Background and aims
Educational- and vocational counsellors in LLL centres assist people in identifying their strengths and then identifying appropriate routes for ongoing competence development. The job title ‘educational- and vocational counsellor’ is licensed in Iceland. A job description and ethical guidelines are in place on a national level for career counsellors, developed by the Association of Career Counsellors. Those have been based on for example IAEVG. All the GOAL counsellors are university educated. Four of five counsellors have specific qualifications in educational- and vocational guidance that relate particularly to guidance with low skilled adults and lifelong learning. The GOAL counsellors engage in personal development and training each year. They have all worked in adult counselling for at least a year. Since general competence profiles exist for career counsellors in Iceland there was a specific need to look into competences linked to servicing the more vulnerable groups in the GOAL project. That includes dealing with more personal hindrances on the way towards decision making and taking the next steps for educational/vocational development.
Four out of five counsellors in Iceland were employed full-time and one was employed part-time. Their job title and role was educational- and vocational counselling. One counsellor had a temporary contract with the employing organisation but the others all had permanent contracts. The counsellors spent on average 33 hours each week on adult guidance and counselling activities. Each counsellor spent on average 9 hours each week on GOAL project activities.
The necessary competence of the GOAL counsellors was defined in the beginning of the project. Among the most important ones were the ability to be able to assess the challenges and circumstances faced by the individual in a social context, set goals and organise one’s own counselling work. The counsellors needed to be able to use recognized interviewing techniques, analyse and assess their own communication and the effects of their own attitudes and values. They had to be able to make individuals aware of internal and external resources and assist them in identifying solutions. They had to possess the ability to design, implement and evaluate guidance and counselling programs. Excellent communication skills, both with colleagues and clients, were essential.
Achieving high standards of counselling competence
According to the programme staff, their superiors are very ambitious and supportive when it comes to training and retraining of employees. A method group was created where specialists from social services (social workers) and career counsellors from PES informed the GOAL steering group on their methods and tools. The result of this was to focus on training in Motivational Interviewing Technique specifically and in using the Career Adapt-Ability Inventory (CAAI). Training was offered to the GOAL counsellors in motivational interviewing and they attended a workshop on Career Adapt-Ability Inventory (CAAI). According to the GOAL counsellors, the Motivational Interviewing Technique was most beneficial and they also believed the Career Adapt-Ability Inventory (CAAI) was an important addition to their toolbox. The GOAL project itself has influenced competence development among the counsellors. They are more capable now in guiding individuals that belong to the GOAL target group. The challenges and the barriers that the target group faces have underlined the need for adaptability, flexibility and open-mindedness during the counselling. The counsellors have had to look at the client’s issues and resources from many different perspectives, connecting needs with the appropriate tools quickly and effectively. The counsellors also feel that they gained importance knowledge about the service offered by other stakeholders and a better understanding of the system as a whole. The steering group meetings in the GOAL project turned out to be very useful and effective in regards to addressing challenges in guidance processes. It provided valuable learning and peer support for all involved.
Challenges and barriers
The GOAL target group was more challenging than the traditional low qualified adults in a sense that many of them had very long and difficult history with addiction and various health issues. However, this only applied to the Icelandic clients in GOAL. The immigrants faced serious, but different hindrances (e.g. their education might not be recognised in the Icelandic educational system and they often needed information about the roles of different institutions within the system). According to the programme staff this required them to use different approaches and interview techniques. Training in that area was very beneficial. The main challenge in the GOAL project was the recognition of professional boundaries. Many of the issues that the target group dealt with went beyond the scope of educational- and vocational guidance. In those cases, the counsellors were usually able to refer the service users to other specialists, but maintaining emotional distance was sometimes challenging. The counsellors had to face the fact that their influences on their client’s actions were limited by their client’s willingness and capabilities. The readiness to take the next step comes from within; no amount of counselling will change that. The presence of structural hindrances and lack of resources was also sometimes a challenge for the counsellors e.g. when the client was willing and ready to take the next step but didn’t have the financial means needed to do so (i.e. courses to expensive, no scholarships/funds) or the appropriate courses were not available at the time or in the area were the client could attend them.