Career education is experienced holistically and meaningfully, as a set of powerful, connected reflections that help orient individuals towards the future.
(Ronald G. Sultana)
In Austria, young people have many options for careers education and guidance, both inside and outside the school system. Within the school system, careers education and guidance is provided according to the national IBOBB concept (Information, Beratung und Orientierung für Bildung und Beruf), tailored to each specific school site at secondary levels I and II. This specific IBOBB concept combines all of the available support measures, which are overseen by a trained and appointed career guidance coordinator at each school. (see Langenecker 2018).
In the European context, one finds terms such as “career guidance”, “lifelong guidance” or “guidance and counselling services”. In Austria, the English term “guidance” is paraphrased as IBOBB in order to describe the diverse, holistic and comprehensive model of activities encompassed by the lifelong learning concepts. IBOBB stands for information, advice/counselling and guidance for education and careers. It is a standardised concept and includes not only support measures for careers education and guidance within the school system, but also measures to support people of all ages and at all stages of life in their choice of career and career planning. IBOBB represents an overarching concept for careers education and guidance. The main aim of these measures is to encourage pupils in learning and development processes that give them the opportunity to acquire the basic skills necessary to independently make decisions related to their education and career – so-called career management skills. The Austrian concept of careers education is very close to the career guidance approach of Ronald Sultana mentioned in the keynote address of the Austrian Euroguidance Conference 2019 by Bo Klindt Poulsen.
The Austrian education system
In Austria, compulsory schooling lasts nine years. However, there is no specific (standardised) school-leaving examination at the end of this phase. In 2016, the legal framework was established for raising the age for compulsory education or training to 18. This measure ensures the continuation of education activities until this age, helping to prevent early leaving from education and training. As a result, early leaving rates have been comparatively low and a safety net for young people has been in place for many years. In 2017, what used to be an offer became a training obligation until the age of 18. All young people who are not in post-compulsory education and training or working must participate in mainstream school-based programmes, apprenticeships or some other recognised form of training.
In the third and fourth year of secondary school, particular emphasis is placed on students’ further vocational education. There is a mandatory careers education lesson one hour a week, and 32 hours also have to be integrated into the compulsory subjects each year. These lessons improve the learners’ decision-making competence and social skills. Real-life encounters such as work experience days at companies help learners examine their career aspirations and take independent decisions. The following chart provides an overview of where IBOBB, Austria’s comprehensive model for careers education and guidance, fits into the Austrian education system.
Chart 1: Guidance (IBOBB) within the Austrian education system © Euroguidance Austria
The Austrian education system provides a wealth of options at an early stage. After four years of primary education, students have two pathways open to them at secondary level I. Once they have completed nine years of compulsory education, they can enter into an apprenticeship within the dual system of practical training combined with part-time vocational school. This means that they can choose between a vocational education school or the dual system of vocational education. Therefore, it is very important to have good careers guidance in years seven and eight.
Guidance is becoming so meaningful because the working world has become very complex, careers are no longer linear and the increasing opportunities in higher education and training demand better access to quality careers education and guidance. Furthermore, careers education is important so that young people have the competences and skills needed to shape their lives.
Five key priorities of the National Lifelong Guidance Strategy
The optimal further development and coordination of IBOBB is the focus of the Austrian and European strategy development for lifelong guidance. There are five key priorities of the National Lifelong Guidance Strategy, from which the IBOBB concept was derived:
- The implementation of career management skills in all curricula so that learners can make education and career decisions autonomously. First and foremost, these basic competences are:
- The ability to actively engage in self-reflection, especially with regard to one’s abilities, interests, performance and desires.
- Decision-making ability including the ability to shape decision-making processes and to deal with multidimensional, sometimes contradictory, decision-making bases.
- The ability to research and evaluate information.
- The ability to define and pursue one’s own goals.
- A focus on process orientation and monitoring to enable high-quality decision-making processes.
- The professionalisation of counsellors and trainers is becoming increasingly important to ensure quality in careers guidance. Within the school system, we need specially trained teachers who can provide careers education and guidance in schools. The people who provide careers guidance services have to be well trained. At the University College of Teacher Education in Lower Austria, teachers are even trained at the academic master’s level.
- Quality assurance and evaluation of offers, processes and structures.
- The widening of access by creating offers for new target groups.
A definition of guidance by the EU/OECD: “A range of activities designed to assist people to make decisions about their lives (educational, vocational, personal) and to implement those decisions.”
