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Lifelong guidance policy and practice in the EU

The University of Warwick’s Institute for Employment Research and the University of Jyväskylä’s Finnish Institute for Educational Research were commissioned by the European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion to undertake a study on lifelong guidance policy and practice in the EU. The study was launched at a time when lifelong guidance policies and practices are viewed as crucial parts of current policy initiatives around validation of learning and the Pillar of Social Rights (features 1 and 4). The aim was to:

  • Look at how these policies and practices could be promoted by the Commission providing an evidence base for priority-setting;
  • Improve organisational knowledge and support dialogue with stakeholders on lifelong guidance and, more widely, skills strategies; and
  • Identify potential, relevant EU interventions in the area of lifelong guidance.

The study has a forward-looking aspect and provides proposals and directions for the new Commission after 2020.

Research report

Barnes, S-A., Bimrose, J., Brown, A., Kettunen, J., & Vuorinen, R. (2020). Lifelong guidance policy and practice in the EU: trends, challenges and opportunities. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. ISBN 978-92-76-17340-3.

Overview of the research and findings

Approach to the study

A mixed methods study was undertaken to gather, analyse and synthesise evidence on lifelong guidance policy and practices in the EU. A literature review was undertaken alongside 30 in-depth interviews with experts in the field from across the EU. To extend the evidence base, two one-day expert workshops were held to explore current practice and review findings, respectively. Altogether 72 experts from across the EU contributed to this study. Whilst some individuals contributing to the study represented EU level organisations, individuals from 23 EU member states also contributed.

Lifelong guidance systems in the EU

The research found that EU member states have aspirations to develop more comprehensive lifelong guidance systems, but are often hampered by divisions between contexts and uncertainties of how to deal with issues of professionalisation and the relationship with more informal guidance support in education, training and employment. Also, institutional path dependence means some institutions which also provide guidance may feel constrained by past decisions, their structures and cultures to act in ways which may be difficult to align fully with the practices of other players.

Based on analysis of the evidence from the literature, interviews and workshop discussions, 11 key features of lifelong guidance systems were identified. The features were identified through an inductive analysis of the evidence of theory, policy and practice from the last 10 years or so and used to create an analytical framework. This framework enabled each feature to be explored to develop an understanding of how it is implemented or operationalised within different national contexts across the EU.This framework provided a structured evidence base to improve understanding of how lifelong guidance is variously organised, coordinated, funded, delivered and structured across the EU member states. Each feature can be implemented differently within lifelong guidance systems, so no one model of lifelong guidance was identified, which is likely due to different political, social, economic and cultural contexts across the member states. The features of a lifelong guidance system enable a dialogue between stakeholders around how and in what ways LLG can evolve based on activity in other EU member states.

Changes to the ecosystem of lifelong guidance

It was concluded that a trend towards a more integrated lifelong service includes an emphasis on user centrality, increased tailoring of provision to user preferences, and greater networking possibilities provided by digital technologies. The increase in networking possibilities, it is suggested, could enable greater cooperation between organisations in: service provision; cooperation between organisations in producing and exchanging information; cooperation between organisations, professionals and beneficiaries (peers) in accessing and producing a flexible ecosystem for career learning and career development support.

New and innovative guidance practice and tools were found to be emerging in response to labour market changes and new modes of delivery, the implementation of new technologies, policy and funding changes, coordination of services and access to new labour market information.

Evidence suggests that, in some countries and contexts, services are becoming more coherent and coordinated than in the past, which is defined as a system that intersects across the range of institutions delivering guidance-related support. Within a coherent system, services are delivered through a range of education and training institutions, public and private employment services, and specialist providers and social partners. In an ideal situation, these could be characterised by high levels of cooperation and/or coordination; the aim of which is to provide a seamless service delivery across an individual’s life-course. This means that a range of actors involved in the delivery of lifelong guidance services and their responsibilities may have expanded and/or changed.

Project Team:

Sally-Anne Barnes (Principal Investigator)

Jenny Bimrose

Alan Brown

Jaana Kettunen FIER, University of Jyväskyla

Raimo Vuorinen FIER, University of Jyväskyla

Project Duration:

December 2018 - December 2019

Project Funder:

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