by Gloria Welton
Devon Turcotte, Career Advisor and Founder of Careerified, a website offering career guidance for Gen Z and young Millennials, started her business about three years ago with this slogan: it is time to change the career conversation.
“Career stuff is hard,” says Devon. “There’s a lot of pressure to get it right, starting from a very young age. Here’s the secret: almost no one gets it exactly right the first time.”
Devon says adults realize that career planning is life-long, but youth get the wrong message and think they must have their whole life planned out before they graduate.
“My desire to bring a better conversation to youth was my inspiration to start my own business. I learned from my own career journey that detours happen and that is OK. There are ways to get back on track and all the steps and experiences along the way can be used and transferred into inspired and gratifying careers.”
The services Devon offers help people in the next steps of their career journey. “Many high school students feel like they are the only ones with no idea what they want to be when they graduate. Some youth withdraw from post-secondary studies and feel completely lost. And some work in their chosen field for a few years but are not sure they want to stay in it.
“I can also offer guidance to someone who is looking at the job opportunity of a lifetime and wants to shine through their resumé, cover letter, and job interview.”
Devon says we all have the responsibility to communicate better to our youth and we all could be career influencers.
“Career development supports need to be a public health issue, and we should start having those conversations with children at a very young age.”
This issue became very real for Devon when she was working in career services for an Ontario college. Four university students took their lives during one semester.
“All of us in the post-secondary system were hit by a shock wave. We were afraid for our own students. We needed strategies to prevent this devastation from happening again.”
Devon’s career journey led her to offer essential help for youth
Devon is from southwestern Ontario, and she started her career as an environmental consultant. “I did my undergraduate degree in geography. Since I had an interest in the environmental field, I went on to take a one-year graduate studies program. I worked in the field for two years and then quit because I absolutely hated it.”
Her next step was to go back to school to study communications. “My goal was to return to the environmental field to work with a non-profit.”
However, a job opportunity came up that offered a different track. “I landed a job working for Skills Canada Ontario (SCO), promoting careers in the trades by doing presentations in schools. I grew up in a family of trades people and I always enjoyed public speaking, so that was my start in career education.”
She worked with SCO for six years before joining the community college system in Ontario. She started in recruitment and admissions and then shifted to the career centre, helping students and alumni with job search strategies, resumés, prepping for interviews, and planning for life after graduation.
“I kept seeing an ongoing thread of students with incomplete information. I met with many students who had done some research before post-secondary but really didn’t know what the career choice was about.
“They didn’t realize some of the long-term aspects of the career. For example, one student coming into paramedic training didn’t realize the job involved shift work.
“Students may have known something about the career, but when they got into the work setting, whether it was through co-op or hired directly, it was much different than they expected.
“So much of what the students were going through was tied to mental health. I met students who were not interested in the career choice they studied and invested in, and they saw themselves as failures.”
Devon knew there had to be a better way. She saw that it was important to educate people before they make their career choices and to expose them to many options. “There are so many different directions to go. If one direction does not work out it doesn’t mean nothing will work out.
“The mental health piece is core. When the four students took their lives, it stopped me in my tracks. In a TV news report about the situation, one young woman who was interviewed talked about the intense pressure to get high marks and good jobs.”
“That was the kick start for me, I decided to combat this type of thinking and offer a service to help.” Part of that service is to talk to parents and youth about where these high expectations come from and to be more realistic.”
Devon started her business while living in Ontario and moved to PEI a year ago. She has clients from across the country. “When the pandemic hit, I switched to online service delivery. It is so lovely to have the flexibility to reach out to people.”
Her clients tend to be between the ages of 16 and 30. “Many are high school students whose parents reach out to me because their child doesn’t know what they want, and they don’t know how to help them. And they are freaking out.
“I also work with people who have withdrawn from post-secondary studies and need direction, as well as those who have been in their careers for a few years and realize they are not where they want to be.
“I gained a massive number of transferable skills from my education journey. In my career today, I use the skills and knowledge I gained from subjects such as human geography, politics, history, drama courses, and children’s literature.
“My studies did not directly relate to my present career but there are pieces that feed into my current career choice. Now I realize my passion is an endless curiosity about what interests, drives, and motivates people, and how they want to impact the world.”
Business structure, staffing, and further plans
“Word of mouth is the biggest way for me to increase my business. I am working on doing more digital marketing right now and more people are reaching out through LinkedIn and other social media.” She has one staff member who doing a work placement as part of her Career Development Professional program at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. The placement is fully virtual.
“Virtual work placements are a new concept, and it is important that she feels engaged and that she knows her contribution is valued. She is changing careers herself. She has a teaching background and spent time out of the workforce raising her children. Now that she is ready to go back to work, she realized teaching was not what she wanted to do. However, she has some great perspectives to share through her experience as a teacher working with youth at risk and she is a parent herself. Her transferable skills and knowledge and her present educational path have given her lots of perspectives to bring to the table.
“It is rare for organizations to focus specifically on youth, so that makes my business unique. There is such a wide need for career services across the country and there is room for private businesses such as mine, as well as public services and nonprofit organizations.
“I find that youth are not aware of existing services for career planning in their community, so working with me helps them to become aware of what is available.
“For people who are already in post-secondary my first suggestion is to reach out to their career services department because they have already paid for it through their tuition. But a lot of people say the waiting list to see someone at their institution is too long.”
She is presently working on contract is an in-person Learning Coach with Workplace Learning PEI in the Workplace Essential Skills program. This training helps adults who are underemployed or seeking employment and require additional essential skills to succeed.
“Coaching is about coming onside and guiding. Ultimately the decision has to come from the person, and coaching helps them buy in and make it their own. I find this approach works well.
“Too often, parents are left out of the conversation. They are included within my business framework because they are a massive influence on their children’s decisions.”
She works with clients one-on-one and in groups. “I am shifting to more group work because it is important for people to realize that having challenges with career choices is not an isolated thing. People need to know that they are not the only ones who don’t have a concrete plan.
“It is such a relief for youth when I tell them that it is ok if they don’t have their whole life planned out before they graduate high school. That is a very unrealistic expectation.
“I ask them to consider the value of a gap year and put that in the mix of options. The withdrawal rate for post-secondary in the late fall is very high because students realize early on that the program they chose is not what they thought it was.
“It is important to give youth the space to express their feelings of frustration, anger, disappointment, and shame, and try to normalize it. It is a normal part of life. It can be a huge boost of encouragement when they realize they are not alone in this.”