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Guidance practice: current issues and influences

There are a great many of factors that will influence guidance practice. This section attempts to draw together some of these influences. If you spot omissions that you feel are significant then please add your comment, and this area of the site can then evolve to take account of your experiences, insights and knowledge.

This section considers some of the major influences on current practice. It begins with definitions of 'guidance', then explores some of the major drivers of current practice: initial training; continuous professional development; information communications technology; policy context and targets. It concludes with a consideration of the place of ethics within guidance.

Defining guidance - What is guidance?

This section considers published definitions of 'guidance' by both individuals and organisations from a researcher's perspective, which illustrates both the changing landscape and current thinking on defining career guidance. Contribution by Jenny Bimrose 2004

The changing landscape

In the UK, agreement on a definition of guidance acceptable to its broad community has, to date, proved elusive. Changes in the labour market (like globalisation and the development of information technology) have challenged the relevance of the established, narrow view of career transition as a one-off event at an early stage of an individual’s development, replacing it with a broader understanding of how transitions into education, training and employment are more complex, more prolonged and often span lifetimes.

An examination of relevant literature provides insight to the issues associated with definition. Various attempts at definition have been made in the UK (e.g. Miller et al., 1983; Oakeshott, 1990; Watts et al., 1994; Watt, 1996), but with no agreement yet reached (Hawthorn and Butcher, 1992: 11; Killeen and White, 1992: 1). The ambiguity continues, exacerbated by the changing nature of ‘career’.

In the US, Osipow and Fitzgerald (1996: 50) argue that the concept of career has recently undergone a transformation (p.50) and distinguish between career choice as a point-in-time ‘event’ and a developmental ‘process’ over a longer period of time (p.54). Whilst acknowledging that broader definitions which include life roles and life span have emerged, they suggest a more ‘parsimonious’ definition (p.51), limited to vocational behaviour and vocational development. This is one offered by Arthur et al. (1989: 8) who proposed that career is ‘the evolving sequence of a person’s work experiences over time’ .

Similarly, Young and Collin (2000) consider career to have been a key notion in twentieth-century Western societies, and identify a range of meanings. These comprise career as an abstract concept referring to the ‘individual’s movement through time and space’; as a construct used in academic, professional and lay discourse; as a construct used in organisational and social rhetoric (to motivate and persuade employees); as a construct embracing attitudes and behaviours associated with work-related experiences over a life-span; and as a construct involving self-identity, hopes, dreams, fears and frustrations (p.3). ‘Overall, career can be seen as an overarching construct that gives meaning to the individual’s life’ (Young & Collin, 2000: 5).

Recent directions

One definition that has been influential in the UK is found Oakeshott (1990) and attributed to UDACE. This differentiates seven activities of guidance (i.e. informing; advising; counselling; assessing; enabling; advocating; feeding back). However, two recent examples of attempts at definition are those proposed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2004) and the Council of the European Union (2004). Both emphasise the need for guidance to support multiple transitions over a prolonged time-span and neither make particular distinctions about the type of activities guidance involves.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2004) notes how terms like information, advice and guidance, vocational guidance, vocational counselling, career counselling and career development are used to refer to a range of activities, which they include within the term ‘career guidance’ (p.18) and define as:

‘services intended to assist people of any age and at any point throughout their lives to make educational, training and occupational choices to manage their careers. Career guidance helps people to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications and abilities. It helps them to understand the labour market and education systems, and to relate this to what they know about themselves. Comprehensive career guidance tries to teach people to plan and make decisions about work and learning. Career guidance makes information about the labour market and about educational opportunities more accessible by organising it, systematising it and making it available when and where people need it.’ (OECD, 2004: 19).In contrast, the Draft Resolution of the Council of the European Union (2004) defines guidance in the context of lifelong learning, referring to it as:

'...a range of activities that enables citizens of any age and at any point in their lives to identify their capacities, competences and interests, to make educational, training and occupations decisions and to manage their individual life paths in learning, work and other settings in which these capacities and competences are learned and/or used' (Council of the European Union, 2004: 2).In addition to definitions proposed by researchers and organisations like the OECD and the European Union, definitions are also being proposed by policy makers. For example, a recent discussion document from the Department for Education and Skills in the UK on information, advice and guidance (DfES, 2003a), distinguishes four separate levels of service provision: information; advice; guidance; andpersonal support. Within this framework of differentiated provision, information and advice are distinguished from guidance and personal support. Guidance is defined as helping clients to (DfES 2003a: 15):

