Employers must embrace career development to build decent work future

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Candy Ho: Decent work is more than just good compensation and work conditions

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As we move into the second half of 2023, Canadian organizations and their employees are facing an uncertain outlook.

The cost of living is soaring, the Organization for Economic Development (OECD) is now predicting that 27 per cent of jobs — many of them highly skilled — are at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence. This comes in the wake of the pandemic already upending many of our beliefs about jobs and careers, including where, why and how we work.

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At the same time, employers in some sectors continue to report labour shortages (costing the Canadian economy nearly $13 billion last year in the manufacturing sector alone), even while others announce layoffs. Given Canada’s aging population and with more than one in five working adults nearing retirement, businesses have cause for concern.

Meanwhile, the number of employed people accessing food banks is rising, some racialized communities continue to experience higher unemployment rates and people with disabilities face significant pay gaps.

To unlock a stronger future for businesses, people and the economy, employers need to get serious about decent work. And to get there, they need career development.

Career development and decent work

The conversation around decent work often focuses on compensation and working conditions.

These elements are essential but only capture a fraction of what we need for a better future of work. In a report on job quality, Statistics Canada also assessed worker autonomy, training opportunities and career prospects as key factors.

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Fundamentally, decent work is purposeful for the individual, leverages their talents and aligns with their values. This leads to more satisfied, more productive workers — a boon to employers and the economy.

Lifelong career supports help people clarify their career aspirations and be agile amid labour market turmoil. It can also build bridges between those whose talent and potential are being underused (such as newcomers) and employers that need their contributions.

Unfortunately, awareness of and access to lifelong career development as a public good is uneven in Canada. Career education across the K-12 system varies widely. Few adults access career services.

Gaps also exist within business. Although 73 per cent of executives believe it is important to offer career management programs for employees, according to CERIC and Environics Research’s 2022 National Business Survey, an alarming 70 per cent of employers reported they are not actually providing them.

Actions for employers

Leveraging the power of career development will allow us to respond effectively and mitigate the significant challenges we are facing. While creating a decent work future requires action from government, academia and employers, these recommendations offer a starting point for business.

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  • Provide experiential learning opportunities to students that enable them to envision and test out different possibilities for their future
  • Support employee career management, recognizing that career development does not have to mean upward progression or require expensive, lengthy training;
  • Partner with career development professionals to improve employee engagement and retention and connect to untapped talent pools; and
  • Create the foundations of decent work including paying a living wage, building a culture of equity and inclusion, and providing conditions that support positive mental health.

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We should continue to strive for a broader understanding of decent work that includes career development. When individuals are equipped with the skills and provided with the opportunities to engage in decent work and create a resilient future, we all benefit. And Canada’s employers have a leading role to play.

Candy Ho is the chair of the board of directors of CERIC, a national charitable organization, and the inaugural assistant professor, Integrative Career and Capstone Learning at the University of the Fraser Valley in British Columbia.

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