Examining the Career Engagement of Canadian Career Development Practitioners

This study examines career engagement of Canadian Career Development Practitioners (CDPs). Previous studies that have examined CDP engagement have focused on the practitioner’s work or relationship with an employer. This study by Deirdre Pickerell and Roberta Neault of Life Strategies Ltd. takes a broader view of career engagement which embraces multiple work and life roles and the fact that one’s outside work-roles affect how well one does one’s job and that one can be committed to a career but not necessarily a particular employer.

To gather data for this study, the authors conducted an online survey with a sample of CDPs (226 usable responses) using a questionnaire containing questions for a newly developed quantitative measure of career engagement supported by qualitative questions. The measure embraces perceptions of challenge/capacity along a spectrum: feeling underutilized (too little challenge) and feeling overwhelmed (too little capacity to do all one is being asked to do). Understanding the cause of disengagement enables the design of targeted interventions to enhance engagement.

One finding of note from the survey is that, regardless of the environment in which CDPs work (e.g., government-funded agency, post-secondary education, vocational rehabilitation), their work has similar objectives: helping clients to identify work that is a good fit for who they are to understand the labour market, to prepare resumes and cover letters, to be successful in job interviews, and to manage their careers over the long term in order to maximize opportunities for engaging, stimulating, and pleasing work.

The main finding from the study would suggest a range of career engagement among Canadian CDPs. Only one-quarter of survey respondents reported being very engaged and 45% reported being somewhat engaged. The 30% of CDPs who were not engaged, comprised those who were slightly engaged, underutilized or overwhelmed, leaning towards the latter, which can lead to increased levels of stress, anxiety and burnout.

Respondents identified a wide range of factors as contributing to disengagement. They attributed their feelings of being overwhelmed to heavy workloads, unwieldy case management software, lack of supervisory/management support, and poor work-life balance. Factors contributing to feeling underutilized were dominated by management and/or the service delivery model not making effective use of one’s skills and talents.

The authors further found that the level of engagement varies somewhat by demographic traits. Geographically, BC CDPs are the most engaged (29%) despite the launch of a new employment service delivery model at the time of the study, which anecdotally was creating adjustment difficulties for CDPs across the province. As for age and seniority, the survey results indicate youngest and newest CDPs as well as oldest and most senior workers are least likely to be engaged. Men are much more likely to be engaged than women.

Recent studies have linked employee disengagement to employees’ being dissatisfied, disinterested, frustrated, and unproductive and to their doing “just enough,” hating their jobs, and spreading their negative feelings throughout the workplace. The survey results showing that approximately 30% of CDPs are disengaged would suggest that a similar proportion of Canadian CDPs is unproductive, disinterested and uncommitted in their work.

The authors offer a number of suggestions as to how to increase CDP engagement, focusing on augmenting individual and organizational capacity to address feelings of being overwhelmed, including the following:

  • Providing professional development to help CDPs better understand how to manage complex client cases, use case management software, or understand new policies;
  • Increasing availability of additional resources and supports, such as staff, community partners, job aids, and family-friendly workplace policies; and
  • Providing management and career-development skills to the supervisors of CDPs to enable them to provide better supports to their staff.

This study will be of interest to employment service delivery managers and CDPs interested in understanding the current level of engagement among CDPs as well as strategies that could be used to enhance the effectiveness and retention of practitioners in the sector.