4. Provision and service delivery

Chapter 3 showed that there are large inequalities in access to career guidance across socio-economic groups in Latin American countries. In particular, unemployed adults are much less likely than employed adults to use career guidance services. Gaps in access to services could reflect insufficient provision and availability of publicly subsidised services, or poor awareness of available opportunities.

This chapter presents an overview of the different actors who offer career guidance services for adults in the four Latin American countries covered by the SCGA, and the delivery channels they use. It also discusses findings on the advertisement of career guidance and describes how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced the use and provision of services.

In most Latin American countries, as elsewhere, career guidance is delivered by a range of different providers, including private providers, education and training institutions, dedicated public career guidance services, the public employment service (PES), as well as the social partners. Providers vary in their specific offers, whether they charge fees for their services or not, as well as which target groups they serve. While some providers focus on the unemployed, workers at risk, or highly educated professionals, others make their services open to anyone.

The following section maps different career guidance providers in Latin America, and the target groups they attend to. It also assesses general strengths and weaknesses associated with each type of provider.

Figure 3.1 gives an overview of the most important providers of career guidance services in the four Latin American countries covered by the survey. It shows that the largest group of adults who spoke with a career guidance advisor in the past 5 years, over one-third of adults (34%), did so through a private career guidance provider. Another 16% used career guidance services offered by an education or training provider, such as universities or institutions of continuous education and training; 13% of adults who used career guidance services did so through their employers. Dedicated public career guidance services accounted for 11% of users and around 9% of users spoke to a career guidance advisor of the public employment service. The remaining respondents consulted other providers, such as an employer group (6%), trade unions (5%) or associations (3%).

In comparison to other countries covered by the SCGA, a few observations stand out. Public employment services, for instance, play a relatively minor role in Latin America, serving only 9% of users. Across non-Latin American countries covered by the SCGA, the PES is the most frequent provider and accounts for 27% of career guidance services used by adults. Across the three European countries for which survey data is available (Germany, France and Italy) this percentage is even higher (36%).

Instead, in Latin America, private providers are paramount and account for more than one-third of career guidance services used by adults, much higher than in non-Latin American countries (21%), and European countries (19%) in the SCGA. A tentative explanation is that private career guidance providers in Latin America fill a gap left by less developed PES.

Adults gave different reasons for having chosen their respective career guidance provider (Figure 3.2). On average across the Latin American countries in the survey, 36% of respondents stated that their provider seemed to be the best quality, and 27% said that it was recommended to them by friends and family. Another 19% responded that they chose a particular career guidance provider because it was the only one they were aware of. Similar to the average of all countries covered by the SCGA (21%), this share is rather high and points to either limited availability of career guidance opportunities or poor awareness of existing ones.

One third of adults (34%) who used career guidance services in Latin America did so through a private career guidance provider (Figure 4.1). Private providers include a range of different institutions, such as specialised career consulting services or private labour intermediation agencies.

Across Latin American countries, the private career guidance sector is characterised by heterogeneous providers, with different target groups and professional practices. While detailed information on private career guidance services is scarce, there is potential for large differences between providers, both in terms of the type of services they provide and their quality (see Chapter 5). From a user perspective, and with no central overview platform available, this can make it difficult for adults to choose a private career guidance provider.

Adults may turn to a private career guidance provider if they are not eligible for free guidance provided by the PES (e.g. because they are in employment) or if they perceive PES guidance to be of low quality (see Chapter 5). Some people might also choose private services as an alternative because they do not have access to public career guidance offers in their local area. An important aspect to consider is that private services are commonly paid by the individual. Unless subsidised, career guidance from private providers may be costly and out of reach for certain groups, notably the unemployed or low-income workers.

There are different types of private career guidance providers that operate in Latin America. One group consists of for-profit individualised counselling services focused on coaching and career development of individuals. These providers typically target their services to higher-educated and higher-income adults who seek advice about career progression, changing jobs or training opportunities. This is considered closer in concept to the European/North American idea of career guidance services, which is otherwise rare in Latin American countries. As a result, in Latin American countries the holistic concept of career guidance is often associated with university-educated professionalsseeking guidance from private providers.

Another group of private providers focuses on labour intermediation services. These providers are either subcontractors of public employment services, or private agencies that offer outplacement services to companies that restructure or lay off some of their workforce. The provision of these services is regulated in most countries. In Mexico, for example, private labour market agencies are forbidden by law to charge a person for a successful job placement. Only additional services such as skills tests or training courses are fee-based. In Argentina, specialised agencies employ workers temporarily to place them with a third party (empresas de servicios temporales) and for jobseekers, these services have to be free by law. In Chile, these private providers are called Agencias Privadas de Intermediación Laboral (APIL). Chile briefly experimented with a voucher programme that rewarded private agencies (APIL) for successful job matches, though the pilot was suspended in 2012 due to difficulties in measuring the programme’s performance (ILO, 2015[1]). Generally across Latin America, private subcontractors tend to target lower-income groups and focus on providing basic skills training as well as information on employability.

