2. Providers and service delivery

Like other areas of adult learning policy, career guidance for adults is delivered by a variety of providers, both public (such as the public employment service, public education and training institutions, and dedicated public career guidance agencies) and private (such as employers, private training institutions, and private providers). This variety enables service delivery tailored to the needs of specific targets groups, but it also makes for a complex and possibly fragmented system that may be difficult to navigate.

Adults arrive at guidance services with different needs and aspirations. They may be unemployed; returning to work after years out of the labour force; employed but at risk of becoming displaced; or employed but looking for a new job. They could be immigrants who wish to have their qualifications recognised in a new country, or young adults who want to develop career management skills to progress in their current job. Each of these users has different guidance needs, requiring different resources and tools.

This chapter maps the key actors responsible for delivering career guidance services to adults in OECD countries, the delivery channels used, how services are advertised, as well as how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the use and provision of services. Section 2.1 maps different career guidance providers and the target groups they typically serve. Section 2.2 analyses the actual and preferred delivery channels of career guidance (e.g. face-to-face, online, by telephone or instant messaging). Section 2.3 highlights how career guidance services are advertised, while Section 2.4 provides evidence on how adults select one provider over another. Section 2.5 looks at the role and limitations of online career guidance portals. Finally, Section 2.6 provides an overview of the changes made to the delivery of career guidance services in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in the use of those services.

In most OECD countries, career guidance is delivered by a range of providers, including the public employment service (PES), dedicated public career guidance agencies, private providers (e.g. coaches), education and training institutions, as well as social partners. Some types of providers make their services open to everyone; other providers serve specific target groups, such as the unemployed, older adults, or workers at risk.

This section maps different career guidance providers and the target groups they typically serve. It discusses broadly the strengths and weaknesses associated with each type or provider.

Across the six countries analysed in the SCGA, Figure 2.1 provides an overview of who provides career guidance service. It shows that almost a quarter (24%) of adults who spoke to a career guidance advisor over the past five years used a service offered by the PES, like Pôle Emploi in France, the American Job Centres in the United States, or the Bolsa Nacional de Empleo in Chile. Another 22% consulted a private provider, such as private coaches. Around 13% consulted an education and training institution (e.g. university, school) and another 13% spoke to a career guidance advisor linked with their employer. Around 12% of adults relied on dedicated public career guidance agencies (i.e. a provider that specialises in career guidance and is publicly funded) such as the Conseil en Evolution Professionnelle in France. The remaining 15% of adults consulted other providers, such as an employer group, a trade union or an association (e.g. a non-governmental organisation, NGO).

Some differences exist across countries.1 While use of a given provider depends on provider characteristics like accessibility, affordability, and the quality of services offered, contextual factors also play a role. For example, unemployment rates, the generosity of unemployment benefits, and eligibility criteria for receiving unemployment benefits (e.g. frequency of contact with PES) could influence the role that the PES plays as a career guidance provider in a given country. As another example, the availability of public subsidies (e.g. vouchers) to help individuals cover the cost of private career guidance may favour the proliferation and use of a private market of career guidance providers (see Chapter 4).

In many countries, the PES is one of the main actors responsible for delivering career guidance services to adults. In addition to matching and placement, one of the roles of PES advisors (or caseworkers) is to accompany clients in their job search efforts. This involves assessing clients’ skills, suggesting available training options, teaching job search skills, giving referrals to other services, and providing information on current and future skill needs in the labour market.

Eligibility for accessing PES career guidance services varies across OECD countries. PES counselling services can be open to the unemployed, to certain target groups (e.g. the low-skilled or workers at risk of being dismissed), or some or all of their services could be open to everyone regardless of employment status or education background.

In some countries (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Poland, and Sweden), being registered as unemployed is a necessary condition for accessing PES career guidance. In Portugal, for instance, career guidance services offered by the PES are only open to unemployed adults enrolled with the job centres. Attending PES career guidance may even be mandatory for certain groups of unemployed. For example, it is common that the unemployed must attend career guidance in order to receive or continue receiving unemployment benefits.

Other OECD countries further restrict access to intensive PES counselling services to the unemployed most in need of help (Desiere, Langenbucher and Struyven, 2019[1]; OECD, 2015[2]). This is often done with the objective of using resources efficiently, reducing costs, and saving PES caseworkers’ time for more difficult cases. PES in these countries often use profiling tools to identify eligible clients and determine the timing and frequency of required contact with caseworkers.2 For example:

  • In Greece, career guidance is provided only to unemployed persons classified as high risk, namely jobseekers who have no occupation or whose occupation is no longer in demand in the labour market.

  • In the Netherlands, only jobseekers with a statistical profiling score lower than 50 (out of 100) are invited to a face-to-face interview with a caseworker early on. Lower scores indicate a lower likelihood that the jobseeker will return to employment quickly. Jobseekers with a score higher than 50 are initially referred to digital services, but will also be invited for a face-to-face interview after six months of unemployment (Desiere, Langenbucher and Struyven, 2019[1]).

