The ideology of Career Development in Canada

Since I’ve been here I’ve been trying to work out what practitioners (and others) really think – what set of  beliefs sit under the concept of career development in Canada. In this post I’m going to try and summarise what I’ve found. The careers sector in Canada is highly complex and so it is important to recognise that the ideological positioners that are adopted are reframed within different contexts. What makes sense in a school doesn’t necessarily work in an employment centre or a university. So with these caveats in mind I’ll try and give my take on the various conceptions of career development that I’ve come across in Canada.

The first position that I’ve encountered is what I’d describe as the traditional view. The people who subscribe to this position are mainly practitioners and have largely been trained as counsellors and then specialised in career. For them the role is essentially a helping one. The idea is to support individuals as they make their way through their lives and careers. Their expertise is rooted in their ability to engage people in a process of self-discovery. This is often discussed in terms of getting people to “go deeper”. Career self-efficacy is seen as intrinsically linked to broader psychological health and the trick is to help people to address deeper issues that are blocking their general life progress. On to this set of counselling skills the traditionalists add their expertise in understanding the labour market and the nature of the transition process it drives. The traditionalists are also knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the use of tests which they use to assess their clients and to develop individualised programmes of action.

I’ve labelled the second position as the paradigm changers. They describe their practice in conscious opposition to those in the traditional group. This group are less likely to have trained as counsellors and frequently hold positions on the edge of the sector or within particularly innovative pockets within it. They tend to emphasise learning and skill development as their central approach to careers work. They frequently challenge the central tenets of the traditionalists approach, asking questions such as: What is the point of tests? Are one-to-one approaches really useful? Is it important to talk about recruitment processes? Should we be doing more in groups/online/in organisations and so on? They frequently cite ideas around planned happenstance, chaos, complexity and systems theory and draw in ideas from outside of the traditional careers world. Many members of this group struggled to identify with the mainstream traditionalists and talked about “rebuilding from scratch” and backing away from existing sector networks, conferences and communities.

Finally there is a group who I would describe as the diplomats. This group is typically playing a leadership role in the sector. Many of them have a strong background and personal history in the sector and have moved from practitioner roles towards training, management or thought leadership. This group live in the pragmatic world of policy and practice development. They seek to move people along gradually and to reform rather than call for revolution. When pushed this group will often articulate many of the same perspectives as the paradigm changers: the idea  of moving careers work towards a learning paradigm; questioning test and tell approaches; and looking at new venues and forums for the work.  However these changes sit within the context of the current policy, practice and workforce. The diplomats defend current practices while they seek to expand and develop them. This group is particularly committed to the interlinked projects of training, professionalization and evidence-based practice. In other words they seek to defend the existing profession, demonstrate its value and to gradually develop its potential. Members of the group have strong opinions on particular approaches and ideas, but they seek a more strategic positioning and are willing to compromise on these issues.

So that is my attempt to make sense of the ideological diversity that I’ve encountered. Does this make any kind of sense to people within the Canadian career development field?


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