  • understand their own needs relating to learning and work
  • set and review goals/objectives for learning and work
  • understand their barriers to learning and work; overcome barriers/obstacles to learning and work
  • to produce learning and career action plans

Personal support is defined separately as ‘intensive, one to one, continuity of support’ (p.15), aimed at clients who reveal severe or multiple barriers to successful entry/progression in learning and work. The policy framework (DfES, 2003b) that followed this discussion document reflects these distinctions.


Changes in the labour market have required a different approach from guidance which have challenged the traditional 'matching' approach. This has thrown into sharp focus the need to develop a new and shared framework for understanding what is meant by 'guidance'. Consequently, over the last two decades different definitions have emerged from different interest groups. These various groups have represented particular interests which are reflected in their definitions. For example the OECD and EU definitions make no distinction between the various activities of guidance, and use umbrella terms such as 'career guidance' and 'guidance' as if their meanings are shared. This contrast the DfES definition which differentiates guidance into slightly different categories from the UDACE activities, to four concepts information, advice, guidance and personal support.

The OECD apporaches definition from the point of view of public policy. It is focused on key public policy objectives in particular in relation to the promotion of lifelong learning goals and the implementation of active labour market policies. The DfES was concerned with creating a funding framework for delivery. What impact have different definitions of career guidance had on service delivery?

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The influence of geography

This section considers the influence that geography plays on access to employment and training opportunities

The following resources highlight the importance of geographical location in career destinations. Arguably this aspect of opportunity is not always adequately taken into account and it is hoped this section of the website will help redress the balance.

Young people and the job market (Shuttleworth, Green & Lavery, 2003) This research investigates what relatively disadvantaged young people in Belfast know about the geography of labour market opportunities in the city and the locations where they are prepared to work.

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Ethical practice - underpinning guidance everywhere?

Career guidance has developed on the basis of a number of ethical principles to which most practitioners subscribe. What are these and how easy are they to implement?

Terry Collins, ‘Being Ethical’ in Careers Guidance Today, 13 March 2003. This article considers the challenge of ethics in practice. Collins recognises the complexity of the code of ethics and gives fictionalised, but all too familiar, case studies to illustrate the enormity of the challenge of applying the ethical code when faced with the complexity of demands that arise from practice. For example, if ‘no careers adviser has the right to impose his or her own value system on a client and family but every careers adviser has a duty to expand horizons and to empower individuals in their career choice’ - then ‘what is a careers adviser doing when encouraging realistic but possibly unrealisable expectations in a client?’

Might this create conflict in balancing the rights of the client with the demands of organisational or legal requirements?

Ethical considerations: a practitioner's perspective

It is easy to claim adherence to an ethical code of practice, however the reality can be more complex. The challenges and possible contradictions encountered when trying to operate within an ethical framework are considered.

'Careers Education and guidance is a profoundly political process. It operates at the interface between the individual and society, between self and opportunity, between aspiration and realism. It facilitates the allocation of life chances. Within a society in which such life chances are unequally distributed, it faces the issue of whether it serves to reinforce such inequalities or to reduce them.' Watts (1996:351)

It is uncontroversial to say that most Careers Advisers would identify themselves as working from a client (person) centred perspective and in an impartial manner, (Kidd et al, 1993; 1994; NICEC, 1994). This is reflected in the Institute of Career Guidance Code of Ethical Practice for Members of the Institute of Career Guidance' , to which all its members are required to subscribe. It states:

'effective and impartial career guidance, founded in the principle of equality of opportunity, aims to ensure individual clients are aware of the full range of opportunities which could be available to them in education, training and work and know how to access them.'

