FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Document no. 8
Keys to a Great Career and a Great Life
Phillip S. Jarvis
National Life/Work Centre
Canadian Career Development Foundation
119 Ross Avenue, Suite 202
Ottawa, Ontario K1Y 0N6
The Pan-Canadian Symposium On Career Development,
Lifelong-Learning and Workforce Development
November 17-18, 2003
Available on the website:
November 7, 2003
Career Management Skills
Keys to a Great Career and a Great Life
Phillip S. Jarvis
National Life/Work Centre
(This is an excerpt from a longer paper which is available at www.lifework.ca under Papers)
A July, 2002 OECD Career Guidance Review team identified among Canada’s strengths “ the
extent and quality of labour market information.”1. One might therefore expect Canadians to
avail themselves of this information to plan their careers with clarity and confidence.
However, the majority of Canadian secondary school graduates have no clearly articulated
career goals. 67% of females and 57% of males between the ages of 17 and 24 pursue
post-secondary education.2 The majority go to university or college without clear goals. Too
few select apprenticeship, vocational or trades training to meet current and projected
demand. Nearly half change programs or drop out by the end of their first year of post-
secondary studies. Of those who graduate, 50 percent will not be in jobs directly related to
their studies 2 years after graduation.3
Many adults go through their entire working lives without ever making fully intentional, fully
informed career choices. Too many end up in jobs through happenstance rather than
informed choice, then spend 50 percent of their conscious hours in work settings they do
not particularly like. In a recent national Gallup survey in the U.S. seven in ten adults
(69%) report that if they were starting their careers over they would try to get more
information about job and career options than they got when they began their working
lives.4 In the same survey more than five times as many people indicated that they entered
the workforce by chance rather than by a choice influenced by a career development
professional. Many people eventually find their way to satisfying and fulfilling work roles,
but too many do not. Those who feel trapped in inadequate work roles are less productive
than their satisfied counterparts.
The loss of productivity and waste of human capital are palpable, whether measured in
training costs or unrealized human potential.
Canada invests heavily to support individuals, groups and regions in need, accepting higher
taxes than many countries to ensure a better quality of life for more citizens. Even minimal
losses on these huge investments can cost governments, corporations and communities
dearly, particularly when balancing budgets is a real challenge. Fallout from gaps between
people’s skills and workforce needs reduces the return on investment we rightly expect from
education, health care and social services investments. Moreover, they cost governments
lost revenues and businesses lost productivity and competitiveness.
2 Statistics Canada, Access, persistence and financing: First results from the Postsecondary Education Participation Survey (PEP),
3 Statistics Canada and Human Resources Development Canada, School Leavers Survey, 1997.
4 National Survey of Working America, National Career Development Association and The Gallup Organization, 1999.
Productivity “We are sitting on a huge potential boom in productivity – if we could just get
the square pegs out of the round holes.”5 A 1 percent increase in Canada’s productivity
would result in an increase of $10 billion in goods and services each year. Better
mechanisms for helping people connect with work they love and at which they excel would
have profound ramifications for businesses across Canada, and would yield standard of
living gains in communities from coast-to-coast.
Education A 2003 OECD survey ranks Canadian students as 2nd among 32 OECD countries
in Reading Literacy, 5th in Mathematics and 5th in Science. Our $60+ billion6 annual
investment in education is paying dividends. Nonetheless, too many students are unsure
why they are learning what they are learning. Too many change programs, underachieve or
drop out. Some extend their education because they are reluctant to move on. Few students
fully understand the diversity of work roles that align with their academic and technical
skills. Many graduate with heavy student loan debts and unclear career prospects. Not
enough master the skills of career management they will need to complement their
academic and technical skills in becoming self-reliant, lifelong career managers. A 1 percent
improvement through helping more students become fully engaged in programs that lead
them to work they love would release an additional $600 million each year to help even
more students, or to improve infrastructure.
Health Those who are unemployed or in work roles they dislike are subject to increased
stress, have increased likelihood of unhealthy lifestyles, and are more prone to substance
and physical abuse. Good jobs foster good mental health whereas poor jobs cause distress
(Loscocco & Roschelle, 1991)7. In a September 2002 Ipsos-Reid survey for the Globe and
Mail and CTV8 one in six adults surveyed (17%) said there have been times they were under
so much stress they considered suicide. The main causes of stress cited were work (43%)
and finances (39%). It is estimated that workers with depression cost US employers an
estimated $44 billion yearly in lost productive time.9 About $80 billion10 is invested by all
levels of government annually on health care. If only 1 percent of health expenditures are
due to work-related stress the potential saving in helping more people find satisfying work
is nearly $800 million each year
Social Services: Over $100 billion11 is invested by Canadians each year on social services,
including social assistance and welfare. Fewer recipients would need assistance if more had
the skills to find and keep work they love. A modest 1 percent improvement would save
over $1 billion annually.
