By Sonny Wong
originally published May/June 2011
The Canadian labour market has become more complex over the last few decades. Although the unemployment rate is down, no one measures the effects job loss has on individuals.
Uninformed, everyday conversations about the job market or why people are unemployed etc. can interfere with people’s attitudes towards their job search and their careers. Career counsellors should fully explore their clients’ thinking around career and work in order to identify employment barriers. Foreign Trained Professionals (FTPs), mature workers and new graduates may experience a great deal of anxiety due to their unemployment.
Some FTPs believe that Canadian credentials/experience are the primary career obstacles rather than the demands for specific professional skills. Mature workers believe their work experience and skills are obsolete and perceive the young to be multi-talented. Because they have difficulty finding a job, new graduates think their degrees are useless, rather than blaming their lack of experience.
These beliefs—whether they are myths or realities—have somehow found their way into the heads of job seekers. In turn, such negative voices hinder their job search and career development.
It is not uncommon for a FTP to refer to his/her career identity in the past tense; “I was an engineer back home.”
A mature worker can be engulfed by his/her biological age rather than his/her professional attributes; “I am 55—too old to be employed again.”
New graduates say, “What good is it to have a degree; I will never work in my field.”
Such negative scripts prevent job seekers from moving on and engaging in effective job searches. Eventually they may very well consider themselves “unemployable.”
The longer individuals remain in this negative stage, the more likely it is that unemployment will become their status. Labour market rejections can be felt as personal injuries, chipping away at their identity and self-worth. These negative attitudes become ingrained.
It is not uncommon for some job seekers to experience depression and isolation; they may withdraw from society and their support systems. They consider past professional achievement meaningless. Some may become marginalized, thus limiting their networking and career opportunities. They look to the future with uncertainty and anxiety. Eventually, they may even view the employed with mistrust.
It is important for career practitioners to get to know the unemployed person in his/her totality. Career counsellors working with the unemployed must go beyond assisting clients with career assessment exercises, career goals, and job search skills training. By finding out the clients’ duration of unemployment and their attitude to it, the counsellor will understand how they are coping with their unemployment. It is vital that career counsellors elicit their clients’ feedback and perceptions of why they are unemployed, and to assess the validity and reliability of their thinking.
Moreover, counsellors must make every effort to counter clients’ claims that their unemployed self is their identity. In this way, counselors will discover the types of barriers to address and can begin to work with clients to alter their negative scripts.
We all have professional insecurities. Challenging these inner, negative voices is key to career advancement and mobility.
Sonny Wong, M.Ed., holds a Masters Degree from the University of Toronto in Adult Education/Counselling Psychology, with a focus on Work and Career. He offers one-on-one confidential counselling sessions and a delivers train-the-trainer series for organizational/professional development. Currently, Wong works at Ryerson University as the Faculty of Arts Career Counsellor.