Sareena Hopkins: The Superstar Executive Director

When was the last time you met someone that just exuded passion? You know what I’m talking about, that aura of energy and genuine care for one’s industry that is rarer than rare in today’s “always on” world. For me, the person that best defines that is Sareena Hopkins. She is the Executive Director of the Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF) in Ottawa. By definition, her role is to represent and advance the interests of Career Development Professionals in Canada.

Talking to Sareena, you quickly realize that she was created for that role. Her sheer enthusiasm about the potential of Career Development as a huge asset to the lives of Canadians is only outmatched by her genuine kindness to everyone she meets. She is one of those people that is quick to admit that neither she, nor her industry, is perfect. With that, her first question is typically: “how can we do better”? This, followed by: “What can we do to help Career Developers have a positive impact on Canadians”? Then, when she hears a good idea, she does whatever is necessary to see it come to life and improve the impact of the field, and the lives of Canadians.

If you read that previous paragraph one more time, you will realize I have described the ideal Executive Director. Sareena Hopkins is a superstar and a superhero in the Career Development field. When she speaks, we listen, because we know what she has to say matters. It changes things. It sets the path forward.

Below, I present to you a short interview with Sareena, where she delves on topics of Career Development, advice, and the future of work. Please note that these answers are to be taken as paraphrasing of Sareena’s answers and not direct quotes. For more questions, or media inquiries, please contact us.

Q1. Sareena, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got involved in the Career Development field?

Like most people, I more or less fell into my career. I trained as a counsellor, specializing in mental health and worked for about a decade on the frontlines with folks who had been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness and, in too many cases, also faced extreme poverty, homelessness, addictions, incarceration and/or systemic barriers. I have always been drawn to proactive, strength-based approaches and, in my practice, saw firsthand the positive impact when someone had the opportunity to contribute to their world, whether through paid or unpaid work. Flipping through the phone book (yes…I’m really THAT old), I stumbled across the Canadian Career Development Foundation. I was intrigued and met with the Executive Director for an information interview. Although there were no openings at the time, he encouraged me to phone him once a month to check in. That was the beginning of an 18-month dialogue that enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of the career development field and solidified my resolve to make career development my life’s work. Over 25 years have passed since I was finally hired and I am convinced more each day that career development really is a superpower that contributes directly to healthier individuals, organizations and communities.

Q2. Many have stated that the present is one of the most exciting times in Canada for Career Development and preparing individuals for life-fulfilling Careers. What would you say is the biggest opportunity for that industry this year?

I think our biggest opportunity is that same thing that, until recently, had been our biggest challenge as a field: a lack of public awareness that career development is actually a thing…let alone a REALLY important thing! I see that changing. I meet people from every walk of life from diverse communities across Canada and virtually all share some level of anxiety or concern about either their current work lives or their futures…or their kids’ futures. Many feel unsure how to prepare for work in the emergent labour market and, among those who are working, many are stuck in precarious work, are underemployed or unhappily employed. I believe the public are beginning to recognize that career development provides a solid basis for navigating the turbulent labour market and building the life they want to live.

Q3. What about the biggest warning? Where do Career Development professionals need to take special care?

I think that, with opportunity, comes responsibility. I fear that, as a profession, we have become somewhat complacent. Too many of us rely on relatively old approaches and techniques that were not designed for our current labour market. We have tended to focus heavily on the supply side (work seekers) and have not perhaps paid enough attention to the demand side (the quality of work and labour market conditions). I would say that, if we are going to grab the opportunity coming our way – and I would argue that we must do so – then we must also raise our own bar and get very serious about honing our own professional competencies. I think it’s time to take labour market information (LMI) more seriously, to question headlines and harmful myths that are so pervasive these days and to consider our role in advocacy with respect to systemic barriers, precarity and discrimination faced too often by those we serve.

Q4. Shifting slightly to the idea of “Future Skills”, an ever-important topic for Canadians. There seems to be a lot of talk about how robots are going to take over our jobs. What is your prediction for this modern-world? Will technology have a negative disruption, or will humanity adapt and grow?

We are inundated with wildly discrepant predictions about the future of work and the role of skills in preparing for it. The robots are coming! If you can’t code, you’re doomed! If you don’t have the “right” skills (aka ALL skills, it seems!), you can expect a lifetime of poverty and misery. Same goes for the misguided ones who decide to pursue post-secondary education in the arts or humanities. Historically, we have been abysmal failures when it comes to accurately predicting the future of work or defining a clear and discrete set of the skills or specific educational pathways that lie at the core of labour market success. With the labour market becoming ever more complex and dynamic, it’s unlikely our predictive skills will magically improve. In the end, I think human skills will always be needed – perhaps ever more so as technology solutions expand. Technology is driven by humans, for humans – not the other way around. If technology is going to serve us well, our human skills will be at the core of its design, development and implementation.

Q5. Talking more about that uncertain future, what advice would you give Canadians in trying to prepare for it? How do we adapt to keep up with the ever-changing workplace?

In a word (well, two words): career development. Quality career development gives us:

  • SELF-AWARENESS: In a world in which we need to constantly brand and rebrand ourselves in order to pivot, adjust, shift and transition across diverse learning and work, we had better have a solid foundation of self-awareness. Without this, we risk losing the thread of who we are and what we really want for our life.

  • LABOUR MARKET AWARENESS: The average Canadian seeking LMI is faced with an overwhelming, vomitous mess of websites and stats that may or may not be relevant, timely or have anything to do with their specific LMI needs. Career development provides users with context and a “road map” to access and make personal sense of formal LMI. It also provides Canadians with skills and strategies to find real-time, personally relevant informal LMI in their own communities.

  • INFORMED DECISIONS: Career development helps Canadians make decisions about their futures that are solidly grounded in who they are, what they want and the realities of educational and labour market opportunities

  • EXPERT NAVIGATION: Finally, career development actually teaches the skills and strategies Canadians need to effectively find or create work and navigate transitions across learning and work.

Q6. Lastly, and amongst my favorite questions, if you could give any advice to 21 year old Sareena, what would that advice be?

Hmmm…if anything, I think I’d just remind myself to enjoy the journey.

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