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International: The best Australian Universities to Study Health Services and Support
March 4, 2020
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A career in health services and support is a rewarding experience as it makes a big difference in people’s lives.

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Whether it’s a position as a dental assistant, anaesthetist or carer, there are plenty of job opportunities in health services, as it’s one of the fastest-growing industries.

The Good Universities Guide rankings look at Australian universities’ specific strengths, offering insight to support and guide decision-making when choosing a university. View the rankings in terms of how each university performs overall, or you can narrow down by field of study and state.

We looked at which universities with undergraduate health services and support degrees performed best in full time employment, teaching quality and graduate salary.

Full Time Employment

This rating compares the employment rates of graduates at different universities. It looks at the proportion of graduates who were employed full time four months after completing a course. UNSW Sydney ranked highest, achieving a full score of 100%, while University of Tasmania scored 87.10%. CQUniversity placed third in this rating with 84.50%.

Teaching Quality

This rating looks at the proportion of students who were satisfied with the quality of teaching they experienced. It’s based on students’ ratings of their overall educational experience and the quality of teaching they received. Australian National University ranked highest with 100%. Following closely behind, Bond University placed second with 97.60%.

Graduate Salary

This rating compares the median salary of graduates from different universities. University of Tasmania takes the top spot with their graduates earning a median salary of $82,000, while UNSW Sydney followed with $75,000.

View all 2020 rankings for nursing health services and support by The Good Universities Guide here — filter by level to view both undergraduate and postgraduate ratings.

HOW TO ENGAGE IN ETHICAL ADVOCACY WORK IN CAREER DEVELOPMENT
February 7, 2020
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When encouraging client self-advocacy or advocating on a client’s behalf, it is vital that career professionals be aware of ethical considerations such as informed consent

By Andrew Bassingthwaighte

While career development practitioners (CDPs) help clients navigate their career journeys, often we are also called upon to help these individuals deal with other issues that may impede them on their path. These issues can range from housing to immigration support to discrimination, to name a few; in each case, there is often a desire either from within us or from the client to act as an advocate.

Woman Helping Retired Senior Man Attending IT Class In Community Centre

Advocacy is a long-recognized concept in career development, and many professionals are aware of the value of this process, especially when the goal is to help clients access supports and resources that will further their economic and social well-being. Many of us engage daily in promoting self-advocacy – or the ability of our clients to make choices and decisions that affect their lives. Sometimes, though, there is a need to engage in further advocacy work on behalf of a specific client or community.

No matter the type of advocacy that we engage in, it is essential for CDPs to recognize two issues when engaging in this type of work. The first is to respect the dignity of clients with whom we work. The second is to be aware of any ethical considerations that could affect our work or profession.

Forms of advocacy

Advocacy looks different depending on the client or community that we are supporting. There are four main types of advocacy that could intersect with career practitioners’ work:

  • Self-advocacy: This involves empowering the clients with whom we work to make choices and decisions that affect their lives. Self-advocacy is regarded as an ideal form of advocacy as well as one that CDPs are most trained to engage in (Cadenas, 2018). Supporting clients in this type of advocacy requires establishing trust between the career practitioner and the client. This approach should incorporate cultural humility and sensitivity (Anderson et al., 2012, Cadenas, 2018).
  • Professional advocacy: Career practitioners serve as a bridge between their client and those in positions of power – such as people working in housing organizations or disability services – to make them aware of the client’s needs. It is essential when engaging in this type of advocacy to recognize that we are working with the client and give them space to speak and be heard (Mitcham et al., 2012).
  • Citizenship advocacy: Career practitioners expand their roles beyond the services they offer and act as a resource to communities that may face marginalization or discrimination within different sectors. The goal of this advocacy is to be a resource to those in the community and support their efforts. Community organizations such as immigration employment councils can support this work.
  • Public advocacy: In what is seen as the final level of advocacy (Cadenas, 2018), career practitioners work with both institutions and groups to draft public statements and inform policy processes. CERIC, for example, seeks to catalyze conversations around the economic and social impact of career development at a national level.

