Cedefop report reviews progress made across Europe in 2007-10 in developing guidance policy coordination, quality assurance mechanisms, access to services and career management skills. The review shows that the EU policy framework and changing economic conditions have encouraged closer collaboration between policy makers, guidance professionals and researchers. Together they are locating assets and resources, identifying and engaging stakeholders, defining and completing joint goals and objectives, and balancing a diverse range of interests. These partnerships help everyone involved – education and employment sectors, various policy levels, and practitioners - to work more efficiently.   The challenge is now to agree on what needs to be done to create a truly lifelong guidance system across all sectors, life situations and countries. Such services will support not just lifelong learning, but social inclusion and active citizenship for all. Download Lifelong guidance across Europe-reviewing policy progress and future prospects.

Assessing and recognising skills

Governments have been introducing skills and competence strategies not just to help people into jobs, but to help break the cycle of low skills, short-term jobs and low wages. Information, guidance and counselling are usually a core component and integral element of such strategies. Within these strategies many countries have taken active measures to improve the assessment and recognition of skills acquired through various means throughout all aspects of life: work, home, school, sports, hobbies, and more.
Competences gained through work experience and through non-formal and informal learning are being assessed and recognised more and more frequently across Europe. However, adults are often not aware of the qualification opportunities available to them, and they may have a restricted view of their own skills and know-how. For adults to choose an appropriate and realistic qualification path, it is necessary to clarify their expectations and deepen their self-knowledge, and to map out the alternatives to reach the preferred qualification. Depending on the competence, the client may get access to an education programme, exemption from parts of the programme itself or even a competence certificate or diploma to recognise either a completed programme or completed modules of the programme.
European guidelines for validating non-formal and informal learning (Cedefop, 2009a) suggest that the potential candidates and those already in the process of receiving validation should have access to impartial information, advice and guidance. A validation system should be responsive to the needs of the individual who seeks validation and work towards tailor-made solutions. Candidates need to be advised, for example, about the standards to be met and the form of evidence required for demonstrating learning outcomes. When completing the validation procedure, candidates should also be given information about potential routes to further qualification. Finally, a clear distinction should be made between guidance linked to assessment issues and guidance related to the validation process itself. These two dimensions in guidance provision call for different professional skills from practitioners delivering the service.
The selected examples below illustrate some recently developed assessment tools across Europe and how and where they can be accessed. The German ProfilPASS (Profilpass self-assessment instrument is used by guidance services to review, document and assess informally acquired competences, regardless of where they were acquired, and record them in a competence portfolio. It was initially offered as a validation tool for adults, but in 2007, the ProfilPASS for young people was introduced. ProfilPASS seeks to identify an individual’s educational, professional and life goals (Cedefop, 2008b, 2010d, 2010e). In Iceland two training centres owned and operated by social partners offer guidance on how to get ‘real competences’ evaluated and certified. The Education and Training Service Centre provides guidance at the workplace (This service evolved from a Leonardo da Vinci project called Workplace guidance for lower-paid workers (ISL/03/B/F/PP/164001) and the Vocational Education and Training Centre puts more emphasis on assisting those who have partly completed education for regulated professions, but need additional (most often general) education to get their journeyman’s exam (Cedefop, 2009d).
Building up the skills of guidance experts in competence assessment has been an issue in some countries, such as Bulgaria, where staff of the Employment agency participated in a related training programme in 2007. The Bulgarian competence assessment tool helps to determine the knowledge, skills, motivation, professional experience, personal interests and values of an individual client, and allows people to consider their continuing vocational training and future job options (Cedefop, 2008b). The Slovenian system of craftsman exam (The conditions to enter the craftsman exam are the diploma of the three year vocational education programme and two years of practical experiences from the field in which the candidate wishes to pass the exam) is a solid example of validation of non-formal learning within the formal system for acquiring higher levels of education; it is also an example of how to interweave education and the labour market. It offers the candidates an opportunity to attain an education title different from their original field of study. The success of this measure is demonstrated by high number of individuals who have successfully passed the exam to date and who are currently preparing for the exam. All candidates are adult learners in full time employment who are given information and guidance support for the validation process (Cedefop, 2008b).
Promotional measures are needed to create visibility of services that are either new or not that well known by the target audience. In 2009, the project directorate for Learning&Working in the Netherlands launched a campaign on national television, encouraging people to obtain their ‘experience certificate’. The resultant interest identified problems in how to ensure that the Accreditation of prior learning quality code is applied by various institutions (In the Netherlands, the government has laid down the rules concerning APL (Quality Code, supervision by the Inspectorate or the Dutch-Flemish Accreditation Organisation), but the implementation is a non-subsidised activity by schools, universities or other applicable institutions) in a uniform way (Cedefop, 2010d).