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Employment Counselling for Youth

The goal in career counselling young clients is to teach them how to take control of their careers. The desired result is a clearer sense of direction and a greater sense of control over their destiny.

Canadians experience, on average, 17 employment transitions in their lifetime. To manage the constant change and the socio-economic conditions we all face, career planning is a lifelong process. Each change brings with it the demand for new skills and knowledge. You can help young clients remember these key ideas:

  • Many career choices are available to them.
  • Career decisions can be made rationally using effective approaches.
  • Career development is a continuous process.

This information will help dispel the myth, still common among some youth and often their parents, that they have to make a daunting one-time decision on what they want to be when they grow up.

The microwave approach to careers

“Youth have a microwave mentality. They just want to pop all their skills, interests, and values into the oven, hit ‘go’ and expect their occupational choice to come out fully cooked.”

—Kristen Cumming, Career Insight

Being a successful worker

Today’s successful workers demonstrate the following characteristics:

  • A high level of initiative and imagination
  • A high degree of flexibility
  • A focus on innovation and creative solutions to problems
  • A constantly questioning mind
  • An entrepreneurial nature

They will also need to be:

  • Multifunctional
  • Accountable
  • Good at communicating
  • Literate in technology and communications
  • Self-directed but willing to be team players
  • Willing to learn, to upgrade skills, and to accept accountability
  • Willing to propose ideas for a healthy work environment

Skills for success

Discover the Skills for Success

The Government of Canada has identified nine skills that employers are looking for. Improving these skills will make you well rounded, give you confidence and prepare you to take on new challenges at work or in your personal life.

The Government of Canada has identified 9 essential skill categories that are seen as core building blocks for a person’s career:

  1. AdaptabilityYour ability to achieve or adjust goals and behaviours when expected or unexpected change occurs, by planning, staying focused, persisting, and overcoming setbacks. For example, we use this skill to change work plans to meet new deadlines, learn how to work with new tools and improve our skills through feedback.
  2. Collaboration—Your ability to contribute and support others to achieve a common goal. For example, at work we use this skill to provide meaningful support to team members while completing a project.
  3. Communication—Your ability to receive, understand, consider, and share information and ideas through speaking, listening, and interacting with others. For example, we use this skill to listen to instructions, serve customers and discuss ideas.
  4. Creativity and innovation—Your ability to imagine, develop, express, encourage, and apply ideas in ways that are novel, unexpected, or challenge existing methods and norms. For example, we use this skill to discover better ways of doing things, develop new products, and deliver services in a new way.
  5. Digital—Your ability to use digital technology and tools to find, manage, apply, create and share information and content. For example, we use this skill to create spreadsheets, safely use social media, and securely make online purchases.
  6. Numeracy—Your ability to find, understand, use, and report mathematical information presented through words, numbers, symbols, and graphics. For example, we use this skill to perform calculations, manage budgets, analyze and model data and make estimations.
  7. Problem solving—Your ability to identify, analyze, propose solutions, and make decisions. Problem solving helps you to address issues, monitor success, and learn from the experience. For example, we use this skill to make hiring decisions, select courses of action and troubleshoot technical failures.
  8. Reading—Your ability to find, understand, and use information presented through words, symbols, and images. For example, we use this skill to locate information on forms and drawings, and to read items such as emails, reports, news articles, blog posts and instructions.
  9. Writing—Your ability to share information using written words, symbols, and images. For example, we use this skill to fill out forms and applications, and write emails, reports and social media posts.

These have been applied to occupational groups in the form of essential skills profiles that describe and score the use and complexity of each skill used in a given occupation.

Skills in demand

Within the occupations on alis, the Skills & Abilities section shows a chart highlighting the top 10 skills employers are looking for. This is based on recent Alberta job postings for that occupation and is updated daily. You can review this information with youth to help them assess whether on not an occupation matches their current skill set and what skills they may need to develop to close the gap. Where there is a strong match, it provides a good indicator as to what they may want to feature in their cover letters and resumés.

Beginning the career-building process

The preferred future and reality

When counselling youth, help them imagine and articulate their preferred future. Work toward a vision statement that describes the ideal life they want to live, the best of all possible—or even impossible—worlds. This can be hard for members of Generation Z, who tend to be more pragmatic than the often idealistic Millennials who preceded them.

Don’t insist on realism or practicality. Your role is not to protect your clients from failure but to help them take actions that move them toward success. For youth, in particular, the destination they’re imagining is still many years away. That future, when it arrives, will include countless things outside the scope of either of your imaginations. Trust that your clients will have plenty of time to make adjustments and come to terms with what is actually possible for them.

For now, help young clients explore a wide array of options and establish a personal narrative that will guide them moving forward. Help them think of careers and occupations as multiple different pathways that can lead to the preferred future they’ve identified. By taking action toward their preferred future, clients learn to express hope and optimism, both of which are vital to their career success.

You can use many approaches to help youth create their visions or preferred futures.

Creating self-portraits

Creating self-portraits is a process that facilitates exploration of a variety of life roles, both work and non-work, and helps youth to see the transferability of their skills. This approach is particularly valuable for youth who have had limited or no work experience and who may have trouble identifying specific skills they possess. There is great value in recognizing one’s strengths, areas that combine passion and ability. Once they have done so, youth can begin to advocate and negotiate for themselves.

Building employment skills

Encouraging youth to do the research

“The research component is crucial and it’s hard to get youth to complete it. Try this: Pair up youth, so that each partner is interested in a different sector/industry. Have youth complete the research for their partner’s interest area (no less than 5 completed calls), then report back. It takes the pressure off, they are accountable to someone else to complete and they can be more objective. It works!”

