A personalized approach to career planning promises to help workers find better jobs

Matthias Oschinski and Thanh Nguyen | February 24, 2022

Labour markets are in constant flux. As some sectors retract and shed jobs, others grow and search for workers. We’ve seen this play out over the past two years of the pandemic, as workers in the tourism and hospitality sector have been particularly hard hit by business closures while the healthcare sector has struggled to find workers.

The trend is expected to continue as Canada transitions to a low-carbon economy. TD Economics estimates that three-quarters of workers employed in Canada’s oil and gas sector are at risk of losing their jobs over the next 30 years. Yet many new jobs are expected to be created in clean-energy industries.

Helping workers find new employment options will be vital, and so will the availability of career guidance to help them make the transition. But there are few career-guidance options available for working-age adults in Canada. Research by the Labour Market Information Council shows that few Canadian adults access career services, far fewer than their counterparts in peer countries; many Canadians surveyed didn’t know these services even existed.

In a study published by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, we propose a new approach to career planning. Rather than relying on an individual’s degree or diploma or previous job title to look for employment alternatives, the method we employ identifies occupations — perhaps even in a different industry — that overlap with their current or recent job in terms of work activities and competences. This approach broadens the range of new employment options available for jobseekers and should result in a better job match. Our approach only considers alternative jobs in growing industries that offer wages at least as high as what workers earned in their previous occupation.

But identifying alternative careers isn’t enough. We can also pinpoint any skills gaps that would need to be addressed to make these transitions successful. This allows individuals and career counsellors to develop a roadmap to identify appropriate training programs that help jobseekers qualify for new jobs. Ideally, our proposed methodology would be used in conjunction with real-time data available on job-posting sites like ZipRecruiter or Indeed, as well as information on training options from tools that don’t yet exist but need to be developed.

We hear a lot about skills that workers will need to remain resilient in the face of labour market disruptions. In our view, a one-size-fits-all approach must give way to personalized career and training guidance tools that make the most of an individual’s skills, interests and abilities. Such tools will improve job matches, better target retraining efforts, and increase participation in and completion of training programs.

This type of comprehensive skills-based approach to career guidance would offer tailor-made employment and training solutions for unemployed workers, workers who seek to improve their employment options and those who are in danger of losing their jobs. These tools could be especially helpful for vulnerable populations, such as women and racialized Canadians whose jobs were most affected by the pandemic shutdowns.

When globalization and automation led to a widespread loss of jobs in North America’s manufacturing sector in the 1990s, many of the displaced workers took ill-suited jobs, resulting in lower pay and a loss of skills. Let’s avoid repeating mistakes of the past. Adopting a comprehensive skills-based approach to career guidance, like the one we propose, would be a step in the right direction. Our methodology remains in early stages of development and bringing it into widespread use will require substantial government investment. Given the scale of the problem, we can’t afford to put it off.

Matthias Oschinski is the founder and CEO of Belongnomics, and a member of the teaching faculty at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

Thanh Nguyen is an undergraduate student in computer science and engineering at MIT.

This op-ed was originally published by The Hill Times.

Finding the Right Job: A Skills-Based Approach to Career Planning

Finding the Right Job: A Skills-Based Approach to Career Planning