The final section of this chapter draws out the main implications in respect of future programme development and policy from the evaluation findings presented above. 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
As the evaluation findings in this chapter make clear, the most effective strategy the six guidance services used in recruiting low-educated adults was the strategy of “reaching in” to other organisations serving the GOAL target groups.
When considering this strategy for future programmes, developers should bear in mind that the costs of this type of outreach activity – both financially and in terms of staff resources – can be high. Successful outreach to generate referrals involves the investment of considerable staff time to build relationships of trust between organisations and between the guidance service and potential clients. What the GOAL experience suggests is the efforts and costs associated with outreach are likely to be higher the more vulnerable or hard-to-reach the potential client is.
One consequence for future programmes is that in being realistic about the resources that are available for this type of activity, developers may need to focus on target groups which are characterised by more active demand for the service or which present fewer outreach challenges (for instance by being in geographic proximity to the service, thus reducing travel costs). In other words, it may be more financially viable and more sensible for educational counselling programmes to target “low hanging fruit” than to use their finite resources to target marginalised people, although these people may be the most in need. Where the decision is made to allocate valuable programme resources to attracting those who are hardest to reach, the quality of the guidance on offer could be negatively affected for some or all clients. Targeting services to less hard-to-reach adults may be a better compromise given the nascent state of educational guidance for low-educated adults and the possible need for pilot programmes to justify their costs to funders and policy makers. Programmes need to have a clear understanding of the trade-offs inherent in this type of outreach work.
As experiences on project GOAL demonstrate, in developing guidance services for low-educated adults, reaching in to other organisations is likely to involve identifying and working with new types of partners, such as NGOs and municipal welfare services, outside the spheres of education and employment from which clients are traditionally drawn. The Lithuanian report argues that a comprehensive national level analysis of the institutional networks dealing with low-motivated disadvantaged clients should be performed at the pre-programme stage, identifying the barriers that clients face in reaching services and duplications and the gaps in institutional frameworks.
The barriers that teams faced in getting client referrals from employers suggest that national and/or local analyses should include a survey of existing workplace learning initiatives. Future needs analysis activity should include a focus on the workplace learning policy environment, as this could give valuable clues as to the potential inability of employers to engage with programmes. Future programmes would want to fit into workplace learning policies in a complementary way, if such policies even exist. Programme developers might also consider talking to employers as an initial step, before including employees as a target group. When doing so, it would be useful to get insights from senior managers. As shown in the GOAL pilot, these staff members are likely to be less open to involvement in projects such as GOAL than, for example, HR managers. Getting the approval only of the former may lead to disappointment – and wasted resources – further down the line.
Direct outreach to potential clients may also be beneficial. In Slovenia, where there was a relatively high level of direct outreach, key recommendations in this regard were:
- the preparation of short professional guidelines on how to plan and carry out outreach activities for vulnerable target groups more effectively
- training for counsellors on the acquisition of knowledge, skills and competences for the planning and implementation of more effective outreach activities for vulnerable target groups.
Influences of policy
A number of the GOAL programmes experienced challenges in bringing low-educated adults in employment to the service, in large measure because employers and company directors – the decision-makers – were not interested in the initiative (although human resource departments were). Most countries have policy targets for participation in adult learning in line with the European Commission’s European Agenda for Adult Learning, which also identifies low-skilled adults as particularly unlikely to be engaged in learning, but this is not always accompanied by support (including financial incentives) for workplace learning. Without this backing employers are less likely to support the education and training needs of their employees; thus without incentives for employers, outreach activities with employers are likely to prove fruitless and thus a waste of resources.
Employers have justifiable concerns about upskilling their workforce; not only is there a risk that employees will change jobs, there are practical concerns about time release for counselling and training. Findings from GOAL suggest that with policy support there would have been more of a case to be made for guidance services to operate with flexible opening hours, for example, so that they were more easily accessible to people in employment and more acceptable to employers.
Messages for policy
The benefits of participation and collaboration can be very vague when it comes to company managers and their staff members, but according to programme staff the benefits of participation for the management need to be very clear. The implications of the employer challenge seem to be that interesting companies and managers is sometimes too much of a challenge for the counsellor and extra effort is needed from higher levels, including the policy level.
The policy environment should be one that creates a climate where guidance and orientation is normalised and supported. In the Czech Republic, programme staff felt that if the national government was to introduce career guidance as a regular service provided to students and pupils within initial education (for the purposes of dropout prevention, change of programme, choice of suitable career patch), people would become more familiar with the possibiilites and advantages of career guidance. In other words, there should be, at the policy level, a drive to raise awareness of the benefits of career counselling, thus reducing the need for individual programmes, and outreach networks, to devote substantial resource to this. Moreover, this awareness raising should be multidirectional: upwards towards policymakers and the policy environment, downwards towards individuals, and laterally towards other organisations serving the target groups.