Given the multitude of different private providers with various aims and services, a coherent career guidance policy is important. National career guidance strategies (see Chapter 6) can help to improve co-ordination among providers.

Education and training institutions provided guidance to 16% of SCGA respondents. In all four Latin American countries covered, universities are common providers of career guidance, although their services are mainly targeted at younger people who are enrolled in their programmes. Universities might also offer career guidance to adults, for whom these services sometimes include a fee. Adult learning institutions that offer continuous education and training often also provide career guidance to adults. National Training Institutes, for example, are established public agencies in charge of adult learning in Latin America, and are also involved in providing guidance around training for adults. While public investment in these institutes is sizable, problems of reach and effectiveness remain (OECD, 2020[2]).

Generally the availability and quality of career guidance services by education and training institutions varies between and within countries as well as across institutions. In Argentina, providers that belong to the Network of Continuing Education and Training Institutions (Red de Formación Continua) have to follow quality requirements introduced by the Ministry of Labour (see Chapter 5). The network consists of over 100 training centres across the country, which can be run by different providers including universities. The overall aim of having quality requirements in Argentina is to align training and skills development offered by different providers with local labour market needs as well as with a larger, strategic approach to skills and training.

Generally, employers are in a good position to provide guidance to workers about their career development opportunities within the company, and employer groups tend to be well informed about sectorial skill needs. They can assist employees to reflect on their career goals and find suitable training options in order to develop their skills. In Latin America, 13% of adults who used career guidance services did so through their employers, and 6% through employer groups (Figure 4.1).

Few companies, however, have established mechanisms to provide career guidance to their employees. Where this is the case, companies usually focus on high-performing groups of employees, such as university graduates or managers. The majority of the workforce is not supported in the development of their career (CEDEFOP, 2008[3]). It can be presumed that the large number of informal workers in Latin American countries do not receive employer-provided career guidance services. Larger firms are generally more likely to support career guidance for their workers and to have a systematic approach to it compared with smaller firms. SMEs tend to have more limited resources, which often means that the provision of career guidance is more informal and depends on the individual manager.

Groups of employers in the same region or sector can co-ordinate career guidance activities for their employees. This is especially useful in cases where a region or sector is particularly affected by structural change. Often, employer groups provide both career guidance and education and training courses, such as the Training Centres of Economic Chambers or Business Associations (Centros de Formación de Cámaras o Asociaciones Empresarias) in Argentina, or the National Industrial Learning Service (Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial, SENAI) in Brazil. SENAI is a network of non-profit professional schools established and maintained by the Brazilian Confederation of Industry, providing training and raising awareness about employment opportunities. Given that the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic differ across industries, a co-ordinated sector-based approach may be an effective way to keep workers close to the labour market, especially in the Latin American context where the social safety net is less generous.

Compared with other countries in the SCGA, career guidance provided by the PES is less common in Latin America. Only 9% of career guidance users have received services from a PES provider across Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Chile, while in non-Latin American countries covered by the SCGA, the PES is one of the main providers, serving 27% of career guidance users. This suggests that the role of the PES is more limited in Latin American countries. The overall importance of public career guidance services, including by the PES as well as dedicated public service providers, varies across Latin American countries. In Chile, public providers serve 26% of adult users of career guidance, while in Argentina they serve only 15%.

The eligibility for receiving PES career guidance services differs across countries, but in most Latin American countries unemployed adults, or specific vulnerable groups are the main target groups (Figure 3.3). Career guidance can even be mandatory for the unemployed in order to continue receiving unemployment benefits. Across all Latin American countries in the survey, the use of PES career guidance services was highest among the unemployed (16%). This share is much larger on average across all countries in the SCGA (35%). This means that although unemployed users of career guidance are the most important target group, they are much less covered by PES in Latin American countries compared with non-Latin American countries. Fourteen percent of individuals in informal employment who use career guidance services received them from PES providers, a share that is highest in Chile (23%). Only 10% of employed people and 8% of inactive individuals who are users of career guidance services receive them from PES providers.

The main responsibilities of the PES are typically job placement, active labour market policies and the management of unemployment insurance schemes. PES in all four Latin American countries provide labour intermediation services, called Programa de Intermediación Laboral in Chile or Servicios de Vinculación Laboral in Mexico. Helping unemployed people to find a job often involves assessing their skills, suggesting available training options, giving referrals to other services and providing labour market information and orientation. Some PES also have other, more particular, employment programmes that support the labour market integration of disadvantaged groups, for example low-skilled women or people with disabilities. Table 3.1 lists the PES in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico together with some indicators of their institutional capacity.