Further, the ICG identifies the following principles as fundamental to the professional ethical code for its members:

  • Individual Ownership
  • Confidentiality
  • Equality of Opportunity
  • Impartiality
  • Transparency
  • Accessibility

And who could argue against any of these principles? The problem is of course, that very quickly the most cursory analysis begins to unpick the complexity of these statements. Thus the principle of Individual Ownership is based on the 'belief that every individual has the right to self-determination in a free society and the guidance process is focussed therefore on the needs of the individual, recognising his/her rights and responsibilities'. Yet, a debate rages about the extent to which individuals are able to exercise self-determination in a society that many would argue is anything but 'free' and is clearly riddled with injustice.

Back in 1977 Roberts argued that social class rather than individual choice was the major determinant of career choice. Developmental theories of career guidance have long been criticised for their individualistic assumptions - especially around the degree of autonomy an individual may really have, (Young & Valach, 2000; Richardson, 2000; Collin & Young, 2000). As expressed by De Tombe (1993:59)

'the assumption is that having or not having a job is an individual achievement. The discussion lacked sociological explanations related to skin colour, social class and gender … (discussing) problems as if they were situated in an egalitarian society, where individual and employers, men and women, whites and blacks, have the same rights, power and influence.' De Tombe (1993:59)

If interventions focus on the individual, with insufficient regard to the broader social context in which career guidance practitioners operate, then might this not lead to a conflict of ethics? How can there be confidence that individualised 'solutions' are in the best interests of the client? Might they lead inadvertently to perpetuating an unequal society, if they fail to take account of, recognise and challenge the powerful, but less tangible constraints of the world in which we live?

Confidentiality as part of ethical practice

A contribution from Dr. Rachel Mulvey, Centre for Training in Careers Guidance, University of East London

In my work with students on the Qualification in Careeers Guidance and with practitioners through continuing professional development actitvities such as in service training or workshops on Ethics, I find the issue of confidentiality and what it means for client centred practice a recurrent theme. For students, this is particularly true once they have been out on placement and seen first hand the issues that arise.

It seems to me that while this is not a new issue, the problem of confidentiality within careers guidance practice becomes critical when there is a move to inter-agency working, because not sharing information can be interpreted as not collaborating.

There is some useful writing about confidentiality in counselling, but there seems less about confidentiality in careers guidance practice (Mulvey, 2001). Working in the context of school counselling in the USA, Birdsell & Hubert (2000: 30) maintain that confidentiality is absolute except where:

  • There is danger to the client or others
  • The client requests disclosure to a 3rd party
  • The law requires it

The critical issue in confidentiality and disclosure is the status of the information. If what you share with a colleague is something your client perceived as a secret, whilst you did not intend to give away the secret, that may well be the client’s perception of your disclosure, even when it was done in their best interests. The professional must engae with the client to explain s/he judges sharing the confidential information with somebody else is ultimately in the client’s best interest. The ideal is to secure informed consent (recorded in written form) for such disclosure of sensitive information to a third party no matter in what medium (verbal, written or electronic). If the professional has a responsibility to work with the client equally the client has a responsibility to work with the professional. If the client wants freedom to make decisions, this autonomy carries its own responsibility. The relationship where client and professional trust each other should then work in the best interests of the client. In practice, this is not always the case.

Ethics are moral principles, rules of conduct

'If you want to know a person's values, look at their ethical choices' (Thompson, 1999, p.11)

Values act as the foundation on which ethical principles and standards of practice are built. The values shared by mot of the caring professions in democracies are:

  • Integrity
  • Impartiality
  • Respect

An ethical system involves four elements:

  • Beneficence – what will achieve the greatest good?
  • Non-maleficence –what will cause least harm?
  • Justice – what will be fairest?
  • Respect for autonomy – what maximizes the opportunities for everyone involved to implement their own choices? (Mulvey, 2002, p.82)

In professional practice, you may have to work against one principle to achieve another.

Mulvey (2002) distinguishes between an ethical problem and an ethical dilemma. An ethical problem can be solved, but an ethical dilemma is less easily dealt with. It usually offers a reasonable choice between different courses of action; each course of action carries with it consequences; either course of action is defensible in terms of adherence to ethical codes of practice; each course of action will compromise one of the ethical principles.

Professional bodies - codes of ethics:

Impartiality as part of ethical practice

This research was carried out in Scotland through discussion and interviews with guidance practitioners working in a range of settings, including further education colleges, careers service and community settings.

