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The Skills Crisis: Is the Key to Success Really Just More Skills?

A professional sorting through papers while working on laptop
A professional sorting through papers while working on laptop

Sareena Hopkins

Executive Director CCDF, Canadian Career Development Foundation.

You’ve read the headlines: “Employers Complain about a ‘Skills Gap’ in Canada,” and, “Industry is Crying Out for More Skilled Workers.” The idea that a skills gap is the root of labour market problems is compelling because it offers an easy fix — simply train workers with the skills that industries need and then industries can fill their vacant positions. Governments around the globe, including Canada, seem to have bought into this fix whole-hog.

Unfortunately, the fix remains elusive despite decades of repeatedly trotting out this approach. Perhaps that is because this fix doesn’t adequately address the following:

  • Employers’ role in creating skills mismatches and their responsibility in addressing them through investments in onboarding or on-the-job training.
  • The complexity of predicting future skills requirements with accuracy in a rapidly shifting labour market.
  • The accountability of employers to provide decent work opportunities when governments and individuals invest in upskilling programs.
  • The costs of training individuals for work that turns out to be a terrible fit for them.
  • The lack of evidence that the skills approach actually serves employers well and meets their needs in a sustainable way.

There is a time-tested solution. It’s not rocket science, but it is more nuanced than the skills agenda. Done well, it provides essential intermediaries between individuals, employers, and governments to address systems-level labour market mismatches and inequities and equips individuals with a range of strategies to take charge of their own career futures. It’s called career development.

On the supply side, career development supports individuals in the lifelong process of managing learning, work, and transitions to build their preferred futures. On the demand side, it helps employers to create workplaces that provide decent work and living wages, build learning organizations with opportunities for advancement, and foster inclusion.

When career development is integrated into classrooms, we ensure kids have a solid vision for their career future grounded in self-awareness and labour market awareness. Students are engaged and invested in learning because they can see how it links directly to a future they want.

When career development is integrated into workplaces, workers and employers are more likely to have shared interests, values, and commitment to achieving the organization’s goals.

When you take charge of your career development, you build the strategies and the skills (yes, skills!) you need to grow your career, navigate transitions, and make sure that your learning and work are working for you!

If all this piques your interest, talk to a qualified career development professional near you. It may just be the call that helps you to not only survive, but to thrive in today’s and tomorrow’s labour market.

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