Quality, professionalism, technologies: the challenges of regional guidance systems Interview with Ronald Sultana.

In Ancona (Italy), we had the opportunity to meet Professor Ronald Sultana, University of Malta, director of the Euro-Mediterranean Centre for Educational Research. He is one of the world's leading experts in career guidance.

Professor Sultana, in Italy, as in other contries, Regions, Cities and Local Authorities are engaged in the construction of local guidance systems to help people to choose and manage their educational and professional careers throughout their lifetime. A great challenge for the future: what do you think?

I have had the opportunity to study quite a lot of initiatives on career guidance internationally, so one of the first things I want to say is that over the last 10-15 years career guidance has been recognized as an important service that offered to the citizens. It has been recognized also that one of the main challenges is that the demand for the service is greater than supply; it means we need to increace the services and reach more people in ways that are original and that use information technology, that make sure that individuals and groups can make decisions that are founded on information which is up to date, which is reliable. That is one of the major challenges.

I should say however that guidance does not solve the economic problems of Europe, it can help people to find their way, it can perhaps create a better match between the demand and supply of the labor market, but we must not expect guidance to solve macro-economic and structural problems. It can support their resolution, and in some countries guidance can help to make sure that those groups that are particularly vulnerable get the support they need. Guidance can make a difference to their lives in terms of the information we give, in terms of the competences that we help people to develop in order to find their place in the labor market.

Which are the main quality aspects of a territorial guidance systems?

An other challenge of course to make sure that the services that we offer either through the public services, through non-governmental organizations and through private employment services are of quality. There are different aspects of quality we should focus on, for example the kind of information that we give. This is incredibly difficult in some countries, because we might have the labor market information but we do not know how to present it in ways that the citizens can make a good use of it. So there have to be frameworks or standards of quality to make sure that the information that is given, the relationship that is developed between the provider of the service and the citizen, is really up to standard.

In most countries the main way to ensure quality has been to train those who give guidance in professional ways. In many countries so far across Europe and elsewhere those who provide guidance services were not specifically trained; they come from psychology or from teaching but were not specifically trained in career guidance. So perhaps one of the greatest measures or guarantees of quality is to make sure that people who provide these services are well trained. We have seen some interesting initiatives across Europe, including Italy, where those who are providing the services now have reached a good level of training, even at post-graduate or master's level. This is a good sign.

What role will play the new technologies?

Earlyer I was saying that one of the big challenges is to make sure that people have access to the services. It is impossible and it is too expensive to have career guidance services for each and every individual citizen, but what some countries have managed to do very well, Australia for example but also many other countries, like the Uk and Italy have made some progress in this area too, is to use the information technology available in order to assist self-access in a way that you use information technology, in order to explore your career, to find out about labor markets, to find out about training possibilities and opportunities, also to discover a bit more about yourself.

Today there are some really extraordinary tools, perhaps the best one I know is in Australia where the whole system works very nicely, where all the aspects of getting information, advise and guidance interact together in one platform, so that an individual or a group in a school or in a youth-club can learn about themselves, about their aspirations, about their skills, but also watch videos about jobs that they would like to do or interviews. Let's say you want to become a carpenter, you can watch a video with somebody working as a carpenter. You can know which universities are the best in order to study, what kind of salary you could get for a certain job and so on.

So the information technologies have an enormous potential in this area and in some countries they have been already developed more than in others.

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