The role of guidance in active ageing

AE Trainer

Increasing the age of entitlement to pensions should coincide with policies that enable people to have better-quality working lives and be more productive up to the existing pension age (Maltby, 2011).

The provision of career guidance to older workers could play an important role in helping to overcome a number of the situational and dispositional challenges that older workers face. For example, career guidance for older workers could help individuals overcome low self-confidence, (self and hetero) stereotyping, barriers to work and learning, barriers to making career changes, and to find affordable training opportunities (Ford, 2007).

Further to its potential function in removing situational and dispositional barriers, guidance can stimulate and support the development of the full potential of persons as workers (and in other aspects of life) in all stages of their careers. For older workers, guidance can help them enhance their productive contribution to organisations and society as well as enable successful and more profound transmission of knowledge, skills and values between workers of different generations ( 6 ).

In 2008 the Council adopted a resolution on better integrating lifelong guidance into lifelong learning strategies. In the resolution the Council identifies four priority areas: ‘encourage the lifelong acquisition of career management skills; facilitate access by all citizens to guidance services; develop quality assurance in guidance provisions; encourage coordination and cooperation among the various national, regional and local stakeholders; [… and] invites the Member States to strengthen the role of lifelong guidance in their national lifelong learning strategies’ (Council of the European Union, 2008b, p. 5).

The importance of high quality lifelong guidance has subsequently been stressed in the Education and Training 2020 strategic framework (Council of the European Union, 2009). One of the key questions is how, on the one hand, guidance activities are embedded in active age management strategies at company level and, on the other hand, whether older workers are targeted within career guidance policies. This brings together two worlds often studied separately.

Research on active age management shows that policies are generally still not fully embedded in organisational human resources policies. Limited research is available on how guidance activities are embedded in an organisation’s active age management strategies, although we know that many organisations deploy activities in the context of active ageing, that can be considered as (partly) guidance. Some common cases are yearly appraisal and development talks, selfhelp packages for older workers on the internet and intranet, formal and informal coaching and mentoring arrangements, and handbooks for older workers.

Research on career guidance in the workplace, done by Cedefop in 2008, shows that there are no clear processes for ‘career advice and guidance in the workplace […] although positive examples of good practice exist. Most support is targeted at key talent groups [such as management staff and young recruited employees] while most other employees [including older workers] are expected to take responsibility for their own career development’ (Cedefop, 2008a, p. 31).

As indicated in this report, much of the career guidance is not delivered in a formalised way with clear structures, procedures, processes and qualified persons assigned providing it. ‘Much career support is delivered informally by managers, work colleagues, family and friends’ (Cedefop, 2008a, p. 31). Especially in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) career guidance ‘is more likely to be informal and dependent on the enthusiasm/commitment of individual managers’. As a result, quality assurance of guidance activities tends to be unsystematic.

This report also concludes that coordination and cooperation among the various stakeholders (employers, labour unions, chambers of commerce, PES, VET institutions) in providing guidance is limited. In most countries, guidance provision is focused on young people (provided by initial education and training institutes) or the unemployed (provided by public employment services) and not on the employed, specifically not addressing employed older workers. Older workers could be suspicious of career guidance provided by employers, perceiving it as biased or incomplete, while employers feel that it encourages people to leave. Few organisations employ professionally qualified career counsellors (Cedefop, 2008a).

( 6 ) This process is described in literature as ‘generativity’. See, for example, Clark and Arnold, 2008.