Plan your education and training for the career you want
Planning your education and training is a key step in your career development journey. Once you've picked a career path based on what you know about yourself and the labour market, it's time to plan how you're going to get qualified.
Whether you're entering the labour market for the first time, transitioning to a new career or just wanting to progress in your current field, one thing is for sure: you will need to get education or training to acquire the right skills and knowledge for the job you want. By developing a learning plan early on and tailoring it to your own needs, you will save time and money in the long run and maximize your potential for future success in your career.
Outline the steps to achieve your career goals
Before you even begin to think about planning your education and training, you first need to define your career goals. Your career goals are the specific objectives and milestones that you set for yourself along your chosen career path: the field you want to work in, the type of job you want to get, and the levels you want to reach in that profession.
Your career goals should be realistic and measurable. They should also reflect your professional aspirations and align with your personal values, interests, and preferences.
For example, you might want to (a) become an electrical engineer, and (b) get a high-paying job in Alberta. These are your career goals.
Once your career goals are defined, you can outline the steps you need to take to achieve them. For example:
- Research the qualifications that are required to become an electrical engineer in Alberta.
- Find out what education or training you need to get qualified.
- Find reputable educational institutions that offer accredited electrical engineering programs.
- Complete the program and seek internship or apprenticeship opportunities to gain practical experience in the field.
- Obtain a license from the relevant professional association to be authorized to work as an electrical engineer in Alberta.
- Search and apply for high-paying electrical engineer positions in Alberta.
The easiest way to identify the steps you need to follow to reach your career goals is to review a few job postings that interest you and pinpoint the requirements that you don't currently meet. This will be your starting point to determine how to bridge the gap between your current skillset and the qualifications required for your ideal career.
Hard skills and soft skills
As you review job postings and other information about the career that interests you, you may notice that employers typically look for a mix of two kinds of skills: hard and soft skills.
Hard skills are practical and technical abilities that involve a significant level or expertise, knowledge or proficiency in a given topic. These skills are also known as work-specific skills because they are often tied to a specific role or industry. They can be acquired through on-the-job experience or institutional learning. You might need to earn credentials attesting that you have mastered certain hard skills, such as an academic degree, a professional certification, or a license.
Here are some examples of hard skills:
- Mechanics need to know how to diagnose problems in different vehicles.
- Graphic designers must how to use a variety of specialized software.
- Warehouse shipping clerks should be able to operate a forklift.
Soft skills are aptitudes, behaviours and habits that have to do with how well you work on your own and with others. They are not job-specific and are relevant to different careers as well as everyday life. Soft skills are also known as essential skills or Skills for Success because they are foundational for building other skills and knowledge, and necessary for effective social interaction. These skills are highly sought after by employers, and they can improve your chances of succeeding in your future career.
Some of the most in-demand soft skills include:
- creativity and innovation
- digital literacy
- problem solving
Once you've identified the hard and soft skills that are typically needed for the job you want, compare those requirements with your own skillset to see how it measures up. This will help you determine if you need to upskill or reskill in any of those areas.
- Find out what qualifications you need for different occupations in Canada – Job Bank
- Learn about the soft skills you need at work and in your daily life – Skills for Success
- Assess and improve your soft skills – Skills for Success
Do you need to upskill or reskill?
Depending on the difference between your current set of knowledge and skills and the qualifications required for your ideal career, you may need to either upskill or reskill. Both of these processes can involve hard and soft skills in different capacities.
Upskilling is enhancing or expanding the skills that you already have. It involves acquiring new knowledge, abilities, or expertise related to your current role or field. People usually upskill when they want to keep up with changing demands and improve their performance or productivity. If you already have most prerequisites for the job you want, you might only need to upskill by focusing on a few specific hard and soft skills.
- For example: if a communication advisor specializes in print marketing but notices that the industry is quickly shifting towards online platforms, they can upskill by improving their level of digital literacy (soft skill) and learning about search engine optimization (hard skills) or other similar topics.
Reskilling is learning completely new skills in a field that you're not already familiar with. Typically, reskilling is required if you want to transition into a different role or industry. If you don't have any relevant experience or training for the job you're interested in, you will need to reskill by learning a completely new set of hard skills and improving some soft skills.
- For example: if you are currently working a translator and you want to become a software programmer, you will first need to reskill to develop a brand new set of skills and knowledge in computer science before you can enter that line of work. Amongst other things, you will have to learn programming languages (hard skill) and improve your problem-solving and analytical thinking abilities (soft skills).
