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Understanding policy

Public policy is crucial to careers guidance work in terms of its funding, development and strategic direction.

This section aims to:

Provide an overview of policy and priorities
Examine the relationship between guidance and policy
Signpost implications of policy for guidance
Public policy is not of immediate and intrinsic interest to most career guidance practitioners. What draws them to their work, and inspires and motivates them, are not policy goals, but a concern for helping people. They tend to be interested in people as individuals, not in political agendas.

But public policy is crucial to career guidance work. Most career guidance services in most countries are paid for by governments, whether at national, regional or local level. A few countries have experimented with the possibility of moving at least in part towards more market-based models in which individuals (especially adults) pay, but even this is a policy decision. Moves to tilt policy in particular directions – towards market forces or towards combating social exclusion, to take just two examples – can have a massive influence on the organisational contexts in which career guidance is carried out, on the individuals to whom it is addressed, and on the forms it takes.

Links to subsections:

UK policy context

It's hard to keep up to date with so many initiatives relating to guidance. Here you will find recent documents in which website users have expressed a particular interest. This includes some policy documents. This area of the site can never be completely up to date, nor does it claim to be comprehensive! However, it tries to offer a starting point for those seeking to access significant and recently published policy documents. Please let us know if you spot a gap using email us.

Links to subsections:

World Class Skills - implementing the Leitch review

World Class Skills: Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills by Command of Her Majesty July 2007
This document outlines plans for implementing the recommendations of the Leitch Review of Skills in England. Of particular interest to those involved in career guidance are the points relating to supporting individuals in improving their skills and progression at work, including the references to a new adult careeers service with an emphasis on labour market focused guidance provision. The following is an extract from page 10 of the executive summary of the report.

Supporting individuals to improve their skills and progress at work

We have to motivate many more adults to want to improve their skills and education, including the millions of people who left school with few or no qualifications.

In order to do this, we will have to clearly show individuals the link between getting economically valuable skills, and getting good jobs and progressing in their chosen career. We will also work to remove any barriers related to a person’s age, race, gender or class, that may be preventing them from having fair and equal access to more training and education opportunities.

DIUS and DWP will work together to create a joined-up employment and skills system. We will merge the information nd advice services of learndirect and nextstep providers into a new universal adult careers service in England, working in partnership with Jobcentre Plus. The new careers service will ensure that everyone is able to access the help they need to take stock of where they are in achieving their goals and ambitions, and to get the support they need to advance themselves and achieve their full potential.

Jobcentre Plus will work with the new adult careers service and the Learning and Skills Council to ensure that every customer gets the right balance between job search and training to improve their employability.

Flexible training for individuals will be offered in a way that can be combined with their job search and continued alongside work. Train to Gain brokerage and employer training funds will play an important part in supporting this objective.

We will pilot the new concept of ‘Skills Accounts’, which will give individuals greater ownership and choice over their learning, motivating them to gain skills and achieve qualifications, enter work and progress in employment

When they open a Skills Account, individuals will be able to access the full range of adult information, advice and guidance services in the new universal adult careers service. They will also receive an account number and account card, which will help people to understand the levels of investment going into their training, whether it’s coming from
them, their employer or the state

Skills Accounts, Jobcentre Plus and the new adult careers service will come together to provide customers with the seamless service they need to identify and access the right training and skills opportunities, at the right time.

Access the report from this link World Class Skills: Implementing the Leitch Review of Skills in England or download using the pdf file below

Skills diagnostics and screening tools

Skills diagnostics and screening tools: A literature review, Jenny Bimrose, Sally-Anne Barnes, Alan Brown, Chris Hasluck and Heike Behle. A report of research carried out by the Warwick Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, 2007
A key recommendation from the Leitch review of skills is the establishment of a national network of one-stop shops for careers and employment advice, achieved through close collaborative working relationships between a new service and Jobcentre Plus. The new service is to offer a free ‘skills health check’ and is to become the source of skills expertise for Jobcentre Plus. In parallel with this development, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is developing the Flexible New Deal, which involves examining the need to achieve a better understanding of the circumstances of each customer. As part of these processes, the DWP commissioned the Warwick Institute for Employment Research to examine available evidence relating to the review, identification, assessment and diagnosis of skills, together with good practice, tools and methodologies identifying customers requiring more intensive support.