Latin American PES typically focus on the job placement aspect of labour intermediation, giving less attention to career guidance which ideally places a stronger emphasis on lifelong career development. The generosity and design of unemployment insurance plays an important role in this regard. In Mexico, where there is no unemployment insurance system, jobseekers are under pressure to quickly find a new source of income. Short-term goals of securing their livelihood, in such a situation, trump considerations of investing in skills training that would improve their labour market opportunities in the long run. Similarly, in Chile, the design of the unemployment insurance system – which ties funding of local employment offices to the three-month job placement rate – puts pressure on PES staff members to quickly place jobseekers in jobs.

The quality of career guidance provision offered by the PES depends to some degree on its institutional capacity. According to the most recent international comparison, there are between 601-1000 unemployed for every PES staff member in Chile, Mexico and Argentina (OECD/IDB/WAPES, 2016[10]). This falls above the recommended caseload of 301-600 unemployed per staff member, and suggests that PES staff members likely face constraints in terms of time and budget. To optimally allocate limited resources, some OECD countries restrict access to intensive PES counselling services to the unemployed who are most in need of help (Desiere, Langenbucher and Struyven, 2019[11]; OECD, 2015[12]).

Trade unions are working in the interest of employees, and they may be in a good position to offer advice that is directly relevant for workers. They can potentially help individuals to progress and develop within their company, industry or sector. The involvement of trade unions in career guidance can include the direct provision of career guidance services to workers, as well as general training offers, awareness raising, advocacy or the referral to other providers.

In Latin America, 5% of adults have received career guidance from a trade union provider (Figure 4.1). The share of workers who are members of a union varies across countries. In 2014 it was highest in Argentina (28%), followed by Brazil (17%), Chile (17%) and Mexico (14%). Collective bargaining coverage rates follow a similar pattern, and are highest in Brazil (70%), followed by Argentina (51%), Chile (18%) and Mexico (10%) (ILOSTAT, 2021[13]). Surprisingly, high union membership or coverage does not translate to more frequent use of career guidance provided by trade unions. The country with the highest share of union-provided career guidance according to the SCGA is Mexico (8%), while it is lowest in Brazil (3%). This indicates differences in the range of services that unions provide across Latin American countries.

In some countries, unions have become important providers of career guidance. In Argentina, several unions run training centres (Centros de Formación Profesional) and are involved in the certification of skills in sectors such as construction, tourism and the automotive industry. Often, they provide guidance to workers about suitable learning opportunities (ILO, 2017[14]). Training centres are supported by contributions from the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security. Other OECD examples include Unionlearn in the United Kingdom, a dedicated initiative on learning and skills by the British Trade Union Congress. Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) are contact points within companies, and their role is to promote the value of lifelong learning. They provide information, advice and guidance, carry out initial assessments of skills and link adults with training opportunities (OECD, 2021[15]).

Trade unions do not always provide career guidance themselves, but many are involved in governing bodies on employment and skills policy. Often these are tripartite institutions, with representatives of government, workers and employers. They decide on guidelines and resource allocation for labour intermediation programmes or training and skills strategies, while also monitoring their impact and proposing improvements in policy. One example is the CODEFAT (Conselho Deliberativo do Fundo de Amparo ao Trabalhador), which is a tripartite body attached to the Ministry of Economy in Brazil that co-ordinates labour intermediation services for adults. In Chile, labour unions are part of the governing body that heads ChileValora. ChileValora is a state body which evaluates, recognises, and certifies non-formal and informal skills, competencies, and knowledge of workers. It thereby links certification, training, and education in order to develop a system of lifelong learning for workers.

Trade unions can promote a range of other activities that support career guidance for adults, although their resources are often limited. In some OECD countries, trade unions run information and awareness-raising campaigns on career guidance or influence policy-making and advocate for better career guidance provision. Challenges for the involvement of trade unions in career guidance are a shortage of funding, other key priorities, and limited union coverage of workers, especially the most vulnerable ones.

Another group of providers in the Latin American context are non-profit associations, which serve 3% of career guidance users. These organisations tend to work for charitable causes, and offer support to improve the employability and labour market inclusion of particular groups of vulnerable populations. Some organisations also aim to strengthen research and practice of career guidance professionals in the given country. In Brazil, municipal governments run labour and employment programmes through non-governmental and social organisations (organizações sociais, OS). These are private non-profit associations that receive subsidies from the state to provide services of public interest. In Box 3.1, relevant examples of non-profit organisations across Latin America are highlighted.

