The final section of this chapter draws out the main implications in respect of future programme development and policy. In terms of programme development, it offers some lessons that may prove helpful to those seeking to establish similar services. The policy implications section summarises the influences of policy issues and factors on the GOAL programmes, and the messages for policy from the GOAL project’s experiences.
Implications for future programme development
Cross-organiational (including cross-sectoral) partnership was a productive way to improve counsellor competences. With this in mind, future programme developers may want to give some thought to establishing rich partnerships that involve regular interactions and that seek to maximise the potential for cross-organisational learning and competence development, but which reduce the amount of partnership administration, development and maintenance work that counsellors are required to do.
Training is also key. The Slovenian team identified four areas in which more training needed to happen in the future. These are likely to be important for any new programme:
- the use of new tools and their introduction into the guidance process;
- adult career management and development;
- planning and implementation of outreach/new approaches to reach vulnerable groups of adults;
- identifying and evaluating adults’ non-formally and informally acquired knowledge and skills.
There were very high rates of client satisfaction with the GOAL service. Clients are the best judges of their own satisfaction, but are not necessarily the best judges of service quality. Perhaps more importantly, from the standpoint of policy makers and other potential funders of GOAL-type services, client satisfaction is not a reliable indicator of successful achievement of desired outcomes.
Therefore, one of the key identified challenges that needs to be addressed in future programmes is that in order for counsellors to develop appropriate competences and expertise (see section 8.5 ) and provide high quality service (see Chapter 5) the counsellors need to be enabled and empowered to practice guidance as their primary professional activity. Particularly when working with more vulnerable adults, it is important (for counsellors and clients alike) that counsellors feel a strong professional identity as counsellors. A high level of client disadvantage may facilitate counsellor competence development while impeding the achievement of client outcomes. In the future, programmes that target counselling at disadvantaged groups may need to aim for a minimum level of counselling intensity, in terms of proportion of counsellor workload devoted to counselling.
Training that is only funded and offered as a part of time-limited projects, but not more generally, is not sustainable in the longer term. Ideally, counselling would be professionalised in every country, allowing for high quality initial education and ongoing CPD, but this level of occupational professionalisation is perhaps unrealistic, at least in the near future. In lieu of (or alongside) national standards, it is important that counsellors’ employers provide support for informal workplace learning. Workplaces with an “expansive” (Fuller and Unwin, 2003, 2004) approach to competence development foster a rich array of learning opportunities for counsellors, and structure the working environment to support professional growth. Such workplaces stand in contrast to ‘restrictive’ environments, which limit workplace learning opportunities. As illustrated in Flanders, an expansive approach to workplace learning can play a significant role in overcoming other barriers to competence development, and in producing and supporting a strong professional identity. However, resource limitations impose barriers on learning-oriented workplaces. To be sufficiently supportive of on-the-job learning, the workplace needs to ensure that the counsellors have a high enough proportion of their working time devoted to GOAL, and, as part of that, should strive to reduce administrative and other non-counselling burdens.
Influences of policy
Where adult education is a marginalised and/or underfunded field, there is little policy impetus to develop professional standards for staff. Moreover, where, as in Lithuania, the adult education sector is fragmented, there is no clear agreement on where responsibility for developing such professional standards lies. A lack of formal entry qualifcations or criteria is likely to affect the quality of counsellors and counselling. Although the GOAL programme teams were fortunate to have well-qualified and motivated counsellors working on the services, it cannot be assumed that this will be the case in every institution that might offer educational guidance, particularly if staff are being asked to add counselling to already heavy workloads. Programmes seeking to adopt a Netherlands-style model in which counselling is provided by a broad range of organisations may face particular challenges with regard to ensuring counselling quality.
Messages for policy
Adult education guidance would benefit from professional standards. This would require greater policy recognition of adult education guidance as a field, and greater recognition of the particular needs of low-educated adults. Currently, it is an underdeveloped area within an underdeveloped field within an underdeveloped sector. There is some drive from the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport in Slovenia to place counsellor training more firmly within the funding mechanisms for adult education. An alternative avenue might be to piggyback the formalisation of educational counselling qualifications onto an existing framework. This was the recommendation from the Czech Republic, where there is already a formal system for validating and recognising qualifications.