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Making employment services work for job seekers

  • Blog
  • 30th Nov 2021

Most people have been unemployed at some point in their lives. It can be a profoundly demotivating experience, especially when it turns out to be harder to find a job than expected.

Luckily, there are many publicly funded career guidance and employment services to help people get back into the labour force and advance their careers. However, these services can feel transactional and impersonal, which negatively affects the success of job seekers.

They focus on practicalities, like writing better resumes and job searching strategies. While important, these supports don’t address behavioural and motivational barriers that come with unemployment.

For example, people who use employment services can lose confidence in their work-related skills, and often have reduced “cognitive bandwidth” for making complex, long-term decisions as they need to focus on how to make ends meet.

The Future Skills Centre and Blueprint are leading the Responsive Career Pathways initiative, a research program that offers a future-oriented, evidence-driven, and systemic approach that fosters innovation in career guidance practices across Canada.

As part of the initiative, we published a new research report that lays out over 30 evidence-informed ideas for reimagining career guidance. Our goal is to promote a kinder, more connected, and ultimately more human approach. Many career guidance practitioners and policy experts are already convinced. For them, our report offers additional evidence and specific intervention ideas from behavioural science literature. 

Rapport matters more than you think

Perhaps our most important finding is prioritizing the relationship between job seekers and practitioners. 

One longitudinal study of career services in Israel found that a client’s perception of rapport in their first session was the single strongest predictor of service outcomes. Time to bond with clients should be protected, and building relationships should be framed as a central part of the practitioner’s role. Yes, this will call for reimagining program funding models. We have strong reason to believe the investment will be worth it, but need more data to know for sure.

Three more ways employment services can take a people-centred approach

  1. People need to know that these services exist. But awareness is not enough. Many who could benefit from career guidance may not think it’s for “people like them” because of the perceived stigma. Outreach needs to make the benefits of career guidance personally relevant.
  2. Make entering employment and career guidance services as easy as possible. Reducing the amount of paperwork required to start the service makes more time for building rapport and unpacking job goals. It also mitigates the risk of demotivation.
  3. Empower job seekers to set their goals and create their own plans for how to achieve them. People tend to value things more when they’ve had a hand in making them. Leading the development of their action plans may make job seekers more likely to follow through. Practitioners can support client progress by using timely reminders and prompts, like SMS reminders, to boost attendance at appointments.

These ideas are the tip of the iceberg. Download the full report, and please review the findings of our fellow researchers looking at other dimensions of this challenge, from empowering practitioners to the use of tech in career pathways. 

We appreciate the support of Blueprint  and the Future Skills Centre in facilitating and funding this research, and we look forward to supporting them as they move from research to real-world application. Stay tuned!

Download the full report