Why skilling policies should embrace career guidance to futureproof employability

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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As the EU Member States’ recovery plans feature a decent share of spending towards adult learning and skills, the career management sector believes that policymakers still miss out on one crucial ingredient to make labour markets transitions truly effective and sustainable.

Murielle Antille is Chairperson of the Career Management Network of the World Employment Confederation. Michael Freytag is Public Affairs Manager for the World Employment Confederation-Europe.

It has been a recurring issue in labour markets: severe skills and labour market shortages are back in many European countries, as economies recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, the problem is becoming even more acute in complex and fast-evolving labour markets and with workers increasingly quitting or intending to do so. Futureproofing one’s employability however takes more than a few training classes: it is a combination of skills, mindset and an alignment with job market demands.

So, what is the secret for people to figure out their next best move, for employers to retain their talent and for governments to keep unemployment at bay? Career guidance. The International Labour Conference in June 2021 recognised it as a pivotal element in skilling and employability. The OECD Employment Outlook 2021 recommends it as a lever for economic recovery and other recent impact studies conducted by private employment services companies demonstrate that career coaching can make investments in skilling more effective.

Yet, few people have already experienced first-hand the value of career coaching. One main reason is that they simply don’t know that such a service exists. Recent OECD research shows that 60% of adults have not used career guidance services in the past 5 years. If they have had access to them, they often do not identify it as key for their success and its impact thus becomes difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, a recent impact study shows that those individuals who receive career coaching tend to participate in skilling more often and they report better use of the programs as well as they tend to reach better employment outcomes.

Beyond the individual level, career guidance supports labour market resilience. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need to accompany increasing numbers of work transitions. Aligning workers’ aspirations to (new) market demands, laying out an action plan to reach targeted employment outcomes and developing an agile mindset to navigate the new world of work make individuals “job-ready” today, and enable them for the world of tomorrow. Career coaching can so act as a lever for recovery and ensure employers have access to enabled and ready talents.

Increasing the awareness about career management services is therefore essential and that’s precisely the goal for the World Employment Confederation’s Career Management Network. Bringing together the main players of the sector as well as national federations from countries like Belgium and Poland, it cooperates with different stakeholders to make the services and their positive impacts better known. During a recent panel at the World Employment Conference 2021, they discussed with the OECD and the Italian Outplacement Association AISO the role of career guidance and how to ensure its more widespread use during.

Involving all stakeholders is essential if we want to foster employability. Embracing career guidance is not only individual responsibility. Employers have their share, too. As careers become less linear, and work transitions more frequent, they might not feel the need to invest in the workers leaving. But by supporting their exiting employees, they can also contribute to a more resilient talent market that ultimately benefits them, too.

Public entities also come into play by setting the right incentives to encourage the use of career guidance. The European Commission’s recent analysis of the 25 recovery plans submitted by EU member states to date shows that around 30% of their total expenditure will be directed towards social policy.

12% of these €150 billion will be dedicated to adult learning and skills. While this boost should support the Commission’s longstanding reform and investment demands of national capitals on the labour market, education and social protection reforms, we need to ensure that career guidance, both through public entities and through the private sector during employment is part of the solution to make labour markets transitions truly effective and sustainable.

The ultimate goal for the EU – equally shared by the World Employment Confederation-Europe in our recent Manifesto – is to go beyond recovery and make labour markets more resilient. Career Management services can significantly contribute to this objective. Policymakers would do well in considering the impact those services can have on the effectiveness of recovery, whether it is through including career coaching in any incentives and/or through supporting its implementation within private employment.

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