In Flanders, educational guidance is not yet structurally offered. The current GOAL providers are temporarily funded and both counsellors and stakeholders considered this to be an obstacle in the development of structured and sustainable partnerships. In order to develop these partnerships in a systemic way (and preferable at a supra-local level), the service should be structurally embedded in policy and practice.
Another factor in existing policy that influenced the guidance services and processes is the fact that career and employment guidance is already structurally embedded in Flanders, while educational guidance isn’t. Although the target groups are very similar (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. Integrated or holistic services couldn’t be developed and the focus was on development of complementarity and collaboration (e.g. by referral). If both types of guidance still had to be structurally developed it would have been interesting to test if the services should better be integrated or stay separate as is the case now. Lessons from other countries might be useful in answering this question.
Partnerships and networks
Lack of structural embeddedness in existing structures and the system of temporary funding by different local stakeholders causes dependency on the funding of these stakeholders and on (political) policy priorities of these stakeholders (especially in case of funding from local governments). Moreover, the temporal character restrains close collaborations with other organisations as the service is not always perceived as a sustainable partner. As a result, referral of clients is heavily dependent on the goodwill and knowledge of partner organisations.
Concerning counsellors’ competences, the biggest implications of policy are:
- The lack of existence of a detailed competence description, as an orientation point for job descriptions, evaluations etc.
- The lack of educational programs in further training and development of skills, specific for educational guidance.
Due to a failure of structural embeddedness the organisations need to deal with limited resources and time. Structural embeddedness could make the service of adult guidance more familiar with other organisations and with clients. The lack of structural financial support and lack of resources, puts limitations on the efforts to reach out to more clients. Successful recruitment of more clients leads to a higher case load, which can’t be served in high quality way with the current staffing resources.
The most important current restriction regarding to tools is linked to the client monitoring system in order to follow-up the results of the service. At the moment there is no exchange of data possible between the current registration system and other systems (Ministry of Education, PES, Integration Service, etc.). Therefore, counsellors are very dependent on the information that the client provides to get the complete picture of the client’s context, his educational past, status related to unemployment support, etc. Or the information must be acquired from persons from other organisations, which is time consuming. The lack of exchange of data is linked to privacy regulations and the lack of structural embedment of the GOAL service, which doesn’t allow any solutions for privacy restrictions.
Service users’ outcomes and quality
The current data-systems don’t allow to follow-up on client’s outcomes regarding enrolment and qualification and/or employment. This information can only be collected by individually contacting clients or educational institutes, which is a very time-consuming task for the counsellor. There is no provision of automatic data-exchange between the GOAL services, educational databases or other databases such as the one from PES.
The GOAL service focused on more intensive guidance for most clients, however even with the target group of low educated adults, it became clear that not all adults need multiple guidance session to achieve their objectives. Therefore, policy should focus on the development of services in a multi-level system: adults with a clear educational questions could be helped by information provision; others with a less defined learning need or learning demand by an information mediation session (about 1 hour); and others would need a guidance programme with follow-up until enrolment or even after. It should be clear for policy makers that not all low educated adults need a very intensive guidance programme. In this multi-level guidance system, the GOAL-guidance services can also provide so called ‘second-line’ services in which they support partner organisations in all aspects of education and learning.
Partnerships and networks
The current success of referrals (most clients are referred by different partner organisations) shows the need and the complementarity of the GOAL service.
Structural embedment of the GOAL service is a political decision which requires an agreement from different policy domains (education, work, social affairs, migration and civic integration). Local partnerships will stay necessary in providing a quality service, in the sense of referrals, warm transfer etc. However supra-local coordination will be needed. As explained earlier, a back-office should take up the task of developing, maintaining and updating framework agreements at central level with all relevant stakeholders and policy domains in order to facilitate the operational tasks regarding collaboration with local partners and networks.