Access the literature review here Skills diagnostics and screening tools:A literature review, or download the pdf below.

Leitch Review of Skills (2006)

The final report of the Leitch Review of Skills, Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills, was published on 5th December 2006.

One of the main recommendations of the Leitch Review is to 'develop a new universal adult careers service.

The Government commissioned Sandy Leitch in 2004 to undertake an independent review of the UK's long term skills needs. The Review published its interim report "Skills in the UK: the long term challenge" in December 2005. It committed the Review, in its final report, to identify the UK’s optimal skills mix for 2020 to maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice, set out the balance of responsibility for achieving that skills profile and consider the policy framework required to support it.

The final report of the Leitch Review of Skills, Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills, was published on 5th December 2006.

According to The Treasury website, the Review sets out a compelling vision for the UK. It shows that the UK must urgently raise achievements at all levels of skills and recommends that it commit to becoming a world leader in skills by 2020, benchmarked against the upper quartile of the OECD. This means doubling attainment at most levels of skill. Responsibility for achieving ambitions must be shared between Government, employers and individuals.

Access the full report from HM Treasury website. Or look at the websites collected below to see a range of public reactions to the report.

Skills White Paper (2005)

The White Paper 'Skills: Getting on in business, getting on at work', (March 2005) is significant for guidance.
A greater emphasis is placed on universal entitlement to guidance for adults in England.

To review the aspects of the White Paper that are concerned with helping individuals gain the skills they need to be employable and personally fulfilled link to: Policies Promoting Learning at Work
To contribute your thoughts join the Skills White Paper Discussion on this site
To download the document use the links below:
Part 1

One of the Skills Strategy Core Strands detailed here is:

'To support individuals in achieving their ambitions, through better information and guidance to identify the best options for them in terms of jobs, skills and training. (pg 9)'

Part 2

Of particular significance is Chapter 4: Opportunities for adult learners, and how the reforms will help individuals to help themselves.

It is recognised here that, in order to upskill the nation's workforce, high quality, expert guidance that meets each individual's needs will be required (pg 41). This chapter sets out recommendations for achieving this goal.

Part 3

Part 3 of the White Paper is "a technical paper sets out the most recent evidence and historical trends on how we are better meeting our skill needs. It provides a background and context for understanding the skills issues and policies set out in Parts 1 and 2 of the Skills White Paper.

Youth Matters Green Paper

Youth Matters, Green Paper, presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills July 2005
The Green Paper Youth Matters proposes a radical new model which devolves responsibility for information advice and guidance to children's trusts, schools and colleges. The consultation period ends on 4th November 2005.

An End to End Review of Careers Education and Guidance was commissioned by the DfES to review CEG and inform the Green Paper. The review included an assessment of the current service, and an examination of key delivery issues such as impartiality, workfore development and employer engagement. The review was published in July 2005.

The Centre for Guidance Studies at the University of Derby hosted a consultation event on the Green Paper the outcomes of which are summarised in the document below 'response to Green Paper'

14-19 Education & Training

Education White Paper (2005)

An Education White Paper was launched on 25th October 2005: 'Higher Standards, Better Schools for All - More Choice for Parents and Pupils'.
In the White Paper, government sets our what it refers to as a reforming agenda. Three main challenges are identified:

The need to tailor education around the needs of each individual child – so that no child falls
behind and no child is held back from achieving their potential;

The need to put parents at the centre of our thinking – giving them greater choice and active
engagement in their child’s learning and how schools are run; and
The need to empower schools and teachers to respond to local and parental demands,
injecting dynamism and innovation into our schools.

The main target of the reforms are those whose 'family background is most challenging', because 'education is one of the keys to social mobility'.