What all these advocacy models have in common is that they encourage practitioners to go beyond their typical daily tasks and engage in the process of challenging social justice issues that many of their clients face daily.

Engaging in advocacy: What to be aware of?

For those wanting to engage in advocacy efforts, the Canadian Standards & Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners – Code of Ethics highlights several areas that practitioners should be aware of in their work. Chief among these is the notion of informed consent.

Informed consent

The Code of Ethics framework (CCCD, 2004) prioritizes informed consent in several areas concerning how information is collected and used, but also with respect to the individual and their rights. At all times within our advocacy efforts, we need to ensure that we are putting the rights of the client first and taking the time to engage them in the process to identify their level of comfort with any steps taken.

However, there are times when, despite a client’s insistence on confidentiality, action is required (for example, where there is evidence of imminent danger to the client or others) (CCCD, 2004). In a CERIC blog on “The Ethics of Advocacy,” Roberta Neault (2012) gives a compelling overview of the debate that practitioners face when dealing with these concerns, which I encourage all practitioners to review.

Your comfort level

Further to recognizing the client’s comfort level when engaging in advocacy, as practitioners, we need to be comfortable in our abilities to do this type of work. The national Code of Ethics (CCCD, 2004) is clear that we must recognize the boundaries of our competencies, especially when dealing with issues that involve legal or other advice that may be outside of our areas of expertise. Alongside this, though, are personal competencies and boundaries. In becoming involved in advocacy work, we need to recognize our capacity and resilience when dealing with potentially stressful or traumatic issues.

Conflicts of interest

Our efforts may come into conflict with the agencies, organizations or funders that we work with each day. In some cases, this can be beneficial, as our advocacy work might identify opportunities to fill gaps or provide tailored services to individuals or groups. In other cases, though, our work may come in direct conflict with organizational policies or the practitioner’s personal beliefs or value systems.

It is vital that practitioners inform clients up front about the limitations of our services, alongside disclosing any potential conflicts of interest that might arise. In instances where a conflict arises and we need to step aside from the process, it is imperative to work with the client on what happens next (ie, referral to another organization), so the client is not left struggling with a lack of agency.

Conclusion

Engaging in advocacy is a critical but also enjoyable element of a career practitioner’s work. While there are several ethical considerations to bear in mind when engaging in this work, we need to understand that we are not alone. Not only are there groups and organizations that can help support the clients we work with, but as practitioners, we can also access these groups to learn from them, the issues that they face, and how we can support and walk alongside them as allies.

Andrew Bassingthwaighte is a Talent Development Specialist and Master of Arts – Social Justice and Equity Studies candidate at Brock University in St Catharines, ON. Having worked for almost 20 years in the UK and Canada providing employment counselling, training and mentoring to individuals from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, he now has the privilege of serving on Brock University’s President’s Advisory Committee on Human Rights, Equity and Decolonization (PACHRED).

References

Cadenas, G. (2018). Advocacy in career development with immigrants. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal34(4), 7–20.

Mitcham, M., Greenidge, W., Bradham-Cousar, M., Figliozzi, J., & Thompson, M. A. (2012). Increasing career self-efficacy through group work with culturally and linguistically diverse students. Journal of School Counseling10(22).

Anderson, S. K., Peila-Shuster, J. J., & Aragon, A. (2012). Cross cultural career counseling: Ethical issues to consider. Career Planning & Adult Development Journal28(1), 127–139.

Canadian Council for Career Development. (2004). Canadian standards and guidelines for career development practitioners: Code of ethics. Retrieved from
career-dev-guidelines.org/the-standards-guidelines/code-of-ethics/

Neault, R. (2012, October 31). The ethics of advocacy: A Canadian perspective. [Blog post]. Retrieved from ceric.ca/2012/10/the-ethics-of-advocacy-a-canadian-perspective/

The Challenges of Apprenticeship Expansion in England, the USA and Australia
January 17, 2020
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New research by Dr Johann Fortwengel and Professor Howard Gospel of King’s Business School with Dr Phillip Toner of the University of Sydney, Australia, has highlighted the difficulties of expanding apprenticeship numbers, especially in industries with little historical experience of this form of training.

