The challenge now for information, advice and guidance provision is how to put in place comprehensive approaches to quality, says Mika Launikari of the Centre for International Mobility CIMO/Euroguidance in Finland.
In recent years the importance of quality in information, advice and guidance provision has been raised on many occasions across Europe. In the Lifelong Guidance Resolution (2008) quality was identified as one of the four priority areas. It was also stated that EU member states should cooperate to develop the quality assurance of guidance services for the effective implementation of an active guidance policy within national lifelong learning strategies.
All the countries that were involved in the European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network (ELGPN) during 2007-2015, jointly contributed to establishing a common understanding of what quality assurance means in the context of guidance and counselling. As a concrete result of their development work, a new pan-European Quality Assurance and Evidence-Based Framework (2016) was created.
This framework is composed of five different quality elements. By using these elements, a common language can be identified for continuous improvement of lifelong guidance systems and policies, including the following:
Practitioner competence should feature at least in legislation, licensing arrangements, occupational quality standards, accreditation and registers of practitioners.
Citizen/user involvement ought to focus on the individual and their ease of access to relevant services and products, levels of satisfaction, participation in planning and evaluation of service provision.
Service provision and a culture of continuous improvement involves eight features of widening access for all: coherence and consistency, channelling, differentiation, penetration, targeting, marketing and co-creating.
Cost-benefits to governments can be specifically linked to educational outcomes, economic and employment outcomes as well as outcomes in society.
- Cost-benefits to individuals include, for example, smoother career and learning transitions as well as an increased participation in learning and working.
Against these quality elements and related guiding principles, the ongoing challenge for EU member states now is:
how to manage quality in its totality;
how to establish and implement a comprehensive national quality system that encompasses education and employment sectors as well as their lifelong learning strategies and policies.
For this purpose, there is a need for targeted coordination at policy and strategy levels across the education, training and employment sectors, for multi-professional and multi-disciplinary cooperation, as well as for a common language in developing and maintaining quality assurance mechanisms for lifelong guidance (Cedefop, 2011).
As the above elements clearly indicate, quality in guidance service provision should be seen as something inbuilt in the overall design, development, delivery and evaluation process. In other words, quality should not be treated as a stand-alone process with the aim of, for example, passing the eventual external evaluation of the services.
Through the use of multiple delivery channels (face-to-face, online, etc.), the interface between the service provider and the service user is gaining additional attention in the context of quality assurance. The critical question is whether different channels require quality standards, criteria and indicators of their own, or they should be uniform to reflect the need for multi-channel information, guidance and counselling. In any case, service users should be taken on board frequently to validate the effectiveness of the quality system in identifying and meeting their current needs as well as anticipating their future requirements.
The quality dimension of guidance is an important component in the effective implementation of one of the most recent large-scale initiatives of the European Commission, the Skills Agenda for Europe (2016). The agenda launches a number of actions to ensure that the right training, the right skills and the right support are available to citizens in the European Union. Further, it aims to make better use of available skills and to equip people with new skills that are needed in the global labour market. Several key actors, among them the EU member states, social partners, industry and other stakeholders, are invited to work together to improve the quality and relevance of skills formation, make skills more visible and comparable and enhance skills intelligence and information for better career choices.