Explore the labour market to pick a career path

Picking a career path is a long-term commitment that can have a major impact on many aspects of your life. It can determine how long you will be in school or training, how easy it will be for you to find and keep a job, how much money you will earn, and whether you will feel satisfied and fulfilled at work.

It’s important to choose a career path that matches your skills, interests and goals while also offering promising job opportunities with competitive wages and benefits. By carefully considering your options and planning strategically, you can make well-informed decisions that will set you on the path towards a rewarding career.

Don’t rely on your intuition alone to make such a critical decision. Once you’ve done some self-reflection to understand yourself better, it’s time to research real-world data about the labour market to learn about different industries and occupations that may be a good fit for you.

What labour market information is and how to read it

Imagine you're planning a trip to a new city. You would want to gather information about the weather, accommodations, transportation, and popular attractions. Similarly, when planning your career, you need information to make the right decisions. That’s where labour market information (LMI) comes in.

LMI refers to the facts and figures that paint a picture of current and future trends, opportunities, and challenges in the world of work. Simply put, LMI includes any type of information that can help people navigate and understand the labour market to make educated choices about their career. For example, you could use it to:

find out what jobs and skills are in demand in your field or region
discover which industries are projected to grow or shrink in the next few years
learn what it's like to work in a specific job, and how much you could earn doing it
verify what qualifications, certifications or training are needed for different occupations

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LMI encompasses both quantitative and qualitative data, and it can be broad or specific in nature. That means it may range from comprehensive reports analyzing macro socio-economic trends impacting the national workforce to simple charts outlining average wages for specific occupations in your region, or even news articles about layoffs in a specific industry. The amount and diversity of information available can be overwhelming, so it’s important to know what to look for when you’re researching LMI.

Here are some key things to consider when researching LMI.

Check the date and location:

Just like the labour market, LMI is constantly changing. That’s why you should always check when the information was produced to make sure it’s still up to date. For example, job prospects that were forecasted 3 years ago may no longer be accurate, because they did not account for unexpected situations that have affected the labour market since then (i.e. a pandemic or a recession).

You should also focus on information that is relevant to your specific location, because international and national data may not reflect the conditions in your area (i.e. province/territory or city/town). For example, there may be limited job opportunities in a particular field in another city, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the same situation applies where you live.

Contextualize the information:

To interpret LMI accurately, you need to contextualize it and consider how it can apply in different circumstances. For instance, the value of a salary is relative to the cost of living in the job location. This means that if you are interested in practising an occupation that pays around $50,000 a year in a city where the cost of living is relatively low, you may be able to afford a comfortable lifestyle, have disposable income and save money – but the same salary may not stretch as far if you live and work in a city with a higher cost of living.

LMI is often made up of statistics, and you need to analyze them carefully to make sure you understand the outcomes they reflect. For example, let’s say you’re reading a news article that predicts there will be an 80% increase in the number of positions for software developers in your region over the next 5 years. That may sound like a big surge – but if there are currently 25 people working in that job, that means only 20 additional opportunities will be created over that period. With that in mind, the outlook for software engineers may seem a little less impressive.

Pay attention to the source and methodology:

Make sure to seek out reliable and trustworthy sources of LMI. This can include government departments, professional associations, academic institutions, and career counseling services. These kinds of reliable sources provide accurate and relevant information that is up-to-date and based on a solid methodology, thorough analysis, and credible references. They present the facts in an unbiased way by following ethical standards and avoiding conflicts of interest. This means you can trust that the information they give you is true and reflects what's really happening in the labour market.

Provincial and territorial governments across Canada produce LMI reports for their own jurisdiction.

How to plan your career with labour market information

When it comes to planning your career, the most useful data in LMI may vary depending on your individual circumstances. However, while not everyone may need the same level of detail, combining different types of data can provide a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the labour market and the role you can play in it. Getting a macro-level view of overall labor market trends and supplementing it with more granular insights into specific occupations or regions can help you prepare for every eventuality.

Here are some steps you can follow to gather and interpret LMI when you’re attempting to choose a career.

1. Explore different industries:

A good starting point to identify potential career paths is to research and compare various industries that align with your interests, values, and long-term goals. For example, if you have a particular interest in helping protect and restore the environment, you may want to look into the field of renewable energy.

It’s important to know what kinds of jobs exist in different industries. For example, if you have a strong skill set in technology and an interest in agriculture, you may be surprised to find out how these two fields can overlap. You should also assess the quality of job opportunities and prospects in each industry, such as the availability of entry-level positions, the potential for career advancement, and the level of job security and satisfaction.

2. Learn about specific occupations:

Once you've identified industries that interest you, you can dive deeper and learn about specific occupations within those industries. Research the job duties, responsibilities, and required qualifications for each occupation. Explore the day-to-day work environment and lifestyle associated with each occupation to make sure you understand what the job is all about. You should also look up the average salary ranges, typical work-life balance ratio, and level of job satisfaction reported by professionals in those occupations.

If an occupation interests you, find out what qualifications are needed for the job and assess how well those requirements match with your current skill set. Research the academic programs, certifications, or training courses that employers typically ask for when recruiting for this occupation. Then, consider how much time, money and effort you may need to invest to obtain the necessary qualifications for the job, and evaluate if you have the resources and motivation needed to go through that process.