Professor Howard Gospel, Emeritus Professor of Management, King’s Business School
Professor Howard Gospel, Emeritus Professor of Management, King’s Business School

The team also found that successful attempts to renew apprenticeships involved efforts to synchronise government-led and employer-led initiatives, and engaged employer associations, unions and others. This kind of coordination was more likely to lead to a sustained increase in apprentice starts; simply providing funding and leaving employers and market forces to determine the types and structure of programmes available was less effective.

Professor Howard Gospel, Emeritus Professor of Management said:

“Apprenticeships were a theme in the UK election; the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour all talked about investment in apprenticeships.  But expanding the number of apprenticeships and ensuring they are valued by employers is challenging to get right.

“Our research shows that while both England and Australia have delivered increases in apprentice numbers since the 1990s, that growth faltered when expansion into new industries led to doubts over quality and confusion over what apprenticeships should really deliver.” 

Dr Johann Fortwengel

Dr Johann Fortwengel, Senior Lecturer in International Management, adds:

“These experiences are important lessons for the US, where efforts to increase apprenticeships have so far been proportionally smaller. Expansion into new areas has been on the agenda since the Obama administration, but with little real progress to date.”

The researchers tracked efforts in England, Australia and the US to revive apprenticeships as a solution to skills shortages, youth unemployment, and broader challenges like rising income inequality. Historically, these ‘Anglo-Saxon’ economies  have lacked effective support for industry-wide apprenticeship training schemes. Also, compared to countries, such as Germany or Switzerland, demand has historically been limited, with a large proportion of young adults choosing the university route over an apprenticeship.

UK

In England* apprenticeship starts grew by 400 per cent from 1996 to 2017, especially from the late 2000s onwards. Growth was driven by changes in the definition of apprenticeship and by the extension of apprenticeships beyond construction and engineering into non-trade specialisms, especially from the mid 2000s onwards.

Expansion into the service sector has also prompted two major dips:

  1. First post 2010 in the face of doubts over standards in new non-traditional training programmes for sectors like hospitality and retail, and
  2. Second since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in Spring 2017.

Howard Gospel says: “There are multiple reasons for disenchantment with the apprenticeship levy. Some employers see it as too complex, or excessively interventionist. Other commentators are concerned that it is funding already well qualified existing employees on degree and other higher qualifications. To date the initiative hasn’t delivered on some high hopes for what it might achieve.”

Australia

By comparison with England, Australia grew its number of apprenticeships relatively steadily from 60,000 in 1995 to 377,000 in 2012, with consistent employer and bipartisan political support.  Extension of apprentice-type training to new service sector occupations accounted for over 80 per cent of the increase.

Publicly funded non-profit Group Training Organisations (GTOs), often linked to employer associations and unions played an important part in the growth, and were successful in recruiting smaller employers to apprentice schemes, which often lack the financial and staff resources to support their own training program. A relatively strong technical college system also helps in Australia. However, funding was cut back sharply due to escalating government expenditures and concern at declining quality, prompting a collapse in trainee led by non-trade apprenticeships.

”Support for the traditional apprenticeship model remains strong in Australia in government, and among employers and unions. It continues to be an important institution for young people seeking to enter the labour market and for older people looking for a skilled, better paid job,” says Dr Phillip Toner.  

“However, the extension of this model into new occupations, mostly in the service sector such as lower-skilled hospitality, sales, security guards and clerical work has been largely unsuccessful. Employer support for extending apprenticeships to these roles was only partly founded on real labour market need, and more substantially down to generous government employment subsidies. This fact has been revealed by the sustained collapse in this type of training over the last 6 years following the cessation of the subsidies.’’ 