Career guidance services can be delivered in different ways, including face-to-face (e.g. individual or group counselling), by telephone, through online chat, instant messaging, videoconference, or a mixed approach. Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses (see OECD (2021[18])).

In the Latin American countries covered by the SCGA, by far the most common way of interaction is face-to-face (50%), e.g. in the guidance provider’s offices or at the adult’s home. Face-to-face delivery is generally associated with better employment outcomes than remote alternatives (OECD, 2021[18]). The next most common channel is via telephone, which is used significantly less frequently (16%). Just as in the other countries covered by the SCGA, quite important mismatches appear between the actual and the preferred channel of guidance delivery (Figure 3.4). The most striking difference compared with the other countries covered in the survey is the high demand for guidance opportunities via instant messaging. This delivery channel is much more common in Latin America than in most OECD countries, in private as well as in business environments. It has some obvious advantages: Most applications are free of charge, it is easy to access and use, it uses very limited data volume, it can be used anywhere at any time and the exchanged information is recorded and saved automatically.

The decision to take up guidance, as well as the choice of channel and provider of career guidance strongly depends on the adult’s awareness of available options. As highlighted in Chapter 3, 33% of adults in the four Latin American countries reported not knowing that career guidance services existed. An additional 37% reported not feeling the need for guidance, possibly because they were not aware of its benefits. Raising awareness about career guidance opportunities and their potential benefits is thus a key challenge in these countries that should be tackled.

When asked ‘Who informed you about the career guidance service you used?’, the most common response by far was friends or family members (25%), followed by one’s employer (19%) and the internet (11%) (Figure 3.5). The most striking difference in Latin America compared with other countries covered by the SCGA is the low reliance on the public employment service (5%), which is more than four times higher in non-Latin American countries (22%). This is in line with previous findings: the provision of career guidance by PES in Latin America is limited, and so is the information they provide about career guidance services. Given the low influence of the public services, it is probable that family and friends take over the role of advising adults about guidance services. These results suggest that public institutions in Latin American countries play a very small role in raising awareness about career guidance services for adults.

All of the four Latin American countries in this review use a large variety of social media channels both to provide guidance directly and to advertise about available services. Use of social media in providing career guidance could be even further exploited by career guidance providers in Latin America, a region with the world’s highest use of social media (Navarro, 2020[19]). The most popular social media channels in Latin America include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, LinkedIn, Flickr, and Soundcloud.1 Through these channels adults can already access videos on interview preparation or presenting successfully placed candidates as an example to follow, podcasts informing about deadlines for application to training courses or tweets sharing links to different government programmes. These channels could be further exploited by providing personalised career guidance through instant messaging, which there seems to be demand for (Figure 4.4).

Since early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on people’s working lives, employment status, and economic prospects. The Latin America and the Caribbean have been among the hardest-hit regions, experiencing a loss of working hours of 16% during 2020 (ILO, 2021[20]). In this context, career guidance can help unemployed adults find new employment and provides orientation for those that need to upskill. In response to this health crisis, most countries have introduced measures to adapt career guidance services to reduce in-person contact.

Demand for career guidance clearly increased in Latin American countries during the pandemic. The share of respondents who reported that their behaviour has not changed since the beginning of the pandemic is significantly lower than in other countries covered by the SCGA (43% vs. 66%).2 51% of adults in Latin America reported having used guidance services more often than usual and 17% reported having used it less (Figure 3.6). On net, this is likely to result in a dramatic increase in use of career guidance: from 33% of adults using career guidance in a given year prior to the pandemic, up to an estimated 54% during and in the aftermath of COVID-19.

While demand for career guidance has increased during the pandemic in Latin American countries, remote delivery is catching up at a somewhat slower pace. As displayed in Chapter 3, 80-90% of adults in the Latin American countries use online information to find employment, education and training opportunities, which makes this channel particularly promising there. In Chile, for example, a cross-sector co-operation allowed for the continuation of the provision of career guidance services via online platforms. Chile is also reviewing all its available career guidance tools in order for them to be used online. However, adjusting the many tools currently used in face-to-face guidance to an online format may require more time and temporarily hamper access. In addition, several countries in this review reported that governments plan budget cuts in the area of career guidance for adults due to shifts in public funding following the COVID-19 pandemic. Fully or mainly replacing in-person guidance with cheaper digital offers may also seem tempting for the future, but bears the risk of losing adults who have no internet access or poor digital skills.


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← 1. www.gov.br/pt-br/canais-do-executivo-federal, https://sence.gob.cl/personas/orientacion-laboral, www.observatoriolaboral.gob.mx, www.portalempleo.gba.gov.ar

← 2. Data collection in Chile, France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States took place from mid-June to early July 2020, while in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico it took place in November 2020.

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