2. Fostering a greater and more inclusive use of career guidance in Canada

The previous chapter showed how the COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate employment impact on vulnerable groups in the labour market, including young people, low-skilled workers, women, temporary employees and Indigenous people. These are some of the same individuals who face higher risk of skills obsolescence and job automation due to technological change. Adult learning can facilitate job transitions during periods of economic instability, but earlier evidence suggests that vulnerable adults who are older, lower-skilled or in low-income jobs tend to participate less in adult learning than their counterparts. To the extent that these gaps are due to a lack of knowledge about adult learning opportunities or their benefits, or to low motivation, career guidance can be an important lever to engage greater participation in adult learning among vulnerable adults. It can also support job transitions and improve employability.

This chapter presents survey evidence on the use of career guidance by adults in Canada, barriers to the use of career guidance, and how inclusive the Canadian system is.

Adults in Canada appear less likely to consult career guidance advisors than adults in other surveyed countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand and the United States). According to the SCGA, only 19% of Canadian adults spoke with a career guidance advisor over the past five years. This is nearly half the survey average (39%), and places Canada as the country with the lowest use of adult career guidance services in the survey (Figure 2.1).

While the low use in Canada relative to other countries may be partially due to methodological differences (see Annex B), it is also likely caused by differences in demand and supply factors. On the demand side, adults in Canada are less likely to seek career guidance when they want to progress in their current job or when they are looking for education and training opportunities. This helps to explain why employed adults use career guidance less in Canada (see Figure 2.11 below), which is not the case in other surveyed countries. On the supply side, the survey data does not uncover any glaring issues with the quality of career guidance services in Canada (see Figure 2.8 below). No conclusions could be reached about the adequacy of the supply of career guidance services in Canada based on the survey data.

In addition to using career guidance less, Canadian adults are also less likely than those in other countries to have multiple interactions with a career guidance advisor. Thirty-five percent of Canadian adults reported meeting with their career guidance advisor only once, higher than the average of all countries that participated in the SCGA (25%). This represents a relatively high share of adults not having any follow-up after their initial consultation with a career guidance advisor. That said, 65% of Canadian adults do have follow-up, with 25% of adults meeting with a career guidance advisor twice, 17% three times, and 23% more than three times (compared to 38%, 19% and 18% for the survey average, respectively) (Figure 2.2).

Canadian adults also have different reasons for using career services compared to adults in other OECD countries (Figure 2.3). The majority of Canadian adult users (64%) consulted career services to find a job, a much higher share than observed on average across countries (43%). Contrary to what one might think, these adults are not all unemployed: in fact, 56% of adults who say they spoke with a career guidance advisor to find a job were employed at the time they received guidance. They were either looking to change jobs or looking for a second or third job. Only 28% were unemployed and 16% were not active in the labour force. Canadian adults are less likely than their international counterparts to seek guidance when they are choosing a study or training programme (19% versus 31%), or when they want to progress in their current job (27% versus 40%).

One possibility for the low rate of career guidance usage in Canada could be that Canadians prefer other types of career support, like consulting career information online, speaking with friends and family, or participating in career development activities like information interviews or work visits. However, a look at the survey data in international comparison suggests that adults in Canada also use these alternative sources of career support less than their international counterparts.

Figure 2.4 shows the use of online information in international comparison. Just over half of Canadian adults (53%) reported that they looked online for employment, education and training opportunities over the past 5 years. This is a lower share than the OECD average (69%). Older adults use online information less than prime-aged adults (37% versus 58%), which is not surprising given that older adults tend to have lower digital skills and are also less likely to be looking for new jobs. Adults in rural areas also report a lower use of online information compared to adults in urban areas (43% versus 55%); likely related to inferior broadband access in rural versus urban areas in Canada. Finally, there are also gaps in the use of online information by education level: lower-educated adults, too, use online information less than high-educated adults (48% versus 66%).

Canadian adults are also less likely than their international counterparts to participate in career development activities (Figure 2.5). Fifty-five (55%) per cent of adults in Canada reported that they had not participated in any type of career development activity in the 12 months preceding the survey. This compares with 42% of adults on average for all countries participating in the SCGA. The most common type of career development activity that Canadian adults did was speak to a family member or friend about training or employment possibilities (22%), followed by discuss career development with a manager or HR professional at work (10%), do an information interview (9%), visit a job fair (7%), and participate in a job rotation/work visit (6%).

Evidence from the SCGA suggests that Canadians increased their use of career services during the COVID-19 crisis, likely in response to the spike in unemployment rates and a reduction in hours worked. Among adults who said they used career guidance over the past five years, the large majority (68%) reported that COVID-19 had had an impact on their employment. This is a much higher share than reported among non-users of career guidance (39%), and suggests that adults may have sought career guidance during this moment of economic instability to help them to navigate the changing labour market.

Adults who reported that COVID-19 had an impact on their employment were also more likely to expect to use career guidance as much or more in the next 12 months. According to survey results, 44% of adults reported using career services more often than before the pandemic to navigate ongoing changes in the labour market (Figure 2.6). Only 22% said that they used career services less because digital or in-person services were less available.