Policy makers should keep in mind that the caseload of counsellors does not just consist of face-to face contacts. Client-related administration, follow-up contacts (micro-contacts), but also general administration, human recourses related tasks, networking and communicating with other services, in service training etc. are part of the workload of the counsellors. Policy must pay attention to the broad spectrum of educational guidance related tasks and should therefore include budget and structure for a back-office that can take up all these tasks.
If a GOAL service is structurally developed in the future, an adaptation of the competence profile for career guidance counsellors can be a supportive instrument for HR-management (basis for function profiles, function evaluations, …) as well as sufficient funding to allocate to human resources development (back office). Furthermore, it can be used as basis for further HR-development strategies and activities.
As indicated in the section above, structural embedment of the services could make the referral system easier. This way partner organisations will be more familiar with the GOAL service and could refer clients.
Policies on outreach strategies are another part of a wider policy framework in which the GOAL service should be developed and carried out. In these strategies, policies should ensure that all low educated adults are reached, not only the most obvious groups such as unemployed or migrants but also low educated working people and older people who are employed, unemployed or just in need to be upskilled. Therefore, additional partners to the partners in the GOAL programme need to be included in the partnership strategies and frameworks.
Structural embedding of an educational guidance service would be helpful in developing a professional back office that supports the development of specific tools and to make it possible to monitor and analyse registered data on a micro-level.
Service users’ outcomes & quality
Policy makers prefer hard data to prove the success of a service and to justify their investment by its return. Despite attempts to intensively collect and follow up client data both at intake, during the process and at exit, it remains very difficult to show the short term outcomes such as enrolment and achievement of certificates. Measuring long term outcomes such as a diploma, a (better) job, etc. which should prove the return on investment according to policy makers, will be even more difficult. If policy makers want longitudinal data to measure the impact of the service, various conditions have to be taken into account when developing a policy for a structural service:
- Data-systems should be connected: educational databases (data about enrolment, qualifications, etc.), should be connected with database of the guidance service, PES, Social Service, etc. to see if the qualification has an impact on employment.
- If the GOAL service will be held accountable for the outcomes, they should have full control on all context conditions that influence this outcome. At the time of writing, the unemployment status or social support system often doesn’t allow a client to start an educational programme that lasts for example longer than a year; this is in many cases too short to get a secondary qualification. In these cases, the GOAL-service can’t be held accountable for the result of the guidance.
- It should be taken into account that educational participation is not always the best solution for a client at a given time and thus not necessarily the most important outcome for all individuals.
- The quality of the service should be measured based on the quality of inputs and processes such as:
- Reaching clients: are all potential target group reached?
- Methodologies and tools, competences of counsellors: that fit the fundamental criteria of the guidance such as the non-mandatory character, a customised and tailor-fit approach, a step by step approach and the focus on personal empowerment
- Guidance process based on client’s needs: multi-level guidance provision is in place for different needs of adults (information provision, information mediation, guidance and follow-up)
- Outputs and results are measured at organisational level and at client level, both quantitatively and qualitatively.
Lack of structural embedment of the GOAL services was the most influencing policy factor throughout the project. This was reflected in all aspects of the programme and was the basis of weaknesses and challenges such as:
- Resistance of partners in developing structural partnerships
- Development of partnerships at local level only (not at central level)
- Lack of a formal competence profile for counsellors
- Lack of a professional registration system that serves all needs and allows for the exchange of data with other systems, which limited the outcome data of clients.
- Limits on further outreach and promotion of the service: the increase of clients can’t be served in a high quality way.
Therefore, all relevant policy domains (education, work, social affairs and integration) should endorse long-term policy and political engagement to develop and support the GOAL service in a structural way with sufficient financial means to:
- Develop networks to reach all low educated adults
- Have a multi-levelled service system to provide tailor made information and guidance
- Develop a service with a back office that supports local services and is responsible for quality and policy (including frameworks with partners at central level) and local services that are readily accessible and embedded in locally relevant networks.