With the effort that is being put into creating Alberta’s diverse and rich economy, it’s no wonder that the definition of skilled labor is becoming a lot more complicated.
As Neil Fassina PhD CPHR ICD.D, president, Athabasca University (AU), describes, “Today’s businesses are diverse, innovative, and complex. They are looking for modern talent that can effectively apply both technical and non-technical knowledge in today’s marketplace, while seamlessly adapting and upgrading their skills to proactively respond to the continuous disruption characteristic of our globally connected and complex economy. These renaissance employees effectively bridge practical job skills with those characteristics that make us human, such as critical thinking, communication, emotional intelligence, and self-awareness.”
If that description sounds a little too ideal to be obtainable, don’t worry. There is one key strategy that can help chisel together the diversity of that skillset: knowledge.
“Knowledge is a core tool in any career toolbox,” Fassina emphasizes. “Given the global shift towards knowledge-based economies, this statement cannot be over emphasized. Education enables learners to systematically develop, strengthen, adapt, and apply their knowledge in today’s marketplace as well as the marketplaces of the future. In many cases, an individual’s knowledge is recognized through a formal certificate, diploma, or degree. These credentials are heavily relied upon during recruitment and selection processes in today’s economy.”
“Beyond the knowledge gained by completing a credential, education opportunities like those at Athabasca University (you can learn more about these by visiting www.athabascau.ca) also enable learners to develop highly marketable skills that are developed through the education process,” Fassina continues. “For AU learners who balance university studies with full-time work, family life, and community engagement, they develop incredibly strong time management skills, self discipline, and resiliency. These transferable skills can be applied to numerous roles.
“In many ways, this is why we are incredibly excited about the role we play at Athabasca University. Learners can achieve their personal learning goals, whether technical or otherwise, without having to sacrifice living their lives or step away from the economy. With educational pathways that enable learners to choose what works best for them, Athabasca University’s flexible and open education options help to remove barriers for access to and success in obtaining a university-level education – often complementing their technical skills or enabling them to attain them.”
Stephanie Culleton, education and program coordinator, Careers In Transition, agrees that the complexity of the workplace market has shifted the needs of those who are looking to find a way in.
“With an unemployment rate of 6.7 per cent and an increased proportion of applicants coming from the oil and gas industry, we have seen a change in demographics, and that has necessitated us to change the way our program operates. Our clients are now more likely to have been previously employed in very lucrative jobs. They typically were hired without a high school diploma, and now are not employable because they do not have their basic education, making it impossible to be hired in an entry level position. As many have not been in an education setting for a prolonged period of time, additional supports are required for their success.”
Culleton continues, “We feel that it is important that such potential employees have strong critical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the education (through the GED) to support their success in the workplace, [which is why] we focus on helping our students be independent learners; to solve problems effectively and independently.
“Education provides individuals with employment and further education options that were not available to them previously. It also provides capacity to achieve self-sufficiency. This ultimately enables individuals to make forward-facing decisions, not fear-based decisions.”
However, while education provides a key to accessing the necessary skills for the job market, Culleton stresses, “It is very important that job-seekers do their research into the programs and careers that they are pursuing. Questioning which program will best meet their needs through the shortest and most effective route available will arm them with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful and will provide the skill training required for them to achieve employment. Student funding for a low-income individual is capped, so it is important that the funding is utilized effectively and not misused, leaving the student with no way to complete their program due to exhaustion of their funding.”
Dart Wooden, program manager of the self-employment program at the Anderson Career Training Institute (ACTI), agrees that the complexity of Edmonton’s economy has led to a shift in both the desired skills of employees and the needs of those job-seekers who are seeking employment, but he sees an alternative opportunity built into that complexity.
“We offer a self-employment program,” he explains. “We have been seeing a lot of professionals with unique bodies of knowledge and experience, and who, because of changes in the marketplace, have been unable to find an employer who can offer enough work or who can pay what that employee is worth.”
Wooden refers to this as “the aftermath of employment,” adding that a lot of the people who come to ACTI “were recently laid off and had trouble finding new employment because their skillset is too high. Employers can’t afford to pay them the true value of their skills anymore. Right now, especially, employers are looking for employees who can bring more value to the business than it costs to pay them.”
Instead of reworking those skills to match the employment opportunities out there, Wooden suggests learning how to market the skills and experience the job-seeker already has into the start of their own consultancy.
The self-employment program is offered free of cost, funded by the Alberta government in an effort to get Albertans back to work, and as Wooden suggests, it’s because of Edmonton’s current economic complexity that the self-employment route is such an important option. “Now, more than ever, do employees need to take ownership of how they are going to make it in the world, and self-employment is the path for many people to get there.”
While its necessity may be increasing, one thing has remained consistent for the 22 years ACTI has offered the self-employment program. “The heart of the program has always been personal development,” Wooden explains. “It’s really always about showcasing the knowledge and experiences people have and learning how to shape that into a business opportunity.”
“Self-employment training really offers people two things,” Wooden summarizes. “The first is the sense of community and belonging individuals can gain working with 12-18 fellow entrepreneurs who are all on the same journey. It’s an important thing for them to realize they are not alone. Second is the knowledge they can gain from the almost 400 combined years of entrepreneurial experience of the classroom instructors. And of course,” Wooden concludes, “the main focus is on helping these individuals create jobs for themselves.”
The job market has changed and job seekers are changing along with it with help from the resources that enable them to make a smoother transition into a new and exciting career.