Career guidance for adults: How is it working in Latin America?

Adults in Latin America strongly rely on their friends and family when it comes to advice on labour market and training opportunities. Many do not know that professional guidance services exist in their countries or cannot afford them. How can we raise awareness about available guidance services and design them in a way that makes them accessible to all adults? A new OECD report “Career Guidance for Adults in Latin America” gives insights into the options available to adults and suggests ways forward to improve policy and provision.


Over the past year, the COVID-19 crisis severely shook labour markets in Latin America. Working hours dropped by 16% during 2020 across the region of Latin America and the Caribbean and job losses were higher among low-income and less-educated adults, increasing the structurally high inequalities (ILO, 2021). The pandemic adds to the challenges that workers face in keeping their skills up to date in the face of digitalisation, globalisation and the transition to low-carbon economies. With the challenges, there are also new job opportunities in emerging sectors and occupations. Without professional support, it will be difficult for individuals to navigate these changes in the world of work.

Career guidance is an important instrument to help adults understand how the labour market is changing and identify suitable employment and training opportunities. It can have a positive impact on training participation, learning and employment outcomes, like developing new skills, finding a job or getting a promotion. However, dedicated career guidance services for adults are still rare in the Latin American context. More common are vocational guidance programmes for young people or labour intermediation services for jobseekers.

With support from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, a new OECD report explores the role of career guidance in four Latin American countries. This report will be launched during a virtual conference on Adult Learning in Latin America, taking place 23-24 March 2021, that will bring together experts and practitioners from the region to discuss how to strengthen adult learning in Latin America.

As part of this project, the OECD conducted the online Survey of Career Guidance for Adults (SCGA) to better understand adults’ experiences with career guidance and the barriers they face in accessing these services. The four Latin American countries covered by the survey are Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Mexico (non-Latin American countries included in the survey are France, Germany, Italy, New Zealand and the United States (OECD, 2021).

According to the survey, four out of ten adults in the Latin American countries covered by the survey have spoken to a career guidance professional in the five years prior to the survey and most of them were satisfied with the support they received. However, adults who already face disadvantages in the labour market tend to use career guidance less than other adults. Unemployed adults, for instance, use career guidance about half as often as employed adults (26% vs. 48%). In addition, adults with low education, older adults and adults in informal employment use career guidance less than the average for all adults. Since these groups tend to face greater disadvantage in accessing quality jobs and training opportunities, they are the ones who could potentially benefit most from career guidance.

In Latin America, one in three adults who do not use career guidance reported not knowing that career guidance services existed at all. Another possible barrier is cost: 4 out of 10 adults who did use career guidance reported having paid partially or fully for career guidance services, which is high in comparison to non-Latin American countries in the survey. In particular, unemployed adults in the Latin American countries covered by the survey are much more likely to pay compared with unemployed adults in other countries. Less access to subsidised career guidance opportunities may be why adults in Latin America are more likely than adults in other countries to rely on informal career support, like speaking to family and friends.

The landscape of career guidance providers in Latin America is also unique. Most adults used the services offered by private providers (34% of adults who used career guidance services), while public employment services play a minor role (9%). The limited use of the public employment service may be connected to low public funding as well as to built-in incentives for jobseekers to quickly find jobs rather than invest in career development for better long-term matches.

In terms of policy directions, the report suggests that priority should be given to improving access to career guidance for those groups of the population who use it least but who need it most. This can be done by expanding public provision and financial support. Also, strengthening online guidance can facilitate access to career guidance, especially in contexts where budgets are tight. In addition, countries should raise awareness about formal career guidance opportunities that are already available. For these approaches to be effective, all stakeholders will need to work together and to develop quality standards.

These improvements in awareness, provision and governance of career guidance services can help ease the strain on labour markets by better matching adults with jobs that fit their profile or with training opportunities that help them stay up to date with skills needed in the labour market. This, in turn, will allow employers to adopt new technologies more easily and become more productive, with positive effects on competitiveness and, ultimately, well-being for all.

References

ILO (2021), ILO Monitor. COVID-19 and the world of work. Seventh edition, ILO Monitor, http://moz-extension://d0d98d2f-49ef-4138-9d5f-c5fd7a7ce929/enhanced-reader.html?openApp&pdf=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ilo.org%2Fwcmsp5%2Fgroups%2Fpublic%2F—dgreports%2F—dcomm%2Fdocuments%2Fbriefingnote%2Fwcms_767028.pdf (accessed on 10 March 2021).
OECD (2021), Career Guidance for Adults in a Changing World of Work, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/employment/career-guidance-for-adults-in-a-changing-world-of-work_9a94bfad-en (accessed on 8 January 2021).

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