Finding out the types of skills you need to work on and whether you need to upskill or reskill will help you determine your next step.
Difference between education and training
Whether you need to reskill or upskill to reach your career goals, you may have to pursue education or training – or a combination of both.
Education is a formal process that helps you build a deep understanding of the theories, concepts and principles related to a particular field or subject. It focuses on the development of theoretical knowledge and critical thinking abilities. At the post-secondary level, education is typically provided by colleges, universities, and similar institutions. It can also be acquired through mentoring and coaching, or self-directed learning.
Training is a more targeted and practical approach to learning that is focused on developing specific skills and abilities. Training is often targeted and tailored to the requirements of a specific job or industry. It can take different forms, from on-the-job learning to in-class courses or workshops. It's also typically shorter in duration and more professionally oriented, emphasizing hands-on practice in real or simulated work environments.
According to the National Occupational Classification (NOC), most occupations in Canada require one of the following:
- a university degree (bachelor's, master's or doctorate)
- a post-secondary level diploma (from a college, polytechnic or CEGEP), an apprenticeship training of 2 or more years, or experience working in a supervisory occupation
- a post-secondary level diploma (from a college, polytechnic or CEGEP), an apprenticeship training of less than 2 years, or more than 6 months of on-the-job training
- a secondary school diploma or several weeks of on-the-job training
- no formal education and only short-term work experience
Understanding which of these categories the job you want belongs to will help you pick the right combination of education and training for your needs.
Find the right education and training program for you
In Canada, there are three main types of learning institutions that provide education and training at the post-secondary level:
- Colleges and CEGEPs focus primarily on practical training aiming to equip students with the technical knowledge and skills required for specific occupations, as well as hands-on vocational and apprenticeship training related to the skilled trades. In some provinces and territories, colleges and CEGEPs also include a theoretical education track dedicated to preparation for university studies. They typically grant certificates and diplomas, in addition to professional certifications and licenses.
- Polytechnics, also known as institutes of technology or science, are similar to colleges. They offer professionally oriented education and training, which combines theoretical knowledge with applied practice to prepare students for specific occupations or industries. The curriculum often includes work-integrated learning, such as internships or cooperative education programs, to provide hands-on experience. They typically grant certificates and diplomas, in addition to professional certifications and licenses.
- Universities focus on theoretical education that provides a deep understanding of an academic discipline. They offer students the chance to specialize in specific areas of interest through the selection of majors or concentrations within a broader field of study, which allows them to gain hands-on experience, in-depth knowledge, and valuable critical thinking skills. Many universities also provide programs that are specifically tailored to prepare students for careers in professions such as medicine, law, engineering, architecture, business administration, and more. These programs often include practical training opportunities, such as internships or clinical rotations. Universities typically grant bachelor's degrees and diplomas, as well as graduate degrees such as a master's degree or a PhD.
Some private organizations that do not qualify as learning institutions – such employers, professional associations or consulting firms – can also offer specialized training programs. However, they may not be able to grant credentials that are officially recognized.
Important: Make sure that the institution or training provider you're interested in is accredited and/or reputable, so can you get a quality learning experience that will be recognized and valued by employers.
Compare courses and programs
While it's possible to find similar programs at different types of institutions, they will each have their own unique approach and curriculum. That's why it's important to compare programs and courses from various institutions to determine which ones align best with your career goals.
Consider the questions below to help you make your final decision on which education or training program is right for you.
- How long will the course or program take to complete? Some programs require up to 40 hours a week of study. Other programs can offer par time classes during evenings and weekends to accommodate yours needs.
- How far is the school from my home? Some schools require in class components, others offer online or hybrid formats.
- What do I need to be accepted into a program? Many post-secondary education programs require that you have a high school diploma (or equivalent).
- How much will it cost? Tuition fees vary across programs and from one institution to another, but they usually range between $2,500 and $11,400 a year for Canadian citizens and permanent residents.
- When are the deadlines to submit applications? Each program has unique deadline dates to submit an application and any additional paperwork.
- What are the employment outcomes of the program? Not all graduates end up finding work in their field of study after school. If you're interested in a program, you should find out how satisfied graduates were with it, what kind of jobs they have, and how much they earn.
Contact the institutions you are interested in attending to get more information about their courses and programs.