Protection, Prisons and Corrections: Over $15 billion12 is invested annually on “protection of
persons and property,” including policing, prisons and correctional services. A 1 percent
improvement in helping more detainees acquire career planning and management skills,
5 Po Bronson, “What Should I do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question.” Random
House, January 2003.
6 Statistics Canada, CANSIM II, Consolidated federal, provincial, territorial and local government revenue and expenditure,
7 Savickas, M, 14 Facts Career Specialists Could Assert in Debates about Public Policy Regarding Workforce Development and
Career Guidance, For International Career Development Policy/Practice Symposium participants, Vancouver, May 2002.
8 Canadians and Stress: A Special Report, Ipsos-Reid, September 2002
9 Stewart, W., Ricci, J., Chee, E., Hahn, S., & Morganstein, D. (2003). Cost of Lost Productive Time Among US Workers with
Depression. Journal of American Medical Association, 289 (23), 3135- 3143.
10 Statistics Canada, CANSIM II, Consolidated federal, provincial, territorial and local government revenue and expenditure,
11 Statistics Canada, CANSIM II, Consolidated federal, provincial, territorial and local government revenue and expenditure,
12 Statistics Canada, CANSIM II, Consolidated federal, provincial, territorial and local government revenue and expenditure,
become realistically hopeful about their future and more self-reliant in getting and keeping
jobs they love could save $150 million annually.
Employment Insurance: Human Resources Development Canada pays out about $10 billion
13 per year to over a half million EI recipients who get an average of about 18 weeks of
payments. For workers in seasonal situations or those subjected to economic forces beyond
their control, this income support is invaluable. Some recipients, however, simply cannot
secure work they like. If more of these people had the skills to successfully manage their
work and learning opportunities, EI disbursements would decrease. A 1 percent
improvement would result in savings of about $100 million annually.
Government Revenues: Over $400 billion14 is collected by all levels of government each
year in income taxes (individual and corporate), property taxes, consumption taxes, health
premiums, social insurance contributions, etc. If more Canadians were able to find work
they love, revenues would increase for all levels of government. A 1 percent improvement
would generate over $4 billion per year in government revenues each year. 5 percent would
yield a $20 billion annual windfall for all levels of government.
The economic consequences of having too many citizens drifting into the wrong jobs, or no
jobs, are high. The human consequences are higher. Too many Canadians are simply not
enjoying happy and fulfilling lives. Some will even die before their time. They are so
unhappy with the ways their lives and careers have unfolded that they will end their lives or
neglect their health, possibly abusing one substance or another to escape their reality. It is
not an exaggeration to say that lack of career management skills can be life-threatening.
What’s more, this isn’t just the individual’s problem. It profoundly affects his or her
relationships with family and community. Families, communities and Canadian society all
lose when individuals are unable confidently and effectively to manage their lives and
Time to Shift Paradigms
For too many Canadians the traditional vocational guidance paradigm is not working. It
expects youth, possibly with help from a counsellor, to make an informed, long-term career
choice before graduating from high school. Yet, when groups of adults are asked if they are
now doing what they expected to be doing when they graduated, few raise their hands. The
evidence suggests only a small minority of people identify a “calling” in secondary school,
despite the pressures to do so.
The industrial age vocational guidance model was about helping people make an informed
occupational choice, as follows:
1. Explore one’s interests, aptitudes, values, etc. (using tests and professional
2. Explore the world of work (occupations)
3. Determine a “best fit” occupation by matching personal traits to occupational factors
4. Develop a plan to obtain the prerequisite education and training
5. Graduate, obtain secure employment, climb the ladder
6. Retire as young as possible on pension as a reward for decades of work.
13 Human Resources Development Canada, Performance Report, Page 28, March 31, 2001
14 Statistics Canada, CANSIM II, Consolidated federal, provincial, territorial and local government revenue and expenditure,
Steps 1 through 4 still apply in contemporary workplaces, but the terms work role, cluster
or industry sector may be substituted for occupation. Knowledge societies, however, now
make these steps recurrent, dramatically increasing the need for information and support
services at all ages. Step 5 is no longer assured. Even senior executives and CEO’s are not
secure in their positions. Step 6 will only occur for those who learn and successfully apply
personal financial planning skills. Increasingly, people either cannot or do not wish to stop
working at a fixed date.
The new career management paradigm is not about making the right occupational choice.