USA

In the US, President Obama re-visited President Clinton’s relatively unsuccessful efforts to revive apprenticeships in the 1990s and also sought to target non-traditional sectors such as ICT and health. The policy of expanding apprenticeships has continued under President Trump, with the explicit intention of encouraging greater involvement of industry and to promote apprenticeship in new areas.

However, to date, little progress has been made.   

     Dr Johann Fortwengel continued:

“between 1998 to 2017, there was a 65 per cent in apprentice starts in the US. However, as far as we can see from Department of Labor figures, extension into new sectors and occupations has been limited.  Given our findings, that may be a blessing in disguise: there is an opportunity to reflect on what might work before ploughing resources into this effort.”

*Because of differences in apprenticeship systems and data across the jurisdictions of the UK, only England is examined here. 

The Best Australian Workplaces of 2019
November 7, 2019
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Great Place to Work Australia is a global research and consulting firm focusing on employee engagement, organisational alignment and the effect it can have on high-performance workplace cultures.

Each year they release a much-anticipated publication, 50 Best Places to Work 2019. The report is based on research conducted by surveys and evaluation of a company’s policies and procedures. A key finding of the report is that the hiring process plays an important role in retention rates of employees — almost 80% of organisations consider employee retention to be their biggest challenge. Artificial intelligence is assisting in the acquisition of skilled workers in most organisations. It can analyse, predict and filter what the organisation needs from each employee.

The report is sectioned into three different categories based on size: 1,000 or more employees, 100 to 999 employees, and 100 or fewer employees.

1,000+ employees

IT giant Salesforce took the top spot — an impressive accomplishment in addition to powering the world’s number one CRM and empowering companies to connect with their customers in a whole new way. Salesforce believes that honouring their 1,473 employees is key to leading an organisation — every presentation begins with a ‘thank you’ slide in recognition of their peers’ hard work and efforts.

Second place goes to Cisco Systems Australia, who develop tech equipment for consumers and other businesses. Cisco takes pride in a culture that promotes and encourages personal and professional development. Global hospitality chain Hilton nabbed third place due to a priority on team recognition and occasional shout-outs from the president and CEO, guests and team members.

100–999 employees

Healthcare manufacturer Stryker ranked first as best place to work in the middle-sized category. The organisation installs different development programs for their employees, such as the Women Without Limits program and the Emerging Leaders Program for employees who show potential. Graphic design website Canva placed second after finishing first in 2018. Upon hiring new employees, Canva introduces an ice-breaker activity in the style of a treasure hunt, in which they’re given clues to look for locations and staff members.

Fewer than 100 employees

Finishing first was Avenue Dental, an Australian company that aims to ‘positively transform dentistry’. Their 65 employees say that the organisation reinforces positive values and recognises and rewards staff who perform well. Employees recognise each other’s efforts during weekly meetings by reading out positive feedback given by their patients or co-workers.

Below is a summary of the top 10 in each category from the report 50 Best Places to work 2019:

RankOver 1,000 EmployeesBetween 100 and 999 employeesFewer than 100 employees
1SalesforceStrykerAvenue Dental
2Cisco Systems AustraliaCanvaLogMeIn Australia
3HiltonIntuit AustraliaInsentra
4MECCA BrandsOMD AustraliaAmicus
5MARS AustraliaAbbVieCobild
6REA GroupAdobeSC Johnson & Son
7SAP AustraliaEnvatoVersa
8Service NSWOptiverAltis Consulting
9AtlassianNous GroupBeaumont People
10Campbell Arnott’sRichard Crookes ConstructionsMorgan McKinley
Report: The Hardest Jobs to Fill Across Canada in 2019
October 31, 2019
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It’s a job seeker’s market in Canada and employers are still struggling to fill roles with many positions remaining open for more than 60 days.

To get more perspective, Indeed economist Brendon Bernard shares his thoughts on the regional labour market and hard-to-fill roles.  