Further details of the White Paper can be found at the DfES website.

Raising expectations - staying in education and training post-16

DfES Green paper presented to parliament by Alan Johnson, secretary of state, Department ofeducation and skills, in March 2007 that presents the case for a raised participation age.
DfES Green paper March 2007 that presents the case for a raised participation age. Read the document in full here: Raising Expectations: staying in education and training post 16

The executive summary begins: 'The future of our society depends on the education we provide to our young people. We need to make sure that all young people start adult life with the skills, qualities and attributes they will need to make a success of their lives. Never before has it been as important as it is today for every young person to achieve a good level of skill – for young people themselves, for the economy and for society. As the Leitch Review makes clear, there will be many fewer jobs in future for those who lack such skills. 2. It is no longer a sensible option for a young person to leave education for good at 16 in order to seek work. The great majority of young people already do stay on beyond 16 and there is a risk that it will only be the more vulnerable and lower-achieving who drop out at 16. Yet they are precisely the group who have the greatest need to stay on – so that they can achieve useful skills which will prepare them for life. The time has come to consider whether society is letting these young people down by allallowing them to leave education and training for good at 16, knowing that they are not adequately prepared for life. '

International policies on career guidance

Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development OECD Country and Thematic Policy Reviews in Education, - Career Guidance Policy Review
Or go to their home page And browse their sections by topic for items relating to education and employment which are of interest to careers researchers and practitioners. Or search by keyword ‘careers’ to bring up a wealth of associated materials.
The Prime Minister's Strategy Unit for access to a wide range of publications relating to long-term strategic reviews and policy analysis on a wide range of themes including workforce development
You may also wish to link to the International Perspectives section of this website.

Benefits and priorities of policy

The benefits can be divided into two main categories: the economic benefits of the efficient use of the workforce, and the social benefits of equality of opportunity.

The key rationale for the relationship between career guidance and public policy is that career guidance is a public good as well as a private good. It is designed to be of value to the individuals who experience it. But it also yields benefits to the wider society and economy.

These benefits can be divided into two main categories (Watts, 1996).

The first is economic efficiency in the allocation and use of human resources. For example, career guidance services can support the individual decisions through which the labour market operates, can reduce some of its market failures, and can support reforms designed to improve its normal functioning (Killeen, White & Watts, 1992). Furthermore, such services are an important mechanism for linking learners to education and training programmes that meet their needs and inspire their motivations, thus reducing drop-out and improving learning performance. Beyond this, career guidance services link education and training programmes to the labour market, optimising the economic yield from governments’ substantial investment in these systems.
The second benefit is social equity in access to educational and vocational opportunities. Career guidance services can raise the aspirations of individuals experiencing disadvantage, whether as a result of gender, ethnicity, social class background, or disabilities. They can make such individuals aware of opportunities and support them in securing access to these opportunities. They can also reduce social exclusion, both by helping people to avoid such exclusion and by supporting those currently excluded to gain access to education, training and the labour market.

The goals that policy makers pursue focus upon the economic, workforce and social benefits of guidance.

Recent reviews of career guidance policies conducted by OECD (2004), the European Commission (Sultana, 2004) and the World Bank (Watts & Fretwell, 2004) indicate that the policy goals which policy-makers expect career guidance services to address can be divided into three categories (for a synthesis of these reviews, see Watts & Sultana, 2004).

The first are learning goals. These include:

supporting lifelong learning (for both youth and adults) and the development of human resources to support national and individual economic growth
supporting a more flexible education and training system
supporting a stronger but more flexible vocational orientation within the school system
improving the efficiency of education and training systems by reducing drop-out rates and increasing graduation rates
strengthening linkages between education/training systems and the labour market
The second are labour market goals. These include:

improving labour market efficiency
reducing mismatch between supply and demand
addressing skill shortages
improving labour adaptability in response to market conditions, in terms of both geographical and occupational mobility
reducing the extent and duration of unemployment
minimising individual dependency on income-support systems
The third are social equity goals. These include:

