The goal of the seminar in Vilnius was to advance the development of counsellors’ competence in mobility questions, and to promote networking across borders between the participants from different countries.Finnish representatives included Sirkka Huttu and Pirjo Laiho from the Finnish Employment Administration, and the upper secondary school counsellors Seppo Linnaranta and Merja Kuvaja from the cities of Tampere and Seinäjoki, respectively.
In this story, Pirjo and Sirkka will share their experiences on how the seminar helped them to critically view their own work and the direction it should take in the future.
International mobility – a possibility for everyone?
Most of the participants at the Vilnius seminar represented study organisations, with a few representatives from the employment administration in different countries. “Due to this, the seminar’s approach to matters was somewhat different from our counselling activities,” Pirjo and Sirkka say.
“I am a psychologist with the Employment and Career Counselling Services in the employment office of south-eastern Finland in Kotka,” Pirjo says. She continues: “I have lived abroad myself, and partly due to this I have, for a while, been intrigued by the idea of taking advantage of international work or study opportunities in counselling services as a means of intervention for those young people who have not, for some reason, been attached to working life or studies.”
Pirjo thinks that all counselling professionals should think over how they see the world of opportunities and how they feel about going abroad to work or study. “The obstacles and risks that we associate with going abroad will impact the alternatives we offer our customers, and to which we think they are capable of,” Pirjo summarises.
If one thinks that going abroad requires superior skills (e.g. a sociable nature, courage, self-confidence, language skills...), it may be that most customers of the employment office are excluded to start with. Of course, this is not the way it should go; international mobility should be a realistic alternative for everyone. Crossing borders encompasses learning new skills, and this could be a powerful tool, in particular for those young people who have below-average possibilities to study.
Counselling supports inclusion, and it can be used to provide the means to prevent exclusion from international experiences. “Are we, with our attitudes towards international mobility, a part of excluding our customers from international mobility, instead of offering them a possibility to take the bold step; and by doing so, are we accelerating the whirlpool of social exclusion?” Or could we take part in offering our customers new perspectives to a direction they cannot see themselves?” Pirjo questions.
From reactivity to proactivity
The idea of studying or working abroad is usually brought up by the customer: “Personally, I am not involved in the more profound counselling activities; my job is to guide customers towards the right kind of information. However, this event has inspired me to bring up the alternative of internationalisation in our counselling sessions, even if the customer had never thought of it,” says Sirkka, who works with people under 30 at the North Savo employment office, in the City of Varkaus in eastern Finland.
The seminar challenged Sirkka and Pirjo to think over their own role as counsellors and of how they could be the ones offering “courageous ideas”. How does it affect the customer process if the counsellor does not settle on the limits given by customer, but will challenge the customer with ideas that may feel impossible – like going abroad?
According to Pirjo and Sirkka, the task of a professional career counsellor is not merely to react to the ideas brought up by the customer; instead, the counsellor should also offer alternatives outside the customer’s comfort zone. Such ideas may, in a best case scenario, encourage the customer and give them confidence in their own skills. This could be the beginning of an adventure and personal growth, as described by one of the Danish participants: “This guy left for a three-week international training, and when he came back, he had grown up ten years.”
From words to action
“Even though Employment Administration does not have the same kind of established practices for international training as educational institutions do, we do have tools that we could purposely adapt and process in order to promote the goal of mobility for all,” Pirjo comments.
Work try-out programmes, for example, are worth considering. This could include a system of paying a benefit to another country with the help of the contact network created at the Vilnius seminar. And vice versa, the Employment and Career Counselling Services could offer support for people arriving to Finland in co-operation with the sending country. Career coaching can also be provided by the employment administration, even with international orientation.
Fun and useful
Sirkka and Pirjo assure that they have gained many new contacts and in-depth insight into their own counselling work. The many group assignments and lectures provided a new perspective on internationalisation. The participants have set up their own Facebook group that has proved to be an excellent channel of sharing information and good practices, as well as news from everyone.
“The seminar was very rewarding also at an individual level,” Sirkka states with satisfaction. It activated my English oral skills and forced me to take a leap outside my comfort zone. Discussions with other participants made me realise that the problems that young people have are, in the end, very much alike in different countries.
Text: Pirjo Laiho & Sirkka Huttu
Text editing Mika Launikari, CIMO
Article is originally published in CIMO webpages 9.11.2016.