How Career Guidance Can Improve Job Prospects for Young People

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Employment outcomes for young people can be maximized with career guidance and employment services.


What you need to know

Many young people, particularly those from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds, struggle to find stable employment because they lack guidance and information on the demands of the labor market. They include those who are attempting to move from farm to off-farm employment in order to earn more and diversify their sources of income.

One way to improve labor market outcomes for young people is to provide them with career guidance and employment services.

Defining career guidance and employment services

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines career guidance “as the services and activities intended to assist individuals, of any age and at any point throughout their lives, to make educational, training and occupational choices and to manage their careers.”

Such services, OECD said, may be found in schools, universities and colleges, in training institutions, in public employment services, in the workplace, in the voluntary or community sector and in the private sector. The activities may include career information provision, assessment and self-assessment tools, counseling interviews, career education programs, ”taster” programs that allow job-seekers to sample options before making a decision, work search programs, and transition services.

The International Labour Organization (ILO), in a 2006 handbook on career guidance, noted research by the OECD, the World Bank, the European Centre for the Development of Vocational Education and Training and the European Training Foundation, confirming the importance of career guidance, counseling, and information in helping achieve three goals:

  • lifelong learning;
  • improved labor market outcomes, including reducing mismatches between labor supply and demand; and
  • social equity and social inclusion.

Career advice and employment services support the aspirations of young people from poor and disadvantaged backgrounds in attaining stable employment, which the ILO defines as being employed for more than 12 months.

Career advice and support services should shorten the length of time to transition from school to further study and then into employment. In parts of Asia and the Pacific, a large number of young people find themselves looking for jobs for more than a year. In Bangladesh, they account for 45.3% of young job seekers and in Nepal, they account for 31.2%.  The long wait opens them to the risk of their skills becoming obsolete, financial loss, and developing low self-esteem. And the longer the wait, the lower the chances of finding stable jobs.

Unemployed youth by job search duration (%) 






Viet Nam

Less than 1 week






1 week to less than 1 month






1 month to less than 3 months






3 months to less than 6 months






6 months to less than 1 year






1 year or more






1 Less than 1 month; 2 1 month to less than 6 months; 3 Less than 3 months
Note: Duration of the job search relates to the strict definition of unemployed (those who engaged in an active job search).
Source: International Labor Organization. 2012-13. School-to-Work Transition Surveys.

Stage 1: Transition from School to Further Study

High-quality advice and guidance are essential if young people are to make informed decisions on what course to take and where to take it when they leave secondary school.

Ways to help school-leavers find the right course

These services will be provided by trained and qualified career teachers and counselors, who can share information on the world of work, types of careers and their roles, duties and responsibilities, earning potential, and labor market demand. Apart from helping with the application process, counselors can also provide assistance, taking into account the personal circumstances and personality traits of the jobseeker.  

This will expose young people to job possibilities through job fairs, career talks, and so-called ‘taster’ work placement schemes.

In the absence of national career services, these training providers or agencies should be able to advertise and enroll young people into courses both off-line and online; guide young people toward potential careers; provide information on qualifications required for entry as well as on the courses leading to these qualifications, their location, length, content, mode of delivery, cost, among others.

The information should be able to show growth sectors and the types of skills employers look for.

Where to find ideas

ILO’s Career Guidance handbook is aimed in particular at guidance practitioners in low- and middle-income countries. It includes an online toolkit of career guidance resources, which has been used in the People’s Republic of China and Indonesia. It contains examples that can serve as a reference for developing career guidance and training support services in rural areas.

In Europe, a resource kit is available to help policy-makers and other stakeholders review existing lifelong guidance provision within their country or region and identify issues requiring attention. 

In Indonesia, Sustainable economic development through technical and vocational education and training (SED-TVET), a project funded by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), includes a component on school-to-work transition addressing labor market information, career counseling and guidance services, and collaboration between local industry and educational providers.

