For greater career literacy, Canadians need peer and professional support

Challenge Factory’s Blog

For greater career literacy, Canadians need peer and professional support

Challenge Factory’s Blog

By Lisa Taylor

Recently, I spent time with a group of CEOs and Executive Directors on the Centre for Social Innovation’s Wasan Island. In the late afternoons and evenings, these incredible leaders shifted focus from our individual work to how we can learn from and support each other. Over five days, peers from all walks of life listened, shared experiences, and made suggestions to each other with generosity and care. To be sure, this time together was valuable, validating, and a privilege—a safe place to voice doubts and learn how others have navigated similar circumstances.

My trip to Wasan Island reminded me just how powerful and important peer support is, and how hard it has become to meet new colleagues who expand our worldviews and networks.

It also made me reflect on the role that peer support can play as one component of a formal, functioning career development process. Career work is identity work, and how we make career decisions and transitions is about much more than potential job titles or roles. It encompasses the sum of who we are, what we need, and where—often hidden—opportunity exists. Having trusted conversations and hearing about other experiences can shed light on our own challenges. But to be truly supported, more is needed. My peers’ career stories and decisions aren’t transferable to me; one size does not fit all.

Career-related peer support is not the same as formal career guidance.

In Canada, we’re more likely to turn to friends and family for help figuring out what we should do during career transitions. Much less frequently do we seek out formal professionals trained in the tools and methodologies designed to help navigate shifts in work, life, and learning across the entire lifespan. While peer support plays an important and meaningful role in any major decision, change, or challenge, it’s not sufficient to ensure the individual has an awareness of the full spectrum of opportunities available to them. Nor does it guarantee deeper held identity-based issues are adequately addressed.

As Challenge Factory has reported elsewhere, Canada has a “fail-first” model for formal career development, where career and employment services are offered to adults only once they have experienced a career interruption due to layoff, injury, or illness. As a result, the career development sector’s true strength and capacity to help Canadians transition into the skills-based economy we are entering is hidden. People turn to their aunt or uncle, a colleague, or other peers as their only source of support.

Consider the differences between how we go about making career decisions and how we make financial decisions throughout our lives. On a regular basis, we turn to family, friends, or peers to learn how they are navigating aspects of financial planning, investments, or insurance. We might learn about new stocks, the benefits of an RESP, or why a family member chose term versus life insurance in their circumstances. At the end of the discussion, we might walk away with a few ideas and validation that seeking further guidance would be helpful, including referrals for where to get professional advice.

But it would be ill-advised to walk away from a peer support discussion on finances and immediately take steps to implement the exact same choices your friend made. First, you have to validate your own risk tolerance, short- and long-term needs, and other circumstances. This is true of career peer support as well.

Peer support helps focus thinking so the right professional expertise can be identified.

Peers can share their personal experiences of jobs, sectors, and transitions. They can inspire new thinking, provide hope and support, or discourage you from making a mistake they’ve made themselves. This is all valuable input to bring to a professional who can then integrate your own unique career needs, circumstances, desires, labour market conditions, time horizons, etc. into the formal support they give you.

Just as your friend’s financial portfolio likely isn’t exactly right for you, their career path and experience are also not directly transferable. The difference is that our basic financial literacy enables us to recognize a need for guidance and value access to professional support. When it comes to careers, though, we think that we need to figure it out on our own.

Career work is identity work. Meaningful careers come from work that affirms who we are as people, satisfies what we need, uses our unique talents, and makes a difference. While this can sometimes feel lofty or privileged, good career development is not strictly for individuals who have flexibility or resources. Quality career guidance provides the tools, methods, and impartial feedback needed for all individuals to have agency and exercise control over their own careers and situations.

Canada has a long way to go to shift from a fail-first model to a country where healthy career navigation is universal. This must include increasing basic career literacy for all, ensuring support isn’t dependent on the privilege of peers, and guaranteeing Canadians benefit from the tools and knowledge that career development practitioners are trained to offer. Stronger career literacy will also make each of us better career peer supporters for each other. Let’s celebrate the support of our friends, family, and peers—while demanding easier and more universal access to the professional expertise that all Canadians deserve.

For more blogs and insights like this, subscribe to The Flip newsletter.