Specialized engineering roles in very different sectors, such as software engineering manager (#1) and senior geotechnical engineer (#2), an expert in soil, in addition to real estate associate (#3), are the three most difficult-to-fill roles, with 57% of jobs remaining vacant for 60 days or more. Rounding the top five in western Canada, we find technical program manager (#4), which also requires coding knowledge, and psychiatrist (#5) both represented 55% of hard-to-fill jobs. The latter is not that surprising as mental healthcare access and psychiatrist shortage, especially in British Columbia, have been debated in the media recently. 

According to Bernard, tech roles stand-out as taking long to fill. “Employment in the sector is growing quickly, but the strong competition for talent between employers makes filling individual roles difficult. The resource extraction sector in Western Canada might be facing tough times, but it is still difficult to find geotechnical engineers, suggesting opportunities remain, but they often require highly specialized skills.”

Bernard also explains that Western Canada highlights how labour market conditions are varying across provinces. British Columbia has made significant progress in recent years, while conditions in Alberta remain weaker than they were prior to the fall in oil prices.

Highly-specialized engineers are also difficult to find in Ontario 

Senior test engineer (#1), a tech profession that evaluates products, proves to be the most difficult to find talent for, with 58% of jobs remaining vacant more than 60 days.The most populous province in Canada also finds it difficult to find senior mining engineers, with senior geotechnical engineer coming in second on the list with 55% of available roles long remaining vacant. However, solutions engineer, which is more of a leadership role interacting with technical support and sales, comes in third with 45%.

Speciality in the health sector can also be a headache, with infusion registered nurse, who specializes in the administration of medications and fluids, coming in at number four (45%). Last year, that profession was in the top 10 nationwide of hard-to-fill health care roles. Civil designer, who deals with municipal infrastructure, completes the top five with the same percentage.

Bernard explains that the Ontario job market is showing both strengths and weaknesses. On one side, there’s been strong growth in certain higher-paying fields, tech being a notable standout. In contrast, conditions aren’t great for those without postsecondary education. 

Quebec has one of the lowest unemployment rates, so talent is scarce

In September, Quebec was tied with B.C. for Canada’s lowest unemployment rate, which is going to make it more challenging to fill lots of different types of job openings, as Bernard explains. Statistics Canada found that Quebec had the highest share of job openings remaining vacant for over 60 days in the second quarter of 2019, suggesting hiring difficulties for many roles because more of the workforce is already employed.

Because of increased demand and competition, tech is also well represented in this regional list, with software developer (#1) seeing 50% of opportunities remaining vacant for at least two months and programmer (#4) having 47% of its jobs unfilled for at least 60 days. Engineering is also a pain point in the French-speaking province with electrical (47%) and structural engineer (46%) in third and fifth respectively. One job that stands out from other regions is optician, a provider of eyeglasses and contact lenses, which is actually the second most hard-to-fill job in the province (49%), but that may become a national challenge, since the Government of Canada expects labour shortage for opticians in the country over the next decade. 

Atlantic Canada deals with high unemployment but still has trouble finding the right fit 

According to Bernard, unemployment rates in Atlantic Canada are higher than the national average. Still, it can be tough to find workers to fill a number of niche roles requiring specific and rarer skills. 

Tech talent often being attracted to major tech hubs in big cities, it makes it difficult to fill some roles in smaller areas. As such, senior java developer (50%) and senior software engineer (41%) open and close-out the top five in that region, at number one and number five. Psychologists (#2) are in high demand in that region, with 48% of roles long remaining vacant. Still in the health sector, pharmacy technician appears on the list at number four (41%) while equipment operator arrives just above (#3), with the same percentage. 

We can see that specialities are required in varied sectors across the country. This impacts different industries and company sizes who struggle to fill roles with special skills when it’s a job seeker’s market. Smaller businesses also have to contend with the competition from larger companies.