  • In Ireland, the PES differentiates between jobseekers who have a “low”, “medium” or “high” likelihood of finding a job within 12 months – using the Probability of Exit (PEX) model. One-to-one meetings with a caseworker shortly after registration at the PES are reserved to jobseekers (aged 25 and above) with a low or medium PEX score.3

PES counselling services can also target groups beyond the unemployed population – such as workers at risk. For example, in Slovenia, job seekers whose employment contract will be terminated in the next three months can access PES career counselling and training in career management skills. Similarly, in Spain, PES professional guidance is open to vulnerable workers, including people made redundant in company restructuring processes, workers who earn less than the minimum wage, as well as people in domestic work or taking care of dependents. The Estonian PES offers the Work and Study programme to employed people who need support in changing job or remaining employed. Under this programme, workers who wish to use the study allowance or the training card system to fund their training must first meet with a specialised guidance advisor.4

In some countries, the PES has extended services to all adults regardless of employment status, including employed workers who want to progress in their career or change job. This is the case for countries like Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Japan, Lithuania, and the United States. To give some examples, anyone in Japan can access one-on-one career consultation sessions at PES offices for free. In Estonia the PES programme ‘Karjäärinõustamine’ offers access to career counselling service free of charge to all people. The Austrian PES offers career guidance in 72 of its 100 regional offices. These special units within the regional departments are called Career Guidance Centres (BerufsInfoZentren, BIZ), and all people living in Austria are eligible to receive services, be they employed, self-employed, unemployed or inactive. In the United States, there are no eligibility requirements for career guidance offered by American Job Centres. Similarly, in Lithuania, the PES provides career guidance to both unemployed and employed persons (see Box 2.1 for more details).

Expanding PES guidance services to all adults requires additional resources, and careful consideration must be given to whether the PES has sufficient capacity to offer high-quality services to all adults. In Germany, a law adopted in 2018 (Law on improvement of qualifications opportunities) expanded the legal mandate of the Federal Employment Agency to provide career guidance services to employees (CEDEFOP, 2020[3]). Before expanding services at the national level, Germany first implemented pilots in selected regions to better understand the types of additional resources that would be needed. To meet the increased demand for career guidance services, the German PES intends to hire and train additional guidance staff, develop networks with other players in the career guidance space, and make use of online career guidance tools (OECD, forthcoming[4]).

Despite playing a crucial role in career guidance provision, the PES faces limitations. It often suffers from a shortage of career guidance advisors and under-funding, which could undermine the PES’ ability to deliver high-quality career guidance services. The number of unemployed per PES office varies across countries, with fewer than 1 000 unemployed per office in France, Germany, Hungary and New Zealand, and 8 000 or more unemployed per office in the Netherlands, Chile, Mexico and Turkey (OECD/IDB/WAPES, 2016[5]). When PES career guidance advisors are overloaded, under-funded and work under pressure, they may not have sufficient time per case to advise clients, and could lack the necessary time and other resources to devote to difficult cases.

Perhaps related to the above challenges, dissatisfaction with services received from the PES is relatively high, according to results from the SCGA (Figure 2.2). Despite being the most frequently used provider of career guidance, the PES has the highest share of users (35%) who report being ‘not at all satisfied’ or only ‘somewhat satisfied’ with the career guidance service they received – compared with 25% or less for other types of providers.

PES career guidance advisors are not always well-equipped with necessary training to guide adults in their training and career decisions. Caseworkers often do not receive specialised training in providing career guidance (see Chapter 3), they may not understand the rapid changes that are taking place in the labour market, and may be ill-equipped to advise adults accordingly.

Related to this, compensation incentives of PES career guidance advisors can create pressures to get unemployed individuals into employment (and off benefit) as quickly as possible, instead of addressing longer-term goals linked to sustained employability (OECD, 2015[6]; Borbély-Pecze, 2019[7]). This could generate significant tensions between the interests of career guidance advisors and the long-term career goals of the unemployed.

Being required to speak with a caseworker – rather than doing so voluntarily – may also reduce adults’ satisfaction with PES counselling. As noted above, career guidance is sometimes a mandatory condition for receiving unemployment benefits. But evaluations of experiments with Individual Training Accounts (ITAs) in the United States showed that take-up of ITAs was lower when counselling was mandatory, while the best results were obtained where counselling was offered on a voluntary basis without being too directive (Gautié and Perez, 2012[8]).

Furthermore, PES caseworkers may not have the specialised knowledge to provide adequate support to all groups, particularly the employed. For the most part, the bulk of the PES career guidance advisors’ work revolves around the unemployed and inactive, while employed workers are given lower priority. The SCGA shows that on average, 46% of unemployed adults spoke to a PES career guidance advisor over the past five years, compared with 33% of inactive adults and only 18% of employed adults (Figure 2.3). Anecdotal evidence and country-level data confirm that employed adults generally fall outside the remit of the PES, or make up only a small percentage of clients using the PES. In Japan, for example, only a third of all adults registered at the PES (Hello Work) were employed in 2018 (OECD, 2021[9]).

Even if services are free, employed workers may be less inclined to go to the PES if it is not perceived to offer high-quality services that can accommodate the needs of employed or high-skilled workers. For career guidance offered by the PES to be useful for all adults, PES counsellors need to be trained on how to provide guidance to workers who might have different needs than the unemployed population.

About 22% of adults use career guidance services delivered by private career guidance providers (Figure 2.1). Adults who are not eligible for free guidance provided by the PES (e.g. employed adults in many countries), or those who perceive PES guidance to be of low quality, may turn to private career guidance providers as an alternative. Unless subsidised, career guidance from private providers may be costly and out of reach for certain groups, notably the unemployed or low-income workers. Several countries contract part or all of their job search assistance for unemployed persons to publicly-funded private career guidance providers (e.g. Australia, the Netherlands, France and some states in the United States) (Behaghel et al., 2014[10]).

It can be difficult for adults to assess the quality of independent private career guidance providers. Chapter 3 discusses the use of quality standards, and professional certifications to signal that an advisor has the qualifications, experience, skills and knowledge to provide high-quality career guidance. Several countries also publish registers of qualified private career guidance providers (see Section 2.3).

