management and collaborative and professional staff is far closer in New Brunswick than in England, but there is still some room for development. I hope to continue to explore this in other provinces and to examine how the Blueprint might be used as part of a way forward.