The Role of Guidance and Counselling in Fostering an Increased Range
of Educational and Career Alternatives
Bryan Hiebert, University of Victoria, Canada, Vice-President, International Association for
Educational and Vocational Guidance
William A. Borgen, University of British Columbia, Canada, Past-President, International
Association for Counselling
Karen Schober, National Guidance Forum, Germany, Vice-President, International Association
for Educational and Vocational Guidance
A Context for Career-Life Planning
Career Development refers to a life-long process of managing learning, work, and
transitions in order to move toward a personally determined and evolving preferred future. Some
people naturally develop ability to manage their careers in a meaningful way, but others need
assistance, especially as the rate of economic, occupational, and social change escalates. In order
for appropriate assistance to be available, policy makers and service providers need the basic
knowledge, skills, and attitudes that are inherent in helping people develop meaningful lifelong
learning plans that interface with their career paths.
People’s careers develop over time regardless of whether they are planful about the process or
leave it to chance. People are more likely to acquire meaningful and satisfying work if they are
planful about the opportunities they pursue and the education and training they take. When
people have a vision for what they want to do with their lives, they tend to be more focused,
better able to spot opportunities, and be more persistent in pursuit of those opportunities.
Why Career Guidance and Counselling?
There are tangible benefits associated with the provision of guidance services. For example,
research in North America tells us that when schools implement comprehensive guidance and
counselling programs in a manner that involves student as partners in their learning
experiences, they experience the following benefits:
- Greater academic achievement
- Reduced drop-out rate
- Lower absenteeism
- Reduced student alienation
- Reduced exposure to bullying and harassment
- Reduced incidence of smoking and drinking
- More positive school climate
- Greater satisfaction with school
- Greater student participation in school programs
- Students report their school experiences as more relevant and better at preparing them for
- Students indicate that the quality of their education is better.
In Finland, as well as other countries, the introduction of a compulsory course in career guidance
in polytechnical institutions was followed by a reduction in the time it took students to complete
their programs and also a reduction in the number of students changing programs.
Certainly, the need for guidance and counselling programs is great. In Nigeria, 40% of students
graduating from polytechnical institutions end up being employed in jobs that are not connected
to their training. In Canada, over 75% of secondary school students expect to pursue university,
college, or technical education after they finish secondary school. Furthermore, 80% of parents
expect their sons and daughters to finish high school and continue on to some form of formal
post-secondary education. In reality, about 25% of high school students in Canada do not finish
secondary school and only about 30% enroll in formal post-secondary education. In Nigeria, 1.3
million young people aspire to pursuing formal post-secondary education, a number that far
exceeds the number of spaces available at post-secondary institutions.
Surveys of Canadian secondary school students consistently report that career-life planning
needs are among the most frequently expressed needs of students. A study of adolescents in 12
countries, conducted under the auspices of the International Association for Counselling, found
that adolescents most frequently reported: employment-related concerns which were
accompanied by concerns about dealing with pressure to achieve academically, family issues (a
concern especially for girls), and worries about developing their concept of self. These clearly are
situations that are not addressed in academic subjects and are ideally suited for guidance and
Purposeful Career Planning
Career-life planning can be seen as a journey having five main components, or milestones: (1)
Preparation, (2) Tools and Resources, (3) Skills and Approaches, (4) Infrastructure, and (5)
Maintaining and Sustaining the Journey. At each milestone, people may need to stop and take
stock, in some cases to re-establish a sense of direction, in other cases to address potential
barriers, and in still other cases to obtain additional information, skills, or other resources
needed to continue the journey. For example, to be well prepared, we need to understand the
context of the journey, i.e., the terrain, direction of the path, others involved with the journey,
possible barriers, etc. In obtaining the necessary tools and resources to make the journey
successful, people need to know what tools and resources are available for the type of journey
being undertaken. Some journeys may require special skills or approaches and people need to
have a process for determining which specific skills or approaches are best suited for that
journey. At any milestone, people may already possess the knowledge, skills, and support
needed to continue successfully. However, others may need to stop over and gain additional
knowledge, skills, or resources in order to continue. These components are all important for s to
understand and for policy makers and practitioners to cultivate. The road map metaphor is at the
same time a model for working with people using guidance and counselling services and a
model for helping policy makers and practitioners understand their own career development. It
also pertains to the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to implement new programs.
Basic Career Development Principles
In order to become more effective in addressing the career-life planning needs of youth and
adults, it is important that policy makers and practitioners understand some basic principles.
