The Significant Role PLAR Can Play in Career Development

By Susan Forseille, Director, PLAR, Thompson Rivers University

March 7, 2021

There has been no other time in history that our world has undergone such monumental changes at such dizzying speeds! And these changes have only been accelerated due to Covid-19. These seismic shifts have profoundly influenced the labour market and our career development. Prior learning assessment and recognition (PLAR) offers a tremendous opportunity for adults with experiential learning to be recognized for the informal and non-formal learning they have acquired through their career(s) and other life experiences. This impact is likely a result of the self-reflection participants engage in and the significant influence on their validation of learningself-awareness, career development knowledgecareer decision-making and even their career action.

The monumental changes our world is undergoing have a significant impact on our labour market and career development. Some of the most influential impacts include advancements in technology and automation, the enhanced production of knowledge and correlating access to information, an ageing population, fundamental changes in when and how we learn (and how this learning is recognized), and new forms and patterns in work. In addition, career development has undergone monumental changes. In BC, just one or two generations ago, work could be easily found in the resource economies and the work generated from it. Higher education was not required for many jobs, and although there were ups and downs in the labour market, the type of work and the required skills were largely predictable. Employers heavily influenced their employee’s career development, and many individuals retired at the same company they had worked much of their adult life with. Today’s career path is much different. Work is increasingly found in industries relying on information and knowledge. This can mean that increased education is required not just at the beginning of one’s career path but throughout one’s career life. Indeed, it is predicted that 77% of the job openings in 2029 will require some form of post-secondary education (for more information, visit ). Also, the type of work and where it will be offered is increasingly unpredictable. Today individuals are expected to be the primary driver of their career, and it is common to have 10, 12, or even more jobs throughout one’s career. This has to do both with the pace of change in the skills needed for the labour market and in individual career preferences. As well, while many may hope to retire before the age of 65, it is expected that an increasing number of adults will have to (and will want to) work past the age of 65. 

Where does PLAR come into all of this? With such monumental changes in the labour market, career development and the need for continued reskilling and upskilling, there is a significant role PLAR can (and should) play in career development. One of the key attributes of PLAR is that individuals must reflect on their informal and non-formal learning to demonstrate they have acquired the knowledge for academic purposes. This self-reflection opens up immense benefits for career development through the validation of learning, as well as enhanced self-awarenesscareer development knowledgedecision making and even career action.

One of the most cited benefits of PLAR is the validation of informal and non-formal learning it offers. Once PLAR credit (or advanced standing) has been awarded, students comment on its impact on legitimizing their learning attained outside of formal education. This, in turn, increases their confidence and pride, providing a sense of accomplishment. Employers, too, have commented on the importance of having this informal and non-formal learning validated by a higher education institution. The attainment of a post-secondary credential continues to be the strongest currency to indicate an understood level of quality, an important tool in validating learning. Yet, while this validation of learning is important in career development, there are many other benefits to consider that are equally, or perhaps more, important to an individual’s career development.

As mentioned, the various types of PLAR students can partake in require self-reflection, a vital precursor to self-awareness. Students must reflect on what they have learnt and how they learnt it through both life and work experiences. This requires deep and critical thinking and a codifying of their learning using academic frameworks. Through this reflection, there is an array of traits they dissect that goes beyond specific subject matter or competencies. Through this self-reflection, PLAR participants are assessing traits such as ability, aptitude, interests, skills, health, values, personality, education, employment markets, and much more – from multiple angles. Enhancing one’s reflection on these traits increases self-awareness, providing unity in thoughts, clearer thinking on topics related to career. These can include an increased understanding of what students want out of their careers as well as confidence in their skills and abilities.

Just as going through the PLAR process impacts one’s self-awareness, it also impacts career development knowledge. Career development knowledge refers to one’s understanding of the skills, abilities, and education one needs for diverse occupations. This understanding includes possible career pathways, current and relevant labour market information; effective job search strategies; and the ability to articulate their employability skills and competencies. Again, the self-reflective nature of PLAR supports individuals to surface their career development knowledge. It is particularly important in relation to being able to articulate the skills and abilities they have developed through informal and non-formal learning. It is extremely useful when updating a resume, advocating for a promotion, going to a job interview, participating in a networking event, during an informational interview, and when updating one’s LinkedIn profile. In today’s quickly changing labour market, it is important to have career development knowledge for career resiliency and agility.

Career development knowledge is an important contributor to career decision-making. Career decision-making is a lifelong process that requires knowing yourself (and what motivates you) as well as thinking strategically about your interests, talents, abilities, personality and values. As noted earlier, career decision-making is fluid and likely to change as individuals go through different stages of life. Again, self-reflection provides individuals with the opportunity to give critical thought to what they want out of their career and what is realistic for them to achieve at different times in their life. And research shows there is a strong correlation between confidence and career decision-making. As noted earlier, students tend to experience an increase in their professional self-confidence when they have successfully completed PLAR.

The impact of PLAR on career action is also important to note. In my earlier work as a career educator in a university, it quickly became apparent to me that those students who took the time to develop a career action plan were much more successful in securing meaningful employment (and more quickly) than students who tended to be more reactive. The plans included students giving thought to what they wanted to do, why they wanted to do it, who offered this type of employment, with the development of step-by-step guides on how they were going to achieve their career goals. Initial research on students who have gone through the PLAR process indicates there is a higher propensity for such students to also be pro-active in their career development. They, too, are strategic and intentional in their career planning. This is likely because most PLAR students comment that the reason they pursue PLAR is to enhance their career options. An interesting addition to this, research shows that participating in PLAR makes individuals more receptive to embrace future learning as they better understand, and have the confidence, to do more development in areas they have limited learning. This helps them avoid skills miss-match.

That PLAR plays a significant role in career development is just one of its many benefits. The better we can understand these multitudes of benefits, the better prepared we are to support students.

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