“In the early 2000s, the European Commission realised that employees need more rotation in their tasks and support in their professional development,” says Liisi Rossi, head of Career Guidance Services at the European Commission since 2008. The development of career guidance services was launched in the Commission in 2003–2004. Since then, the employees of the Commission have been offered the chance to receive career-related advice and support from trained career counsellors.
One of the challenges faced by the Commission was that the same people had been working in the same positions for too long. This was solved by offering the option of voluntarily participating in work rotation. As transferring to a different position within the Commission requires the staff member to participate in an internal recruitment process, it was important to develop employee counselling and training in order to make the work rotation successful. Many employees who had worked for the Commission for several years needed to improve their job-seeking skills and required coaching on the topics of writing a CV and a letter of application as well as participating in a job interview, among other things.
Career guidance offered to nearly all Commission employees
Currently, Career Guidance Services are available to anyone with a permanent position or a temporary employment with the Commission. Trainees from higher education institutions, accepted into the Commission twice a year, are also offered half a day’s training to support their career planning. “The objective is to support their access into working life and integration in the labour market,” says Liisi. However, Career Guidance Services are not available for subcontractors or external cooperation partners of the Commission.
The Commission has a Talent Management Strategy as its employees are usually highly educated and have worked as experts for several years. “This makes questions of professional development and career progress even more challenging,” says Liisi. For this reason, career planning and related guidance support have become an important topic in the Commission over the past few years.
Career guidance serving internal work rotation focuses on ensuring that the transferring person’s skills match the level required by their new tasks. The key skills of experts working as Policy Officers in the Commission, for example, include the skills of communication, negotiation and project management as well as analytical competence. The Commission arranges specified training for its employees regarding these topics and many more.
The Commission encourages employees to seek education leading to a qualification or degree at their own initiative. The Commission grants minor financial support and unpaid leave for a fixed period of time to employees studying for a qualification or a degree. However, a qualification or a degree does not guarantee an immediate transfer to a higher position or more demanding tasks in the Commission after graduation.
Role of career counsellors
“The greatest challenge in the early development of career guidance was that it had no clear processes and systems but mostly relied on temporary and creative solutions,” says Liisi, remembering the situation in the early days. In 2014, the HR administration of the Commission finally created processes and systems for managing, implementing and offering Career Guidance Services to employees. “At last, we have a situation where the continuity of Career Guidance Services in the Commission has been ensured and the services are considered an established part of operations,” says Liisi.
At the moment, there are about 50 career counsellors working in the various main departments of the Commission. They are available to employees on a daily basis in questions related to career planning and professional development. Any discussions between a career counsellor and an employee seeking career guidance are strictly confidential. Most of all, career counsellors provide assistance in situations where the employee is thinking about the direction of their career and the various options of working for the Commission, such as work rotation or career progress. The discussion may also involve questions of professional qualification and further education or training, based on how the person views their strengths and development needs.
The most recent project applies to employees who have worked in the same position in the Commission for at least four years. The employees are offered a structured discussion with a career counsellor. The focus of the discussion is in the assessment of professional development, work-related success and views of the future. “The experiences from these discussions have been mostly positive, and employees have been especially satisfied with the chance for self-reflection,” says Liisi.
Sometimes, the discussions cover stress and problematic situations that have caused tension in the work community. The aim is to solve such situations with the available means and tools. Special situations concerning career management include returning to one’s tasks after a long leave due to sickness or rehabilitation (e.g. disability). In those situations, the objective of career guidance is to find the best possible solution for the individual and their immediate work community.
Mandatory training (10 working days) is organised for those seeking the position of a career counsellor. The training is required from anyone wishing to work as a career counsellor in the Commission. In addition to counselling methods, the training emphasises the skill of encountering people and having an open and confidential interaction with them. Previously, the training was provided by external experts outsourced by the Commission. Today, experienced career counsellors train new counsellors. This brings authenticity to the training as the experienced counsellors understand the nature and demands of the work in the Commission.
Career counselling – much more than personal guidance
In addition to personal career guidance, the Commission also offers its employees events discussing the shift in working lives and careers. In the annual career guidance event, the staff of the Commission have the chance to participate in lectures, panel discussions, thematic workshops and an exposition where they can discuss the topic, network and find more detailed information. The career guidance event for 2018 will be held in November and its central themes are career options, job-seeking skills, key competencies, the various main departments of the Commission and separate bureaus of the EU.
Career guidance spreading in EU institutions
The career guidance development work in the European Commission has also been noted in other EU institutions. In the footsteps of the Commission, the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and several EU bureaus located in member states have adopted career guidance services as part of their personnel development strategies. The aim is to ensure that EU employees are offered sufficient professional guidance support that benefits both the individuals and the entire work community.
In addition, the European Commission cooperates with various acclaimed universities around the world by sending its officials to educate students on EU-related matters. The officials have found these experiences rewarding. Educating students has enabled the officials to have a clearer picture of their own work and the role of the EU, and given students in other continents the chance to hear and learn about how the EU works and the topics it promotes.
This article is based on a telephone interview conducted with Liisi Rossi on 29 October 2018.
Text: Mika Launikari, Finnish National Agency for Education/Euroguidance
Photograph: Liisi Rossi, European Commission