Education and training institutions also offer career guidance services. A review of lifelong guidance practices found that guidance in adult education institutions takes three forms: pre-entry guidance which supports adults to participate in adult learning and to decide which programme would be right for them; guidance built into the core of the programme; and exit guidance which supports graduates in applying what they have learned and in supporting their progress in further learning and work (Hooley, 2014[11]). According to the SCGA, about 13% of adults use these services when making training and education choices (Figure 2.1).

A key issue with career guidance services offered by education and training providers is lack of objectivity. For example, education and training institutions have incentives to direct prospective students towards programmes offered at their own institution, even if a programme in another institution would be a better fit. There also tends to be a bias in favour of general education as opposed to vocational pathways, especially when career guidance is provided by teachers.

Furthermore, the availability and quality of guidance services varies significantly from one education and training institution to the next. In Italy, for example, each university has its own information and career guidance system, and services vary from simple information on courses available, to support and structured career guidance in the choices of courses and job opportunities. Therefore, whether and how career guidance is delivered depends on each university (OECD, 2017[12]). Similarly, in Germany, career guidance provided by the education sector (schools, universities, adult learning providers) is heterogeneous because it is the competence of the Lander (state), the municipality or the individual training provider. Regional university laws exist in the 16 Landers (states) which regulate career guidance in universities (CEDEFOP, 2020[3]). In Portugal, higher education institutions have the autonomy to decide on the provision of career guidance services for their students. In Slovenia, there are career centres at all universities providing information and counselling, but the quality of services varies as there is no central regulation (CEDEFOP, 2020[13]).

Employers are well-placed to provide career guidance to workers when it comes to career development opportunities within the firm. They can help employees to reflect on their career aims; assist them to identify what training they need in order to advance in their careers; and provide information about agencies that can provide further guidance.5 In practice, about 13% of adults who received career guidance over the past five years spoke to an advisor belonging to their employer (Figure 2.1).

Few companies have established processes to deliver career guidance services to their workers. Where initiatives are in place, they are usually focused on key high-potential or ‘talent’ groups of employees, such as the high-qualified or best performers (CEDEFOP, 2008[14]). Most employees are expected to take responsibility for their own career development.6

Larger firms are generally more likely to fund career development than smaller firms. Provision in SMEs is more often informal and dependent on the goodwill of individual managers. By contrast, in larger firms systematic approaches are more common. In the Netherlands, for example, large companies set up mobility centres where workers can have their skills assessed and receive guidance on how to advance to new positions inside or outside the company (CEDEFOP, 2020[15]).

Although international data on firms’ provision of career guidance is not available, national-level surveys find evidence for greater career development support in larger firms. For example, in Korea, only 2% of small firms (1-49 employees) implemented career counselling as a programme for career development, compared to 20% of medium-sized firms (50-249 employees) and 28% of large firms (250+) in 2015 (OECD, 2020[16]). Similarly, in Japan, large firms are more likely to provide career guidance to workers: 65% of firms with more than 1 000 employees have put in place a system of career counselling, compared to less than 40% among firms with 300 employees or less (OECD, 2021[9]).7

There is also an issue with the quality and objectivity of the guidance provided by employers. Indeed, much career guidance provided by firms is job- or company-focused rather than addressing the longer-term development of the employee. While internal career guidance advisors may be well aware of opportunities within the firm, they may not be up to date when it comes to external opportunities. They may also have an incentive to withhold information on external opportunities, for fear that a productive worker may leave the company for other opportunities.

Legal frameworks in OECD countries generally do not impose any legal requirement on employers to provide career guidance services to workers. Replies to the OECD 2020 policy questionnaire ‘Career Guidance for Adults’ show that only four OECD countries – Belgium, France, Japan, and Korea – impose a legal obligation on firms to provide career guidance to (some) workers:

  • In Belgium, firms are obliged by law to provide outplacement services – including career advice – to certain employees in case of collective lay-off or company restructuring, with the aim to help workers find a new job.

  • In France, the Labour Code provides for a professional interview every two years between the employee and the employer. This mandatory meeting is intended to help the worker consider the prospects for professional development and training. During the meeting, the employer must inform the employees of their right to use the Conseil en Evolution Professionnelle (CEP) (see Annex D).

  • In Japan, the Human Resources Development Promotion Act requires employers to provide information, ensure opportunities for consultation and extend other necessary assistance to its employees, with a view to help workers to set their own goals concerning the development and improvement of their vocational abilities. The government has put in place various support measures to make it easier for employers to comply with the law, for example by offering subsidies, setting up Career Support Centres (see Annex D) and through the self-career dock system (see below). However, there is no penalty for not implementing the law and relatively few employers in Japan provide regular and systematic career guidance to their workers (OECD, 2021[9]).

  • In Korea, companies with more than 1 000 employees have the legal obligation to provide re-employment support services, including career guidance, to workers aged 50 and over. There are no penalty provisions for non-compliance, but companies must report to the Ministry (competent local labour offices) regarding how re-employment services are delivered, how many people participate, and the outcomes.

Beyond the legal framework, some initiatives are in place in OECD countries to encourage firms or employer groups to be more involved in career guidance. Some of these initiatives are set up and run by the PES, or by the government. For example:

  • In Australia, the newly established National Careers Institute is working with industry and employers to better understand the changing nature of the workforce and promote opportunities for employee development including upskilling and reskilling opportunities. The National Careers Institute Partnership Grants programme is supporting the delivery of innovative career advisory products and services for people at all stages of their careers. The grants enable employers, schools, tertiary institutions, industry, governments and researchers to work collaboratively to improve career outcomes and education and training pathways.