It’s about equipping people with the competencies (skills, knowledge and attitudes) to make
the myriad choices with which adults are confronted continuously, in all aspects of their
lives, lifelong. “While technical and job-specific skills have sufficed in the past, it is
increasingly being accepted that the worker of the future will need a more comprehensive
set of meta-competencies that are not occupation-specific and are transferable across all
facets of life and work. The economic value, to the individual and the nation as a whole, of a
workforce equipped with these meta-competencies cannot be underestimated and their
development cannot be left to chance.”15 The key in the workplace, and in life, is not finding
the perfect job, friend or life partner: it’s becoming the best possible worker, friend or life
In the career management paradigm the question, “What do you want to be when … ?” is
replaced by questions like:
“Who are you now, and what do you love to do?”
“What are your specials talents and skills?”
“What types of situations, environments and work roles have special appeal for you?”
“What types of organizations need what you can offer?”
“What innovative work arrangements will suit you and potential employers?”
“What do you want to do first when you graduate to move toward your preferred
The object is to find work one loves, in the process of constructing a great career and life.
The pervasive assumption that money is the shortest route to freedom and happiness is
flawed, as so many stressed adults have discovered. In fact, “the shortest route to the good
life lies in building confidence that you can live happily within your means while doing work
you truly love.”16
“People don’t succeed by migrating to a ‘hot’ industry. They thrive by focusing on who they
really are – and connecting to or creating work that they truly love (and, by doing so,
unleashing a productive and creative power that they never imagined). Companies win
when they engage the hearts and minds of individuals who are dedicated to answering their
life question.”17 People who love what they do are more productive. In the words of Yahoo
chief solutions officer Tim Sanders, "Over and over again, I've discovered that the
businesspeople who are busiest, happiest, and most prosperous are those who are the most
generous with their knowledge and their expertise. People who love what they're doing, who
love to learn new things, to meet new people, and to share what and whom they know with
15 McMahon, M., Patton, W., & Tatham, P. Managing Life, Learning and Work in the 21st Century. Issue paper explaining why
the new Australian Blueprint for Career Development is modeled on Canada’s Blueprint for Life/Work Designs. 2003. Perth:
Miles Morgan Australia Pty Ltd.
16 Po Bronson, “What Should I do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question.” Random
House, January 2003.
others: these are the people who wind up creating the most economic value and, as a
result, moving their companies forward."18
Tests and computer systems seldom answer people’s life questions, and career professionals
are not exclusively qualified to ask them. The career management paradigm puts control,
and responsibility, in the hands of the individual, not in tests, computer systems or
specialists. To be fully in control of their own lives, people need to learn career management
skills just as they learn math, science, language or technical skills. Career development
must become an on-going, learning process for all rather than an occasional counselling
process for the few “who need help.” Career development practitioners and human resource
specialists who understand the new paradigm become pivotal players in the paradigm shift
in their organizations. They play vital coaching, mentoring and coordinating roles. Those not
attuned to the new paradigm are being relegated to the periphery, in declining numbers.
To help more citizens master career management skills, career practitioners, counsellors,
educators, workforce developers and human resources specialists need programs and
resources based on clear career management learning and performance outcomes. They
need ways to accurately determining students’ or clients’ prior career management learning
(PLAR) and to select programs, resources and services based on their clients’ real needs
(gaps). Organizations in the career “business” need to develop comprehensive career
management service delivery and accountability frameworks. A common language and map,
or framework, of career management competencies and performance indicators is needed.
Blueprint for Life/Work Designs: a framework of career management
The United States began pioneering work on a career management competency framework
in 1988. The result was the National Career Development Guidelines that have since been
adopted by most U.S. states. Canada began adaptation of the U.S. Guidelines in 1998. The
result is Canada’s Blueprint for Life/Work Designs (www.blueprint4life.ca.
The Blueprint identifies core career management competencies with associated performance
indicators at four developmental levels across the lifespan. The core competencies are the
basis upon which career management programs can be designed. The performance
indicators, which are organized by learning stages, are used to measure learning gains and
demonstrate program effectiveness. The Blueprint competencies are arranged in three
A. Personal Management
1. Build and maintain a positive self-image
2. Interact positively and effectively with others
3. Change and grow throughout ones' life
B. Learning and Work Exploration
4. Participate in life-long learning supportive of life/work goals
5. Locate and effectively use life/work information
6. Understand the relationship between work and society/economy
C. Life/Work Building
7. Secure or create and maintain work
8. Make life/work enhancing decisions
9. Maintain balanced life and work roles
18 Tim Sanders, “Love Is the Killer App: How to Win Business and Influence Friends.” Crown Business/Random House,
10. Understand the changing nature of life and work roles
11. Understand, engage in and manage one's own life/work building process
Included are employability, essential and emotional skills employer groups suggest are
lacking in too many prospective employees, particularly youth. In fact, work habits and
attitudes strongly influence early adult earnings, so educational and training programs need
to emphasize work behaviours as much as they emphasize job skills.19 Self-reliance grows
out of the acquisition of these skills.