- Search for education and training programs across Canada – CanLearn
- Discover the employment outcomes of different education programs in Canada – Job Bank
- See how much post-secondary graduates earn in Canada – Labour Market Information Council
- See how much trade certificate holders earn in Canada – Labour Market Information Council
Find financial assistance and other types of support
While some education and training opportunities are free, others come at a cost. You might be wondering how you will be able to pay for it.
Many government programs offer student financial support in the forms of scholarships, grants, loans or tax credits. Each program has specific eligibility requirements.
- Find grants, loans and scholarships for students and apprentices in Canada – Employment and Social Development Canada
- Participate in the Lifelong Learning Plan (LLP) – Canada Revenue Agency
- Find eligible courses and training programs for Employment Insurance (EI) recipients – Employment and Social Development Canada
- Sign up for the Athlete Assistance Program (AAP) – Canadian Heritage
- Sign up for the Disability Vocational Rehabilitation Program – Employment and Social Development Canada
- Search bursaries, scholarships and incentives for Indigenous students – Indigenous Services Canada
If you are not eligible to receive financial assistance from government programs, you can consider applying for an education loan or a student line of credit from a private financial institution. Some schools and training providers may also be willing to work out a low-interest payment plan with you.
Access other types of support
Whether you're new to post-secondary learning or returning after a long break, concerns are common. You can talk to academic advisors, teachers, and professors working for the institution that interests you at any time (even before you apply) to better understand what your needs are and how you can meet them. For example, if you're an older adult and you are concerned about your ability to keep up with the use of technology in the program, an academic advisor can guide you towards relevant resources or request that you're granted certain permissions or exemptions.
Once you have started your studies, teaching assistants, and class tutors (in addition to those mentioned before) can offer you academic support that is relevant to your specific education or training program. Search the institution's directory to find their contact information.
Provincial and territorial governments offer different types of programs to help you access and navigate the world of education and training.
Stay focused while studying or training
The education or training program you choose will be a new and unique experience, even if you have completed post-secondary studies in the past. Stress and distractions are common when we experience new things. Manage your time between studies and personal life, control your spending, and hold yourself accountable to improve your focus and successfully complete your learning program.
Manage your time
You should develop and maintain other areas of your life that are important to you, even while committing to a learning program. Striking a balance between learning and personal time can help you stay focused during your studies. Examples of areas to focus on include:
- family and friends
- mental health
Joining social clubs and practising a hobby or a sport can help you to get to know people with common interests and values within or outside of your professional field. Socializing with different groups can help you keep a healthy balance between studying and your everyday life, and improve you sense of community, while making the learning process more comfortable and motivating.
Manage your budget
Even if you receive financial support, getting education and training can be expensive – especially if you are unable to work and earn an income during that time. Paying attention to your finances can help manage the stress related to that financial burden, so it doesn't distract you from your learning.
You can start by asking yourself questions like:
- How much money do I have coming in each month? Where does it come from?
- How much do I spend each month? What exactly am I spending it on?
You should also use a budget planner to track your finances and set a goal for your monthly savings. Always aim to keep your spending below your income. Consider making adjustments like cooking at home instead of eating at restaurants to help cut back on costs when necessary.
Find an accountability partner
Another way to stay focused is to have a partner who will hold you accountable and provide you with real constructive criticism. Tell someone about your goals and your plan to achieve them, and ask them to monitor your progress. You're more likely to keep your goals when you share them with people who hold you accountable.
A good accountability partner will:
- prevent you from giving in to your distractions
- encourage a balance between learning and everyday life
- offer constructive criticism when you overindulge
- remind you of your personal values when you have doubts
- and motivate you during stressful times
Tell your accountability partner where your weaknesses are and outline how your partner can support you. For example, if you tend to procrastinate, your partner can support you by organizing time slots where you will study and work together to ensure that your assignments are submitted on the due date (or beforehand!). You can offer to be an accountability partner to them as well, this way there a mutual responsibility.
Ready for the next step?
Planning your education and training is an essential step in the development of your career. To do so, you need to define your career goals and outline the steps to reach them. Research the qualifications required for the job you want, assess your current hard and soft skills, and determine if you need to upskill or reskill. Find out if you need education (theoretical knowledge), training (practical skills), or both. Then, you can compare different learning institutions and the programs they offer to find one that's suitable for you. Don't forget to consider if you need financial assistance or other types of support.
After you complete your education or training, it's time to enter the labour market and stand out to employers to get the job you want.
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