In Flanders there are no degrees or study programmes that directly relate to educational or career guidance. Most counsellors have a degree in the field of pedagogy, psychology or social work.
The job of counsellors demands a high level of autonomy as the service is custom-fit and based on a one-on-one relationship between client and counsellor.
Educational guidance involves more than face to face guidance sessions. Counsellors have to spend time on client-related research, administration and networking, The counsellors differ in their experience of adult guidance; it is however difficult to correlate the guidance experience and quality of the guidance. Based on client feedback, for example, there is no particular positive or negative feedback that could be linked to the counsellors’ background and experience.
Both the organisations allocate their time between the actual counselling and additional tasks such as registration, communication with clients (micro-contacts), contacting stakeholders and participating in network meetings and events, research and collecting information, planning & monitoring, and administrative tasks. Counsellors can rely only on limited back-office support such as IT, administration, HR and logistics. Furthermore, counsellors have to keep up with knowledge about education and social welfare, the developments in counselling tools and methods, etc.
The average day of a counsellor from de Stap and de Leerwinkel can differ as the amount of guidance sessions per day varies strongly between the two programmes. De Stap has a maximum of 3 sessions per day and uses the rest of the day for the above described tasks. De Leerwinkel concentrates all the sessions per week in 2.5-3 days and has an average of 6-7 sessions on these counselling days. These sessions are organised at the sites of the local partner organisations (outreach locations). The informal professional contacts that consellors have during these days (with staff of the partner organisations) stimulates referral and collaboration. The other 2 days, counsellors of de Leerwinkel spend on administration, registration, staff meetings (including exchange meetings on client cases), networking, information sessions, etc.
Core competences for GOAL counsellors are:
- Keeping up with knowledge about the complex field of education and social welfare
- The ability to work independently
- Networking skills
- Interpersonal skills:
- Motivational approach
- Custom-fit approach
- (Right degree of) proximity
Counselling is mainly a matter of interpersonal contacts and is therefore also strongly influenced by (on one hand) the personality and background of the client but (on the other) the personality and background of the counsellor. Additionally, the approach to the client is also very much dependent on the focus and vision of the organisation (stimulating clients to take own initiative (de Leerwinkel) vs. guiding clients in every step (de Stap). However in both approaches, there is a thin line between social work and educational guidance.
Achieving high standards of counselling competence
The services focus on a custom-fit guidance process with attention to the background of the client. A background in social work and services is favourable as clients deal with many other problems.
In GOAL guidance, counsellors keep in mind that the client needs to be in the driver’s seat:
- Clients voluntarily follow a guidance route at De Stap or at De Leerwinkel.
- Clients indicate the direction and the speed of the guidance.
This approach helps to strengthen clients in taking decisions and guarantees that clients feel ‘ownership’ of the final decision made.
Counsellors keep up with the progress of their clients by following-up through phone, Messenger, WhatsApp etc. This approach appears to reduce the likelihood of clients dropping out of GOAL-services before the aim of subscribing to a course or training is reached.
For both organisations peer learning is the basis for professional development. Both de Stap and de Leerwinkel have regular exchange meetings (weekly or every two weeks) between counsellors. These are crucial to discuss complex client cases and to improve knowledge on education, social regulation and other issues. The counsellors of de Leerwinkel only meet physically once a week, as they are counselling at different locations within the Province; therefore they have a lot of Skype contact to ask each other’s advice or to ask for information.
Challenges and barriers
Counsellors identified 3 particular types of challenges:
- To keep updated with all information on education and social welfare regulation: Counsellors need to keep up with changes in the educational provision and in different types of legislation and regulation in the social welfare sector (for example to know if a person is entitled to social support while studying).
- Guarding the line between social welfare or personal counselling and educational guidance: The frequent need to deal with complex multi-problem situations gives rise to an unclear demarcation between counselling and social work, and between educational counsellingand personal counselling.
- Scarcity of times and means which forces counsellors into not-counselling related tasks: Budget limits and scarcity of time make (further) development of counselling skills more difficult. However, informal learning does take place through informal exchanges amongst counsellors and on-the-job training.