  • In Austria, the PES website provides advice and support to employers on the career development of their employees. It promotes the fostering of employer networks, called “Impulse Qualification Associations”, with the objective to jointly plan and implement tailor-made qualification measures for their employees. Another programme promotes further training of low-skilled and older workers with the aim of improving the skills of the workforce. Companies can also receive support in case of unexpected situations, as has been the case during the COVID-19 crisis.

  • In Germany, following a pilot with SMEs in 2010, the PES launched the Guidance for Upskilling programme (Qualifizierungsberatung für Unternehmen) for companies in 2013. There is a focus on SMEs, but larger firms can also access the services. This is a new in-house service delivered by specially trained PES consultants for employers. During the pilot phase, training modules for regional PES managers, team managers and guidance counsellors were developed and implemented. The programme supports employers with a tool for demographic staff analysis, assessment of training needs, selection of training providers and appropriate learning methods, and tracking outcomes from training. In some cases, the training needs of several companies are bundled in the form of upskilling associations (Qualifizierungsverbaende). The programme is modularised, i.e. companies can run through all or some of the assessments available (OECD, forthcoming[4]).

  • In Japan, the government has been encouraging companies in recent years to introduce a system of self-career docks. The Self-Career Dock is a system whereby companies set up opportunities for workers to receive regular career consultations at different points of their careers. This includes both individual counselling and group counselling in career seminars. Interested employers can receive guidance and support, and trained career counsellors can be sent to the firm to assist with the implementation of the system. Moreover, training and supervision can be provided to internal guidance counsellors working in firms that adopt the system. Finally, training can be made available for workers in firms that introduce the self-career dock system in order to raise awareness around the benefits of career guidance. Until 2018, employers who introduced the self-career dock system could receive a government subsidy (OECD, 2021[9]).

Dedicated public career guidance providers are specialised in delivering career guidance and are (at least partly) publicly funded. Relative to the PES which has many roles other than providing of career guidance, dedicated public career guidance services have the advantage of a clearer identity and purpose. They also tend to benefit from stronger links to the labour market, better trained staff, and more impartiality.

Many OECD countries have put in place dedicated public career guidance agencies open to all adults, regardless of employment status, age, or income. Services are (fully or partly) publicly funded and delivered in a variety of ways. The Career Development Support Centers in Japan and the Centres ISIO in Slovenia are examples of regional/local offices available across the country. Some providers offer counselling from a distance (e.g. by telephone) – like the Conseil en Evaluation Professionnelle (CEP) in France – and/or a dedicated webpage, such as the National Careers Service in the United Kingdom. To ensure that services are accessible to adults from diverse backgrounds, dedicated public career guidance agencies sometimes offer services in different languages. This is the case in the Cité des métiers in Brussels and the Educational Counselling (Bildungsberatung Österreich) in Austria. Annex D provides an overview of practices in selected OECD countries.

Some dedicated public career guidance agencies target specific groups, which enables services to be tailored to the needs of groups at risk. For example, targeted career guidance services for older jobseekers are common in OECD countries, including Australia, Korea, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom (Box 2.2). Other countries – such as Iceland and Portugal – offer dedicated public career guidance agencies targeted to the low-skilled/low-qualified (Box 2.2). Career guidance advisors in such agencies are trained to address the specific challenges faced by their target group, and aim to stay well informed about the career and training options available to them.

Trade unions may be in a position to offer advice that is directly relevant for workers. They are close to the needs of workers and can potentially help individuals progress in their company, industry or sector. Unlike other providers that may have vested interests (e.g. employers, PES, or training institutions), trade unions are the institutions working directly in the interest of employees.

Across OECD countries, the involvement of trade unions in career guidance takes different forms. Trade unions can be involved in the direct provision of career counselling to workers; the development of awareness campaigns; or the referral to external career guidance services. Trade unions can also play an advocacy role, by influencing policy making on career guidance issues.

In a few OECD countries, trade unions themselves have become major players in providing counselling in the workplace. In the Netherlands, trade unions offer “career guidance information points” in all 35 labour market regions. In Spain, one of the largest trade unions (Unión General de Trabajadores de España – UGT) has implemented specific career guidance programmes for employed and unemployed workers. In Sweden, some trade unions offer career guidance and counselling as a free service to their members.

Trade unions have also organised dedicated structures for career guidance in some countries, with clear objectives and functions. Some good practice examples include:

  • The Icelandic Confederation of Labour has developed an Education and Training Service Centre (ETSC), which – among other activities – coordinates the development of career guidance services in cooperation with accredited educational providers around the country (OECD, 2019[19]). For individuals belonging to the ETSC’s target group, guidance and counselling are free of charge.

  • In the United Kingdom, Unionlearn – the learning and skills organisation of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) – has Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) whose role is to promote the value of learning among workers; offer information, advice, guidance; carry out initial assessments of skills; link learners up with providers; and arrange learning/training.

  • In the Netherlands, the trade union CNV established James Career (https://jamesloopbaan.nl), a programme that aims to contribute to career awareness and competence development of workers. The programme provides career guidance, organises awareness campaigns, refers workers to relevant training programmes, and keeps track of recent research and scientific evidence to help workers navigate changes taking place at the workplace. The programme works with certified coaches.

