Transition from school to work and back to work

Background and determining factors in the Irish national situation and the Dublin region

This report sets out the main factors at national and regional level in Ireland in relation to supported transition for individuals: from an educational setting to work and from unemployment back to work. The national context has undergone two transformations in a relatively short space of time. A period of unprecedented economic growth from the mid 1990s onwards which brought new demands in terms of servicing economic activity and the labour market. This was very quickly followed by a period of unprecedented economic decline. The full effects and implications of this transition are still uncertain in the context of transition to work from education and from unemployment. While growth in the unemployment rate has been unprecedented, actual numbers at work have increased.

1.   Programmes to Support Transition

Supports and Guidance linked to transition are very much provided in separate streams with different agencies being responsible for delivering different programmes:

  • Guidance and Support in the Transition from School to Work: Mainstream supports are provided in the secondary school system through the School Guidance Programme.
  • Adult Guidance: Continuing guidance to adults outside the formal school system is provided through the Adult Education Guidance Initiative (AEGI): funded through the National Development Plan 2007-2013 under the Social Inclusion Priority.
  • Guidance and Support for the Unemployed: Ireland's National Employment Service (NES) consists of 2 strands, Employment Services operated by FÁS, the National Training and Employment Authority, and the Local Employment Service (LES) which operates mainly through Local Area Partnership Companies on contract from FÁS.

It can be argued that policy orientation has led to separation of transition guidance and supports that are associated with education on the one hand, and those that are associated with labour market of employment on the other. The current strategy places emphasis upon the personal and social roles of learning, supporting a knowledge and innovation-based society, changing social, economic and labour market circumstances or the impact of demographic change and lifelong learning.

The introduction and development of The National Framework of Qualifications in 2003 represents the most significant policy and legislative influence on the provision of guidance. Central to developing this framework has been a strategy designed at building a more effective partnership, as well as greater cohesion, between the education and training sectors. At the same time, increased co-operation between both sectors and industry, business and the wider community was necessary.

2.   The local and regional context governing transition

Central to understanding the local and regional delivery context is, on the one hand, the history of social partnership as the predominant development model at national level. Linked to this is the collaborative and partnership-based nature of development structures at local and regional levels. This means that, while guidance and support services are very much determined nationally, there is considerable scope to develop particular approaches to delivery at local level to suit local circumstances.

In West Dublin Blanchardtown for example the development of the Local Employment Service (LES) has been long-established and recognised. The partnership is responsible for a range of programmes to help meet the needs of individuals, families and communities in the area:

  • Young Population: A striking feature about the area is its high youth population. 23.7% of the overall population are aged less than 15 years of age.
  • Educational Attainment: There has been a continuous improvement in educational attainment amongst adults. The percentage of the overall population who reported to have no formal or primary education fell to 10.2%. This is significantly lower than the Dublin equivalent of 16.7% or the national figure of 18.9%.
  • Labour Market Characteristics: Since 2002 the total number of people at work significantly increased. An additional 11,622 persons are now in employment and consequently the labour market participation rates rose to 73.30%. This is far in excess of the national average.

The aim of the LES is to support local long term unemployed people in accessing education, training and work opportunities, which will enable them to move from unemployment into the workplace. In 1997 and 1998 Blanchardstown Area Partnership established LES 4 key locations within the area. Throughout the years the service has registered over 3,000 clients and worked with them through one to one mediation and guidance or group based supports. Over 2,000 of these have progressed to education, training or work. Outreach events and local publicity are seen as important in helping to increase the profile of the service and welcome new clients. Leaflet drops, promotional events, local advertising and satellite mediation services have all formed part of the Outreach activity.

3.   Common Patterns and Challenges Emerging

A number of challenges for guidance policy and service development in Ireland were identified in an OCED review of Career Guidance policies:

  • Put in place a stronger developmental approach to career assistance, to give students skills in career decision making and to improve their knowledge of the world of work.
  • Obtain a better balance between assisting students with their personal and social problems on the one hand, and their career and work-related needs on the other. This would, however, have implications for existing student-to-Guidance Counsellor ratios.
  • Achieve co-ordination between the organisations and agencies that produce and develop career information, as well as between schools and community groups.

Of particular is the increasing importance being attached to the need to both monitor and understand outcomes from guidance and support work in transition generally. Much of the debate is centred on the model and principles associated with such delivery. This is seen as being especially important for being effective in delivering support and guidance to those groups who are ‘hard to reach’ or more distant from labour market and progression opportunities. Success in local guidance depends to a large extent upon the personal relationships that can be established with individuals. The LES sees itself as a service that operates from a ‘community development methodology’, essentially stressing that the process through for individuals in their development is as important as the outcome.

4.   Demands, Needs and Gaps in Service Provision

Discussions in consultations with relevant institutions are mainly centred on the need for review, monitoring and evaluation of service provision.

  1. Evaluation and monitoring systems need to appropriate and consistent with the approach taken to delivering local employment services, as well as youth information services that are geared at assisting young people with transition.
  2.  Monitoring and review systems are based more on an ‘inspectorial’ than on a ‘learning’ model. For this reason they are of very limited use in informing the planning process for local service delivery.
  3. Outcome indicators are usually narrowly defined: limited principally to measuring whether or not the client experiences successful transition to employment. Service providers argue that benefits to the client should be measured on a broader basis. In many cases the benefits are about less tangible and immediately measurable improvements: such as increase in self-confidence, increased personal skills in accessing relevant information, or increased capacity for full social participation. These may not have immediately recognisable implications for successful transition from unemployment to work (or form school to work).

Some of these issues raised are verified in the OECD review of guidance in Ireland. The review concludes, for example, that there is a need for “more systematic tools for assessing student need”. The report recommends that the summary dimensions reported by the assessment tool should be used as a way to link users to information about occupations, to inform about education and training courses, and to link these to one another. Sharing of information on opportunities, results and approaches is of even more importance in Ireland: where there is a significant range of different service providers and service approaches. Some professionals provide guidance as their main employment role. But others provide this kind of service informally: often as part of a broader job description. A mechanism for recording progress and progression, good practice and lessons from outcomes should allow for this broad spectrum of facilitators. It should also be closely linked a mechanism for sharing information about opportunities and possible transition pathways.

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