Career guidance as a tool to enhance employability

Investing in employability is often regarded as a shared responsibility between employees and employers, although in practice this is not always true. A recent study analyses the effect of the ‘entitlement to external career guidance’ initiative introduced by the Flemish government in an attempt to bridge the gap. Results show that employers’ employability measures encourage workers to take career-enhancing steps and that proactive staff participate in external career guidance.

Right to career counselling

Career counselling or management refers to services designed to assist people of any age, at any point in their lives, to make educational, training and occupational choices and to manage their careers. Flanders has autonomous legal authority over a range of regional matters, including employment. In this capacity, the Flemish government introduced in January 2005 an entitlement to external career counselling for employees (in Dutch) with at least one year of work experience. The government subsidises certified external career services offering career counselling for employees. Consequently, these counselling organisations can offer their services to participants at a low cost – or at no cost for specific risk groups. To qualify for subsidies, the career counselling service has to guarantee confidentiality and impartiality to clients. In addition, the government only subsidises individual face-to-face counselling, thereby excluding purely telephone, internet and group counselling.

Entitlement to career counselling services is an individual right for every worker in Flanders over a six-year period, which the worker can take up externally from their workplace. The counselling is partly financed by a direct government subsidy and partly by training and counselling vouchers (opleidings- en begeleidinscheques) that individual employees can order and for which they pay half. According to Flemish regulation, counselling is defined as professional support for workers in making career choices and decisions – by a process focused on the discovery, strengthening and development of competences – which are necessary to actively manage the career. The objective of the process, therefore, is to strengthen workers’ labour market position.

Possible added value of external guidance

The recent study Investing in employability: whose responsibility? (in Dutch, 437Kb PDF) was carried out prior to the introduction of the entitlement by the Flemish government and looked at the need and possible added value of this kind of external career counselling service for the career management of individual workers – in other words, efforts to enhance ‘employability’. In particular, the study also investigated the relationships or interactions between initiatives taken by the employer in the form of internal career guidance and forms of external career guidance. Participants in the study consisted of Flemish employees with at least one year’s work experience. A proportionally stratified random sample of this population was drawn. The sample comprised 957 employees and was representative by sector, gender, education and age.

First, the study showed that proactive employees – that is, people with a high interest in career management – are more interested in external career guidance. Furthermore, the results suggest that career management by the organisation encourages employees not only to work on their internal career perspective, but also their external employability, although to a somewhat lesser extent.

Effect of internal guidance on interest in external initiatives

The study results also pinpoint a double effect of organisational career management initiatives on workers’ interest in individual external career guidance. Organisational career management leads, on the one hand, to greater career satisfaction and as a result to a lower incentive to participate in external career guidance initiatives. On the other hand, the provision of organisational career management also has a mobilising effect: it encourages individuals to think and act about their career, which raises individual interest in external career guidance.

Promoting organisational and individual strategies

The authors of the study use the results to highlight the different drivers or motivations of individuals to participate or engage in company-based or external forms of career guidance and management. Organisational initiatives are geared towards the internal career, while external programmes are much more focused on workers’ general employability in the labour market. As a result, the study concludes with suggestions for developing government-led external forms of career guidance, while at the same time recommending that career management programmes organised by companies should also be promoted. Both employer-induced and employee rights-based initiatives can contribute to increased awareness of employability among workers.

Commentary

The study was conducted in the preparation of the above Flemish policy initiative. Meanwhile, this initiative forms one of the cornerstones of a new policy programme for skills enhancement and employability advancement in the Flanders region. This so-called Competence Agenda 2010 (in Dutch) is a tripartite agreement between the social partners and the regional government. The general right to external career guidance is one of the key trade union demands that has been taken up in this agreement. The trade unions have in concordance with the new regulation also expanded this type of membership service.

References

Verbruggen, M., Forrier, A., Sels, L. and Bollen, A., ‘Investeren in employability: wiens verantwoordelijkheid?’ [Investing in employability: whose responsibility?], Gedrag en Organisatie, No. 1, 2008.

Guy Van Gyes, Higher Institute for Labour Studies (HIVA), Catholic University of Leuven (KUL)

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