The Blueprint recognizes that people at different ages and stages learn differently, and that
even young children can learn and appreciate these competencies. In fact, attitudes toward
work are formed early in life, so workforce and career management policy must take a
developmental perspective. Vocational psychologists such as Super, Crites, Gribbons, and
Lohnes have each concluded from their longitudinal studies that planful competence in early
adolescence relates to more realistic educational and vocational choices, occupational
success, and career progress.20 For this reason, the core competencies are defined at four
Level 1: Primary/elementary school
Level 2: Junior high/middle school
Level 3: High school
Level 4: Adult, including post-secondary
Here is an example of performance indicators for Competency 5 – Level 3 (High School) -
Locate, interpret, evaluate and use life/work information
Learning stage a: Acquisition
5.3 a1 Explore the educational and training requirements of various work roles.
5.3 a2 Discover how key personnel in selected work roles could become ideal
information resources and/or role models.
5.3 a3 Explore how trends and work opportunities in various economic/industry
sectors impact the nature and structure of work roles.
5.3 a4 Explore how employment and workplace trends impact education and
5.3 a5 Understand how a variety of factors (e.g., supply and demand for workers,
demographic changes, environmental conditions, geographic location)
impact work opportunities.
5.3 a6 Understand how labour market information (profiles, statistics, etc.) should
be used when making life and work decisions.
5.3 a7 Explore a variety of work alternatives (e.g., full employment, multi-tracking,
contracting, consulting, self-employment, entrepreneurship).
Learning Stage b: Application
5.3 b1 Use career information resources such as career monographs, occupation
classifications systems, labour market information, mass media, computer
and Internet-based career information delivery systems to educate oneself
to the realities and requirements of various work roles.
5.3 b2 Consult key personnel in selected work roles as information resources, role
models and/or mentors.
19 Savickas, M, 14 Facts Career Specialists Could Assert in Debates about Public Policy Regarding Workforce Development and
Career Guidance, For International Career Development Policy/Practice Symposium participants, Vancouver, May 2002.
Learning Stage c: Personalization
5.3 c1 Determine, according to one’s preferences, the advantages and
disadvantages of various work alternatives (e.g., full employment, multi-
tracking, contracting, consulting, self-employment, entrepreneurship).
5.3 c2 Assess life/work information and evaluate its impact on one’s life/work
Learning Stage d: Actualization
5.3 d1 Improve one’s strategies to locate, interpret, evaluate and use life/work
To view the entire framework of 44 competencies and nearly 500 performance indicators sorted
by developmental levels and learning stages visit http://blueprint4life.ca/competencies.cfm.
This framework can be used by departments of education, labour and workforce
development, community services, human resource departments as well as in career
management programs in industry. New programs, resources and services are being
developed to help more people master these essential career management skills.
“What method do we have of checking the results of guidance? We simply must work out
some definite method of testing and checking the results of our work. If we do not, some
other group will, with possible disastrous results for our work.” Payne, 192321
Recent research yields evidence of favourable student outcomes in schools offering
comprehensive career development programs. For example, in a recent system-wide
evaluation in Utah public schools22 students in schools with highly implemented
comprehensive career guidance programs:
rated their overall educational preparation as better
rated their employment preparation as better
took more advanced math and science courses
took more vocational and technical courses
had higher ACT scores in every test area
rated the guidance and career planning service higher
In a recent Missouri evaluation23 45,565 students in 420 middle schools and high schools
with highly implemented comprehensive career development programs reported:
They earned higher grades
Their education was better preparing them for their future
Their schools made more career information available to them
Their school had a more positive climate
School was more relevant for them
These results are both encouraging and reassuring for career practitioners. Yet most
services in schools implementing comprehensive career development programs remain
largely directed at helping students choose career goals rather than acquiring career
management skills. A comprehensive career management program would include
everything now included in comprehensive career development programs, plus systematic
21 Payne, ……………………., 1923
22 Utah Department of Education …..
23 University of Missouri ….
and experiential learning of career management competencies. The same would apply for as
many clients and employees in work and community settings as possible. Twisting the old
adage somewhat, the object is to help people to learn how to fish, not how to choose a fish.
Career management skills: these are the keys to a great career, and a great life. As more
youth and adults learn and hone career management skills more will find work they love
and construct great careers and lives for themselves. Increased happiness and prosperity
will be enjoyed by more individuals, families, communities and the nation.