Executive summary

Labour markets in Latin American countries have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Working hours dropped by 16% during 2020, and low-skilled adults are among those most affected by rising unemployment. The crisis is likely to accelerate the adoption of digital technologies in the region. Without adequate support to individuals, these changes could durably worsen labour market outcomes in Latin American countries, where income inequality is already among the highest in the world and rates of unemployment and informality are high.

In this context, professional career guidance can help adults understand the risks to their jobs, navigate the evolving labour market and upskill and retrain in high-demand skills. Some 57% of adults in Latin America do not train and do not want to, and this share is well above the OECD average (49%). Lack of awareness about the benefits of training or difficulties finding suitable training opportunities may be behind this low interest in training, especially among low-skilled adults. Ideally, career guidance informs individuals about training and job opportunities, and empowers them to make decisions about their lifelong career development and learning that align with their personal interests as well as labour market demand. Evidence suggests that career guidance can have a positive impact on learning outcomes, training participation, and employment outcomes like finding a job or getting a promotion.

Career guidance for adults as conceived above, however, is still rare in the Latin American context. More common are vocational guidance programmes for young people or labour intermediation services for adults.

To understand the experiences of adults with career guidance and the barriers they face to access these services, the OECD conducted the online Survey of Career Guidance for Adults (SCGA). The four Latin American countries covered by the survey are Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. According to the survey, four out of ten adults in these Latin America countries have spoken to a career guidance professional in the previous five years. This share is comparable to other countries covered by the SCGA (France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States).

However, those who already face disadvantages in the labour market and who train less are least likely to use career guidance services. Among unemployed individuals in the Latin American countries covered by the survey, only 26% used career guidance in the previous 5 years, compared to 48% for employed individuals. This gap is almost non-existent across the non-Latin American countries in the survey. Other important gaps exist between high- and low-educated individuals (16 percentage points), prime-age (25-54) and older adults (over 54) (11 percentage points), as well as those in formal and informal employment (7 percentage points). These findings are worrying because they suggest that career guidance is not reaching those who most need it.

Indeed, adults in the Latin American countries covered by the survey who do not use career guidance are less likely to report that they did not need it, and are more likely to cite other barriers than those in non-Latin American countries. Of those adults who did not speak with a career guidance advisor over the past 5 years, only 37% did not feel the need to, a share which is considerably lower than the survey average across all countries (50%). Another 33% of adults reported not knowing career guidance services existed, which suggests a lack of awareness about career guidance services. Another possible barrier is cost: four out of ten users reported having paid partially or fully for career guidance services, which is higher than the survey average (3 out of 10). Unemployed adults in particular are much more likely to pay compared with unemployed adults in other countries. Less access to subsidised career guidance opportunities may be why adults in the Latin America countries in the survey are more likely than adults in other countries to rely on informal career support, like speaking to family and friends (35% versus 30% of adults).

The landscape of providers in Latin America is also different from elsewhere. Private career guidance providers are the dominant provider in Latin American countries covered in the survey serving 34% of adult users compared to 22% across all countries in the survey. By contrast, the public employment service plays a minor role, accounting for only 9% of users, compared with 27% of users across non-Latin American countries covered by the SCGA. The limited use of the public employment service in Latin America may be connected to low public funding as well as to built-in incentives for jobseekers to quickly find jobs rather than invest in career development for better long-term matches.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about considerable change in the use of career guidance in the Latin American countries covered in the survey: 51% of adults reported having used guidance services more often than usual, either because they had more time or because they were navigating the ongoing changes, and 17% reported having used it less. At the time of the survey, face-to-face delivery of career guidance was still most common (50% of users), though digital delivery channels were being expanded in most of the Latin American countries in this review. Each country has at least one online career guidance platform offering digital support such as labour market information, skills assessments, and job search advice, though many of these platforms could be strengthened.

Satisfaction with career guidance services is generally high, and a large majority of adults (82%) report having experienced an employment or training outcome – such as progressing in their current job, enrolling in training or education, or finding a new job – after having received career guidance. About 12% of adults reported that they had moved from informal to formal employment. Nevertheless, only a third of these adults attribute the positive outcomes to the career guidance they received. Policy approaches to strengthen the quality and impact of career guidance services in the Latin American countries under study remain limited and could be expanded for greater impact.

Co-ordinating all the stakeholders involved in career guidance is a challenge. Ministries of Labour or Education in collaboration with the public employment services are the public authorities most commonly responsible for adult career guidance in Latin America countries. Responsibilities are also split across central and regional levels of government. Very few mechanisms support co-ordination, and those that are in place mostly exclude important non-governmental stakeholders such as labour unions, employer groups and professional guidance associations.

The report begins with a summary of the main findings and policy recommendations.


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