Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Defining guidance discussion

This discussion thread compares different definitions offered by government, funding and review bodies, examines the different weighting placed on information, advice and guidance and asks will the re-focusing on social exclusion agenda have long-term implications.

Comment 1: IAG definition of 'guidance'

The IAG define guidance as 'exploring ideas & options'. This is a brief definition but the point is that they classify information & advice as separate from guidance. Does this mean that guidance has a separate place & is not to be used in conjunction with information & advice? Does it also mean that the high priority that is currently being given to information & advice by the IAG produces better results, statistically I mean?

There is also the idea that information & advice is 'given' to the client, but that guidance 'enables' the client. So by encouraging information & advice & down playing the importance of guidance, are the IAG encouraging an attitude of ' done to' rather than enabling & taking ownership?

Comment 2: levels of provision for adults in the National Policy Framework

The National Policy Framework published by the Department for Education and Skills on information, advice and guidance (DfES, 2003), distinguishes four levels of service provision:

  • information,
  • advice,
  • guidance
  • personal support (DfES, 2003, p.14 ).

Within this framework of differentiated provision, guidance is defined as helping clients to:

  • 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 (p.15).

Personal support is defined 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.

Comment 3: OECD definition

The recent review by 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.’

This definition does not separate out the activities of information, advice and guidance - but still stresses the importance of getting clients into work.

Maybe we need to move towards a different type of definition, that stresses both empowerment and the entire life span? How about something around career as ‘the evolving sequence of a person’s work experiences over time’ (Arthur, et al, 1989, p.8) or career as an overarching construct that gives meaning to the individual’s life’ (Young & Collin, 2000, p.5).

Comment 4: The elusiveness of definition

Nevertheless, the battle to define the concepts dealt with in research in/on practice relating to Careers Work is important. The process of trying to arrive at agreed definitions forces consideration about what is the purpose of careers guidance, together with clarity of objectives and recognition of the wider political and ideological context in which it operates. The understanding of differently contested and argued definitions facilitates the building of a shared terminology which is arguably a pre-requisite for informed debate.

  • The bad news is that if you ask a hundred different practitioners or researchers for a definition of any of these terms you will probably get a hundred different answers.
  • The good news is that this demonstrates that what is being discussed are living and constantly evolving concepts.

UDACE ‘The Challenge of Change’ – oft cited classic – extract only – read the original!

In discussions of Educational Guidance the UDACE definition of the activities that comprise educational guidance is oft cited. The full document from which this extract was taken was published in 1986, now out of print - if that is hard to come by, an edited version of the report can be found in Chapter 7 of Edwards et al. (1998).

Back to the top

Comment 5: UDACE activities of guidance

In the UDACE report, the focus is on ‘Educational Guidance’, which, it is argued, embraces a range of activities. Whilst in practice, these activities merge into one another, it is suggested that it is important to recognise the differences because some agencies may only offer a limited range.


Providing information about learning opportunities and related support facilities available, without any discussion of the relative merits of options for particular clients. Since most published educational information is produced for promotional purposes ‘pure’ information is rare.


Helping clients to interpret information and choose the most appropriate option. To benefit from advice clients must already have a fairly clear idea of what their needs are.


Working with clients to help them to discover, clarify, assess and understand their learning needs and the various ways of meeting them. Clients requiring counselling are likely to be unclear about their needs and require time to explore their feelings about the options, and counselling is therefore more likely to involve a series of contacts with a single client.


Helping clients, by formal or informal means, to obtain an adequate understanding of their personal, educational and vocational development, In order to enable them to make sound judgements about the appropriateness of particular learning opportunities.


Supporting the client in dealing with the agencies providing education or training, or in meeting the demands of particular courses. This may involve simple advice on completing application forms, advice on ways of negotiating changes in course content or arrangements, or assistance to independent learners. A further kind of enabling is provided through ‘Access’ and ‘Wider Opportunities’ courses which may offer both group guidance and the teaching of study skills.


Negotiating directly with institutions or agencies on behalf of individuals or groups for whom there may be additional barriers to access or to learning. (eg negotiating exceptional entry arrangements or modifications to courses.)

Feeding Back:

Gathering and collating information on unmet, or inappropriately met, needs, and encouraging providers of learning opportunities to respond by developing their provision. This may involve practical changes (eg changing the presentation of course information or chanting timetables) or curricular ones (eg designing new courses for new client groups, or changing the way in which existing courses are taught to make them more appropriate for adult learners). UDACE (1986, p23-25).


Comment 6: changing concepts of 'career'

Any distinction that might have existed has become more and more blurred with the recent re-focusing agenda on social exclusion agenda which brought with it the requirement to work more holistically with disadvantaged clients over a longer period of time. Given the lack of consensus (or debate) on definition(s), perhaps now would be an appropriate time to (re-)kindle this debate?

For example, Osipow and Fitzgerald (1996) suggest 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) who proposed that career is ‘the evolving sequence of a person’s work experiences over time’ (p.8). 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, p.5).

If we agree with this type of post-modern thinking, then distinctions between career education and career guidance are not relevant.

Comment 7: HE and IAG

Just a quick observation about practice in HE and how this issue of whether information, advice and guidance are separate . We can see a clear pattern of separation developing - information is what is available to all comers whether that be in person to the information room on campus or virtually via the careers service website. Advice is given through 'drop-in' or quick query short interventions and through some workshops. Guidance is the top service given to those (few!) who are considered to have needs which can not be met by information or advice. This is generally delivered 1:1 but sometimes through group-work. This pattern is becoming quite common - is it happening in other sectors?

Comment 8: Pay differentials and levels of service provision.

The hierarchy and the pay structures in careers services do reflect these information, advice and guidance divisions. We pay information specialists a lower rate and they have less status. Information staff and others are being trained to provide advice and this is seen as a promotion or step up but not to the level of careers advisors. Guidance is only delivered by the higher paid professional careers advisors.

Back to the top