Turning up Career Development in a Time of Economic Downturn

Kim Donaldson

Kim Donaldson is a CPHR Candidate and Career Facilitator with the Neil Squire Society and provides career development services to persons with disabilities. She leverages her years of experience as a coach and international athlete to work with clients in career development. She recently presented at the DWC 2020 Conference.

Ikigai (pronounced Ick-ee-guy) is a Japanese concept that means a reason for being, or the realization of what one expects and hopes for. It is often portrayed visually, in a 4 circled Venn diagram, highlighting what you love (passion), what you can get paid for (profession), what you are good at (vocation), and what the world needs (mission). I stumbled upon this concept several years ago and it has not only helped me with my own career path but has helped me guide others to find theirs. As career development practitioners, we strive for all of our clients to find their own Ikigai, and the complex events of 2020 have not changed that. We have had to navigate many changes and stressors alongside our clients – we’ve had to “pivot” – but the goal of our work has remained the same.

Like all industries, career development practitioners have had to adapt to provide services as individual and global realities have changed. Career development approaches are no stranger to transition. Throughout the 20th century the practice changed from a simple game of matching skills and jobs to implementing standardized psychometrics in response to wartime drafting, and, in the latter half of the century, started to involve concepts like self-perception, decision-making styles, and work-life balance. Since the onset of Covid-19 and its residual challenges, career development practitioners have had to adapt their own work environments and support clients through constant pandemic related changes. Although we still face consistent change in our personal and professional environments, some trends that will remain consistent are a) we all work best with supported mental health, b) job types and job demands can change quickly, and c) technology plays an even greater role in the economy than it did before.

Mental Health

Earlier in 2020, CERIC helped develop a resource titled Strengthening Mental Health Through Effective Career Development, A Practitioner’s Guide which involves work from career development professionals across the country. It’s clear that even without Covid-19 related stressors, Canadian career development practitioners were aware that the work we do supports positive mental health. Looking for work is an emotional rollercoaster and we help clients hold on. In coaching self-exploration, we help clients understand themselves, their strengths, and their priorities. This promotes confidence and a more optimistic outlook which are contributors to positive mental health. The events of 2020 have forced career development practitioners to support clients’ mental health further than we did before. Navigating Covid-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, and fluctuating barriers to employment, have put extra pressure on our communities. Career development professionals have supported their clients’ mental health through regular check-ins, anxiety management programming, and referrals to community resources. We’ve also led by example, acknowledging our frustrations while also doing our best to remain positive and compassionate. The Covid-19 era may have amplified the need for this aspect of the discipline but we were ready for it. We know that clients can focus better on their career development when their mental health is supported. Career development practitioners can continue to promote positive mental health through the confidence-building activities that we have already built into our practices.

Labour Market

One way in which we help clients identify their Ikigai is by connecting them to the existing labour market. Businesses have had to adapt to vacillating protocol from various governing bodies. The changes over the past few months have affected what jobs are in demand, how they are performed, and what skills are needed. We have tried to balance giving employers the space they need to reground their businesses but stayed close enough to know when and what kind of help they need. Industries that have been the hardest hit – restaurants, tourism, and entertainment among them – have faced layoffs and closures. We have helped the newly unemployed assess their transferable skills and tried our best to help them navigate a changing landscape and relaunch their careers into new territories. Some areas of growth include tech support, healthcare, and delivery services. Career development practitioners, calling on their guidance counsellor cousins, have referred some clients to “upskill” or gain “micro-credentials” to try to position themselves better for entering new trades or industries. Little has changed in the type of work that we do concerning the labour market. However, we have had to work hard to keep up with the pace at which policies and employers’ needs change.


Statistics Canada reported in September of this year that 4.2 million people are working from home, more than twice the 1.9 million who did so before the pandemic. One of the Oxford English Dictionary’s words of 2020 (for the first time, they couldn’t decide on one word) was “remote” – which saw an over 300% increase in use this year. The glue that has helped so many industries pivot, stay afloat, and in some cases thrive throughout our Covid-19 transition has been technology. Career development practitioners have supported their clients by helping them become more familiar with some of these changes: using virtual platforms for our client meetings, coaching them through applicant tracking systems, and ensuring they are appropriately dressed for their video job interviews. It’s likely that if your clients have applied for work in the past 7 months, they’ve encountered some combination of these technologies. You may have even helped your clients start LinkedIn profiles (and in turn had to take an honest look at your own) as upwards of 85% of recruiters use LinkedIn to source candidates. Dr. Tannis Goddard, CEO of MixtMode, recently delivered a series through CERIC on how to foster a supportive learning environment using blended technologies, similar to the ones we spent years creating in our offices. She advises that clients can just as easily participate in learning activities such as self-exploration, goal setting, and career planning through virtual learning tools. Career development practitioners have helped their clients adapt to the changing employment landscape and can continue to cultivate similarly successful learning environments through direct and indirect technology learning.

What’s next?

With increased layoffs, job changes, and job competition, career development professionals may be needed now more than ever. Canada’s unemployment rate is hovering around 10% and many industries are unsure of what the next year, month, or even week will look like. By getting comfortable with the discomfort of constant change, we can help provide stability when so many things in a person’s job search process are not. As a discipline, we have managed to preserve our clients’ trust and deliver meaningful services. We responded to changing demands and dug deep into our bag of communication tools. We’ll likely need to keep flexing these skills but maybe we should consider taking a minute to reflect on how we have changed our delivery and our services. Let’s be thoughtful about the transition we make so that we can continue coaching our clients towards their very own Ikigai.






Strengthening Mental Health Through Effective Carer Development, A Practitioner’s Guide. Dave E Redekopp and Michael Huston. CERIC. 2020






Reaching and Engaging Clients over Blended Technologies, Tannis Goddard. 2020.