- Multi-potentiality. Typically, people have a variety of talents and most jobs require a
broad range of competencies. Thus, most people have a broad range of jobs in which they could
experience success. It most often is not productive to seek the perfect match between an
individual’s characteristics and the requirements of a job.
- Career self-concept. Personal values, beliefs, abilities, the activities one finds
meaningful or enjoyable, the tools and techniques a person feels comfortable, all interact to
form a person’s self-concept. Self-concepts change over time and thus people’s career
preferences change over time. Without job satisfaction, it is difficult to achieve life satisfaction.
Career satisfaction results from integrating work roles with a person’s self-concept.
- Planned happenstance. Many things that happen to people look like accidents.
However, closer examination reveals that people position themselves in ways that help them
capitalize on unplanned events. Planned happenstance involves opportunity awareness to
identify potentially productive events as they unfold, plus willingness to risk taking action when
the result is unpredictable, and flexibility to adjust one’s plans as events unfold.
- Career education. Career education plays an important role in the career paths of
children, youth, young adults, and older adults. At its heart, career education involves developing
an attitude that encourages the belief that it is OK, or even preferred, to plan ones career.
Developing this kind of attitude is best done in small doses, beginning when children are young,
in order that the attitudes can be personalized. Career education is life education. The skills
needed to make meaningful career choices are the skills needed to make meaningful life choices.
Thus, the process is referred to as career-life planning.
- Career-life planning for girls and women. Research suggests that the career
development of girls and women does not parallel that of men and boys. Women face additional
and different career-related issues than do men. There is a need to pay attention to individual
differences and not generalize from one sub-segment of society to another when working in the
career-life planning area.
Tailoring Services to Differing Needs
People have differing needs and the same individual may have different needs at different points
in time. For some, information and advice is all that is needed. Practitioners provide information,
and those who receive it process the information, and take action. Other people need career
guidance, tailored to their concerns or goals and designed to give them greater opportunity for
personal development and satisfaction from work. Others require career counselling, that creates
a climate where people can explore, examine, and clarify their own thoughts, feelings, and
actions, to arrive at answers that are best for them.
Advising is most appropriate for people who are seeking information, know how to use it, and
are open to the advice they receive. Guidance can assist people to consider their suitability for
different career and educational opportunities, explore alternatives they may not have considered
previously, and engage in appropriate decision-making about their future career-life path.
Counselling is required when people need to explore their views and attitudes related to career
and educational opportunities, their personal level of readiness to pursue various options, their
cultural and societal contexts, and the need to include others who may be important in the
decision making process for that person.
In many countries, advising is readily available. Guidance services often are available in basic
education, but are frequently not available for those outside the school system. Counselling
services are more rare, especially outside the school system, even in so-called more developed
countries. What is required to replace these fragmented services is an integrated and holistic
approach that begins with a needs assessment to determine whether advising, guidance, or
counselling services would be most appropriate. This approach would also represent a more cost
effective way of delivering career-life planning assistance to individuals across the lifespan.
Career Development – Public Policy Dimension
In the last decade, an increasing number of organizations and countries have recognized the
need for career guidance and counselling services. In 2002 - 2004, the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), European Commission (EC), and World Bank
(WB), collaborated to complete a study of career guidance in 36 countries. The range of countries
spanned developing countries (WB), Eastern European countries (EC), and more developed
countries (OECD). One conclusion reached in all countries was that career guidance is a private
as well as a public good, explicitly linked to: life long learning, labour market insertion, social
equity, and sustained employment. The studies concluded that career guidance needs to be
available to individuals at any age and at any point in life, in order to assist them in making
educational, training, and occupational choices, and to better manage their careers.
Systems and Practices, Synthesis Report, Luxembourg 2004. The OECD and the European Union agreed on a common definition of career guidance which covers a wide range of activities supporting individuals in their career planning throughout their lives. The definition states:
Career Guidance refers to services intended to assist people, of any age and at
Systems and Practices, Synthesis Report, Luxembourg 2004.
The OECD and the European Union agreed on a common definition of career guidance which
covers a wide range of activities supporting individuals in their career planning throughout their
lives. The definition states:
any point throughout their lives, to make educational, training, and occupational choices and 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.