This paper is the report of a project commissioned by the Centre for Educational Policy and Management in the Open University, and conducted jointly by researchers at the Faculty of Education in the University of Strathclyde and the School of Education in the Open University. The research was carried out in Scotland through discussion and interviews with guidance practitioners working in a range of settings, including further education colleges, careers service and community settings. The aims of the research were:

Research Aims:

  • to study the concept of impartiality in its application to adult guidance practice;
  • to investigate the extent to which impartiality is perceived to be relevant and applicable by guidance practitioners;
  • to examine the ways in which impartiality is embedded in the guidance practices of further education colleges, the community education service, the careers service and relevant voluntary sector organisations.

See also Impartiality in Guidance Provision for Adults (Connelly, Milburn,Thomson & Edwards, 1996)

Ethical principles: Support for Professional Practice

This Code of Principles, from the University of Paisley is suggested as a basis for Support for Professional Practice in guidance work.

It is based on the Institute of Career Guidance Code of Ethical Practice and the BACP Statement of Fundamental Ethics for Counselling and Psychotherapy:

  • Individual ownership – recognising that every individual engaged in support for professional practice has the right to self-determination and that the supervision provided is therefore focussed on the needs of the individual, respect for their autonomy and a clear contract which acknowledges this relationship.
  • Confidentiality – respecting the privacy of the supervisee, disclosing confidential information only with their consent and honouring the trust the supervisee places in their supervisor.
  • Equality of opportunity – promoting equality for all, being just and fair, acting with integrity and working towards the removal of barriers.
  • Beneficence – promoting the supervisee’s well-being by acting in their best interests and working within one’s limits of competence and training as a supervisor. This requires systematic monitoring of one’s practice, regular and on-going supervision for oneself, and avoiding harm to the client through exploitation, incompetence or malpractice.
  • Impartiality – recognising the precedence of professional objectivity over institutional pressures and personal interests.
  • Accessibility – access available to all eligible supervisees in ways appropriate to their needs.
  • Self-respect – all of the above principles should be applied to oneself as a supervisor to foster self-knowledge and care of self, including undertaking supervision and identifying training needs.

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Inter Agency Work

Interagency Collaboration: a review of literature (Warmington, Daniels, Edwards, Brown, Leadbetter, Martin, and Middleton, 2004)

This literature review comprises a review of research on interagency and cross-professional collaboration aimed at enhancing the capabilities of clients. The Learning in and for Interagency Working (LIW) research project is part of the Economic and Social Research Council’s Teaching and Learning Research Programme. The LIW project was designed in the policy climate that produced the Every Child Matters Green Paper (DfES, 2003) and 2004’s Children Bill. Current UK government policy has given priority to tackling social exclusion: that is, the loss of access to life chances that connect individuals to the mainstream of social participation. Social exclusion can occur when individuals or communities suffer from combinations of linked problems such as unemployment, poor skills, low incomes, poor housing, high crime, bad health and family breakdown (Social Exclusion Unit, 2000). Government guidance since 1997 has exhorted traditionally separate agencies to work together in order to counter social exclusion and to develop public services that are organised to meet the needs of citizens, rather than the convenience of providers. ‘Joined-up’ welfare services have, therefore, been characterised as the driver of social inclusion.
Present policy enthusiasm for developing ‘joined-up solutions to joined up problems’ has generated a plethora of terminology to describe the collaborative approaches required: ‘interagency’; ‘multiagency’; ‘inter-professional’; ‘inter-sectoral’, and ‘partnership’ being prevalent. Moreover, portmanteau terms such as ‘interagency’ and ‘multiagency’ may be used to imply a range of structures, approaches and rationales. The project team have produced a useful literature review on interagency working.

