Career management skills and active ageing

AE Trainer

The notion of CMS has only recently entered policy vocabulary and still generates perplexity. CMS are generally associated with skills, attitudes and knowledge which individuals can develop to make informed and reflexive career choices and management.

These will generally include skills and knowledge associated with decisionmaking, identification of career and learning opportunities, adaptability to new work and learning situations, and increased awareness of one’s qualities, preferences and development needs. Guidance activities very clearly aim at developing these skills, in a logic of individual empowerment and progressive autonomy.

The development of CMS has become particularly important in policy agendas with the impact of the economic crisis, which degraded the possibility of stable career paths. The need to ensure that people possess the right skills and knowledge to cope with unexpected career events, adapt to new work and learning environments, and make unusual career decisions, has become a priority. Youth groups and older workers were particularly affected in their career tracks and expectations.

It is desirable that the framework offered by the combination of employment, social security, education/training, and guidance systems can provide consistent and sustained career support, adjusted to each career stage. This support should be accessible in various contexts (learning, work, home), independent of their level of formalisation.

Not all countries in Europe have a structured approach to CMS development and those that do, tend to do it in the framework of general education services as a curriculum element (Denmark, France, Austria and Finland). Less frequent are initiatives aimed at working adults.

Independent of being part of a taught curriculum or developed with less conventional approaches, CMS can be either inserted in a homogeneous vision of people, originating a ‘one size fits all’ approach, or acknowledge individual needs and styles of learning, as well as client group specificities. This makes CMS development a pedagogic and andragogic issue, which has to adapt to agerelated characteristics.

In the case of older workers, issues such as extensive professional experience and possible low proficiency in ICT tools and foreign languages need to be factored into the approaches developed. This type of approach requires identification of typical issues in each career stage and, at its best, assessment of individual needs.

Assessment strategies can be found in several countries, such as France, Austria, Portugal and the UK. In France, assessment is done via a portfolio of experiences (Bilan de compétences senior), which registers skills and acquired knowledge. This instrument is used, with adaptations, in all training and education branches and is available for application in enterprises via agreement between employers and employees. The portfolio approach not only generates critical information which can be carried across learning and work, but also encourages individual self-reflection. Typically, the portfolio approach will have a very strong component of CMS development and will induce targeted strategies to aid reflection about career planning, accounting for distinct career stages.

A similar approach has also been developed in Portugal, with particular priority given to failing enterprises undergoing restructuring. In this case, the portfolio approach serves the double purpose of generating worker adaptability, when facing change in a mature career stage, and of assuring the transmission and retention of organisation knowledge during restructuring.

Curriculum strategies for CMS development can be found in some countries, but generally target youth enrolled in the school system. It is more frequent that adults are engaged in mixed models which adopt an assessment strategy coupled with uniform curricula of activities aimed at developing skills in the areas identified as in need of intervention.

Prior identification of critical areas of skills development is sometimes used as strategy. The Scottish framework for career development identifies important issues for each stage of career development as well as critical activities and contexts for CMS acquisition. The

Portuguese framework adopts a similar strategy, also attempting to identify achievement levels in the development of sets of CMS, combining formative with summative assessment. The adopted framework is currently supporting the development of soft skills in adult education and validation procedures.

Within the employment sector, the most common approaches across Europe are ready-made programmes aimed at unemployed or at-risk groups, where people learn how to search for work, write a CV, use the internet and how to behave in an interview. These activities are increasingly popular. They are relatively easy to organise and tend to reduce time and financial effort, as they are developed in group sessions, with relatively short programmes.

These are, nevertheless, limited programmes which develop a reduced set of skills which might not respond to individual or group needs and which adopt a short-term vision of career development. In general, tailored approaches are more successful and tend to generate higher client satisfaction.

This uniform approach also tends to adopt the erroneous idea that people in need of guidance are in deficit, rather than in need to clarify and explore their potential. The idea that people who need to develop CMS are a problem to solve may drive policy to underestimate the human resource potential of individuals, by not differentiating them. Also, ‘one size fits all’ approaches carry the risk of demotivating participants, since they frequently do not respond to their needs.

Although assessment strategies are more time-consuming, they tend to be more rationalising. They try to ensure that the individuals will find satisfactory responses and will not permanently fail in labour market integration, and will not become permanent clients of support and benefit systems.