When your pool of qualified candidates is small, whether it be because of the particular skills needed or because of the high competition, you have to be able to be seen by the right candidate at the right time and to use the tools accessible to you. A few tips are: 

  • Think like a marketer and utilize your social media platforms as well as targeted advertising.
  • Become more proactive, and search resumes and contact talent yourself. 
  • Work on your employer branding and share what makes you unique and what you have to offer to those specialized professionals who, after all, have a lot of choices.

Methodology

Data represents roles open for longer than 60 days in Canada during the first half of 2019 in Western Canada, Atlantic Canada, Quebec and Ontario. While job postings can be open for longer than 60 days for many reasons, Indeed uses this measure as a proxy for difficulty in hiring. Due to data restrictions, we are unable to meaningfully analyze Northern Canada.

Top 10 Highest-Earning Jobs in Australia
September 27, 2019
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The Australian Tax Office (ATO) has released their most recent set of income statistics that reveal the country’s top earners according to their average taxable income. 

The rankings are based on 13.9 million individuals who submitted their tax returns for the 2016–17 income year.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the top three occupations come from the medical industry, while finance and engineering also feature prominently.

Of the 1,100 occupations listed by the ATO, the following top 10 have the highest average taxable income:

RankProfessionIndividuals in professionAverage taxable income
1Surgeons4,000$394,866
2Anaesthetists3,000$367,343
3Internal medicine specialists8,500$299,378
4Financial dealers4,500$261,008
5Psychiatrists2,800$216,075
6Other medical practitioners28,000$204,387
7Judical and other professionals3,500$195,703
8Mining Engineers8,000$167,345
9CEO and managing directors174,000$157,643
10Engineering managers25,000$147,451

To find out more about Australians’ income characteristics, such as the country’s highest-earning postcodes, head to the ATO’s Taxation statistics web page.

Australian Careers Service: How Will AI Change the Way We Work?
September 6, 2019
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It’s estimated that around 45 per cent of jobs in the current workforce will be automated within 20 years.

Although rapid progression of technology has made (and will continue to make) many jobs obsolete, it’s also creating new ones.

Research conducted by a cohort of University of Melbourne professors indicates that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is being used to replace cognitive tasks — that is, any tasks that requires a person to mentally process new information, retrieve information and to use it to retract information.

A 2013 report from the University of Oxford said that administrative support workers and even transportation and logistics occupations can and will be substituted by computers in the future — think telemarketers, clerks, cashiers, bus drivers and even hospitality workers.

According to research conducted by Ford, cognitive tasks are more likely to be replaced by AI. But rather than panicking about robots taking our jobs, we can look at the opportunities that technology brings to tomorrow’s workforce. A 2017 report by Commonwealth bank stated that ‘the future of work will be primarily about how people can collaborate effectively with machines to do what neither can do alone’. 

The advancements of technology offer career opportunities across all sectors. The University of Melbourne has done extensive research on how AI will influence the world and predicts that the next generation will be the most educated yet, which will lead to accelerated growth in jobs. Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, said that instead of eliminating jobs, AI is eliminating tasks and is creating new jobs for humans. These jobs require traits that robots haven’t mastered: empathy, communication and problem-solving.

Professor Tim Miller from University of Melbourne says that there are still plenty of jobs that won’t be handed to the rise of robots. Leadership positions, childcare and social workers, politicians, teachers, CEOs and doctors are here to stay, although they will inevitability evolve with advancements in technology. 

Machine learning, deep learning and other AI technologies are being incorporated into many different industries. If anything at all, robots are helping humans and making their jobs easier to manage. We’re already seeing this take place: cranes are helping humans to carry big loads, and driverless tractors and drones help humans with crop spraying. Factories already depend on AI to perform labour-intensive tasks.

AI can also assist in making effective decisions. Machines have higher predictive power to make better consumer decisions because of analytic tools that can automate and scale data. With trends consistently influencing customer expectations, there is a need for more data-driven insights.

