‘Should I stay or should I go?’

The importance of lifelong guidance for lifelong learning from the perspective of professional employees

Kristina Lovén Seldén, TCO – The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees

In an increasingly digital economy, lifelong learning is likely to become more important than ever before, at all skill levels. Even if few jobs can be fully automated, and the speed of change is likely to differ between sectors, countries and companies, nearly all jobs or tasks will be impacted in one way or another.

In order for workers and employees to be able to update existing skills and acquire new skills throughout their careers, appropriate systems of education and reskilling are thus needed. As more and more workers have a higher education already when they join the labour market, employees are also going to need to return to university several times over the course of their working life, in order to improve on their skills, change career or move across industries. Massive shortages of skills in almost every sector in the Swedish labour market makes this need even more urgent. Investments in lifelong learning and skills may however also be viewed as a cornerstone of an inclusive labour market.

A crucial yet often overlooked dimension of lifelong learning is lifelong guidance. As concluded by the European Lifelong Guidance Policy Network (ELPGN) gradually more attention has though been given to guidance at EU level and national levels in recent years, for both economic and social reasons. Guidance, it is argued, is necessary to avoid unemployment among those with a short educational background as old jobs are replaced by new ones. Structural change and rationalisation will however impact mid-and high qualified jobs as well as these groups of workers also will need to update their skills in order to stay relevant.  

Even if the literature stresses the need to strengthen and broaden access to lifelong guidance throughout the entire working life, little is known about adults’ actual demands and incentives for seeking guidance (or their reluctance to do so) – at least from a Swedish perspective.

Against this background, the paper examines the experiences and expectations of professional employees on career guidance. The paper focuses among other things on factors enabling or hindering employees from pursuing guidance, their perceived need for guidance, as well as their views on the form and content. Difficulties that they may have experienced along the way are also addressed. Whether they see guidance as an efficient tool for transition is highlighted as well.  The paper discusses joint experiences as well as important differences between employees with regard to educational level, gender, age, branch and occupation.

Empirically, the paper draws upon a statistical postal survey conducted by the Swedish Statistics (SCB) on behalf of TCO (The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees) in 2017. The sample size is 6500 individuals and the response rate is 43 percent.