The Governance of Career Guidance Systems in Nordic Countries - Exploratory workshops

Services and activities intended to assist individuals to make educational and occupational choices are vital part of Nordic welfare model. But how career guidance systems are governed at national and local levels in the Nordic context?

The provision of career guidance – that is, services and activities intended to assist individuals to make educational and occupational choices (OECD 2004; see also Hooley, Sultana & Thomsen 2018) – has for a long time attracted considerable supranational attention. For instance, since the early 2000s, the European Union (EU) has placed the management of career guidance systems high on its policy agenda and focused on improving, assessing and measuring the efficiency of career guidance systems (Bengtsson 2016; Sultana 2012). As a consequence, a plethora of projects, networks and programs to develop career guidance systems have emerged around the globe (ELGPN 2012; Watts 2008). Despite common supranational aspirations, career guidance systems have remained quite contextualized. For instance, extended and highly institutionalized career guidance systems are especially typical in the Nordic welfare states (Haug et al. 2020).

The relationship between guidance of individuals and techniques of governance has been a scholarly interest for some time: especially the ways in which individual life courses are governed by means of career guidance practices (cf. Haug et al. 2019). Nevertheless, the actual instruments to govern guidance systems at national and local levels have mainly been left off research agendas. There are some overviews of the European Union’s involvement in career guidance as an aspect of the wider policy areas of education, training and employment (Bengtsson 2016; Bergmo-Prvulovic 2014) and the “Nordic model for guidance” (Haug et al. 2020). Besides these, studies on the governance or politics of career guidance have been rare.

The idea of Governance of Career Guidance Systems in Nordic Countries workshops is to gather scholars from four Nordic countries (Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden) to tackle this gap in knowledge. The scholarly impact of the workshops will be twofold: First, the project will offer a novel empirical understanding of the prospects of guidance in globalized late-modern Nordic knowledge societies. Instead of focusing on the individual and psychological theories of career guidance, the project seeks to unravel how career guidance systems are governed at national and local levels in the Nordic context. Second, with its new institutional approach, the project will contribute to the under-studied and emerging scholarly field of governance of career guidance systems, located at the intersection of the politics of education and social and administrative studies, by combining theories from different paradigms and participating in debates in several scholarly fields.

As an outcome of the workshops, first, a special issue “National and local perspectives to governance of career guidance systems in Nordic countries” will be published in a prestigious peer-revied journal, which will be thoroughly deliberated at the first workshop. Second, both workshops will offer a platform to prepare joint research proposals focusing on the comparison and analyses of the organization and governance of career guidance systems at national and local levels for national and Nordic funding organizations.

To grasp the issue of governing national and local career guidance systems in a comparative manner, the interplay between continuity and change become important. Unveiling factors that lead to continuity (such as the division of jurisdiction between institutions, dissimilar administrative cultures and lack of resources for cooperative work) and issues enabling change (such as supranational trends and domestic political will to reinforce career guidance) is an essential precondition for serious and determined endeavours to develop and renew governance of Nordic career guidance systems.

The theoretical approach of the workshops will be new institutional theory, which seeks to explain the role that institutions play in the formation of social and political outcomes of career guidance systems. Hence, the institutions will not simply be seen as a product of policy processes under the given power relations in the context. Instead, new institutional analysis has the potential to explain how institutions affect the behaviour of the actors: how do actors behave, what do institutions do, and why do institutions persist or change over time the way they do? (Hall & Taylor 1996).

To reach the aims of the workshops, the analysis will use a complete set of theoretical tools, following the new institutional approach which will be elaborated during the workshops. According to the approach, previous decisions, events and their interpretations will set limits (or other options) for peoples’ behaviour in later events (Pierson 2004). With increasing returns, an established institutional pattern will deliver increasing benefits with its continued adoption, and thus over time, it will become more difficult to transform the pattern or to select other options (Mahoney 2000). Yet, the overall meaning of the values, norms and habits behind the institutional permanence is recognized: the institutions tend to create and follow the ‘logic of appropriateness’ (March & Olsen 1989), which works to resist alternative solutions. Nevertheless, the recent focus on ideas and discourses – understood as interpretations or patterns in which the actors give meaning of the experienced world – also emphasizes the institutional change and substantive content of a new policies (Schmidt 2010).

No major ethical issues concerning the workshops are expected. The organization of the workshops will follow the guidelines of the Finnish National Board on Research Integrity. Should ethical issues arise, the research group will consult the University of Helsinki Ethical Review Board in the Humanities and Social and Behavioural Sciences. To promote the sustainable development goals, research team will meet physically only during the two workshops. Any other activities will take place online to reduce the negative environmental impact of travel.

Nordic added value

The Governance of Career Guidance Systems in Nordic Countries -workshops will analyse the governance of career guidance in Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The underlying idea is that career guidance has been a vital part of the Nordic welfare model, promoting equal opportunity and social inclusion (see Haug et al. 2020). Indeed, career guidance is a significant welfare state function which has become well-established in the Nordic countries. However, the way in which it fits into Nordic welfare institutions and is governed by the states and municipalities has been poorly understood. The workshops will seek to understand the inter-relationship between the governance of career guidance and the Nordic national and local contexts. This will enhance the efficacy of career guidance in the Nordic countries, support policymaking and promote the equality of educational opportunities.

New supranational political rationalities of career guidance, such as the information society and lifelong learning/guidance will have an impact on Nordic and other countries. The rhetoric of “boundaryless” (Arthur & Rousseau 1996) or “protean” (Hall 1996) careers and the need for individuals to build “career adaptability” (Savickas 2013) has challenged the traditional idea of career guidance as a part of the egalitarian Nordic welfare model (Hooley, Sultana & Thomsen 2018; Haug et al. 2020).

The aim is to conduct a new form of comparative institutional analysis on the ways in which continuities and changes shape the developments of career guidance systems in the Nordic countries. Nordic added value is generated in two complementary and intertwined ways: First, the workshops will be built on the specific comprehension of the Nordic welfare regime. The needs to develop the governance of career guidance systems are unique to the Nordic countries and shared among them due to their similar social structures and institutions. Second, the research collaboration will be taking place in the Nordic region. The aim is to build expertise at the Nordic level in issues on governance of career guidance systems. Despite the particular focus on Nordic added value, the results from the workshops are openly available for scholars and public audience interested in career guidance as a vehicle social justice and equality of opportunities.


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