supporting equal opportunities in relation to education and employment
addressing the needs of disadvantaged and marginalised groups
supporting the social integration of ethnic minorities
supporting female labour-market participation
addressing gender segmentation in the labour market
The balance between and within these categories fluctuates and varies across countries. A challenge for all countries is to maintain an appropriate balance between them in the provision of services. These goals are currently being reframed in the light of policies relating to lifelong learning, linked to active labour market policies and the concept of sustained employability. The result is that countries increasingly recognise the need to expand access to career guidance so that it is available not just to selected groups like school-leavers and the unemployed, but to everyone

Funding and market forces

What are the main sources of funding for career guidance services?

In most countries, the vast majority of funding for career guidance services is provided by governments, whether at national, regional or local level. The nature of such funding is dependent on the governmental structure within the country concerned: career guidance services within public employment services tend to be funded by central government; those within schools are more likely to be funded at regional or local level.

Only limited services are funded direct by individuals or employers (see sub-section below on the role of the market). In Germany, however, the extensive career guidance services of the Federal Employment Office (which play an important role in schools and universities as well as for young workers and adults) are, like its other services, funded by individuals and employers through the social insurance system (OECD, 2004).

Some countries have moved towards a devolution of services, and some have contracted out parts of their publically-funded guidance services.

Devolved arrangements

In a number of countries, there has been a trend towards the devolution of public employment services, including career guidance services, usually as part of a wider political process of devolution.

In a number of countries, there has been a trend towards the devolution of public employment services, including career guidance services, usually as part of a wider political process of devolution,
To what extent is funding devolved to regions and to institutions?

In a number of countries, there has been a trend towards the devolution of public employment services, including career guidance services, to regional administrations. This is usually part of a wider political process of devolution, to take account of cultural and other differences across the country. This is the case in Canada and Spain, for example (OECD, 2004). It is also the case in some central and eastern European countries that were formerly part of the Communist bloc: in such countries, ‘decentralisation tends to be particularly attractive as an antidote to a heritage of tight central control, and as a mechanism to diffuse power that had previously been in the hands of a few’ (Sultana, 2004, p.85).

In most countries, university budgets are devolved to individual institutions, which have a high degree of autonomy in determining how these budgets are deployed. In some countries, too, there has been a policy of devolving school budgets from local authorities to individual schools, allowing schools more scope for self-management.

What are the implications of devolved funding?

Devolution of public employment services can lead to a number of difficulties. In particular, it can lead to costly overlap, lack of co-ordination within and across sectors, inequities in access to services across regions, and an overall degeneration in standards (Sultana, 2004). In Poland, for example, the decentralisation policy has meant that employment offices have tended to function in isolation from one another, to be under-financed and to suffer from a high turnover of staff; and maintenance of national labour market information sources has been threatened (Watts & Fretwell, 2004). This raises the issue of whether, within such policies, some responsibilities should be retained at national level. In Canada, for instance, the national government retains responsibility for national labour market information and for some special programmes (OECD, 2004).

The risk of variation in the extent and nature of services is even greater in the case of devolution of educational funding to institutions. Some managers of educational institutions may see career guidance services as being very important for the institution and its students; some may not. Moreover, such decisions may be heavily influenced by institutional considerations, which may or may not correspond with the interests both of the individual and of the wider society. This is particularly the case, for example, where the overall funding of institutions is linked to their performance on measures relating to inputs (the number of students they recruit) or short-term outputs (e.g. examination results) rather than to process measures or longer-term outcome measures. Unless, in such cases, career guidance services are seen as aiding such performance, they may be given little institutional attention or support.

Illustrative policy responses

A number of policy responses have been adopted by governments to avoid such risks.

