New Horizons: Career Development Support Services Needed More Than Ever


Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE is an international career development specialist based in the South West region of England, UK. (Twitter: @DeirdreTalks; Blog:; Website:

Across the globe, millions of young people and adults are thinking about the opportunities that may or may not lie ahead in the coming year(s). For those displaced from their everyday work, particularly those affected in hard hit sectors such as travel, retail, hospitality, arts, entertainment or recreation, these are tough times. The harsh reality of the pandemic impact has begun. Growing concerns about rising unemployment pose serious questions such as how will I pay my bills? where are the jobs? and what can I do with my life? For every individual – the learner, the worker and the citizen – the natural consequence of technological innovation is a requirement to continue learning throughout life. In this period of accelerated change and challenge, individuals need both appropriate tools and the right kind of mindset to find purposeful learning and work opportunities. Career development professionals’ services are now needed more than ever.

In December 2019, the OECD joined forces with the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training (Cedefop), UNESCO, the European Commission, the European Training Foundation (ETF) and the International Labor Organisation (ILO) calling on governments around the world to Invest in Career Guidance. Subsequently, these organisations (joined by the International Centre for Career Development and Public Policy (ICCDPP)) launched a major international survey of lifelong guidance. Generally, inequalities in life chances and living standards are widening. In 23 low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), school-to-work transitions research shows that young people often face problematic and protracted transitions into work. In places as diverse as India, the Middle East and North Africa, and Greece, many educated young adults struggle with what is often described as ‘waithood’. This can lead to frustration among youth and high rates of migration to new areas or other countries.

In Australia, those young people highly motivated with social capital (i.e. networks that are well developed, supported by family) searching for opportunities or going online to access virtual fairs or online employer conversations may seem relatively straightforward. But what will happen to those less fortunate - the majority of school and college leavers in the coming months? Parents will do their best - but we all know how difficult this is on top of work and home schooling. Those in vulnerable groups not in education, employment and training (NEETs), working class youth, care leavers and those with special educational needs or disabilities (SEND) are at risk of being left behind.

In the UK, seventeen-year-old women are most likely to have been put on furlough during the current crisis, according to HM Revenue and Customs. 58% of jobs undertaken by young men the same age has been adversely affected. Careers services are developing different responses in each of the four home nations. Skills Development Scotland (SDS) offers targeted and universal support for people of all-ages including ‘Next Steps for the 15-18.5 year old age group (26 if care experienced)’; My World of Work; and My Kids Career. In Northern Ireland, every school leaver is guaranteed by the Department for Economy a careers interview with a trained and qualified careers adviser. In Wales, careers advisers working with all-ages have rapidly adjusted their practices to reach out and support individuals and employers from the very start of the pandemic. These and other European findings demonstrate how countries are developing rapid responses, including TV and media campaigns to get the message out there that expert careers guidance is on hand. England’s careers support system is highly fragmented with overlapping services and provision.

Adults will also have to be far more versatile in coping with changing personal circumstances and changing roles. Everyone’s lives involve transitions, but for a growing number the frequency and scale of these are increasing, alongside job risk and uncertainty. Changes in the economy mean people are having to change jobs and fields of work more often than in the past.  Portfolio work is on the increase: for example, someone might be driving a taxi part of the day, renting out the driveway for somebody who wants to park their car, looking after an elderly relative and working for a delivery company in the evening. New career narratives are emerging. People are rethinking their lives and priorities for the future.

Some people are on journeys of personal transition, for example, coping with a disability, mental health or domestic issues, or addiction problems, recovering from an accident, being made redundant or preparing to leave prison. Adjusting to a new phase in life can be aided by high quality career development support services that build confidence and motivation, as well as connecting individuals to appropriate opportunities. In essence, career development support offers a vital ‘safety net’ for individuals whose dignity and self-worth is highly valued by practitioners.

The current economic crisis resulting from Covid-19 will have a greater impact on some groups than others. This is a time for greater joined-up approaches to education, career development, health and well-being, public employment support services and community development. Promising practice in creating places and spaces for career conversations include: In the Netherlands, LeerWerkLoketten (Learning and Working Desks) offers new spaces for career learning and support emerging at local and regional level, intended to provide open access to the community. In Finland, Ohjaamo One-Stop Guidance Centres exist to deliver integrated youth guidance. In South Africa, the Khetha Radio Programme operates as a multi-channelled careers service, supported by the Higher Education and Training Ministry, delivered in 10 languages to three million listeners sharing labour market information (LMI) and other careers information, advice and guidance.

Career development support services are needed more than ever before. An important next step is for policymakers and professionals to work together on shaping and agreeing ‘the art of the possible’ going forward. Sir John Sulston, the Nobel Prize Winning Scientist who decoded the human genetic sequence stated: ‘To find out you must be obsessed with knowing a part; to understand you must see the whole.’ (Sulston, 2002). This is now the right time to become obsessed with career development support systems that change people’s lives and produce a good return on the investment made by governments. 

The themes covered in this blog will be further discussed at a major Virtual International Conference hosted by Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE and her colleagues. The conference takes place on 20th – 22nd October 2020.