The rise in use of career services during the pandemic is corroborated by an international survey of career development practitioners that included Canada (Figure 2.7). Over half of career development practitioners observed a higher demand for career services during the pandemic, and specifically demand for labour market information, job search assistance, short information delivery chats, requests for information on education and training and psychosocial support.

Understanding the reasons why Canadian adults do not use career services could spark thinking about how coverage and inclusion might be improved. The most common reason reported was simply not feeling the need to use career guidance services (49%) (Figure 2.8), a share that is on par with the average in other surveyed countries (50%). These adults may be well positioned in their careers or perhaps they are unconvinced about the benefits of career development. Unemployed adults were more likely to report not feeling a need to use career services than were employed adults (66% versus 51%). This pattern is similar in other countries in the survey, where 62% of unemployed and 44% of employed adults reported not feeling a need to use career services.

The next most common reason for not using career guidance was not being aware that services existed (21%), followed by not having enough time due to work responsibilities (10%) or family or childcare responsibilities (6%). The share of adults who reported not having enough time as a key barrier was higher in Canada relative to the survey average (16% versus 12%). Relatively few respondents complained that services were too costly (5%), not available (3%), of poor quality (3%), or delivered at an inconvenient time or place (2%).

Raising awareness about career guidance services in Canada and finding ways to make consulting a career guidance advisor more compatible with work and family responsibilities could help to improve take-up of services by addressing barriers related to lack of awareness and lack of time. National media campaigns, like the 2020 ‘En alles beweegt’ (‘And everything is moving’) campaign in Flanders (Belgium), could help to raise awareness about the availability and value of career guidance services. Another way to raise awareness is through referrals between public services. If existing employment, social and adult education services are well connected, adults are more likely to learn about career guidance opportunities. In Ontario, there are multiple entry points for adults to enter adult education opportunities – such as through Employment Service and Literacy and Basic Skills service providers, school boards, Co-ordinated Language Assessment and Referral System Centres – and each provides an opportunity to be referred to career guidance.

The fact that cost is not a major barrier to accessing career guidance in Canada is positive and substantiated by the high share of adults who receive services for free (Figure 2.9). Less than one-third (31%) of adults paid out-of-pocket for the career services they received. The remaining 69% reported receiving career services for free. Adults paying out-of-pocket in Canada represent a higher share than in European countries in the survey (France, Germany, Italy), but this share is on par with the overall average across countries in the survey. Subsidised career services are often made available to adults participating in social programs with a labour market integration component. Indeed, some 55% of adults using career services reported receiving additional income from one or more of the following social programs: Employment Insurance (27%), Social Assistance (20%), Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (12%), or Refugee Support (6%) (Figure 2.10). This reflects that participation in social programs is an important channel through which adults are referred to career services in Canada.

Not all Canadian adults use career guidance services equally (Figure 2.11). Some groups are much less likely to use career services, including low-educated adults (17% versus 29% for highly-educated adults), older adults (10% versus 24% for prime-aged adults) and those living in rural areas (14% versus 21% for adults living in cities). Women also use career guidance less than men (18% versus 23%). The use of career guidance among immigrants is higher than among the native-born population in Canada (27% versus 17%), possibly reflecting Canada’s targeted services to support the labour market integration of immigrants. Part-time employed use career guidance more than full-time employed (28% versus 23%), and unemployed adults in Canada use career guidance more than employed adults (27% versus 23%). This latter result is unique to Canada. On average across the countries in the survey, employed and unemployed use career guidance equally. The lower use of career guidance among employed adults in Canada may reflect that they are less likely to seek career guidance when looking for education or training opportunities or to progress in their job (Figure 2.3). Table 2.1 presents results from a probit regression which isolates the impact of each of the above factors on the use of career guidance. All relationships from the descriptive analysis above continue to hold, though the explanatory power of the model is very low.

Adults who feel that their jobs are at risk are unfortunately not more likely to consult career guidance services in Canada, in contrast to other countries in the survey (Figure 2.12). Less than 10% of adults who reported feeling “negative” or “very negative” about their future labour market prospects sought career guidance. This contrasts with 40% of adults who reported feeling “positive”, and with 22% of adults who reported feeling “very positive.” This pattern differs markedly from that of other countries in the survey, where adults who were most worried about their career prospects were more proactive in participating in career guidance. Since adults whose jobs are at risk, or could be in the future, could arguably benefit the most from career guidance, this is an area to investigate and address.

There are also regional differences in the use of career guidance among adults. Across Canada, adults in Ontario use career guidance the most (23%), while those in the Atlantic provinces and Quebec use career guidance slightly less than the Canadian average (18% and 17%, respectively). British Colombia and the Prairie provinces all had participation rates close to the Canadian average of 19%. This might reflect that services in Ontario are available to wider groups of people than in other parts of Canada.

