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Lisa Taylor’s Vision for a Thriving Workforce

In a compelling interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Lisa Taylor, President of Challenge Factory, shares her innovative perspectives on reshaping career development. She introduces the concept of annual career checkups, suggesting a preventive approach to career management similar to health checkups, to help Canadians better navigate the evolving job market. Lisa critiques Canada’s “fail-first” model of career guidance, advocating instead for a national careers strategy that emphasizes lifelong career development as essential for economic and personal growth. Her insights underscore the need for a proactive, comprehensive approach to career planning that aligns with the dynamic nature of the workforce, aiming to bolster economic resilience and individual fulfillment.

Lisa Taylor is an author, entrepreneur, consultant, futurist and community leader focused on making sense of the changing world of work. She is the President of Challenge Factory, a research agency, consultancy and certified B Corporation that works with purpose-driven organizations. Lisa is the co-host of two podcasts and has published five employer-focused books, including The Talent Revolution: Longevity and the Future of Work and the Retain and Gain series of career management playbooks. She is one of WXN’s 2022 Top 100 Most Powerful Canadian Women, an associate fellow for the National Institute on Ageing (Toronto Metropolitan University) and a member of the Board of Directors of CERIC, a national charity focused on advancing career development in Canada.

A trailblazer who challenges outdated career thinking, Lisa is frequently asked to provide media commentary on key trends impacting workplaces and workforces, and has appeared in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Wall Street Journal, Sun Media papers, The Walrus, CTV News, Zoomer Media, NewsTalk 1010, CBC Radio Syndication, CBC Cross-Country Check-up, CityTV News and more.

Lisa is the co-author of the new report Hidden Sector, Hidden Talent: Mapping Canada’s Career Development Sector.

The concept of an annual career checkup is intriguing and parallels health checkups. How do you envision these career checkups functioning in practice, and what impact could they have on the average Canadian’s career development?

A career checkup would function as an opportunity for Canadians to regularly reflect on and look forward in their own career with a career development professional who has training and expertise in areas like labour market information, psychology, education, and life stage theory to help them better understand how they can navigate shifting work landscapes as they grow and age, right from grade school through to their 60s, 70s, 80s, and beyond. In a career checkup, like in a health checkup, a professional can help you identify anything that is an immediate urgent issue that needs to be addressed within your job or career. One takeaway from a good checkup would be a specific understanding of why you are in the current career or job you are in, how it links to what matters to you, and what market changes on the horizon should remain on your radar.

We spend so much time at work and thinking about work that it has an impact on every aspect of our lives. A regular career checkup can help average Canadians make informed career choices, open up their options, build more resilience and mobility amidst disruption, and be more hopeful that they can find fulfilling work that meets all their needs. It’s also a mindset shift for Canadians that is important as the world of work and skills keep changing. We don’t think about how our careers can benefit from professional expertise, but it’s critical to our overall wellbeing and financial stability.

The “Hidden Sector, Hidden Talent” report emphasizes the importance of career development professionals in navigating the complexities of the modern workforce. Could you elaborate on the unique roles and solutions these professionals offer in addressing employment challenges?

Career development professionals play many different roles. Most Canadians might point to the guidance counsellor they met with a couple times in high school, and don’t realize just how much these professionals do in other roles. They provide individualized career planning and career transition support, skills assessment and development, resume writing and interview preparation, and job search strategies and labour market navigation for people of all ages. They also provide support to entrepreneurs and business leaders, advocate for inclusive hiring practices and continuous learning, and help improve workplace integration for newcomers, people with disabilities, and other groups who face barriers to labour market participation. They work on the frontlines of service delivery as well as in research and policy roles across sectors and industries.

Lisa Taylor's Vision for a Thriving Workforce
Image Courtesy: C anva

Our “Hidden Sector, Hidden Talent” report shows that there are likely 40,000-60,000 career development professionals in Canada. This is a huge pool of expertise that can be better leveraged. The solutions they offer in addressing employment challenges target career transitions, increased labour market participation and decreased unemployment, enhanced skills and career knowledge, and all the growth across the economy, productivity, and living standards that follow.

The report suggests that Canada’s “fail-first” model in career development lags behind other OECD countries. Could you explain this model and its implications, and what lessons Canada could learn from other countries to improve its career development strategies?

In a “fail-first” model, the average working adult gets professional career advice and guidance only when something has gone wrong. They’ve lost their job, suffered an injury, or experienced another barrier to participating in the labour market. That’s when they go looking for career guidance. The “fail-first” model is very reactive—and in today’s turbulent world of work, only ever  reacting  to an emergency or crisis means Canadians, employers, and policymakers are constantly scrambling to play catch-up and make the right decisions when they are most under pressure.

Other countries, like Scotland and Singapore, have very different models. As in the healthcare analogy, they see career development as a preventative system that can provide ongoing support throughout their citizens’ entire careers, rather than just in episodes that are the equivalent of having a broken bone or all of a sudden needing to visit an emergency room. This model takes the pressure off everyone and has the capacity to benefit not only individuals, but also communities and the entire economy. In both Scotland and Singapore, these strategies began with collecting reliable data and fostering a culture and skillset for lifelong career ownership.

How do you see this investment translating into tangible economic benefits, and what steps do you believe should be taken to integrate career development more effectively into Canada’s economic planning?

Billions of dollars are currently being invested to address skills, employment, and labour market challenges. Despite this, no province or territory has a model that enables a culture of basic, widespread career support for everyone. Now that the “Hidden Sector, Hidden Talent” report has identified the types of support that Canadians can access, from government-run programs to employer- and community-based services, the next question Canadians should be asking is how they want to bolster their own career literacy. Stronger career literacy and better use of the resources we have will lead to more resilient workforces and higher productivity.

I’ll mention that the report includes 62 recommendations that range from how to support measured and measurable systems change to helping everyone who provides career services and supports identify how their specific expertise or role can contribute to advancing career development in Canada. These are a great way to begin identifying the steps needed to integrate career development more effectively into Canada’s economic planning, from local to national jurisdictions.

The report calls for a national careers strategy, highlighting its potential to unlock individual potential and build healthy communities. Can you describe what this strategy might look like and how it would address both individual career needs and broader community health and cohesion?

A national careers strategy would see a careers lens—not a skills or jobs lens—integrated into how investments are allocated, and services are delivered. In Canada, we often see a focus on skills or job attainment because they are relatively easy to measure. But they don’t capture the complexity of how labour markets are shifting, or how workers have needs and interests beyond their job title, past experiences, or formal education. Family and lifestyle considerations, health and wellness needs, personal interests, and other considerations all impact career choices and the success of any career transition.

A national careers strategy would integrate this understanding of complexity into what is already included in strategies focused on skills and employment. We should also include the full ecosystem of actors who guide and influence careers in the strategy so that Canadians know they can access a variety of quality supports, from formal to informal. When the individual’s career needs and potential (not just their job or skills needs) are fulfilled and maximized, major economic, community, and social benefits can follow. This is all about creating a national culture of lifelong career development that is valued and prioritized as a public good.

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