3. Look up future prospects:

Look into the potential for future growth and long-term stability in the industries and occupations that interest you, taking into account external factors like consumer demand, technological advancements, as well as government regulations; some industries may currently be experiencing exponential growth, but their future may not look as bright over the next 5 to 10 years due to changing conditions. Likewise, the demand for certain jobs may be higher in some regions compared with others.

Don’t forget to verify the outlook for the occupations that interest you in different industries and locations, as they will most likely vary. For example, if you’re reading about the job prospects for marketing officers in the tech industry, you should consider that they may not be the same in another industry like health care.

4. Compare and evaluate your options:

Synthesize and analyze all the information you gathered and compare the different industries and occupations that interest you. Consider how well each option aligns with your interests, skills, values, and goals. Take into account factors like how much money you could make, how well you can balance work and personal life, how many job opportunities are available, and where you want to live. Then, evaluate how compatible your current skills and strengths are with the qualifications required for each career path, and assess what it will take to bridge the gap.

When you’re ready, prioritize the options that are a good fit with your preferences and overall career goals. Make sure to rank the careers that offer the best job prospects higher on your list.

5. Make an informed decision and develop a plan:

Narrow your options down to the best fit. Consider both the short-term and long-term implications of your decision; What kinds of entry-level positions are available in that field? How long will you need to be in school to qualify for those jobs? What will be your potential for professional growth in the near future? Will this career give you a sense of purpose and stability in the long term?

After your decision is made, you can start developing an actionable career plan outlining the necessary steps to pursue this career path, including the education and training you will need to sign up for. Keep in mind that the labour market is ever-changing and constantly influenced by new emerging trends. You should keep an open mind, remain adaptable and be willing to continually re-evaluate your choices as you progress on your career path.

Remember that this step-by-step process provides a general framework, but it’s essential to tailor it to your unique circumstances and aspirations.

Who can help you understand labour market information

Even though there are tons of self-serve options available online to research LMI, you may still have trouble navigating it on your own. But don’t worry: there are people who can help you with this.

Career counselors:

Career counselors are experts who specialize in assisting people to identify and pick suitable career paths. They often work at community-based resource centres – also known as employment centres.

Career counselors can offer you personalized guidance by conducting assessments to evaluate your aptitudes, interests, and personality traits to recommend potential careers that would be a good fit for you. They can do research to help you compare the job duties, required qualifications and salary expectations for different occupations that may interest you. With their extensive knowledge of the labour market, they can also share valuable insights about the outlook of different industries and occupations to help you make an informed decision.

After you’ve picked a career path, career counselors can assist you in developing a customized action plan. They can help you identify the skills or education you need, set realistic objectives, and create a step-by-step process to achieve them. For example: if your end goal is to eventually become director of marketing, career counselors can help you determine how to bridge the gap between your current skillset and the qualifications required for that job, what kind of entry level positions you could apply for to enter the field after school, and how to climb the corporate ladder to reach your dream job once you have a foot in the door.

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Academic advisors:

If you're a student or planning to pursue further education, academic advisors at your school can provide valuable insights into the employment outcomes of various education programs.

If you’re not sure what to do after you graduate, they can help you explore different career paths related to your current field of study. Likewise, if you already have a dream job in mind, they can help align your academic choices with your career goals. For example, if you are currently starting an undergraduate degree in biology and you hope to become a physician one day, academic advisors can assist you in mapping out a trajectory to get into medical school by providing advice about the courses you need to take or other programs you should consider.

Academic advisors can also help you find internships and co-operative education (co-op) opportunities related to your field of study, so you can gain valuable work experience that may count towards academic credits and that will allow you to get a heard start in the labour market when you graduate. They can leverage their professional connections in the industry to give you access to exclusive or non-advertised opportunities for students. They can also guide you through the application process and help you improve your resume or prepare for an interview.

Industry associations and professional networks:

Industry associations are organizations that represent and serve the interests of businesses and professionals within a specific industry or sector. Professional networks, on the other hand, are formal or informal communities of people who work in the same field or share common professional interests, goals, or affiliations.

Industry associations and professional networks typically conduct surveys and other research to compile data about job opportunities, skill and education requirements, employment prospects and salary ranges in their field. They can share this information with their members through their website or social media groups, in magazine articles, or in email newsletters. They may host online or in-person events and workshops where experts in the field will present the latest news and best practices in the industry, and where professionals can network and exchange ideas.

By attending these events, you can familiarize yourself with the reality of an industry or occupation that interests you and connect with people in the field who may be able to provide you with guidance, coaching or mentorship. You can ask them for an informal interview to learn more about their job and their professional journey.

Ready for the next step?

Choosing a career involves finding a path that aligns with your skills and interests while offering good working conditions and promising job prospects. By carefully researching and analyzing labour market information (LMI), you can find useful data about occupations in different industries, the qualifications they require, the salaries they offer and the current and future trends that may impact them. This will help you identify and compare potential career options. If you need help, you can seek guidance from career counselors, academic advisors, as well as professional networks and industry associations.

Once you’ve picked a career path, your next step is to plan your education and training to get qualified.

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