In Mongolia, a project called Cooperative Vocational Training in the Mineral Resource Sector, which is financed by the governments of Germany, Switzerland and Australia, includes a component to boost the qualifications of vocational education and career guidance staff through capacity development and by placing development advisers in schools.

In the United Kingdom, there are standards of performance, prescribed in the National Occupational Standards, for career development practitioners. The standards, which are available online, include modules on enabling individuals to use and apply information for career development, setting goals and career objectives, integrating career education within the curriculum, supporting learners’ transition and progression, among others.

In Turkey, work has been done to increase career counselors’ use of information and communication technology (ICT) in guidance services and to equip them with the competences to deliver such services. It includes an ICT skills map, a training needs analysis of guidance practitioners, and the development and delivery of a four-day training program and training materials.

New startups, which leverage on ICT to provide information on education and training opportunities and job-matching services, are on the rise. in the Philippines is an example of a private enterprise which has taken an entrepreneurial approach in providing guidance and job-placement service for school and college leavers.
Microsoft, through an initiative called DigiGirlz, is encouraging young women to get involved in science, technology, engineering and math to entice them to pursue careers in technology.

A bank of short-term, unpaid, work placements allows Australian school students to participate in activities at a place of paid or voluntary work. The aim is to provide insights into the industry and the workplace in which they are located without extensive training.   

UK-based charity Education and Employers gives young people first-hand insight into potential careers through its project, Inspiring the Future. The project recruits volunteers—people from the world of work—and ask them to pledge an hour a year to speak about their career in state schools and colleges.
Stage 2: Transition from Study to Work

The transition from study to work can be “make-or-break” for anyone. Taking too long to secure a job can lead to financial hardships and loss of confidence that is hard to overcome—both for new entrants to the labor market and for more experienced workers who are changing jobs.

Ways to help young people to find stable employment

Job seekers need to know about skills in demand in different sectors, where and when job vacancies are occurring and the career pathways open to them;

Students need access to potential employers with an interest in their skill-set.

Guided reflection on personal circumstances may impact the jobseeker’s decision, e.g. work experience, qualifications and specialized subjects, core skills, earning expectations, preferred working location and environment. Counselors can also help job-seekers search for jobs, draw up their curriculum vitae, and prepare for interviews and how to negotiate their salary package. They can also set up online job-matching services and job fairs.

Where to find ideas

In the Philippines, the government, through a project called JobStart Philippines, helps young Filipinos start their career and find meaningful paid employment. It targets at-risk youth and offers life skills training, one-on-one career guidance, job-matching, and technical training.

In Singapore, students and workers have access to a network of career centers run by WorkForce Singapore, a statutory board under the Ministry of Manpower tasked to help workers meet their career aspirations and secure good jobs. Its programs and initiatives include Adapt and Grow, which helps Singaporeans adapt to the changing job market, and online jobs search site, Jobsbank.

Keeping track of how graduates are faring is important so that those who follow in their footsteps will be better informed. Sri Lanka, with assistance from the Asian Developing Bank, tracks where TVET graduates end up by using interactive voice response surveys, computer-assisted telephone interviews and tablet- and cloud-based data collection.

Students and workers in the Republic of Korea can benefit from CareerNet, a career guidance-related research and development center set up at the Korea Research Institute for Vocational Education & Training by the Ministry of Education. It offers psychometric testing, career counseling, job information, and career education materials, including videos and digital books. Services are provided through various media, including desktop and mobile web, and smartphone applications.

In Kerala, India, a project called Additional Skill Acquisition Program, focuses on helping job seekers improve their soft skills, as well as communications and IT skills. Employers also take part to ensure market relevance.

In Singapore, job matching platform JobKred helps workers link up quickly and easily with employers looking to hire new people. The service is designed to help both parties and aims to cut recruitment time for companies and filter suitable jobs for job-seekers. JobKred uses data from industries, the government, and other labor market sources.

