Courtney Jackson: Employment Support Coordinator @Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland & Labrador. Courtney provides case management to job seekers who identify as having a mental illness or challenge.  

At the end of January 2022, I had the pleasure of attending CANNEXUS 22, a 3-day national career development conference by CERIC. This year, the conference was only offered virtually due to the pandemic. I secured the Young Professionals Bursary, which allowed me to attend for free. CERIC also offers an additional bursary to one organization per province and territory. I am fortunate to have received the bursary, otherwise, I may not have been able to attend due to costs. 

The 2022 format offered a variety of live and pre-recorded webinars. During each time slot, there could be anywhere from 5 live sessions to 20+ on-demand sessions offered, with topics on sector news, career development strategies, inclusion and diversity, workforce development, Labour Market Information, responding to the impact of COVID, and more. This meant that I was able to select webinars based on my interests and learning goals. 

Most of the webinars I attended were not interactive, though attendees could interact and leave questions in a live discussion box. There were opportunities to match and meet with other attendees and network. 

The virtual platform allowed me to select which webinars I would attend and generated a helpful agenda on the CANNEXUS platform. I found it quite easy to access and navigate, though I found it “glitchy” when scrolling through the webinar options, regardless of the browser I used. I spent at least 1-hour selecting webinars for attendance (which can be changed afterwards). I experienced very few technical issues during the live webinars which was surprising and I think we owe presenters patience when they arise.

If you are like me, you may be easily distracted during virtual learning. To keep myself engaged, I took notes, commented in the live discussion box, and saved resources. Imagining that I needed to have something to report back to my team kept me accountable and engaged. Over the course of the conference, I blocked off my calendar so that I was sure to take advantage of the learning opportunity.  

What I found interesting or helpful from a few of the presentations, based on common topics and themes in discussions with other career development professionals (CDPs) will hopefully provide a taste of what the conference offers. 

Building the Workforce of the Future | Brien Convery

Convery describes himself as a “purpose-driven, people-centric” leader, talent scout, speaker, and motivator with experience in almost every industry:

  • Employers need to stop looking for “top talent” and instead look for “right talent”. 
  • Employers could benefit from helping new grads (who tend to minimize their experiences) talk about their experiences and refine their narratives. 
  • Job postings can reach and receive applicants from a wider talent pool by avoiding wording that discourages diverse applicants (e.g., masculine wording) and considering if a list of “nice-to-haves” is necessary. 

Survey Says…What 500 Canadian Employers Think About Skills, Diversity & Careers

  • CERIC survey of 500 senior officials from Canadian businesses in November and December 2021.
  • Top challenges reported: hiring skilled workers, supply chain issues, state of economy, finding your workers, and a “newer challenge” of mental health.

  • Recruitment & retention: Most employers think the best way to resolve gaps in skills is to provide training and professional development opportunities to current employees. 
  • Professional development: 75% of executives agreed that they provide opportunities for professional development. 45% of respondents said that they did not know what CDPs are. 41% were aware but had not worked with a CDP before. 
  • Debroy Chan, Vice President of TRIEC comments that skilled immigrants are underemployed in Canada, indicating a mismatch between what employers are reporting and the pool of skilled workers available for work. Also, many employers understand the importance of professional development, yet few are employing career management programs and/or working with CDPs. 

Advocating for the Human Social Services Sector

  • From CERIC: “The social services sector has not had the opportunity to champion advocacy to the extent of the private sector. It is essential for this sector to intentionally convene, identify priorities and gaps, and action out next steps to advance our collective community goals.” 
  • Jacqueline Tasca, Director of Partnerships and Strategic Initiatives with John Howard Society of Ontario, notes the importance of diverse and unlikely partnerships between organizations and groups to reach and influence government. 
  • A suggestion was made for social service organizations to work with groups that have the funds, resources, and power to advocate and lobby. 
  • There is an opportunity to improve connection with government and funders, possibly by building trusting relationships with persons who provide or make decisions around funding. 
  • Government/ funders are more likely to take issues seriously if several organizations stress the same concerns, which highlights the importance of collaboration within the sector. 

Mental Health & Career Development

I also had the pleasure of attending David Redekopp and Michael Huston’s talk on Measuring Mental Health Outcomes of Career Development. As Huston mentions, mental health has been a sort of movement over the last decade, and “career development is at the centre of the support of mental health”. This leaves CDPs with a key responsibility in 1) making a case for career development as a mental health intervention and 2) increasing capacity to support clients’ mental health. This might start with a unified understanding of what mental health is and the spectrum on which it exists (i.e., mental health versus mental illness). Understanding this spectrum will not only increase capacity to support clients, but as Redekopp explains, it will allow practitioners to stay within their bounds of professional competence.

As a mental health professional, with 6-years of experience in front-line support and crisis management, I see a need to stress that CDPs are not responsible for interventions targeting mental illness and crises. Rather, CDPs provide career development interventions that support overall mental health.

I know that confusion exists around this. During a presentation on trauma-informed practice, I noticed questions from attendees on how they could implement direct interventions. Questions like, “how can I bring a traumatized client into their body?” and “how can I incorporate a safety plan?”. One can appreciate that these questions come from a place of wanting to help. However, it’s important to differentiate between supporting and intervening, which the presenters addressed. It takes years of training and practice to be qualified to manage crises and help people work through trauma. Going back to Redekopp’s advice, providing good career work is supporting mental health. And I would add that being mental health and trauma-informed will allow a CDP to do good career work. Their book, Strengthening Mental Health Through Effective Career Development, A Practitioner’s Guide, is available for free epdf download.

Resources

Resources and contacts were the top reasons for me to attend CANNEXUS 22. Below are links to learning tools, programs, and information that might be helpful to you, your participants, colleagues, or employers, and I hope you share them with your networks.  

Final Considerations

If you are a CDP, I’d recommend attending CANNEXUS. If you are not able to attend but a colleague can, there is a wealth of information to be shared. The conference could also be helpful to social service professionals, human resource specialists, employers, educators, organization leaders, and post-secondary students. Hopefully, the in-person attendance option will return in 2023, but the virtual format certainly makes this conference more accessible and feasible, and it’s a great option for anyone who cannot attend in person. 

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to connect with me. 

Courtney Jackson
Employment Support Coordinator, CMHA NL
Email: cjackson@cmhanl.ca

Courtney Jackson: Employment Support Coordinator @Canadian Mental Health Association of Newfoundland & Labrador. Courtney provides case management to job seekers who identify as having a mental illness or challenge.