The career guidance services that trade unions offer are sometimes activated at critical points in the worker’s career (e.g. in case of mass lay-offs or company restructuring processes). For example, in Sweden, the Job Security Council – a non-profit foundation composed of representatives of trade unions and employers organisations – provides guidance to workers who are made redundant through collective dismissals, with the aim to help them find new employment.8

Another more indirect way in which trade unions can inform workers about training and career options is through information campaigns. While information campaigns do not provide personalised, one-on-one advice to individuals, they serve a similar goal of traditional career guidance. One example is the information campaign jointly initiated by the Swedish Trade Union Confederation and the Swedish National Agency for Higher Vocational Education, which aimed to make union members aware of the upskilling options available to them.

Trade unions can also play an important role to refer workers to other career guidance services available in the country or region. In these cases, the role of trade unions consists in redirecting workers to the right providers. For example, in Norway, trade unions raise awareness about the national career guidance portal (https://utdanning.no/) among representatives and members. Similarly, in Denmark, the trade union HK Denmark ensures that counsellors are made aware of the national online portal on career guidance9 (https://www.voksenuddannelse.dk/).

On top of the direct support provided to workers, trade unions also influence policy-making and advocate for better career guidance provision in some countries. In Ireland, trade unions advocate for career guidance services for adults. In the Netherlands, trade unions both give advice and lobby parliament for more public resources to create a national infrastructure for career guidance.

Despite the potential role that trade unions can play in career guidance, and the good examples cited above, their involvement was found to be low in the countries covered by the SCGA (Figure 2.1). Only about 5% of adults who received career guidance over the past five years spoke to an advisor belonging to a trade union. Moreover, the share of adults who learned about career guidance through a trade union is low (see Section 2.3).

Low involvement of trade unions in career guidance could be due to a number of reasons. Career guidance and training has not traditionally been a key priority area for trade unions. Pressured to prioritise other non-learning related issues (e.g. job redundancy, job contracts) in the context of economic crisis, trade unions may find it challenging to offer high quality career guidance support to workers. Another challenge is lack of funding. A pilot project put in place by trade unions in Austria, ‘Trade Union Education Guides’, was established to motivate, advise and guide employees in the company. The project was interrupted after one year due to lack of funding. Trade unions representatives may also not be well aware of the training needs of workers and ill-prepared to assist workers in their career decisions.

That being said, trade unions in some OECD countries have taken steps in the right direction to prepare representatives to deliver high-quality career advice. For example, in Belgium, the Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens de Belgique (ACV/CSC) trains trade union representatives so that they can direct workers with specific training or career questions towards the right services or providers. In the United Kingdom, Union Learning Representatives (ULRs) are entitled to paid time off work for training – which allows them to acquire the necessary skills to carry out their duties.

One final challenge is the limited number of employees who are represented by trade unions. Trade union coverage has been declining across OECD countries in recent years. Furthermore, certain groups of adults (e.g. the unemployed, the inactive) and certain categories of workers (such as workers in SMEs, non-standard or platform workers) are less likely to be covered by trade unions (OECD, 2019[20]) and therefore may not be able to benefit from the career guidance support they provide.

Though not common (only 6% of adult users of career guidance), groups of employers in the same region or sector sometimes coordinate to provide career guidance to their employees. This may be an effective way to support a larger-scale redeployment of workers in cases where a region or sector is particularly affected by structural change. For example, when Australia’s car manufacturing industry was closing, employers in the industry partnered with the Australian Government to provide career guidance, training and recognition of prior learning to workers in the industry. With this support, 84% of former workers found new employment or had retired by the time the industry closed in 2017 (OECD, 2018[21]). In the Netherlands, the sectoral fund for the metal industry (Opleidings- en Ontwikkelingsfonds voor de Metaalbewerking) organises regional information sessions for employees in the sector on changes in the metal industry, such as digitalisation, including demonstrations of new techniques and machines. The sectoral fund helps employees interpret skill assessment and anticipation information so that they are equipped to make informed decisions about their own learning (OECD, 2017[22]).

Given the way that COVID-19 has hit some sectors harder than others, a coordinated sector-based approach may be an effective way to target adults who could benefit from career guidance.

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 blended approach. All these approaches allow for a direct interaction with a career guidance advisor.

Each approach has its strengths and weaknesses. Face-to-face services allow for a personalised service with a “human touch”, and do not require an internet or a telephone connection. Empirical evidence suggests that measured outcomes are strongest with face-to-face counselling relative to remote alternatives (Box 2.3). On the other hand, adults living in remote areas, or where services are scant may not have access to face-to-face services. Telephone, videoconference, online chat, and instant messaging help overcome distance barriers, and reduce the public cost of programmes. However, they might be harder to use for those with low digital skills, or those who do not have a telephone or internet connection.

Figure 2.4 shows the actual and preferred channels of delivery of career guidance services across the six OECD countries analysed in the SCGA. Of those adults who spoke to a career guidance over the past five years, most (63% of adults) received services face-to-face; 19% received the service by telephone; 9% through online chat; 7% via videoconference; and only 3% received career guidance via instant message.10 There is a mismatch between adults’ preferences about service delivery and how the services are actually delivered. Interestingly, adults seem to want less face-to-face and telephone interactions and more online chat, videoconference, and instant messaging.

In order to promote high take-up, adults need to be made aware of available career guidance providers and the services they offer. This is a key challenge, because – as highlighted in Chapter 1 – many adults do not use career guidance simply because they are not aware that these services exist or because they feel that they do not need career guidance support.

The extent to which career guidance services are used by adults partly depends on how effectively existing programmes are advertised and promoted. Different actors can play a role in advertising career guidance services, either by pointing to their own services (if they are providers) or by referring to other relevant providers.

