Proving the case: Career development as a lever for poverty reduction

By Julia Blackburn, Donnalee Bell, Sareena Hopkins, Oct 23, 2023 

More than two decades ago, policymakers from 14 countries at the inaugural International Symposium for Career and Public Policy challenged the career development community to make the economic and social development case for our field. Despite decades of practice, policymakers across the globe said we hadn’t made the case.

Flash forward 20 years and innumerable studies later, practice and research leaders have answered this challenge, and the career development sector now has a solid evidence base. One of the seminal reports in proving our worth, Career Guidance and Public Policy: Bridging the Gap, came from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2004. It looked at the evidence from 14 countries and found that career development has an impact on the following:

  • Improvements on learning goals and acquisitions – Career development improves alignment with how and what people want to learn and helps them acquire the learning to pursue career interests.
  • Labour market goals – Career development helps people get jobs, particularly jobs that fit with who they are (their interests, values and personally defined life and work goals.) Sector research shows that career fit significantly improves a person’s ability to stay with a job and seek growth opportunities.
  • Social, equity, and inclusion impacts – Career development helps balance the under/over representational divide across occupations, helps people connect with living-wage opportunities, and can support newcomers to successfully integrate into the labour market.

All these impacts create bridges out of poverty, but there are still limited direct-evidence studies. With much of the existing research, we need to extrapolate the causal effect. Simply put, we still need more proof.

NPower Canada’s tech training programs and the Canadian Career Development Foundation’s pre-employment program, In Motion and Momentum+ (IM&M+), are two Future Skills Centre-funded career development research projects that over the last three years have been rigorously gathering this needed proof. Both programs have participated in studies that illustrate the link between career development programs and poverty reduction, most recently through a randomized controlled trial (RCT) methodology.

Both programs show positive links between their approach and poverty reduction.

NPower Canada has shown:

  • Increases in annual household income by 40% for diverse job-seekers that face significant challenges to employment. In 2022, job-seekers had an average annual household income of $29,376. After completing the program and getting a job, graduates earned an average individual starting salary of $41,000.
  • Increases in employability of job-seekers and leads to sustained employment. More than 80% of NPower Canada graduates are employed within six months of graduating from the program. Of these graduates, 90% are still employed 24- and 36-months post graduation.
  • Job-seekers learn foundational skills, such as resume writing, teamwork and conflict resolution, and time management that will lead to career growth and laddering. Within the first 12 months of employment, 30% of NPower Canada graduates report earning a promotion or wage increase.

IM&M+ has shown:

  • Early indicators that the program breaks costly cycles of dependence on social assistance. In its province-wide implementation across New Brunswick from 2016-2019, annual evaluations from the program found that social assistance caseloads dropped by 10%.
  • Increases in employability and access to decent work among participants unemployed for longer than one year. Across multiple research projects, 20 to 40% of participants have gained employment or education 2-3 months after the program. One study found that of those employed, 80% secured decent work (i.e., permanent positions, with benefits, that participants describe as being a career goal fit for them).
  • Better employment outcomes for those who participate in the program, including participants from under-represented groups.  Interim data from IM&M+’s randomized controlled trial shows that on average, the employment rate for those who participated in IM&M+ is about 16 points higher than for those in the comparison group at three months following the end of the program. This pattern also held for under-represented groups: racialized participants and women saw better employment outcomes at three months post-program compared to their counterparts in the comparison group.

This is exciting data, and we need more. Those working in the sector know from experience and observation that career development supports poverty reduction. Qualitative evidence is important, but we also need quantitative data to prove our case. While poverty reduction is being achieved, right now, our successes are largely anecdotal.

So, here’s our challenge to you: Next time you deliver programming or work with individuals one-on-one, consider what data you could track to build the evidence base. What changes matter? What indicators other than training completion or employment statistics tell you that the people you work with are moving out of poverty? Consider sharing your findings in the Career Development Professional Centre’s Community. It’s a place where the sector shares best practices, and collects and shares data on the benefits of career development professionals’ work. Then, track, record, share, repeat.

Together, we can show unequivocally that career development is a lever for poverty reduction and will be ready when policymakers ask us to prove it.