Policy that Moves Beyond Employment toward Worker Resiliency

By Natesha Smith

The career management and development professionals who promote public policy have primarily focused on education, training and employment. Career practitioners not only concentrate on assisting individuals in managing career goals, they frequently work within policy guidelines designed for the good of the workforce. Such policies work toward economic competitiveness, education, training and workforce development. However, career professionals can play a key role in identifying strategic goals that emphasize employee resiliency and employability.

The legislative agenda established during the 2008 Global NCDA Conference in Washington, D.C. identified worker employability as a future focus in advocating policy. It appears that this was done just in time to apply it toward the downward turn of the global economy. The past several months have allowed a closer look at the ever-changing and turbulent world of work. Has that been enough to increase advocacy efforts for training a more competitive, well-equipped workforce to compete in a global economy and meet the demands of employers? In order for real change, Congress has to extend the roles and responsibilities of the nation's education and workforce development systems beyond a singular focus on employment to an increased emphasis on individual worker sustainability and resiliency.

Employability and Resiliency

Employability refers to the ability to gain, maintain and transition into new employment. This concept is not new to the career professionals who often work with their clients to hone skills and strengthen their employability. Employability involves more than concrete and academic skills; it also refers to decision-making skills based on relevant labor market information.  Clients also need help overcoming barriers to learning and development and more importantly, they need someone to advocate for them and vocalize the need for continual development of these skills.

Resilience works to fully develop all areas of the individual (i.e. mental, physical) so that their performance is fulfilling and meaningful. Adding resiliency to the equation can help individuals become fully engaged and productive in life and work. Employee Assistance Programs have already recognized this need; these programs understand people are the key driver of business and organizational performance. Additional benefits of these programs include increased employee productivity and higher morale.

The main purpose of building resiliency is to shift the focus toward employee performance. Does it not make sense to develop a workforce that feels good about its work and that can adapt quickly and change with the fast pace? 

Issues for Public Policy

Presently, government policy and funding is aimed at developing the workforce's concrete skills. Although these are important, developing transferable skills and a solid work ethic do more for employability and resiliency. Instead of focusing on transition or career management, other efforts have concentrated on topics such as: the demonstration versus deployment of assets and initial entry into the workforce. The focus of this public policy reflects a narrow view of employability traits: concrete skills.

A variety of factors, from assessing and verifying transferable skills to identifying specific groups to target with limited resources, have all contributed to this one-sided approach in developing policy that affects workforce development and management. Some key focus areas for future policy interventions include:

  • identifying tools to assess and verify transferable skills
  • development of career self-management skills
  • shifting from funding priority groups to using resources available throughout lifespan
  • development of lifelong learning strategies derived from assessed employer needs.

Other Factors

Employability and resiliency also depends upon the relationship between an individual's personal (i.e. disabilities, household status) and external circumstances (i.e. macro-economic demand, labor market regulation). It can be overwhelming to attempt to identify the specific groups and different situations toward which policies will need to be targeted. This is why we need feedback from all sides: employers, employees and career management/development professionals.

Since the close of the Global Conference, the Government Relation's Committee has been diligently working to develop a user-friendly guide that will assist individuals with engaging  in the advocacy of public policy related to career management and development. This guide will be available through the NCDA webpage and will provide information on how to prepare and get involved in policy-making. (Watch the website for future announcements).  Because we need a better understanding of the focus of current policies and how to reconcile them with the concepts of employability and resiliency, this guide will highlight current policies and those that are up for modification, adoption or rejection. In order to fully act as an advocate, career professionals will need to not only look to the future, but also assess the effectiveness of current interventions.

Natesha Smith, M.A., is from Charleston, Mississippi. She received her B.A. in Criminal Justice from the University of Southern Mississippi in May 2003 and graduated with an M.A. in Counseling from Asbury Theological Seminary in May 2008. She is currently working as a career counselor at Centre College in Danville, KY. Her experience with counseling has been through the counseling of soldiers in the military, working as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and career counseling for students/alumni on college campuses. She is a member of NCDA's Government Relations Committee.  She can be reached at natesha.smith@centre.edu

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