To the question ‘Who informed you about the career guidance service you used?’, one in five adults (20%) in the SCGA reported that the information was provided by the PES. Another 18% received the information from their employer, and an additional 17% from a friend or a family member. About 10% of adults found the information independently through internet searches. Other actors played a less important role – each informing only between 2% and 7% of adults (Figure 2.6).

One common approach to advertise career guidance services more broadly is to establish a register or catalogue of career guidance providers. This is particularly important in countries where multiple providers operate. A comprehensive register or catalogue can help adults have an overview of the different providers/counsellors available, where they are located, and how to reach them. Several OECD countries have opted for this approach:

  • In the Czech Republic, the online platform JOBHUB includes a catalogue of career counsellors and coaches where users can choose a counsellor directly based on their specialisation, their location, the means of communication (in person, video call), whether they have a counselling license, how much the counselling costs and other criteria.

  • In France, users can find their professional development advisor on the website “Mon conseil en évolution professionnelle, Mon CEP”. Depending on their personal situation (e.g. employment status, age, disability) the website forwards the user to the specialised CEP organisation in charge. On the websites of these organisations, users find information on the means of communication (individual or group counselling; online or in-person), the costs and other useful information.

  • In Germany, in the Northern Rhine Westfalia region, the Guidance for Career Development Programme (Beratung zur beruflichen Entwicklung, BBE) offers a map indicating the 150 career guidance providers offering services all over the region. Guidance providers include mainly adult education centres, but also NGOs and chambers.

  • In Greece, the National Organisation for the Certification of Qualifications and Vocational Guidance (EOPPEP), operating under the supervision of the Minister of Education and Religious Affairs, offers a register of private career guidance providers. The register has the dual purpose of informing the public about available programmes and promoting quality among private career guidance providers. Career guidance providers included in this catalogue receive preferential support by the Ministry of Labour, when applying for European programmes as providers of career guidance services.

  • In Italy, ISFOL (now INAPP) has developed a database ‘National Archive of Guidance’ (Archivio Nazionale Orientamento) which includes contact details on information and orientation centres (centri di informazione e orientamento al lavoro).

  • In Japan, a portal site to search qualified career consultants – Cari-con Search – is available for those who wish to independently look for a career consultant (OECD, 2021[9]).

Another way to raise awareness about the availability of career guidance programmes is through advertising campaigns. In Flanders (Belgium), career guidance strategies and measures are supported by relatively large media campaigns on classic media and online/social media. The latest example is the 2020 ‘En alles beweegt’ (‘And everything is moving’) campaign.

The SCGA investigates the reasons why users chose a particular career guidance provider over others. This provides useful information on what adults value in career guidance, and hence how take-up could be increased. Figure 2.7 shows that when it comes to choosing between different career guidance providers, many adults actually have no choice. To the question ‘What made you choose this career guidance service over other ones?’, 23% of adults said that they were required to go to this one and 22% said that this was the only provider they were aware of.

When adults do have a choice, different factors play a role in the selection of provider. For example, 22% of adults said that they chose a given provider because it was close to where they live. Recommendations by friends or family members (16%), low cost (14%), and short waiting time (13%), also seem to play a relatively important role in the decision. This suggests that, to encourage higher take-up, providers need to think about how to make services more accessible, affordable, and high-quality.

An online career guidance portal is a web-based source of centralised information on jobs and/or training opportunities in one’s region or country. It may offer personalised recommendations based on user inputs. Online portals may be used by individuals to support self-directed career and training exploration. They can also be useful for trainers, career guidance advisors and other adult learning experts.

Online career guidance platforms offer cost-effective ways to deliver support for career development. Moreover, they offer self-help strategies for receiving career guidance, which are particularly important in countries or regions where face-to-face services are less available, for non-standard workers (e.g. temporary workers, self-employed) who cannot rely on their employer or trade union for advice, and/or for those who cannot pay for private services.

Figure 2.8 shows the information generally included in online portals, as reported by the countries that responded to the OECD policy questionnaire ‘Career Guidance for Adults’. Information on education and training programmes is the most common type of information provided in online portals (16 countries), followed by information on indicators of skills demand/supply (13 countries), and tools to support users in understanding what skills they have (12 countries). In a handful of countries (less than 10), online portals provide information on financial support to attend training courses and the cost of education and training programmes. In only three OECD countries that responded to the questionnaire did online portals provide information on the quality of training providers or programmes (e.g. the satisfaction of participants; employment outcomes). Annex E highlights some country examples.

While many online portals contain information on education and training programmes and indicators of skills demand/supply, a feature of high-quality online portals is that they integrate this information. In this way, users can identify the occupations or sectors they are most interested in, and in parallel look for the education and training programmes available to acquire the skills needed to work in those occupations or sectors. For example, in Denmark, the UddannelsesGuiden (www.ug.dk) has a Job Compass tool (JobKompasset) that provides information about different occupations (e.g. daily activities, average incomes, outlook for the future), as well as the vocational courses that would prepare and certify individuals to work in these occupations.

Another feature that distinguishes high-quality online portals is having information on the quality of education and training providers. This can help users to choose among different options, which is particularly useful when multiple training providers – universities, private training providers – offer similar courses (OECD, 2019[26]). For example, in Korea, the HRD net portal offers information on training providers as well as training quality. Quality indicators include completion rates and satisfaction of participants. Similarly, in Spain, the online platform for career guidance of the Servicio Público de Empleo Estatal (SEPE) (www.sepe.es) provides information on training providers or programmes and their quality (e.g. satisfaction rates, employment rates after graduation).

