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The role of lifelong career guidance in a new and changing labour market - blog by Sally-Anne Barnes, Jenny Bimrose and Alan Brown

Since the start of the pandemic, the UK Government has described the numbers of individuals applying for Universal Credit as ‘unprecedented’ with 2.5 million applications since the lockdown in March. So with unemployment levels at an all-time high and global changes to work and labour markets as a result of the pandemic unavoidable, this is the time to think about enhancing the system of support and guidance in the UK. A system is needed that not only supports those out of work to return to the labour market, but also supports those who have had to change their role, and/or take on new roles. What seems likely is that most of those who are more able, more skilled and more adaptable will return to the labour market faster, whilst those who are less skilled and less resilient are more likely to struggle to return to the labour market.

A high quality, well resourced lifelong career guidance system can have an important role not only in supporting people back into work, but also helping people adapt to new ways of working and new types of labour markets by learning to adapt and innovate. Those in these new and emerging labour markets will need help to recognise their skills, and support to develop and continue their learning.

Undertaken by IER and colleagues from the University of Jyväskylä, a recent study of lifelong guidance in the UK and Europe examined guidance policy and practice identifying actors and stakeholders involved. The study provides insights into how practice and policy could evolve to address the current and imminent challenges for those transitioning from education to work, those out of work and those trying to adapt to new and changing employment opportunities. The recommendations coming out of the study are particularly timely given the catastrophic impact of the pandemic on labour markets around the world.

 What does a lifelong career guidance system look like?

Eleven crucial features of robust lifelong guidance systems were identified by the study. These features provide a framework to think about what an effective lifelong guidance system might look like and, significantly, how services could be developed to support individuals with their education and employment transitions across their lifetime. The features comprise:

  1. Lifelong guidance legislation provides the foundation for the development of a lifelong guidance system. It can be a tool to clarify responsibilities, entitlements to guidance support, and service delivery mechanism, but there is a need for it to be explicit.
  2. Strategic leadership refers to how national, regional and local policy and lifelong guidance systems are managed. Where there is a shared vision and strategy, career guidance is integrated into national skills strategies, activities are coordinated, and mechanisms are in place that guide the development, management and delivery of guidance services.
  3. The scope of provision in different guidance contexts varies according to where guidance provision is situated and how it is organised within and across different guidance contexts. Cross-sectoral provision that, for example, links lifelong learning with work is seen as key to seamless delivery of guidance.
  4. Lifelong guidance and lifelong learning strategies and policies highlight the role of lifelong guidance in education, learning and employment. Where these strategies and polices are coherent within an overarching framework the role lifelong guidance plays in lifelong learning is clear and there is a recognition that people need to reskill and upskill throughout their careers.
  5. Coordination and cooperation focuses on the mechanisms that support communication, service delivery and knowledge sharing between the various actors involved in the organisation and delivery of lifelong guidance. Open systems are seen to have strong links and are considered more sustainable.
  6. The delivery of guidance is represented by a range models that define how services are provided. A holistic model is considered ideal as it is based on a system of individualised and differentiated support relevant to the individual and delivered through a range of specialist partners.
  7. Labour market information and data are collected and disseminated within lifelong guidance systems to support education planning and policy, as well as to inform guidance services. However, this requires investment and development to ensure high quality information is mediated and supported by professionals.
  8. ICT strategy reflects how technology is being developed and integrated into lifelong guidance systems. The systemisation of ICT use, such as ensuring there is policy support and workforce development, creates successful integration into support systems.
  9. ICT operationalisation refers to how technology is used in a lifelong guidance system and for what purposes. ICT is a common element in guidance provision with the potential to be transformative creating a space for user-driven services.
  10. Professionalisation highlights the qualifications, knowledge, skills and ethical standards required by those delivering lifelong guidance services. This is essential in maintaining a quality system, but also retaining cutting edge practice. This is achieved when there is some form of legislative requirement for qualifications and training.
  11. Evidence of impact of lifelong guidance refers to the methods by which services and the outcomes are measured and evidenced. Where the process is systematic, it has the potential to inform the development of lifelong guidance systems through feedback loops.

Lessons learnt from across Europe

Across Europe, some countries have developed lifelong guidance systems where individuals receive career guidance support throughout their life-course regardless of whether they are in education or work, or unemployed. This, of course, helps them stay in the work and develop for a changing labour market. Other countries have aspirations for a more developed system, undertaking development in the field.

Interestingly, many countries are facing the same challenges in terms of funding, getting to grips with technology, and working within structures that constrain practice as well trying to align practices with others. However, even in this context new and innovative guidance practice and tools are emerging with aim of providing a seamless service delivery across an individual’s life-course.

Guidance and learning is taking place in more diverse settings with ICT becoming more embedded. It needs to be recognised that a single practitioner, professional group or organisation will no longer be able to respond to the increasing need for support across all diverse user groups. This implies a need to create multi-professional and cross-sectoral networks, which will be more essential in the post Covid-19 labour market.

The study Lifelong guidance policy and practice in the EU: Trends, challenges and opportunities was undertaken by Sally-Anne Barnes, Jenny Bimrose and Alan Brown from IER, together with Jaana Kettunen and Raimo Vuorinen from the University of Jyväskylä.

Research team

Sat 30 May 2020, 15:25 | Tags: careers guidance, European Union

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