Guidance activities and processes
Implications for future programme development
Since the services provided by de Leerwinkel and de Stap are only available to adults living in West Flanders or in the city of Ghent, there is a huge opportunity to expand the service to the rest of Flanders. An analysis of the population could be helpful in deciding how many adult guidance services are needed in each region.
The strong focus on customising the approach to the client, which implies the absence of a strict structure within a guidance session or the guidance trajectory, makes it difficult to outline guidelines or instructions for new counsellors on how to provide guidance.
The custom-fit approach also implies that counsellors need to be highly flexible and able to adapt to each client’s needs. Strong interpersonal skills are therefore required.
During the focus group discussions, many to all of the participants emphasized the importance of an readily accessible service for adult educational guidance. A representative of VDAB thinks that such an organisation should ideally be embedded on a location with other (social) services, which will most likely improve a warm transfer between services. Such a location would ensure an approachable adult educational guidance and would make the services more visible and accessible to disadvantaged groups. One of the staff members of de Leerwinkel claimed that when one is physically present, other organisations will be more inclined to refer to the service.
Participation in the guidance sessions is voluntary. One consequence of this is that it is difficult to predict the number of sessions a client will attend and to identify when the ‘last’ session takes place. In terms of the evaluation, this has implications for the collection of exit data. Often, clients enter one or two sessions and afterwards do not reply anymore to messages from the counsellors.
Implications of policy
Because of the lack of structural funding, an extensive follow-up is not an option for de Leerwinkel. More resources and, as a result, more counsellors could make this possible. While policy makers stress that education is favourable to a sustainable labour market position, this view did not materialize in the form of more political support from central policy makers.
The fact that educational guidance services are currently limited to Ghent and the province of West Flanders, is the result of a political decision by the current government. The institutions (called consortia for adult education) which were originally intended to be transformed into educational guidance points, were dissolved at the beginning of this governmental term, together with the structural funds that were provided for these institutions. This decision has increased the insecurity of the existing services, which were made dependent on funding from the GOAL project (especially de Leerwinkel) and other local funders to continue their existence.
The reasons for seeking guidance and the focus of the guidance are (for both de Stap and der Leerwinkel) education related. Neither guidance services focuses on labour market or employment outcomes. Guidance towards employment is the exclusive domain of the PES and is already structurally embedded in Flanders. Although the target groups are very similar and GOAL focuses mainly on unemployed low educated adults, the GOAL service had to distinguish itself very clearly from the structural employment guidance and had to avoid any form of overlap. A strict separation of the services also has its advantages. It allows the focus of educational guidance to be exclusively on learning and obtaining a diploma or degree, instead of on moving directly into (potentially unsustainable and/or unsuitable) employment. For sustainable employment, a degree of secondary education remains crucial. Focusing on obtaining this degree in combination with a vocational training in the field of someone’s interest (instead of focusing solely on job availability in the labour market) can increase clients’ chances of long-term employment success. The educational guidance and employment guidance services should however work closely together in order to refer clients to each other and to support each other’s service. This also has implications for policy (see below).
Implications for policy
The intensity of follow-up and continuous support (even after enrolment in a course, as de Stap does) makes the service quite expensive. It will be a challenge to demonstrate the added value of this approach to policy makers in order to justify the elevated investments needed for each client. Developing the service might entail compromises such as handling over the guidance to the student counsellors in the institution after enrolment in an educational programme (as de Leerwinkel does).
Guidance is broader than steering towards an appropriate educational course: increased self-reliance is an important side-effect of the guidance – one which may pay dividends (at individual and social levels) throughout the client’s life. This is, however, extremely hard to measure and therefore, in terms of policy outcomes, not (at this time) a feasible indicator for measuring progress and results.