Users also need to know how much a certain education and training programme costs. Information about financial incentives (e.g. subsidies, tax exemptions, scholarships) to reduce the cost of training is also helpful. For example, in New Zealand, the mobile app ‘Occupation Outlook’ provides information on education institutions (e.g. universities, training providers) and their average cost of study. In France, the “Orientation Pour Tous” portal includes information on training programmes as well as financial support available to attend training courses.

High-quality online portals also offer skills assessment tools that allow users to identify their abilities, skills needs, and job preferences. For instance, in Portugal, the [email protected] portal provides exploratory activities to strengthen users’ self-management skills, such as questionnaires, self-assessment and reflection exercises. In Slovenia, users can assess their skills through e-Counselling (https://esvetovanje.ess.gov.si/). Australia’s Job Outlook has a Skills Transferability tool which identifies a user’s skill profile based on their previous experience, education and lifestyle, and then identifies occupations with matching skill requirements. It also informs users about the gap between the skills they have and those required to perform a given occupation (OECD, 2018[21]).

Some online portals provide ways to communicate digitally in real time with a career guidance advisor. This feature allows users to ask questions, express doubts, and receive assistance interpreting labour market information. Online portals with this feature exist in several OECD countries:

  • In Estonia, Rajaleidja.ee – Estonia’s largest career portal – has a chat service that enables people to chat online with a career guidance practitioner. No login or identification is needed, although the user can provide their e-mail address to continue the conversation at a later date.

  • In Denmark, eGuidance (eVejledning) provides individual and personal guidance to all citizens via various virtual communication channels: chat, telephone, text message, e-mail, webinars, and Facebook.

  • In Finland, the online guidance service (https://ohjaustaverkossa.fi/) allows users to ask anonymous questions to guidance professionals and hence create a space for confidential dialogue.

  • In Slovenia, e-Counselling (https://esvetovanje.ess.gov.si/) provides online career guidance to employed and unemployed individuals. Users can assess their skills, identify interests and training needs, prepare cover letters and CV, and learn more about career management skills and labour market information.

  • Norway has recently developed a national digital career guidance service that gives all citizens access to online career guidance via chat or telephone. The service also consists of a website with quality assured information and self-help resources. The service is commissioned by the Ministry of Education and developed by Skills Norway.

While they provide useful information in a cost-effective way, online portals also face limitations. One issue is access. Some adults may suffer from digital exclusion: they may not have access to the internet; may have poor digital skills; or may encounter difficulties in interpreting the volume and complexity of information available online.

Another challenge is the fragmentation of the information provided. Indeed, as shown in Table 2.1, several OECD countries have more than one online portal in place. As a result, information is scattered across different sources and adults may struggle to navigate the multiple platforms. For example, the Netherlands has four publicly-funded portals, but there are also many private commercial portals. Korea counts four public platforms (HRD-net, Neulbaeum, regional lifelong learning portals, Q-Net) on top of two platforms specifically designed to provide information on e-learning programmes (K-MOOC and Smart Training Education Platform) (OECD, 2020[16]). This fragmentation is symptomatic of a coordination failure, stemming from the fact that career guidance is often delivered by different actors and operates under the aegis of different central and regional authorities.

Despite many countries having multiple online portals, geographic coverage is often an issue. In Poland, the Talent Development Center (Centrum Rozwoju Talentów) (https://centrumtalentow.pl/) is a regional website used by the local labour office in the city of Gdansk. No other portals appear to be available in the country. In Germany, some federal states run their own online platforms – which provide information on different kinds of online learning, available financial incentives, a course finder and a finder for in-person guidance offices (OECD, forthcoming[4]). This translates into fragmented services across the country and differences in quality across portals.

A final challenge relates to the quality of information provided in online platforms. As online platforms proliferate on the internet, users must be ready to assess the quality and sources of labour market information. Chapter 3 discusses steps taken by some countries to quality-assure the information available online.

Since early 2020, countries around the world have been responding to a global health pandemic, COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant impacts on people’s working lives, employment status, and economic prospects.

During the pandemic, many countries put in place policy measures to limit the spread of the virus. These included teleworking, home confinement, and reduction of working hours. It became more important than ever for people of all ages to have easy access to information and support about finding jobs or how to upskill or retrain.

The results of the SCGA survey suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in the use of career guidance among adults (Figure 2.9). About 24% of respondents used career guidance more than usual, either to navigate ongoing changes (e.g. due to job loss or fear of job loss), or because they had more time. A minority (10%) said that they used services less than usual, because career guidance was not available in person or digitally. The rest of respondents (66%) said that they did not adjust their behaviour. The net effect of these changes is an overall increase in the share of adults who use career guidance: from 31% on an annual basis prior to the pandemic, up to 38% during the pandemic. An international survey of career guidance practitioners, policy officials and programme administrators similarly found that demand for career guidance services increased during the first stages of the pandemic (Cedefop et al., 2020[27]).

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected how career guidance services are implemented and delivered. Table 2.2 shows that virtually all OECD countries that responded to the OECD 2020 policy questionnaire ‘Career Guidance for Adults’, made or planned changes to career guidance services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The most common change was the temporary suspension or significant reduction of all face-to-face counselling services. Counselling services offered in groups (e.g. through workshops) were also suspended until further notice. In some cases, this led to a temporary closure of career guidance services. For example, Hungary’s national guidance services were designed for in-person, face-to-face meetings. During the COVID-19 crisis, services closed and the national infrastructure is not yet set up to move to e-guidance services (CEDEFOP, 2020[28]).

