Rethinking Career Development for Youth: Focus on Challenges and Opportunities

By Jean-Philippe Michel


Don’t ask kids what they want to be when they grow up. Ask them what problem they want to solve.”

-Jaime Casap, Google Global Education Evangelist


Current economic, technological, and social changes are making the concept of job titles in today’s world of work obsolete. To prepare young people for the new world of work, career practitioners need to move away from considering only the traditional list of jobs and careers, but direct their attention to the challenges, problems and opportunities that exist in the world (Dizik, 2017). Embracing this shift will allow career practitioners to engage and motivate students during the career exploration process.


A Case for Paradigm Shift

Focusing on identifying jobs via the titles is no longer a helpful career development strategy for youth. Many of today’s jobs will change as new industries are created and others disappear outright (Selingo, 2016). Already, there are thousands of job titles, which is far too many to keep track of. Unsurprisingly, most teenagers are only aware of a small fraction of these titles. Getting teenagers to explore which of these would best fit would be an impossible undertaking. Further, keeping track of job titles through rapidly changing times will prove to be a wasted effort, as several jobs are at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence and/or other emerging technologies (World Economic Forum, 2016). Given these important limitations, a new approach that focuses less on job titles is warranted.


The Challenge Method

The Challenge approach moves the focus of the career exploration process away from jobs and titles (Michel, 2016). This approach helps youth see the bigger picture: the challenges, problems and opportunities that exist in society and specifically in the world of work. While jobs and titles are likely to change, the challenges society is trying to solve will remain. In fact, as certain issues evolve, new challenges to tackle will emerge while other problems remain. Examples of the most important challenges we will continue to face in the future include: redesigning the health care system, collecting and using big data, and managing the planet’s waste (Michel, 2016). These opportunities have the potential to create new challenging and meaningful work for youth. When students identify and understand these challenges during the career exploration process, the experience will connect them to important challenges, open up their world beyond existing jobs, and motivate them to participate in defining their future in a meaningful way.

There are other ways to help young people accomplish the career exploration goals. Teachers can help students connect the school projects they are working on with the associated challenges in the world of work. Career counselors can also enlist the help of parents by encouraging them to share opportunities and challenges in their day to day lives with their children. Career professionals can help students identify challenges they are interested in through guided exploration of media, such as news outlets, magazines, books and websites. In addition, career practitioners can use the Challenge Cards during the career exploration process. This deck of 25 cards covers challenges, opportunities, and problems associated with the future world of work in the areas of health, technology, environment, and the economy. For more information on how to use the Challenges Cards to make this shift in the career exploration process and help students prepare for their futures, please visit, www.mysparkpath.com


One Student’s Career Exploration Engagement

Amanda* is an example of a student who was assisted to shift the focus of her career exploration process away from the traditional approach and towards challenges and problems. The counselor began the exploration process by having Amanda examine a copy of The Economist, a magazine devoted to exploring current economic issues, and was asked to pick her favorite article. Once she found an article of interest to her, Amanda was instructed to look for the challenges or opportunities embedded in the content of the article. Amanda chose an article that described a new type of algae that was being developed to clean bodies of water that had been polluted by oil spills. She read through the article to identify the challenges and opportunities associated with cleaning water polluted by oil spills.

Once she identified the challenges and opportunities, Amanda was able to conduct research to find out which companies are working on these challenges. More importantly, she researched how the company is addressing these problems, including interviewing employees that are working directly on the challenges. Through this research, Amanda discovered the field of Materials Science Engineering, which is ultimately what she chose to study. This career exploration approach helped Amanda adopt a societal need and solution driven approach to her career development. Additionally, she developed transferable skills that will help her to identify challenges and opportunities proactively throughout her life.


Powerful New Approach for Youth

Given the important changes occurring in the world of work, and the speed at which these changes are taking place, job title focused career exploration is becoming less and less impactful. To effectively prepare young people for their future, career professionals will need to move away from focusing on specific jobs and careers and shift the focus of the exploration process on the challenges, problems and opportunities that exist in the world. This simple shift will unlock new opportunities, offer a different way of looking at their future, and provide a powerful approach to preparing for their success.



Dizik, A. (2017), The next generation of jobs won’t be made up of professions, BBC.com, April 24th 2017. http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170424-the-next-generation-of-jobs-wont-be-made-up-of-professions

Kelly, K. (2016). The inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. New York, New York: Viking.

Lamb, C. (2016). The Talented Mr. Robot: The impact of automation on Canada’s workforce, Brookfield Institute, http://brookfieldinstitute.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/TalentedMrRobot_BIIE-1.pdf

Michel, J.P. (2016), The Challenge Method, CareerPro Conference, September 17th 2016, Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXmsoY3Geb0&feature=youtu.be

Selingo, J. (2016), There is life after college. William Morrow.

World Economic Forum (2016), The future of jobs. Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Future_of_Jobs.pdf



J.P. Michel J.P. Michel is a career and leadership coach who specializes in preparing youth for the future of careers. He has a B.A. Psychology from the University of Ottawa and an M.Sc. in Organizational Psychology from the University of Manchester. His work on career coaching has been featured on BBC.com and CBC radio. He can be reached at jp@mysparkpath.com.


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Yvonne Lefort   on Wednesday 08/02/2017 at 12:38 AM

I enjoyed reading your article, Jean-Philippe and agree wholeheartedly with what you said. I have often told my clients something that I once heard: "Don't look for a job, look for a problem and be the solution." I wish you much success with your Challenge Cards!

Janet Blount   on Wednesday 08/02/2017 at 10:28 AM

J.P. I enjoyed your article and CBC interview. As a career coach whose clients are parents of elementary, middle and high school students in the U.S., I will reach out to you to find out more information about how parents can play an important role in this career exploration shift.

J.P. Michel   on Wednesday 08/02/2017 at 12:32 PM

Thank you Yvonne for the comment. I really like the quote you shared! I will add it to my talk track for the Challenge Method.

I certainly hope you reach out Janet. I will lookout for your message.

Larry Robbin   on Saturday 08/05/2017 at 12:39 AM

Thanks for the good article. I like the paradigm shift, but I work with many youth employment programs working with youth that are deep into poverty. Their concerns are survival for themselves and their families. They need income now or they will go homeless. While they are concerned about social issues, their hierarchy of needs means that they need to focus on a fast pathway to a high paying job. We have had a fair amount of success getting them into skilled trades apprenticeships that provide immediate income and a career pathway. But these careers are heavily male dominated (women only hold 3% of the jobs in construction) so other pathways need to be developed as well. I have compiled a Youth Employment Program Resource List filled with websites and best practices. If people email me at larry@larryrobbin.com, I can send it to them.

J.P. Michel   on Monday 08/14/2017 at 10:47 AM

Thank you Robin for your comment. What important work you must be doing with youth in need.

The Challenge Cards are being used with youth as a way for them to better understand the world of work. One of the ways they do this is by connecting with the bigger picture beyond the job descriptions they are applying to.

In this way, the card sort does not take away from their important activities required to find work. Instead, it is being used as a development tool for job seekers to understand what they are ultimately contributing to as employees. The end result should be youth who are better prepared to take on any role.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.