Adults who use career guidance less already face challenges in the labour market. Older, low-educated adults and those living in rural areas tend to participate in training less than their counterparts do (Figure 2.11). They also face greater challenges in accessing employment opportunities. Adults who feel negatively about their future labour market prospects are also less likely to use career guidance services, suggesting that they may not be aware that such services exist, or that services do not meet their needs. With better outreach, career guidance could motivate and support these adults to access training and employment opportunities.

While Canada has dedicated funding to support the labour market integration of under-represented groups, there is little in the way of active outreach. All seven provinces that responded to the OECD policy questionnaire reported that they have policies or programmes in place to target disadvantaged groups and support their access to career development services. For the most part, this refers to earmarked funding for employment services for specific groups under the federal-provincial transfer payment agreements. For instance, the WDAs allocate specific funding to employment and training supports for persons with disabilities, as does the federal Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities. Provinces also reported applying a Gender Based Analysis (GBA+) lens to new employment services programmes, which involves considering how diverse groups of people may experience new programmes. However, no province mentioned having programmes in place to actively reach out to vulnerable adults in the community to connect them with career guidance services.

International examples shed light on possible outreach methods. Jobs Victoria Advocates is an Australian programme that has “advocates” reach out to vulnerable groups in the community to connect them with employment services, including career guidance. Advocates connect with adults where they already are: libraries, community centres, public housing foyers, shopping centres and other community services. In some cases, they even make door-to-door visits. As an alternative approach, facilitators of the Guidance and Orientation for Adult Learners (GOAL) project in Europe built partnerships with community organisations that provided them with referrals to potentially vulnerable adults (Box 2.1). In the Netherlands, the trade union CNV offers career guidance services to its members through James Loopbahn (James Career) and trained “Learning Ambassadors” are tasked with reaching out to lower-educated adults or those who might be at risk of losing their job to connect them with guidance and training.

Another way to improve the inclusiveness of the adult career guidance system is by better targeting services to the specific needs of vulnerable groups. Compared to delivering career guidance to young people, delivering career guidance to adults can be more challenging because adults tend to have more complex needs, including the need to support a family. Policy questionnaire responses indicate that providing career guidance to adults with low literacy, numeracy or digital literacy is a particular challenge.

Many career guidance services in Canada are designed for particular groups, including Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and newcomers to Canada. For instance, British Colombia’s Career Paths for Skilled Immigrants programme offers skilled newcomers career guidance, as well as financial support for language training, assessment of credentials and experience, and support in getting foreign credentials recognised in Canada. In Nova Scotia, the public employment service has agreements with third-party organisations to provide employability and technical skills training, work experience and jobs in IT for under-represented groups in the workforce, including visible minorities.

During interviews, several experts identified Indigenous groups as a vulnerable population that could be better served by career guidance. Experts stressed that services for Indigenous groups require a partnership approach, whereby the services are designed in partnership with community leaders. By marrying the traditional Indigenous advice-giving approach with insights and experience from the professional career services, the hope is that Indigenous adults could be better served. A qualitative study on Indigenous adult women in Quebec finds, for example, that career guidance was successful in supporting the attainment of educational and career goals when career guidance advisors were sensitive to and aware of the complex barriers to employment faced by this group (Joncas and Pilote, 2021[3]). The People and Communities in Motion programme in Quebec provides an example of a programme aimed at improving the employability of adults facing multiple complex barriers by establishing year-long client-counsellor relationships and targeting services to the unique needs of the client (Box 2.2).

Offering career guidance programmes that are well-tailored to the needs of particular groups requires sufficient and consistent funding. In the policy questionnaire, several provinces noted that additional resources would support career development for under-represented adults. For instance, Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Immigration and Career Training called for funding to support further skill and career enhancement for older workers, and particularly to develop assessment tools to track their skills and to facilitate their access to training. Alberta1 emphasised the need for funding to develop specialised assessment and career planning tools, including pre-employment assessments for Indigenous groups. Nova Scotia’s Labour and Advanced Education Ministry expressed the need for funding to carry out longer-term evaluations of career guidance programmes for low-skilled and low-qualified adults, recognising that labour force attachment of these groups is a longer-term investment.


[2] Carpentieri, J. et al. (2018), GOAL Guidance and Orientation for Adult Learning. Final cross-country evaluation report, UCL Institute of Education, https://adultguidance.eu/images/Reports/GOAL_final_cross-country_evaluation_report.pdf.

[1] Cedefop et al. (2020), Career Guidance Policy and Practice in the Pandemic. Results of a Joint International Survey, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2801/318103.

[3] Joncas, J. and A. Pilote (2021), “The role of guidance professionals in enhancing the capabilities of marginalized students: the case of indigenous women in Canada”, International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance, Vol. 21, pp. 405-427, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10775-021-09474-3.

[4] Michaud, G. et al. (2012), Développement d’une approche visant à mobiliser la clientèle dite éloignée du marché du travail. Rapport final de la recherche déposé au ministère de l’Emploi et de la Solidarité sociale, Université de Sherbrooke, http://bv.cdeacf.ca/EA_PDF/161000.pdf.


← 1. Labour and Immigration Ministry in collaboration with Community and Social Services, Advanced Education and Indigenous Relations.

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