Increasingly, more jobs are focusing on data to manage and implement strategic initiatives to provide better solutions. The University of Melbourne predicts that technology development has created a demand for more jobs in diverse occupations such as urban planning, construction, social work, transport and environmental science.

Why Mid-Life Could be the Best Time to Change Careers in Canada
June 12, 2019
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Record low unemployment, innovation, longer careers just some reasons middle-aged workers can find new paths. An article by Brandie Weikle is a senior writer for CBC News based in Toronto. 

While there isn’t widespread data available on career change and the ages at which it occurs, Statistics Canada does track the number of consecutive months Canadians have worked for their current employer.

Some of that data, analyzed by the Labour Market Information Council (LMIC) in Ottawa and provided to CBC News, shows that among workers 45 and older, average time on the job started to drop in 2017.

Though those numbers don’t differentiate between job changes and career shifts, the shorter tenures may indicate more career change — or at least the labour market conditions that help support it. Read more

Career Breaks Are the New Norm – So Why Are They Still Stigmatised?

When we think of career breaks, motherhood tends to spring to mind. But there are many other reasons why people take timeImage result for career breaks off work, and getting back in isn’t always easy.

Geoff was 44 when he found himself faced with a difficult decision: to leave his 30-year coal mining career behind him and retrain, or to continue doing what he knew best. He was at this crossroads because his 11-year-old daughter was concerned that he was putting himself in danger each day; she was scared of losing her dad. She didn’t know it, but her fear was very much grounded in reality. Mining has the third highest fatality rate of any industry. It now claims the lives of nine workers on average each year, and that number was even higher when Geoff was working in the industry.

With his daughter’s concerns front of mind, he decided to take a leap of faith and retrain as a teacher. Following two years of accelerated study, he found himself in a position where he was entering a new industry for the first time in over three decades. Read more

Harnessing the Power of Systematic Career Exploration
June 7, 2019
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Such exploration should happen early and often, writes Rebekah Layton, director of professional development programs in the Office of Graduate Education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who gives tips on how to get started

I am a career professional in higher education. I absolutely love, well, pretty much everything about my job.

Yet I would not have given it a second glance had I come across the job ad a year before experiencing a personal career crisis as a postdoc, simply because it didn’t come with a faculty label in its title.

In retrospect, this experience profoundly moved me and shaped my own perspective and professional choices. In fact, I am especially passionate about helping ensure that others never have to go through a similar experience to reach a career pathway they love; hence, my passion for providing opportunities to help trainees explore career pathways early and often, rather than waiting till late in their graduate or postdoctoral training. Harnessing the power of career exploration to seek a tailored-to-fit career match can be a transformative experience.

I was a postdoctoral trainee who had been pounding full force down the tenure-track career pathway for years when I realized I was going to be off cycle in the academic calendar year and was therefore unable to apply for academic jobs. I panicked. I had no idea where to start without the faculty career path as my centrepiece. In addition to navigating a changing professional identity and mourning for my lost identity as a future faculty member (which has been likened to a grieving process), I also had to balance a number of imminent competing priorities. Those included concern for meeting immediate financial and family needs, as well as managing the anxiety about the pending transition into the unknown, among others. It was obviously not the optimal time to approach career exploration with the clear mind, calm energy and careful logic needed to systematically apply myself, yet the situation demanded that I do so. The important lesson I learned was that systematic, logical exploration of career options early on can prevent the kind of panic that trainees feel when professional transitions arise unplanned or professional challenges cause a reconsideration of career goals.

As a career coach and workshop leader, I now provide guidance for trainees navigating through this process — hopefully before they get to the point where the process feels like an acute identity crisis. I encourage all trainees to go through the process of examining what they love about the careers they choose to pursue, including those on the academic track. For those planning on following academic career pathways, this process may simply reconfirm that a faculty career is absolutely right for them, and they may go on to do just that. Nonetheless, if later on, life events impact career choices, priorities change or job preferences shift, early career exploration ensures that they’ll be already prepared to handle questioning their professional identity with resilience.