One is staffing formulas: in Australia (New South Wales), for example, formal provision is made for the allocation of a full-time-equivalent careers adviser in each school. Another is legislative entitlements, supported by inspectorate arrangements: this is the approach that has been adopted in England.
A further approach, used in the case of Finnish tertiary institutions for example, is for the annual financial contracts with central government to require plans for the improvement and promotion of guidance services.
Yet another approach is to use local accountability mechanisms: in Canada (Ontario), for instance, all school principals are required to develop a comprehensive written guidance and career education programme plan; in addition, they are required every three years to conduct a survey of students, parents, teachers and other partners to evaluate the delivery and effectiveness of all components of the programme (OECD, 2004, chps.8 and 3).

Contracting out of publicly funded career guidance services

Contracting-out can be an attractive policy option for a range of reasons: it can be cheaper; it can be more flexible; and it can also lead to services being more attuned to the needs of clients.

Contracting-out can be an attractive policy option for a range of reasons: it can be cheaper; it can be more flexible; and it can also lead to services being more attuned to the needs of clients.
In a number of countries, governments have contracted out some of their publicly-funded career guidance services, often as part of outsourcing a wider range of public employment services. In Austria, for example, some guidance services – including six-week orientation courses to improve the employability of young people aged 14-20 – have been contracted out to a range of for-profit and not-for-profit organisations; the production of career information has been contracted out too. In Australia, the entire public employment system was contracted out in the 1990s. Sub-contracting has also been used extensively in the Netherlands (OECD, 2004).

Contracting-out can be an attractive policy option for a range of reasons. It can be cheaper: staff in contracted agencies tend to have lower salaries and fewer benefits than civil servants. It can be more flexible: subcontracted services tend to be less bound by bureaucratic regulation. It can also lead to services being closer to the targeted clients and hence more attuned to their needs.

On the other hand, contracting-out can lead to uneven standards of delivery. A way of counteracting this is to develop a strong quality-assurance system. This is the approach adopted in relation to information, advice and guidance services for adults in England, where all organisations receiving public funds to provide such services must meet the Matrix quality standards.

The role of the market in career guidance delivery

The market has had some impact on some aspects of career guidance services, though in general individuals seem reluctant to pay.

The market has had some impact on some aspects of career guidance services, though in general individuals seem reluctant to pay.
Apart from employment agencies – which tend to focus narrowly on job placement and to include only limited elements of wider career guidance – there are two main career guidance services where market-based service delivery has become well-established. The first is the publication of career information and other career guidance materials (including career education resources and psychometric tests). Such publications may be funded by charges to consumers, by advertising, by government subsidy, or by a mix of these sources. Significant factors in supporting the market are the low unit costs, and the relative ease with which standardised products can be distributed to a mass market, in comparison with such interventions as career interviews (OECD, 2004).

The only area of personalised career guidance service delivery in which a substantial market has developed is outplacement agencies. In Australia, for example, it is estimated that there are some 250 agencies of this kind (OECD, 2004). Significant here is the fact that such services are normally paid for by employers, which seem more willing than individuals to pay for the services at rates capable of sustaining a market. Outplacement is an area where employers are willing to pay for genuinely impartial career guidance, since their sole interest is in the employee leaving on positive terms: they have no interest in the content of the individual’s decision.

In some countries there has been a limited development of career guidance services paid by individuals. Examples include Australia, Canada, the USA and some European countries (notably Germany, the Netherlands and the UK). Information on the extent of these markets is limited (see OECD, 2004, chp. 8). In general, however, it seems that individuals are reluctant to pay for such services – or at least reluctant to do so at full-cost rather than marginal-cost rates. It is as yet unclear whether this is a transitional problem, based on the fact that many such services have been free of charge and it takes time for users to adapt to market-based provision; or whether it is a systemic problem, based on the difficulties in treating career guidance as a commodity in the ways a market would require (Watts, 1999; see also Grubb, 2004). As a general rule, it seems that many private-sector career guidance services are paid for not by the individual end-user but either by the state (through contracting-out – see above) or by employers (as in the case of outplacement services, for example). Services paid for by individuals may then be added on a marginal-cost basis to services financed in these other ways.

