Jens Bjornavold makes the case for bringing related processes under a single roof.
Formal education alone cannot prepare us for the changes constantly taking place in jobs, the labour market and society at large. This is one of the reasons why guidance and validation arrangements have been gaining in importance in recent years.
So far, national and European efforts to develop and implement the instruments and arrangements for validation and guidance remain fragmented. From the individual learners point of view, they have not yet managed to work in tandem and people are still not getting the help they need in accessing learning.
Policy-makers are, however, becoming more aware of the need to overcome this fragmentation. The resolution on better integrating lifelong guidance into lifelong learning strategies adopted by the Council of the European Union in 2008 stresses that helping people validate their formal, non-formal and informal learning alike is crucial in allowing them to keep their jobs and maintain employability.
Similarly, a European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network (ELGPN) has been set up to establish integrated national and regional guidance services in the Member States. The network, with which Cedefop closely cooperates, aims to ensure that lifelong guidance is closely linked to validation and employability.
Cedefop's Terminology of vocational education and training (2009) defines guidance as a range of activities designed to help individuals take education, vocational or personal decisions and carry them out before and after they enter the labour market. Guidance may, according to the glossary, include activities like counselling, assessment, and information provision, consultation with peers, vocational preparations and referrals.
Validation, in the same Cedefop glossary, is defined as the confirmation, by a competent body, that learning outcomes in formal, non-formal or informal settings have been assessed against pre-defined criteria and complies with the requirements of a validation standard. Validation results typically - but not always - in a certificate (qualification).
These definitions reveal common ground between the two concepts.
- In both, identifying and reflecting on knowledge, skills and competence is of crucial importance.
- They both understand learning as something more than formal education and training, something which takes place not only at school but also at work.
- They both emphasise the individuals decision making capacity by stimulating self-assessment.
These common ideas can serve as a basis for common practices.
Validation: from learning to certification
Validation is increasingly designed (cf. Cedefop, 2008) as an integrated part of the existing formal education and training systems, that is, as another nationally endorsed route to certification. But in other countries and sectors validation can be an entirely separate process leading to distinctive recognition that bears no link to the formal qualification system.
Cedefop's 2009 publication on European guidelines fof validation compares validation with the certification processes used for the formal system. What is revealed by this comparison is that validation of non-formal and informal learning is a far more complex process than the formal system, presenting many more choices for the learner.
Nevertheless, some steps and decisions are crucial for every validation process. The European guidelines (chapter 6) distinguish between three main stages: orientation, assessment and audit.
Guidance and counselling
The Council resolution on guidance (2008) calls on the EU Member Sates to enhance the professional profile of guidance practitioners. Cedefops recently published study on guidance (2009) discusses the main elements of a generic description which incorporates all the activities needed to deliver career guidance including six areas of competence defined as 'client-interaction' skills (p. 69)
While there seems to be broad agreement on the centrality of these tasks in career guidance, another Cedefop report from 2008 (Career development at work) reveals the distance between these (ideal) expectations and the situation on the ground.
One of the problems identified here is the lack of an effective strategy for providing career development support to most employed people. The study also shows that there is an increasing demand on individuals themselves to acquire the necessary skills for career management.
We can see that the relationship between guidance professional and client mirror the main stages of the validation process (orientation and assessment). Guidance, too, encourages clients to make informed decisions through reflection and self-assessment.
When looking into the work of validation and guidance professionals, we observe many shared fundamental perspectives and practises. While differing in emphasis, these approaches seem well aligned with each other. Guidance, as well as validation, are relevant both to education and training and to the labour market.
One of the reasons why they are not always closely linked is the diversity of institutions and stakeholders involved. While the individual needs to find solutions across institutional borderlines, the institutions themselves may be unable or unwilling to communicate and cooperate efficiently.
This lack of communication and coordination is not helped by addressing guidance and validation as separate areas operating in a vacuum. European policy and research in the area should look into how to efficiently support guidance and validation at different levels:
- At local level we should examine how to establish one stop shops - involving the cooperation of institutions, organisations and companies - to best serve the learning and career development needs of individuals
- Member States and the EU should aim for coherent strategies, seeking out how best to combine initiatives so as to meet the needs of citizens.
Other policy initiatives could be added to this list. There is, for example, a clear overlap between validation and the credit transfer arrangements for VET (ECVET) that are now being developed.
We should be careful not to undermine the many useful EU initiatives addressing lifelong and lifewide learning by failing to provide adequate links between them.
(Adapted from a working paper presented by Jens Bjornavold at the Swedish presidency conference of 12-13 November (The role of VET in meeting the challenges of today and tomorow) with contributions from Mika Launikari, Lore Schmid and Mara Brugia, all of Cedefop).