Why Research Matters

I attended a meeting today that left me feeling sad – an organization that I work with chose to disband their Research and Development Committee, a group of department leaders who, individually, were committed researchers but collectively couldn’t find a way to build a research culture within the institution.

researchIronically, I was already writing this blog on the topic of research and I was just about to begin some follow-up edits to a research report that I’d submitted to the government at the end of last month. Just yesterday, I served on a committee for a professional association, making a decision about who to select for a research dissemination award for doctoral students. I’ve just agreed to teach a Masters-level research course this summer and our own Career Management Professional Program’s research course (Researching Workplace Trends, Career Information, and Employment Possibilities) is currently running. A couple of weeks ago, I sat on a panel of career development leaders at BCCDA’s Career Development Conference where research, among other topics, was highlighted as essential for the professionalization of our field. In a few weeks, I’ll moderate a similar panel at CDAA’s Alberta Career Development Conference. Speakers across both panels include Bryan Hiebert, Dave Redekopp, Deirdre Pickerell, Nancy Arthur, Nell Smith, Norman Amundson, Paul Wischoff Yerama, Sareena Hopkins, and William Borgen.

In recent years, I’ve taught career practitioners/counsellors in Indonesia, China, and Saudi Arabia – in all cases, career services were relatively new and there was very limited labour market information available to the public, making career research very challenging. In Canada, research can also be challenging but for different reasons; here, we have so much information available on some topics that the researcher’s primary role is to critically evaluate it – mining the data for rich nuggets and then polishing those nuggets to make them appealing and valuable for others. Another role of the researcher is to be a “curator” – someone who selects the treasures, and then organizes them in a way that others can easily find what they’re looking for. Part of a curator’s job, of course, is also to rotate the collections and make space for new displays; this, too, is an important aspect of research – ensuring that career and labour market information is accurate, current, and relevant.

Research also contributes to the evidence that informs the work of career practitioners; it is an essential element of proving that “career development matters.” Although it can be supported by academics and other research professionals, this type of research needs to involve front-line practitioners.

If you’re not currently engaged in research, I challenge you to begin now. Choose one topic to focus on for an environmental scan or mini literature review – this could be information about an emerging occupation in your area, a client group that you need to know more about, or a career tool or technique that you’ve been told is promising but that you’d like to confirm for yourself. You might also conduct a mini research project “off the side of your desk.” Consider tracking the types of issues that clients present with to see if there are any patterns. Perhaps compare the length of unemployment for clients who engage in group interventions vs. self-directed activities in your career resource centre. It might be possible to partner with a local university to conduct more sophisticated research that compares and contrasts the results from different types of programs. Once you’ve conducted your research, dissemination is the next step – who will you share it with and how will you present the results in a meaningful way?

My hunch is that you’ll find that career-related research will keep your work fresh and engaging. It will likely also impact your clients’ success – staying current with the relevant literature and engaging in evidence-based practice should facilitate better client outcomes!

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