Several job-hunting apps are now available, such as Switch, Jobr and Job Snap. Some, like the Levo app, even offer options allowing candidates and employers to upload 30-second videos to tell their story.  Also refer to: Swiping Right for the Job: How Technology Is Changing Matching in the Workforce (JPMorgan Chase, 2016).

What you need to do

Setting Up Programs and Resources

To determine what kind of interventions are needed, a checklist of what resources and programs are already in place may be useful. The checklist should help governments identify whether they already have a system of employment services and career counseling in place and identify the areas where they may be lacking.

The checklist should help countries determine if they have the following resources and services: trained and certificated career guidance practitioners, ICT tools for counseling, guidance and job-matching services, up-to-date and reliable career guidance information from employers, employment and career guidance services for learners and workers of all ages, employment and career guidance services for members of all social groups, and up-to-date local, national, and international labor market information informing guidance services.

Here are some pointers on how to set up successful career guidance and employment services:

These professionals should be well-versed on one-to-one and group counseling, Internet-savvy, and have in-depth knowledge of the labor market, and a wide network of employer contacts.

Given the increasing number of people requiring help to navigate their way through the job market, it makes sense to leverage on ICT to help users self-manage their information gathering and decision making, with intervention from counselors only on as-needed basis.

These may come in the form of job-search tools which provide services to individual job-seekers and the recruiting employers, requiring both online and face-to-face support depending on the needs of the user.

Now, more than ever, employment services and career guidance systems need to help people in mid- and late-career as well as those starting out. Jobs are no longer for life given uncertainties in the global economy and their impact on jobs.

One of the big advantages of career guidance and job placement services is that, in countries where employers rely heavily on social contacts for staff recruitment, they can bring more equity of opportunity for people who lack social capital and generally have difficulty finding out about vacancies or presenting themselves credibly for interview.

Up-to-date labor market information is necessary so counselors can give informed advice to their clients. Information coming directly from employers themselves, in particular, offer valuable insights to both the counselor and his client. Only employers can really know what is required of workers in particular jobs, the prospects of career growth, and future job demand from within the sector. 

Practical Considerations

Finding a job fast and keeping it requires five key factors:

A strong advocacy and strategic leadership is needed so that career guidance services are perceived as a crucial element of human resources development (HRD) services rather than an add-on when funding might become available. To this end, quality assurance mechanisms need to be developed and linked to the funding of services.

The aim is to create a coherent system, with multiple stakeholders developing different elements of service delivery. While government has a key role in the provision of career guidance services, it should not be regarded as the sole provider. An effective strategy will coordinate government and non-government services.

Scarce resources require priorities to be established which focus initially on improving career and educational information, followed by investing in self-help services, exploiting the use of ICT, improving staff training, and developing incentives to encourage the private and NGO sectors to develop and deliver services. The design of these services should not assume that everyone needs intensive personal guidance but allow for more diverse service delivery.

Service providers require a good understanding of who uses different services, for what purposes, how well suppliers are meeting demand, the cost-effectiveness of career guidance, and levels of client satisfaction. These will help them defend investments.

Providing career guidance and job placement services requires a high degree of gender sensitivity. Trained counsellors will need to dispel any self-imposed discrimination by learners and their parents at the same time as educating employers on the introduction of merit-based rather than gender-based recruitment practices.

Karina Veal
International Expert in Vocational and Higher Education

Karina Veal served as a senior education specialist for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where she provided strategic advice and technical expertise to governments across Asia. She also advocated new approaches for ADB's $2.7 billion TVET portfolio. Prior to joining ADB in 2012, she provided consulting services in skills for development, advising UN and bilateral agencies; and held public policy roles in the Australian TVET system. 

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Muriel Dunbar
Senior Skills Adviser at Cambridge Education

Muriel Dunbar is a specialist in TVET and its links to the labor market.  She has undertaken work for a number of donor agencies, including ADB, World Bank, DFID, UNESCO and UNICEF, and completed a five-year term as Director of the European Training Foundation.  Her work has included advising donors and beneficiary governments in Asia and Africa on policy development and implementation of TVET reform.

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