What are the challenges in career guidance development in Serbia compared to the Western Balkan countries and the European Union?

How to obtain a job, decide to change a job, choose secondary school or higher education institution, go back to education after several years of work – those are the challenges which every person face at some moment in time. Decisions, which are not easy for anyone, are being made in the context of the world of work in which insecurity and changes are only constants. Behind the support provided to individuals to make career decisions based on reliable information, stand the term “career guidance and counselling” often followed by the attribute “lifelong” to point out that this kind of support is needed for citizens of any age and in any life period.
In the last couple of years, career guidance and counselling is at the level of European Union regularly included in the initiatives of in the area of education, employment, social and youth policies. From prevention of early school leaving and the Youth Guarantee to measures for support of long term unemployed and development of skills – one of the key ingredients is career guidance. This should not come as a surprise given that there are research results that show that career guidance has positive effects regarding prevention of unemployment, reduction of early school leaving, increasing students’ engagement and success in school, successful transitions from lower to higher levels of education and social inclusion.
Following two Council’s resolutions on lifelong guidance, in the period from 2007 to 2015, the emphasis was in particular on exchange of experiences and mutual learning in this area through the work of European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network. At this moment, in 36 countries through Euroguidance, the European network for support of career guidance and counselling, national centres conduct many activities in this area. Nevertheless, taking into account research results that show that in average one in four individuals used the career guidance services in Member States, and that those services were used mostly within education system and by persons who are completing higher education, it has been recognized that more is to be done to improve access to these services.
What has been happening in Serbia regarding career guidance and counselling in this period and what is the current situation? On the one hand, there have been significant moves forward, and on the other hand, what has been done is not enough. In the period from 2010 to 2014, the Strategy for career guidance and counselling was in place and in the next period career guidance was included in strategic and legal documents in the areas of education, employment and youth policies. Through numerous activities career guidance and counselling has become more present in all education levels, it has been better integrated into youth work, the number of available resources for career practitioners and their cooperation and mutual learning has been improved. This topic is still very relevant – two months earlier the Rulebook on standards of career guidance and counselling was adopted to establish a quality system in this area.
Why are all of these significant activities still insufficient? Data from an annual research study on position and needs of young people of Ministry of youth and sports show that still, 69% of young people state that they have never been included in any of the career guidance and counselling activities. This means that they report that they have never been informed on educational options, on occupations and world of work and state that they have never participated in career counselling or workshops on active job search and career planning. Moreover, it should be noted that only young people were included in this research study, which raises the question of what the results would be like if other age groups had been involved.
What else indicates that the measures that are being conducted are insufficient? One of the activities foreseen by the Strategy for career guidance and counselling, establishing a mechanism of coordination of career guidance, in the sector of education, employment and youth work, has not been realized as yet. This is of utmost importance to avoid unnecessary repetition of the same measures and to ensure that all of the people who need the support have access to services. “The recommendation is to treat the coordination of lifelong guidance policies as a priority”, stated Helmut Zelloth from European Training Foundation in the analysis from 2011.
That this is not a difficulty only in Serbia but in the Western Balkans region as well, was indicted by the results of the regional analysis conducted last year by Belgrade open school in cooperation with partners. Even though in a majority of countries there have been attempts to establish some type of mechanisms of coordination and support, they have not been proven as effective and sustainable. Nevertheless, that this is not impossible task, apart from other European Union countries, shows Croatia as well, in which in 2014 the the Lifelong Guidance Forum, a policy advisory network on lifelong guidance, was established with a role to connect all ministries, organizations and institutions which are involved in this topic and whose representatives together discuss future steps.
What should be the next activity for better support of career guidance of individuals? For start, adoption of standards of career guidance and counselling services should be followed by a range of measures which will ensure their implementation by primary and secondary schools, faculties, career centres and youth offices, National employment service and all other career guidance service providers. This should be followed by effective coordination, for which it is vital to establish a sustainable mechanism for communication between ministries and other representatives of public institutions, business sector, service providers and civil society organizations dealing with this topic.
How to choose relevant sources of information on educational and career options, to plan career development and manage it in circumstances of unexpected changes, are not the questions which should by usually answered independently or only with the support of family and friends. These are the questions for which, if it is needed, it is necessary to have a support of career practitioner, to ensure that the career decisions people make are not translated to high unemployment rates, early school leaving or long transitions from education to the labour market.

Aleksandra ?urovi?, research coordinator, Belgrade open school
Published in Serbian on the website European Western Balkans