From March 2020, the adjustment to providing eLearning and eTraining has focused the attention of educators, policy makers, practitioners, teachers, students, and parents alike. With the delivery of education online, all other support services provided throughout the education sector were required to “go online”.
As a result, the provision of Career Guidance and Guidance Counselling within post-primary schools and the Further Education and Training (FET) sector was required to change delivery practices to online provision also, but what would this look like? How could the traditional classroom-based career guidance classes or group based adult guidance sessions and the confidential one-to-one guidance counselling sessions be delivered via online platforms?
Interestingly, it has not sounded the death knell of quality guidance provision. Indeed, the opposite is the case. Guidance provision in the education sector is adapting to using online provision as another tool within the guidance toolkit for such quality provision.
So, what is online guidance, how is it provided and how does it relate to e-learning and e-training?
In reality, guidance (otherwise referred to as career guidance, guidance counselling or career development) has been provided online for many years in Ireland. Websites such as qualifax.ie and careersportal.ie are well known by anyone who has researched higher education courses or career information in the last 15–20 years. More recently, fetchcourses.ie and apprenticeship.ie, springboard.ie, jobsireland.ie among others, provide clear information on what education, training or employment opportunities are available across different sectors and for different target groups. In March, the Gov.ie website portal ‘The Right Course’1 aimed to provide one reference point for ease of access to all these sites. But this is just one element of guidance; ensuring access to up-to-date quality information on education, training and employment options and does not include the myriad of private sector employment and recruitment websites.
Definition of Guidance, 2019
Career guidance describes the services which help people of any age, to manage their careers and to make the educational, training and occupational choices that are right for them. It helps people to reflect on their ambitions, interests, qualifications, skills and talents – and to relate this knowledge about who they are to who they might become within the labour market.
Career guidance involves a range of connected activities, including provision of careers information, personalised guidance/counselling, skills assessment, engaging with the world of work and the teaching of decision-making and career management skills. Career guidance is delivered face-to-face, by telephone and online.
To understand how guidance is provided online, it is important to understand what is meant by “guidance”. For too long, there has been continued misunderstanding that “guidance” is about filling out college application forms in schools for post-school career and education plans. For many adults, whose career trajectories included moving from school to the local university or institute of technology and into specific careers, they may not have had any experience of job loss or career change considerations and therefore have not required or accessed guidance services as an adult. Perhaps their experience of “career guidance” in schools, was not positive? So how can such professionals now understand that changes in career guidance or guidance counselling provision have developed in line with all other developments within the education, training, and employment sectors? Informed by academic research and international policy documents particularly since 2000, guidance delivery has changed and pivoting to deliver online is just another example of how all professions develop in response to the needs of their clients, students, and stakeholders.
In 2019, just prior to the global pandemic, a joint publication of international organisations Cedefop, OECD, EU Commission, ILO, ETF and UNESCO2 provided an updated definition of guidance.
In follow up to this joint publication in 2019, to reflect on the impact of the pandemic on guidance provision, Cedefop, OECD, EU Commission, ILO, ETF and UNESCO conducted a global survey of guidance practitioners and stakeholders in 2020.
The subsequent report Career guidance policy and practice in the pandemic: results of a joint international survey – June to August 20203 indicated that globally guidance services have considered providing wider access to more marginalised communities, while also remembering that not everyone has access to internet services and noted that…
…greater use of social media was reported, as well as the development of online resources to replace face-to-face provision…
…changes in practice were designed to make career guidance more accessible to users. In this way, and if delivered in ways to ensure equity of access, innovation represents a positive development in the provision of guidance…
Since 2017, the National Centre for Guidance in Education (NCGE), with the support of the Department of Education has supported the implementation of the Whole School Guidance Framework4, providing guidelines on the provision of whole school guidance, which also involves the development of the student’s own competences of Developing Myself, Developing my Learning and Developing my Career Path. This Framework initiates the guidance process in Junior Cycle, through guidance related learning in class settings, to support young people to develop their own career management skills including personal development skills of confidence and self-understanding and career research (e.g, discerning appropriate information, accessed online and elsewhere) and encourages them to explore all their career interests from a younger age. Augmented by psychometric tests of aptitudes and abilities (many of which are online), administered by appropriately qualified staff and providing access to a one-to-one personal guidance counselling session with the professionally qualified guidance counsellor, ensures that students have time and space to consider their own personal circumstances, the research information they have gathered and their own education, training, and careers plans. Delivering this whole school guidance service online became a priority at the outset of school closures. NCGE supported the development of Department of Education Continuity of Guidance Counselling Guidelines5 for schools providing online support for students and published resources and Support Information for schools and FET guidance practitioners to inform digitalised guidance provision to students and clients.
