Visit to the Careers Centre at the University of Alberta

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While I was in Alberta I spent a morning with Joan Schiebelbein (Head of Careers) at the University of Alberta. She runs a very interesting centre which is quietly radical.

We started as I often do with a discussion of the history of the service. Joan explained how the service has been in existence for 25 years but that for its first six years it operated alongside a university based but federally funded Canada Employment Centre. In 1992 the federal government decided to refocus its employment service and pulled out of post-secondary provision. At this point the university careers service had to expand to fill the vacuum that was left. The centre has a strong tradition of working with employers and has been able to leverage this relationship both in a financial sense and as a source of opportunities for students.

Joan took me through the services that the centre provides. What struck me was the relatively limited role that existed for conventional professionalised career counselling and the much stronger focus on peer-led and social learning opportunities. The centre trains students to do a lot of the one-to-one guidance and many of the other student facing functions. This offers a massive learning opportunity for those who are delivering the services, but also enable the centre to scale up its activities.

The centre’s staff are mainly involved in creating a series of career learning opportunities (mentoring, experiential learning, networking etc.). The approach is designed to help student to leverage and develop their networks and to give them the skills to manage their careers. In other words they are committed to a process of careers education rather than to a support/counselling model. The logical next step for the centre is to move into curriculum based work within the academic curriculum, but so far this has been challenging to pull off.

All in all this was a really impressive centre which has designed its service blend in a way that seems particularly fit for purpose for an era of mass higher education and non-linear career development.

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