For the most part, however, OECD countries took steps to maintain services during the crisis and to support the continuity of guidance and information delivery using technology or via the internet. This was confirmed by the international survey of career guidance practitioners, which found that although career guidance services were partially or completely disrupted, most countries maintained some level of operation during the first phase of the pandemic (Cedefop et al., 2020[27]). Career guidance providers in countries like Belgium, Estonia, France, Greece, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Spain put in place or strengthened pre-existing remote services, i.e. online, telephone, text messages, and/or using other innovative tools. For example:

  • In Estonia, the public employment service made career guidance services available remotely (telephone, e-mail, Skype) throughout the crisis, and also started using Microsoft Teams as a means to provide career counselling and workshops.

  • In France, the continuity of the CEP (Conseil en Evolution Professionnelle) was ensured by allowing all counsellors to telework. To make this happen, counsellors were provided with a professional computer and mobile phone. Nearly 90% of individuals who were in follow-up continued to receive support during the crisis (CEDEFOP, 2020[29]).

  • In Sweden, the PES (Arbetsförmedlingen) recently relaunched a digital self-service package for career guidance, which includes digital career guidance services that can be used by those who are unsure about which profession to choose, those who want to have more information on the current labour market situation and those who want to start studying or want to change job.

Some OECD countries provided support to assist career guidance advisors during the crisis in adapting services to remote delivery. Ireland provided guidance counsellors with training to share good practices on delivery of guidance online during COVID-19 (Department of Education and Skills, 2020[30]). Similarly, in Portugal, the ANQEP made available a set of guidelines to enable the Qualifica Centres to carry out their activities at a distance.

In a similar vein, career guidance providers in some countries shared good practices with one another. In Finland, career guidance advisors shared materials and experiences with providing career guidance from a distance using their own social media channels (CEDEFOP, 2020[31]). Similarly, in Ireland, the National Center for Guidance in Education (NCGE) coordinated and delivered a series of webinars to help career guidance providers to continue offering services remotely during the crisis.

During the crisis online portals became all the more important (Table 2.3). Most OECD countries who replied to the policy questionnaire made or planned changes to online career guidance portals during the COVID-19 pandemic. They became a popular destination for users to find information related to work during COVID-19. Some online portals added an additional section specifically related to COVID-19. This helped promote key industrial sectors of essential services that had insufficient number of workers, provided information about current labour market changes, government support during the pandemic, and short study options to prepare individuals to re-enter the workforce after the crisis. For example, in Canada, a COVID-19 resource page was launched in mid-April on the Job Bank website. Similarly, in the United States, the CareerOneStop portal provided information for filing for unemployment and other benefits available to workers who lost their job during the crisis.

Some online portals provided the visitor with the opportunity to receive remote counselling services during the crisis. In Greece, for instance, the EOPPEP Internet Portal for Adults allowed visitors to have real time conversations with a career guidance advisor. As another example, a chatbot was launched on the Czech Republic MoLSA portal, which answered visitors’ key questions. In Estonia, a special subsection describing available online career services was added to the online portal (www.minukarjäär.ee).

While most countries successfully adapted their services during the pandemic, the shift to remote delivery may have reduced access for some vulnerable groups. Results from the international survey on career guidance suggest that low-qualified and low-skilled workers, as well as the self-employed were reportedly more affected by the reduced supply of in-person career guidance services during the pandemic (Cedefop et al., 2020[27]).


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← 1. Important differences exist across the six countries studied. For instance, the PES is the main career guidance provider in France and Germany; in Chile, Italy, New Zealand, private career guidance providers play the most important role; while in the United States employers or employers’ groups are the most frequently used provider of career guidance services. Dedicated public career guidance agencies play a relatively important role in all countries, where 10% or more of adults have consulted such a service – with the exception of Germany (5%). Education and training institutions play an important role in Chile, Germany, New Zealand and the United States, but a minor role in France and Italy. Employers or employers’ groups play a more important role than trade unions in all countries analysed.

← 2. The use of profiling in recent years has increased in OECD countries due to a variety of reasons, including budgetary pressures, increased inflows of jobseekers following the global financial crisis, and a greater diversity of client groups.

← 3. In contrast, jobseekers with a high score are only expected to agree on a Personal Progression Plan after six months. All jobseekers, regardless of profiling score are called in for a group information session within the first three weeks of their claim. Newly registered jobseekers under 25 years receive the most intensive engagement (i.e. every month), regardless of their PEX score.

← 4. The counselling service allows to establish whether the worker is eligible for the programme, as well as what kind of measures and what fields of study are most suitable.

← 5. On top of career guidance provided to workers, employers are also well placed to provide career guidance to students thinking about their future careers (Musset and Kurekova, 2018[32]). Career guidance for students fall outside the scope of this report.

← 6. For most other employees, the only formal process for discussing their career development is likely to be the performance appraisal process. The reality for most employees is that they either have to rely on career support from their line managers, delivered formally through an appraisal process, or on informal support processes.

← 7. This is in contrast with evidence presented in Chapter 1, according to which workers in SMEs use career guidance services more often than workers in larger firms. This may be due to the fact that SME workers are more proactive in looking for career guidance outside the company, and/or that services offered by larger firms target only certain groups of workers (e.g. high performers) or are poorly used.

← 8. In most cases, support activities are initiated by some form of counselling, guidance meetings, or advisory seminars, in order to determine the characteristics of and possibilities for the person. These initial activities are usually followed by further measures in the form of training or education, personal development activities, study or support in starting a new business.

← 9. https://www.voksenuddannelse.dk/.

← 10. There are only minor variations across countries (results not shown).

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