The Importance of Guidance: Part 1

Introduction
At this time of unprecedented change in the nature of the world of work and the transformations that are occurring in the profile of employment, guidance for people to decide on their education, training and employment is even more critical than ever.  This is particularly important for technical and vocational subjects in order to help dispel some of the negative attitudes towards these important subjects and also improve their image in the eyes of people especially the young. Educational and training Institutions must develop comprehensive and effective guidance systems to open up access, increase and widen participation, improve retention and produce individuals who will match the employment needs of the country.  People, whether preparing to enter employment or those already in work who may be considering a career change, require support to make the correct decisions and as a result be more effective employees. Unfortunately for too long guidance has been treated as a bolt-on and even optional but it must now be fully integrated into the mainstream curriculum offered by education and training providers. It must become central at entry, on-programme and exit stages of provision in schools, colleges and training providers. If resources permit providers should establish a central guidance unit or for small scale institutions guidance resources of the other agencies should be used.
Guidance and careers guidance is a complex process and both require a clear definition and must include these important elements and be:
·         Impartial and student/client centred
·         Unbiased and without pressure from employers and education and training providers
·         Take full account of factors affecting and impacting on existing and future labour market information
·         Equally accessible to all students and people in general seeking advice
·         Promote equality of opportunity for all seeking advice and guidance
·         Developed and delivered by skilled and experienced staff who follow an agreed code of practice.
A multitude of activities are involved in such guidance including:
 Advising, Advocating, Assessing, Counselling, Enabling, Feeding back, Informing, Innovating/systems change, Managing, Networking  and Teaching
The two lists above should provide the elements and characteristics to define the code of practice for guidance that institutions must produce. The guidance process must be integrated into the curriculum at all stages of education and training and effective and on-going cooperation must exist between the guidance and teaching staff.
Open, impartial and continuous guidance
Guidance must be operated on an honest brokership basis. It is essential that it is unbiased and objective, based on the real needs of the individual, not the institutions. These elements are becoming even more important as colleges, training providers and adult education/lifelong learning centres increase the numbers of mature students who will require guidance especially at the diagnostic/ entry stage. With the continuing problems of functional illiteracy and innumeracy in this country initial diagnostic techniques and the guidance process must be sympathetic and understanding of the needs of the learners. The education and training providers must establish an on-going guidance service throughout the learners’ programmes. Quite often learners realise that they are on the wrong course or begin to struggle with their studies and therefore require addition learning support and continuing guidance. This will require that the initial guidance is complemented by more specialised guidance provision either from the institution or from outside guidance agencies. Therefore it is essential that the institutional central guidance services, if they exist, establish an effective wide ranging network including subject teachers, employers and other guidance professionals. This model of complementarity will make certain that the learners continually receive objective guidance that will provide the necessary checks and balances in the system e.g. if the learner is struggling with their studies or is unhappy with the provision.
The need for open and unbiased guidance is a result of a number of complex and interrelated factors. These include: non-existent, ineffective or ill-informed guidance in schools, colleges, universities or other guidance services; parental pressure which is often determined by the false perception that ‘A’ levels and ‘GCSEs’ are superior to other technical and vocational qualifications; peer influences and sadly often ill-informed advice from teachers who have limited direct experience of working in industry, commerce or employment areas outside the rather narrow academic world. The added challenge for technical and many vocational subjects is the negative image that they possess as evidenced in the history of technical and commercial education and training.
 Guidance is a profession and vocation in its own right and requires specialised training and the role of guidance staff is to complement teachers to provide a high quality holistic service to all learners. After all there is no point in increasing and widening participation if as a result of poor guidance retention rates decline and failure rates increase. Surveys over many years conducted across Europe have shown that up to 10% students feel they are on the wrong course. Unfortunately many students who feel they are on the wrong course often cannot transfer, either because of the lack of an appropriate alternative or the rigid time constraints of the course scheduling or even more worrying the pressure put on them by the teacher/lecturer. The need to maintain class viability often means that students are made to remain on the course with the resultant low retention rates or failure. In order to improve the participation in technical and vocational subject’s effective guidance, advice and information systems must be introduced across the education and training sectors as a matter of urgency. This will hopefully improve the overall image of these subjects and dispel many of the misconceptions of these strategically important subjects.
Part 2 will continue to raise issues associated with this important topic.
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