But, you may wonder, how do I start a systematic personalized career exploration plan? Here are some starter pro tips, developed in collaboration with my colleague Patrick Brandt over the course of many years of collaboratively running career-planning workshops.

It’s not about the title. Erase any expectation of job title — and instead look up keywords of interest to see what job titles pop up. Do some research to identify any new job titles that may be of interest. Learn about how various organizational cultures in industry, government or academe might be similar or different. Do parallel roles with different titles exist in different settings? Don’t limit yourself.

Start with what you like to do. Not sure what keywords to start with? Consider: What parts of your training and research do you like to spend your time on? What skills in your training do you most enjoy using? Use these as a guide. Capitalize on transferrable skills you’ve developed during doctoral training (relevant for a multitude of careers), not just scientific, technical skills or discipline-based skills — although, of course, those can be important, too. (You can also visit MyIDP or ImaginePhD — online tools that provide career interests, skills, assessments and potential career matches and titles if you prefer a more structured approach than self-reflection alone).

Use career exploration to make an informed career choice or choices. Learn what possible titles might be a good fit for you. In our career planning workshops, we like to refer to such career options as Plan A and Plan A-Prime, indicating that there is value in being aware of multiple career pathways that you could be excited about, in contrast to a backup Plan B. You can ultimately decide to pursue one or many of them, but by preparing to be a good candidate for a few career possibilities, you ensure that you will have options and choices. No panic button needed here! Feeling stuck about what options are out there to find your Plan A or A-Prime? Read on.

Engage in career exploration through combinations of passive and active actions, as you feel ready. Look at career outcomes nationally to get started, if you’re not sure what career sectors, types and functions are out there for Ph.D.s. Check out career outcomes published by your institution to see what others in your department go on to do. Or explore alumni career profiles on LinkedIn — you might even connect with a few for informational interviews. Listen to podcasts (like HelloPhD) where you can hear from scientists in a variety of careers and positions about what they do in their role, field, company and the like. Another method is to look for career panels, professional development events, career symposia or other professional networking events in your area. Get excited about all the career possibilities out there!

Systematically review skills, experiences and job requirements for careers/positions of interest. First collect a set of representative job ads (usually three to five per job field is a good start) for one or more career fields, and group similar jobs. Pick one career field at a time to gather together each job ad pile and take a look at what you notice about the set. We advocate for something we like to call a Skill Profile Analysis — our fancy way of asking trainees to look for patterns in the data, putting already well-developed research skills to use to collect and analyze them. You can repeat this with as many careers as you like, but to avoid running out of steam or feeling overwhelmed, start with your top one to three careers of interest. (You can always go back later to add a new career field.)

Compare current skills with those needed. Pick one career pathway of interest and move on to identifying which of those patterns you fit well with. We refer to this as conducting a Skill Gap Analysis. Then it’s time to go point by point: identify skills, keywords, experience requirements and so forth that you found in common across job ads in that career field, and then take stock of how you measure up. In what areas, can you metaphorically knock the ball out of the park? In what areas can you possibly score a run but could use more practice and development? And in what areas are you still in the dugout? Now you’ve created a snapshot at the intersection of you at the current time point with one possible career pathway and have developed an important tool to use in your next steps.

Find your fit, make the match. Use the skills and experiences you’ve identified as standout strengths to build a résumé that is tailored to showcase your current skills and experience as it best matches with your chosen field(s). And, yes, that means building multiple versions for each career option you are considering. Take some time to reflect on areas where you’d like to grow more and make a plan of action to build skills in the ones you’ve identified. As you work your way through a few career options, you may also realize that you aren’t as interested in a particular pathway that isn’t a great fit, or that you are a better fit than you first thought for another position that is unexpectedly a great fit.

Going through the steps of career exploration can help you identify and prepare for the personalized career of the future you. An exciting career awaits you! But first you have to go out there and find it. Don’t wait to get started. Today is the day.

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