The role of public policy in relation to market-based delivery

There are arguments for funding models that include a place for the market, and policy has several roles to play in relation to such mixed funding models.

There are arguments for funding models that include a place for the market, and policy has several roles to play in relation to such mixed funding models.
Even if career guidance is regarded as a public good, there are arguments for funding models which include a role for the market and for encouragement to be given to services paid for by the immediate beneficiaries – i.e. individuals and employers. This would allow those who can afford to pay to make a contribution to the costs of the services they need, and enable government funds to be concentrated mainly on the needs of those least able to pay. Similar principles are commonly used in relation to other public services.

The roles of public policy in relation to such mixed funding models are three-fold.

The first is to stimulate the market. This can be done by contracting-out of services (see above). It can also be done by making spending on career guidance services allowable against individual learning accounts or training levies (as in Canada (Quebec) and the Netherlands, for example – see OECD, 2004, chps. 4 and 8).
The second role for public policy is to regulate the market and to assure the quality of services, both to protect the public interest and to build consumer confidence. In most countries, however, standards have either not been developed or have only a voluntary status (except, possibly, in relation to publicly-purchased services) (OECD, 2004, chp. 9). An exception is Canada (Quebec), where the titles of career counsellor and of guidance counsellor are protected by law (see OECD, 2004, chp. 7).
The third role is to compensate for market failure where this is considered appropriate in the public interest. Many of the individuals who most need career guidance are least able to afford it, and least likely to be willing to do so. There is accordingly a case for government funding to be disproportionately targeted to such groups.

Evidence base for policy formation and monitoring the impact of policy

Why is an evidence base for policy formation so important?

Policy makers need a good evidence base to inform and support the process of policy formation. The evidence needed broadly falls into two categories:

evidence to indicate what services are needed to match both individual client needs and broader public policy objectives
evidence that current policy is having an impact on career guidance practice and, ultimately, upon the lives of those receiving guidance
What is the role of evidence in policy formation?

Effective policy formation requires a strong evidence base, for at least three reasons. The first is to assess the match between career guidance services and public-policy objectives. The second is to assess the need for new or expanded services. The third is to assess the value that those who provide the funding are receiving for their funding investment (OECD, 2004).

What evidence base is needed to support policy formation?

In principle, the evidence base needs to include information on: demand (market research); inputs (resources); throughput (the number and nature of clients); outputs (e.g. production of action plans); client reactions; learning outcomes (e.g. awareness of options); behavioural outcomes (e.g. entry to a course or job); and long-term outcomes (e.g. career success/satisfaction).

In practice, the extent of such evidence in most countries is weak. Even simple client monitoring procedures are not always in place. Evidence on costs and on the extent of public funding devoted to career guidance services is particularly hard to find, partly because the services are often embedded in broader institutional budgets and no attempts have been made to disaggregate them (OECD, 2004).

Some of these forms of evidence could be collected systemically on a routine basis. But some – notably the evidence on longer-term outcomes – requires methodologically sophisticated studies.

Monitoring the impact of policy NOT AVAILABLE
It's important to be clear about what policy-makers expect of practitioners and how their efforts should be assessed and evaluated.


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Grubb 2004
Grubb, W.N. (2004). An occupation in harmony: the roles of markets and government in career information and guidance. International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance (in press).

Hiebert & Bezanson 2000
Hiebert, B. & Bezanson, L. (eds.) (2000). Making Waves: Career Development and Public Policy. Ottawa: Canadian Career Development Foundation.

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Killeen, J. & Kidd, J.M. (1991). Learning Outcomes of Guidance: a Review of Research. Research Paper No.85. Sheffield, UK: Employment Department.

Killeen et al 1992
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Watts, A.G. (2000). Career development and public policy. Career Development Quarterly, 48(4), 301-312.

Watts & Fretwell 2004
Watts, A.G. & Fretwell, D. (2004). Public Policies for Career Development: Case Studies and Emerging Issues for Designing Career Information and Guidance Systems in Developing and Transition Economies. Washington, DC: World Bank.

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