Consistent with this common understanding, a number of policy initiatives have been
- Starting in 1999 the International Association for Educational and Vocational Guidance
together with OECD, World Bank and the Canadian Career Development Foundation (CCDF – Link)
agreed to organize biannual International Symposia on Career Development and Public Policy
where policy makers, guidance providers, and researchers discuss future perspectives,
challenges, and requirements in guidance policies and practices. One result arising from these
symposia was the creation of an [http://www.iccdpp.org International Centre for Career
Development and Public Policy] established in 2003. The 2009 International Symposium in
Wellington, New Zealand issued a Communique which was addressed to policy makers around
- The Council of the European Union adopted two resolutions on lifelong guidance in 2004
and 2008. The resolutions contained recommendations to European member states to strengthen
guidance polices and practices and to establish an action plan for creating better integration
between lifelong guidance and lifelong learning policies.
- In order to support the member states in developing their guidance policies and systems
the European Union established in 2007 a “[http://elgpn.eu European Lifelong Guidance Policy
Network]” (ELGPN) for mutual leaning and policy sharing. The work program of the network
focuses on four priorities which were agreed to in the 2008 EU-Resolution:
- Developing Career Management Skills (CMS) in schools, TVET and adult education
- Securing free and easy Access to guidance services for all citizens including the
improvement of acknowledgement of prior learning
- Implementing Quality Assurance and Evidence Base for guidance policy and systems
- Establishing Coordination and Cooperation Mechanisms on national, regional and local
level (e.g., National Guidance Forum or Networks) to work towards a coherent lifelong guidance
- In order to support the member states in developing their guidance policies and systems
Policy Makers and Practitioners Working Together
Policy makers and practitioners both agree that, in times of rapid and ongoing economic and
societal change, people have an increased need for assistance. However, each group sometimes
sees the other as interfering with their ability to provide that assistance to people who need it.
An integrated, holistic, lifelong approach to guidance and counselling services will be achieved
most effectively when policy makers and practitioners work together towards common, or at
least complimentary, goals. For example, services can be operating within a holistic model, but
can face limitations because of funding restrictions. On the other hand, policy supporting
holistic, one-stop, integrated services can be in place, but not operationalized because
practitioners have out-dated beliefs or false assumptions about TVET or other education and
training alternatives. Thus, policy makers and service providers need to have a shared, and
expanded view of the nature of services and resources available for career exploration, such as:
work experience, job shadowing, co-op education, take your child to work, formal or informal
conversations with people who are already employed, and personal networks, etc.
In some countries, there will need to be substantial infrastructure expansion in order to support
guidance and counselling services and promote TVET. In other countries, there will be
substantial barriers to address, such as massive unemployment, HIV/AIDS, and social
disintegration. Policy will be needed to create and maintain adequate support resources such as:
public health service, labour market information system, job posting service, job bank, career
information resources, as well as public education about the availability and use of these
services. For the system to work well, practitioners, agencies, funding authorities, and policy
makers will need to be partners in a larger consortium that represents the entire community;
linking community development, capacity building, and community economic development; and
working together to more adequately address the needs of the people they serve. Addressing
policy issues through dialogue helps to ensure that policies are realistic and useful for
maximizing career-life planning support for those who need it.
Expanding the Alternatives
In many countries, an anomalous situation exists: There is a bias towards university education
and a career path in the so called “professions” while jobs in technical fields, and jobs labeled
“vocational” go unfilled, or are filled by workers from other countries. Policy makers and
practitioners need training to develop an attitude, and learn the knowledge and skills needed, to
use counselling and guidance processes for assisting adolescents and adults to consider a
broader range of educational and career alternatives and to make more informed decisions about
those alternatives. We advocate a training program that models what policy makers and
practitioners need to provide to people using guidance and counselling services, while teaching
the knowledge, skills, and attitude required to provide enhanced services. The approach needs to
be one that advocates Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) opportunities as
legitimate first choices for people to pursue in planning their career paths.
The world is changing rapidly. People today face numerous challenges achieving integration into
the workforce. In many countries, there are enormous systemic barriers to address, such as:
massive unemployment, HIV/AIDS, social disintegration, and inadequate infrastructure. One job
for life is over. For many it never existed. Old metaphors and old models of career development
no longer apply. New ways of thinking about careers are necessary. People need a vision for their
life that will drive a purposeful approach to career/life planning and avoid floundering. People’s
career/life paths will contain many branching paths, barriers and obstacles, but also allies and
sources of assistance. Flexibility is important, as is keeping options open and making sure the
journey is meaningful. Career development training needs to begin early to develop the attitudes
that are important to enable people to take charge of their own career paths. Helping people
achieve direction in their lives can be most effectively accomplished when policy makers and
practitioners work together to ensure that effective and accessible services are available for
those who need them.