Disclaimer: The following article does not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.
Author: Tomas Sprlak, Service Manager, Guidance and Counselling Department of the Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family.
The Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family as a co-ordinating public body of the employment services (PES) in Slovakia joined the EmployID project consortium as an associate partner in early 2015. This came on the initiative of our PES counsellors and practitioners. Counselling services had not been in the focus of Slovak PES in the first decade of 2000s: other active labour market measures were prioritised and viewed by policymakers as more effective. An increasing focus on demand-side measures (subsidies for employers) and allowances at the expense of counselling and individual support lead to a cultural shift within the organisation. Left without a solid footing and interest of their managers, counsellors became uncertain about their role and tended to adopt the attitude of simple gatekeepers to social benefits and subsidies, whose sole responsibility was to follow increasingly complicated administrative procedures.
Since 2013, our counselling and training department has been trying to reconstruct counselling services in our labour offices through different, mostly top-down measures. New methodological guidelines were created and disseminated through a series of training activities for counsellors. An external provider was contracted to train our counsellors in career guidance and skills audit (bilan de compétences). Despite some successes, our initiative was often hindered or fell flat because of the prevailing culture inside the organisation e.g. lack of support from regional management, conservativism and organisational rigidity often hampered the individual engagement of counsellors and their efforts to modernise counselling provision.
In the light of these efforts we were very keen to join the EmployID consortium. We found the analysis of the current state of PES and the vision of modernisation through identity transformation extremely pertinent to our situation. We participated together with our national manager at the first meeting of associated partners in London in October 2015. We later invited Pablo Franzo and Oliver Blunk (EmployID) to Slovakia to present two project outputs: (i) peer-coaching and (ii) online communities of practice. We wanted to use a peer-coaching approach to involve service managers in the day-to- day work of the counsellors and to increase their engagement in improving the quality of counselling services. We also intended to implement the online community of practice to strengthen the sharing of experience and to support peer-learning around new methods and approaches from methodological guidelines.
Unfortunately, organisational and operational obstacles did not allow us to advance in the implementation of these tools and the initial enthusiasm from our management gradually disappeared in a pressure of daily operational concerns.
However, our participation in the EmployID consortium was not without impact. After some discussions with EmployID, we decided to continue the effort of identity transformation within our organisation in a more bottom-up practitioner approach. Here are some examples below of the work EmployID
encouraged us to implement. These are, of course, hardly ground-breaking but they nevertheless represent a new spirit for our organisation:
- A system of regular and on-demand internal training activities for counsellors was implemented and regular regional meetings of counsellors have been organised. These training activities are provided by a group of 15 internal trainers who were recruited from within the counsellors. The training system involves regular ‘intervision’ and is, by principle, based on peer-learning. Meetings with regional managers are organised on a regular basis. A significant part of these meetings is systematically devoted to activities that foster peer-learning (the sharing of experiences and finding common solutions) in the spirit of peer-coaching, as espoused by EmployID.
- We involve regional managers more in the organisational and methodological developments through the systematic collection of feedback and comments online questionnaires and wider amendment procedure). The methodological materials (guidance and counselling programmes for specific target groups) are presented to regional managers so that they better understandthe core principles and added-value of counselling, as well as challenges their counsellors might face.
- The methodological guide has been adapted and enlarged based on the feedback from counsellors. The guide has become an open and living resource where counsellors contribute their own methods. Online storage available to all was created for sharing examples of good practices and other materials among counsellors.
- An external blog was started where counsellors, as well as service managers and trainers can post their views and share experiences.
Our intermediary goal was to:
- Create a climate of openness and confidence;
- provide counsellors with opportunities for professional development and peer-learning;
- foster ownership of the new methodological approaches and tools; and
- increase the perceived quality and value of counselling within and outside of the organisation.
It is difficult to appropriately measure the impact of these small measures. The feedback we receive from counsellors and regional managers is overwhelmingly positive and anecdotical evidence suggests that the change is gradually happening. Since 2015, the number of initiatives within Slovak PES (in this case, measured by the number of applicants submitted for a national award for career guidance) has been continuously increasing. This indicates a growing sense of pride the counsellors take in their work.Thanks to this work the management decided to reinforce counselling services within the labour offices and the number of counsellors has almost doubled in 2017 compared to 2015. Of course, much more needs to be done and more can be achieved. We still work in an organisational culture that often gives more importance to administration than to improving the situation of the client in an ever-changing world of work. But our experience shows, that if things are to change, the bottom-up approach striving for the evolution of professional identities of PES staff is the first and most vital step.
If you want more information about how EmployID partners can help your organization to enhance your team´s identity transformation for more effective work and growth, see https://consultancy.employid.eu/