—Kristen Cumming, Career Insight

Wherever possible, encourage young people to consider the following skill-building experiences that allow them to become involved directly in the world of work. Some of these learning experiences may be structured and attached to specific school or training programs. Others may be initiated by youth with your support.

Consider health and safety when arranging skill-building experiences for youth. Make sure that your young clients understand safety requirements and responsibilities in the workplace. Youth should be also be aware of workers’ compensation plans and how they are covered when they are on a work site.

Skill-building experiences

Job shadowing

“One of the most effective ways to engage youth in their career planning and to validate the potential career option[s] is to job shadow a portion of a workday with a qualified worker in the chosen field of work. Parents are very well networked to a vast array of people and occupations within their communities. Employers may also be parents and are quite willing to embrace these experiences in the workplace for youth.”

—Dale Gullekson, Elk Island Public Schools

Here are some examples of how youth can gain hands-on skill-building experiences in the workplace.

Through volunteer work, youth can:

  • Learn new skills
  • Receive free training, build relationships, and gain potential references while contributing to the community
  • Gain job experience that employers value

Through work experience, youth can get:

  • Job experience
  • An employer reference
  • Sometimes a job offer

Through job shadowing, youth can:

  • Follow a worker in a job of interest
  • Observe first-hand what the work involves
  • Gain information that helps with career decisions

Through a part-time position, youth can:

  • Gain on-the-job experience related to a preferred future
  • Experience new work environments and build new skills

Through internships and co-ops, youth can gain on-the-job experience related to an area of training or education.

Youth may also want to consider a gateway job, which is an entry-level job that requires little experience or training.

Helping youth use portfolios

Employers agree that a portfolio gives job seekers an edge in an interview. A portfolio represents the person. It is like a living resumé. It might be a website, a collection of physical items in a binder or portable case, or a thumb drive full of digital files. Whatever form a portfolio takes, it should highlight important events, experience, and skills. The items in the portfolio provide solid proof of what the person can do.

About portfolios

“I highly recommend that youth develop portfolios. A portfolio is almost essential for a student.”

—Audrey Stechynsky, Employment and Social Development Canada

Creating a portfolio can help in some important ways:

  • Building a portfolio will remind youth of all the great skills they have developed and their collection of strengths.
  • Portfolios showcase skills and abilities to employers, post-secondary institutions, and anyone else who might need this information. Portfolios give youth some concrete examples to show they have the skills they claim to have in their resumé.
  • Portfolios give youth a chance to describe their skills and provide evidence of them. People remember best what they’ve seen and heard.

Alternatives to full-time employment

Full-time, permanent employment is a common way of working, but there are many alternatives. Each work alternative has advantages and disadvantages. The big advantage they offer is increased flexibility in how we approach work. This flexibility may be very appealing to youth.

It is important that youth view these options for what they are—alternatives to the traditional ways of working—and not as simply representing failure to achieve traditional full-time, permanent employment. Youth are often much more accepting of these different ways of working than many adults, especially their parents.

Self-employment and entrepreneurship, in particular, have become increasingly viable for youth. They are often of interest to members of Generation Z:

  • A self-employed worker independently develops, produces, and markets services or products in a 1-person operation.
  • Entrepreneurs build and manage a team to develop, produce, and market the company’s services or products.

Many programs at the federal, provincial, and municipal level offer support and funding to young entrepreneurs. Encourage youth with entrepreneurial dreams to pursue them by thoroughly researching and testing them for viability. The Lean Startup model is a particularly valuable way for youth to validate new business ideas quickly and with minimal costs.

Gap year options

Another option for youth is to take a gap year between completing high school and attending post-secondary. This time can be used to gain new skills and experiences or explore and make some career decisions. It can be spent locally or abroad. In our global economy, a whole world awaits youth with opportunities, particularly in developing countries. These opportunities take a variety of forms, from volunteering to help develop infrastructure, to well-paid positions of considerable responsibility in a variety of sectors. Many initiatives backed through the public and private sectors support youth in pursuit of international work experience.

Worker rights and responsibilities

Many youth may have little or no exposure to the world of work. In fact, they may be entering the workforce for the first time. Some youth, such as those who have not had the benefit of previous experience and who have limited decision-making skills, may lack the confidence to challenge employers and are at risk of exploitation.

It will be helpful for these young people to be aware of their rights that are protected by provincial legislation. Some of the provincial employment standards include:

  • Wages and deductions
  • Overtime, vacations, and general holidays
  • Maternity, parental, and reservist leave
  • Layoffs and termination
  • Special rules for workers under 18 years of age

As a counsellor, you are in a position to help youth who believe their rights have been infringed upon and who lack confidence to deal directly with situations.

Safety at work

Youth are significantly more likely to be injured on the job than those over 25. In some cases, these injuries can even be fatal. No matter what the work role, there is always an element of risk.

If a worker has an injury, coverage in Alberta might be available through the Workers’ Compensation Board – Alberta (WCB-Alberta). WCB-Alberta supports injured workers with compensation and rehabilitative services to help them to return to work. Youth should be aware of their responsibility to report any injury, no matter how insignificant, to their employer and WCB-Alberta.

Counsellors should share worker safety information with their young clients.

Helping youth stay positive

Remaining positive throughout a job search is key to being successful. It is important to remind youth to focus positively on their strengths. Help them understand what they have to offer. They may have the perfect combination of skills, experience, personality, and attitude for a prospective employer.

As job applicants, young people can help employers make decisions in their favour by:

  • Demonstrating an understanding of the company’s goals and current situation
  • Presenting positive reasons for wanting to work for the employer
  • Describing how they can increase the employer’s productivity
  • Showing that they accept or can accommodate the company structure
  • Being willing to work for a reasonable wage
  • Being genuine in the interview
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