Of note, however, the Adult Education Guidance Services (AEGS)6 provided by the 16 Education and Training Boards (ETBs) nationally, have developed an online presence over many years, using websites, social media and old-fashioned telephone and text contact to provide access to adults to impartial, quality guidance provision. Notably, NCGE provided a continuous professional development webinar for guidance practitioners of the AEGS in 2015 on ‘Telephone and Remote Platform Approaches to Career Development’.
Delivering group guidance sessions and one-to-one guidance counselling supports to adults, AEGS services have continued to respond to adult and FET guidance needs across the 16 ETB regions. Here, guidance professionals and practitioners remain clear that guidance services must remain integrated and impartial, working closely with and referring to other support services such as personal counselling and recruitment/admissions services. Working closely with INTREO offices locally, AEGS ensure that unemployed adults are fully aware of their education, training, upskilling and career options.
Furthermore, e-learning and e-training is crucial for continuous professional development for guidance counsellors and practitioners. In this regard, NCGE delivered webinars for guidance counsellors in schools and the AEGS, developed guidelines and provided resources for digitalised online practice including using use of various social media platforms to deliver guidance services. From March 2020 to March 2021 over 1,000 individual guidance counsellors, practitioners and stakeholders have attended at least one of 25 webinars, reflecting the appetite for developing digitalised guidance skills.
NCGE Resources supporting online digitalised guidance provision, available at:
In addition, the three universities in Ireland (Maynooth University, Dublin City University and University of Limerick) providing qualifications in guidance are ensuring that current students of guidance counselling are developing and utilising ICT skills to learn, complete assignments and deliver guidance. This reflects the Department of Education Programme Recognition Framework7 which provides guidelines for the training of Guidance counsellors, which indeed bodes well for continued inclusion of online guidance service delivery into the future.
Ensuring access to impartial information and guidance supports individuals to make decisions on careers and education transitions. The EU Commission has revised and redeveloped the Europass.eu8 portfolio portal to documents skills, qualifications, and work-related experiences.
In the UK, the innovative development by Dr Deirdre Hughes and associates of CiCi the chatbot as a ‘career chat facility’ using “human and digital resources”9 marks an interesting departure in ensuring wider access to initial career guidance services and provides… “a personalised, guided career journey experience for adults…available 24 hours, seven days per week to support your career journey, choices, and decisions along the way”.
In 2019, the Department of Education published the Indecon Review Report of Career Guidance10 which recommended the development of a national user-friendly centralised careers guidance portal, to provide multi-channel, blended career guidance supports, including online tools with telephone and internet access to experienced guidance practitioners. Currently discussions continue between the two government departments in the education sector (i.e., Department of Education and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science) on the implementation of the Indecon Review Report.
As Director of NCGE, I am heartened by the commitment of guidance counsellors and practitioners, schools, institution management and stakeholders to continue who include digitalised guidance within guidance practice. Our next step is ensuring ease of access to all individuals to impartial, up-to-date information on all education, training, and employment options, through one career guidance online portal, with the backing of an online, telephone or text-based chat facility with an appropriately qualified guidance practitioner, to help them to consider upskilling, reskilling, job search and/or career change. This will be the guidance online contribution to the personal and economic recovery from this horrendous global pandemic.
Jennifer McKenzie, Director,
National Centre for Guidance in Education (Ireland)
Jennifer McKenzie (BA, MA(Psych), HDCG)
As Director of NCGE, an agency of the Irish Department of Education (DoE), Jennifer leads the vision and strategy of NCGE to inform policy in the field of guidance and to support/develop guidance practice in all areas of education and the Further Education and Training (FET) Sector. As part of her role, Jennifer works closely with colleagues in the EU Commission and is a Steering Group member of the Cedefop CareersNet expert network for lifelong guidance and careers education.
Jennifer holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology and a Higher Diploma in Career Guidance from University College Dublin and is currently studying for her Education Doctorate in Queen’s University Belfast.