A reflection on the Asia-Pacific Career Development Association conference 2019, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

L-R: Felicity Brown, Eric Asato, Anh Nguyen Ngoc (RMIT Vietnam), Phoenix Ho (Hon Viet Institute), Michael Healy (USQ)

This post originally appeared on Career Panorama, the blog of the Career Development Association of Australia, who generously supported my travel to the 2019 APCDA conference in Viet Nam.

In May 2019, I attended the Asia Pacific Career Development Association conference held at RMIT University in Ho Chi Minh City. I am grateful for the generosity of the CDAA who supported my attendance in the form of an international travel grant. For me, this was no ordinary overseas conference, as Viet Nam was home to me for five years and remains my second home.

I lived in Viet Nam from 2010 until 2015. I met my wife in Viet Nam and my son was born there. Although it’s been more than four years since we moved to Australia, the culture, language, and food of Viet Nam still surrounds me.

Vietnam is also where I started my career in careers. I started work at RMIT’s Ho Chi Minh City campus as an English teacher, but soon took an opportunity to transfer to the careers centre. Initially, I was hesitant and uncertain, because I didn’t understand the work of a career development practitioner. I soon realised the deeply transformational learning that can happen in career education and knew I had found my calling.

Aside from my personal connection to Viet Nam in general and RMIT VN in particular, my attendance at APCDA 2019 was a highlight of my career to date, for several key reasons.

Signing Career Theories and Models at Work. Photo used with permission, courtesy of RMIT Mass Media Club SGS

I can’t go without mentioning the book signing for Career Theories and Models at Work: Ideas for Practice, a novel new experience for me. This is a fantastic new book that makes a diverse range of theories accessible for careers practitioners. To be included in it as an author is an honour and the enthusiastic reception that the book received at APCDA was gratifying and humbling.

Happenstance happens

Just prior to the conference, the news came out of Professor John Krumboltz’s passing. Krumboltz was the author of the planned happenstance theory, and when delegates enjoyed those seemingly random meetings and coincidences, we often paused to honour the truth of his work. One evening, after a long day at the conference, my colleagues and I piled into the back row of a shuttle bus back to the hotel and struck up conversation with Candy Ho and John Grant, delegates from Canada. Within minutes we had made arrangements for a shared Saigon street-food dinner and struck up personal and professional friendships. We’re hopeful that we’ll be have an opportunity to meet again at some academic conference or another, or collaborate on a research project. When we do, we’ll toast that chance meeting in a bus’s back seat.

It’s important to broaden your horizons

I have only worked in higher education, and only in two countries (one, really, if you consider the fact that RMIT VN is an Australian satellite campus). It’s important for me to remember how slim that slice of career development life is. I wouldn’t normally seek out information on youth work in Hong Kong, vocational education in Taiwan, international students in America, employment services in Korea, stakeholder engagement in Qatar, or workforce planning in Singapore, but at APCDA I enjoyed the exposure to a much more diverse range of career development contexts.

I’ve often noticed APAC career practitioners’ interest in Australian research and practice, at conferences like CDAA and NAGCAS. But if we in Australia don’t in return pay attention to what our neighbours are doing, we risk missing out on some truly innovative and inspiring developments.

We also risk paying lip service to diversity if we don’t make efforts to learn from our nearest neighbours. Take the work of my mentor, friend, and former RMIT colleague Phoenix Ho. Phoenix is tackling the shortage of qualified career development professionals in Viet Nam by training and mentoring teachers and consultants as they develop Vietnamese career education and guidance from the ground up. Phoenix is doing this not simply by translating Western theories and tools into Vietnamese, but supporting her students to develop Vietnamese models and theories.

In 2020 the APCDA conference will be in New Dehli, in 2021 it will be in Singapore, and in 2022, Azerbaijan. I strongly encourage all Australian career development practitioners to plan to attend the conference and enjoy the kind of experience I had in Viet Nam.

Michael Healy
Careers and employability learning expert

I am the National Manager, Career Education for myfuture.edu.au. I hold a PhD in careers and employability learning, with several publications to my name. I am passionate about promoting the value and impact of quality careers and employability learning.