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The water is never still – a metaphor for labour market information

By Kristen Cumming

I have a particularly deep love for labour market information. I like economics, and demography, and employment numbers, and GDP indicators. I also hold a profound love for career development. I like discovering the dreams held close to the heart that drive people to explore and risk and try. I am privileged to witness the transformational moments in people’s lives when they align action and intention to create the life they want to lead. When I entered the field of career development 25 years ago, I sensed a strange disconnect between career development and LMI in the field that confused me.

That disconnect took a few forms: that LMI was quantitative and career development more qualitative, that understanding LMI was a diversion from working with people, that learning LMI was an event whereas career development was a process, and so on.

I teach in a post-secondary management program, and I use a metaphor that has been useful with students and may be germane to this thread as well. I ask students to imagine a person, in a boat, in a large body of water. In career development, the person is . . . well, it is the person. The heart, interests, motivations, skills, and attitudes embodied in ourselves and our clients. The person is the unique view of the world and the powerful spirit to be and choose and do.

The boat represents those things that keep us afloat – our networks, supportive friends and family, our accumulated experience, learning, skills, knowledge and abilities. We build our boats and they stabilize us, ideally becoming more robust over time as we live and learn and develop.

The water is our labour market. It is vast and interconnected. It is both highly predictable (think tides and currents) and highly unpredictable (think rogue waves and flash floods). In order to navigate our boats to the many destinations we’d choose to experience, we must understand how the currents of the water support our travels, and prepare for the possibility of rogue waves. Tides and currents may accelerate us on our journey, or they may challenge us and demand careful navigation so we aren’t carried past the shores we wish to land upon.

Sometimes it feels as though understanding the person is a distinct skills set from understanding the water, however this distinction may not be useful to us either as practitioners or as we manage our own careers. Sometimes we have to fight the tide to get to our destinations, sometimes we can allow the current to carry us to amazing places we never imagined possible. We need to know when we’re doing each. We need to be able to do both.

Some destinations, no matter how far upstream they may be, are very much worth pursuing and are accompanied by risk and uncertainty. For this we manage our resources, engage our supports, and paddle hard. We prepare differently. We prepare our clients differently.

Finally, and most interestingly, is that our clients strike out in the water without us. It is not enough for us as practitioners to understand the water and be competent navigators, because we don’t take the trip with them. We must build the capacity of our clients to navigate the changing waters for themselves, and to constantly stabilize and re-stabilize, strengthening their boats with their ability to see, interpret and incorporate labour market information into their career journey and their career literacy as they travel. The water, you see, is never still, much like the person upon it.

Don’t miss the Webinar Series: How to Leverage Hot Jobs to Your Client’s Advantage on May 24, May 31 and June 7, 2017 to learn more on how to understand, predict and leverage labour market conditions to support clients as they move toward their self-determined, preferred futures.

Cumming-Kristen-e1488481011136-145x150Kristen Cumming is a career development practitioner with over 20 years’ experience and a passion for labour market information. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and a Master of Education degree in Workplace and Adult Learning. Her past contributions to the career development community include participation in the Alberta Symposia on Public Policy and Career Development, serving as Co-Chair of the Common Language working group under the auspices of Working Connections, Chair of Communications for the Career Development Association of Alberta, and as an Advisory Board Member for Alberta Learning Information Service.

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