Building Better Connections (Coles, Britton ad Hicks, 2004)

The research on which this report is based was designed to examine interagency partnership working with young people. The encouragement of partnership working has been a hallmark of numerous initiatives developed since the 1997 General Election. Indeed, one report suggests that there have been more than 5,000 partnerships developed during the last six years (Skelcher et al, 2004). According to the writers of this report, here the term multiagency is taken to refer to situations where more than one organisation has dealings across a single issue and, perhaps, works with the same client. However, this does not necessarily imply that there is close or planned joint working. Interagency suggests that agencies are working together, that mechanisms through which different roles are assigned, and that joint working practices are agreed. The main aim of the research was to examine how, and in what ways, such interagency work was being designed and delivered both in theory and in practice.

Working Together: Connexions and Adult Information, Advice and Guidance Services (DfES, Connexions and LSC, 2003)

This publication outlines the remit of Connexions and the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) in relation to information, advice and guidance (IAG) services, and details the current national priorities for IAG Partnerships for adults. It also sets out some principles that underpin the joint working needed to ensure a smooth transition between IAG services for young people and those for adults.

Working Together – IAG Partnerships and Higher Education (DfES, AGCAS ans LSC, 2003)

This report based on 12 case studies, seeks to provide guidance to information advice and guidance (IAG) practitioners to help them strengthen their relationships with higher education.

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Training for guidance practitioners

The ICG provides up-to-date information on working in guidance which outlines all the routes into and professional development within career guidance field, including QCG, Foundation degrees, Master's programmes and CPD. The following provide a record of some of the wide-ranging discussions on the NGRF from 2004 to 2007 about whether professional training improves practice, the role of research, an exploration of 'who gives guidance' in response to the point that not all guidance is given by professionals and a conisedration of issues around continuing professional development.

Continuing Professional Development

A discussion on issues surrounding CPD for career professionals, and example of current good practice in an IAG partnership.


Supervision is a relatively new concept within the guidance community - although it has a long history within counselling. It has taken place on an ad hoc basis within some guidance areas, and has recently surfaced more widely. (For example, in England, this has been partly stimulated by the demands placed on Personal Advisers within Connexions Services). Click here for more on supervision.

Peer review or observation - An increasingly popular method of supporting and improving practice?

Peer Review in the HE sector has largely come about as a by product of Quality iniatives.

Initially, the TQA (Teaching Quality Assessments) within HE institutions promoted peer observation of teaching as a means of improving teaching standards. Systems were established often including checklists of good practice, observation sheets etc. and these were often taken up by careers services involved in teaching careers education. In the late 1990's, when work was being carried out on Quality Standards for careers work, peer review was again seen as a way of improving standards in all aspects of the work.

Peer review is becoming part of established practice for many careers services. For the majority, the outcome or feedback from the review is not formally recorded though evidence that it has taken place is required. In many cases, staff pick their own pairings thus reducing the 'assessment' overtones. Checklists and forms are often prepared within the service to assist the process.

Generally the response has been positive despite intital reservations. The greatest benefit has almost always been for the observer rather than the observed - it broadens their perspective, provides a chance to reflect on their own practice and introduces new ideas and methods.

There have also been instances of peer review happening between services, either between individual members of staff in similar roles or as a whole service review. This type of 'informed but impartial' feedback has been seen as tremendously helpful.

Although peer review is certainly not practised in every service or by every member of staff, it is becoming more wide spread and opposition and concern is being reduced. Is it happening elsewhere in the guidance world? If so with what response?

What are seen as the problems and/or issues?


A contribution by Rose Mortenson (2004)

What is mentoring? The following are statements are from various organisations with experience of mentoring:

  • " ... mentoring involves an individual entering a relationship with somebody to act as an adviser, counsellor or even a role model," 
(Gower Handbook of Training and Development)
    "Mentoring is a supportive relationship between two people within which an established manager counsels, guides and advises someone of less experience." 
(Guinness plc, Mentoring guidelines)
  • "Mentoring is the 'wise counselling' of a trainee from dependence and inexperience through to maturity and independent professionalism. A mentor is not a tutor and the results of training need to be measured in competences achieved rather than by knowledge gained. Thus, the focus is on the personal and behavioural qualities of the trainees and the development of their full potential." 
(Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Guide to Mentoring)
  • "A good mentoring relationship is one where mentor and protege have mutual respect, recognise their need for personal development and have at least some idea of where they want to go." 
(David Clutterbuck, Everyone Needs A Mentor)

Click here for more considerations on mentoring.

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