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Advancing Careers: Sociocultural Competencies and Sustainable Employment

by Michael Yue
When working with a client, a career practitioner may note that the client has competitive occupational knowledge and skills, but still encounters challenges in sustaining or advancing in employment. While there may be many reasons for a person to lose his or her job, a factor that is sometimes identified is the worker’s lack of sociocultural competencies.

I have had the opportunity of learning a unique model for training clients in acquiring sociocultural competencies. In this model, developed by four professors from Canada and Australia1, facilitators use an engaging process to help clients master six key competencies that are “critical for those who are learning to increase social involvement with members of the host culture and who are wishing to purse their career and personal success in a new cultural context”. 2

These six competencies have been identified by researchers to be key to success in a new culture.

  • participating in a group or team setting
  • seeking help or information
  • making social contact and social conversation
  • refusing a request
  • expressing disagreement
  • giving feedback

In this model, “culture” is not defined solely by ethnically-based behaviours and values, but refers to a broad spectrum of human communicative actions based on our norms, beliefs, feelings, pre-conceptions, etc.

At the core of the learning process is the development of cultural maps. These maps provide the learners with guidance in using effective and appropriate communicative tactics — both verbal and non-verbal — to interact with people in specific sociocultural settings such as workplaces, networking events, job interviews and classrooms. Each cultural map is designed to follow a five-phase process of communicative actions:

A – Attending: getting ready for the interaction

B – Bridging: drawing others’ attention

C – Commenting: expressing your intended message

D – Developing: inviting others for feedback and continuing with the interaction

E – Ending: signing others to end the interaction

Here is an example of A-B-C-D-E interaction involving a student who is “seeking help”:

A: (Moving close to the Financial Aid Office window.)
[Financial Aid Clerk looks up from her desk.]

B: Hello, my name is Michael.
[Clerk: What can I do for you?]

C: I would like to apply for financial aid.
[Clerk: You do not have an instructor signature on the form, so I cannot accept it.]

D: Oh, no, I did forget to ask my instructor for his signature on the form. Can I come back tomorrow? Will I miss the deadline?
[Clerk: Deadline is next Monday, so if you bring it back tomorrow, you are fine.]

E: Thank you so much for your assistance. I will bring the signed form tomorrow. 

The above example looks like a simple interaction, but upon careful analysis, it contains all sorts of sociocultural meanings and behavioural norms often hidden to “cultural newcomers”. In this case, it may be an international student or an immigrant student new to a Canadian educational institution. By breaking down complex interactions into understandable and manageable steps and (micro)skills, the cultural newcomer can master the interactive tasks more easily.

To find out how to become a Facilitator in Sociocultural Competency Training (SCT), please visit


1   The model described in this article is the creation of Dr. Ishu Ishiyama UBC, Canada), Dr. Marvin Westwood (UBC, Canada), Dr. Anita Mak (University of Canberra, Australia), and Dr. Michelle Barker (Griffith University, Australia)

2   The Sociocultural Competencies Training Program: The Learner’s Guide, Ishu Ishiyama and Marvin Westwood, Aurora Pacific, 2010, p.14.

Michael Yue has over 18 years of experience in education and career development. He encountered the Sociocultural Competency Training model ten years ago at the Vancouver Community College and brings the model to the community. Michael is on the Board of the BC Career Development Association.

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