As mentioned before, different activities are performed to implement the Austrian concept of guidance. Process support is provided on several levels: Careers education classes; Experience-based learning; Career information; Career counselling; Educational psychologists
Schools are also asked to work in cooperation with partners outside the school system, such as the Public Employment Service Austria (AMS), social partners, universities and specific counselling institutions such as Youth Coaching. The active role of the social partners, such as the Austrian Economic Chambers or the Chamber of Labour, in terms of career guidance is a prominent feature of the Austrian guidance system.
All of these measures result in a site-specific concept of measures in order to assist people in making their career decisions.
Careers guidance in Austrian schools is organised according to a three-level model:
- Careers education lessons (known as “Berufsorientierung” or “BO”) are provided by careers teachers for children aged 12 to 14. Careers education is integrated across different subjects, takes place in a regularly scheduled lesson and brings in external people from the community such as employers or alumni in order to help pupils make a well-founded career choice.
- Individual advice and information about possible education paths are provided by student counsellors supporting students in their decision-making process. Depending on the school type, school counsellors, education counsellors or specially trained teachers with relevant qualifications provide counselling services in addition to their teaching activities. Careers guidance brings to mind an image of a counsellor working on a plan with a student in an interview or an individual setting. Career counselling is necessary because sometimes young people require much more intensive attention in a one-on-one setting or in small groups. In Austria, all teachers are responsible for this task, not just the specially trained teachers for careers education and careers counselling. Thus, all of the measures are supplemented by classroom teachers and a wide range of other individuals and agencies outside the school, i.e. by a School Psychology Service that can offer specialised assistance or by Youth Coaching, which is an assistance programme for young people at the end of their compulsory schooling or after they leave school aimed at encouraging them to transition into further education.
- Experienced-based learning: Real life encounters are a way of offering pupils guidance and the opportunity to gain practical experience, for example at school events, work placement days or job information fairs. Studies have shown that the most influential factor is the external experience in the working world. The strongest messages about the professional world did not come from school, but from external jobs where students gain practical experience. Students also have to talk about jobs with actual employers in order to familiarise themselves with models and establish contacts with mentors to learn effective career behaviour. More importantly, they have to go to the workplace and find out about the jobs that interest them. Students develop a sense of who they are, a sense of their career identity, a sense of self-efficacy. Teachers have to be aware that they do not necessarily have a great deal of knowledge about the working world, that the experts are the people the students encounter in experience-based learning situations. While we may know a lot about the professional world from reading about it and studying it, it is difficult to have serious talks about it when we have never experienced it. External jobs are crucial because pupils get a taste of job experience and they can find out if their ideas about a job match with the actual job profile.
In keeping with the importance of this field, teaching is carried out by specialised staff. Within the school system, specific curricula are set up in teacher training colleges according to the above-mentioned IBOBB concept to train student counsellors, careers education teachers and career guidance coordinators.
Special roles of teachers at school sites include:
- Careers education teachers teach about careers as a mandatory subject on the basis of the relevant curriculum regulations for new secondary schools, academic secondary schools and special needs schools.
- School and educational counsellors are teachers who provide pupils with information and advice in addition to their regular teaching duties, offering them guidance in planning their own careers (refer to the General Ordinance on School and Educational Counselling, Review 22/2017).
- Careers guidance coordinators are members of the teaching staff who support the school management team and other teaching staff in implementing the many measures related to information, counselling and guidance for careers and education and establish partnerships with relevant organisations outside of the school system (e.g. local education providers, companies, careers information centres run by the AMS, the Austrian Economic Chambers and the Chamber of Labour) on top of their regular teaching duties. For more information, refer to the General Ordinance on Careers Guidance Coordination (Review 30/2017) and the ‘Catalogue of measures in the field of information, counselling and guidance for careers and education at the age of 12–14’ (Review 17/2012).
Chart 2: Coordination at school site © BMBWF
This organisational chart shows how careers education is organised within the school context according to the guidance concept in schools. The chart is centred around the communication, cooperation and coordination of all actors and stakeholders within schools as well as between schools and regional actors. These special roles of teachers are very important within the IBOBB concept. They are all members of the teaching staff. The IBOBB concept is based on the assumption that when different professionals work together in an integrated way, there is a much greater opportunity for successful career learning.
The qualifications required for careers education classes, careers guidance coordination and school/educational counselling have to be gained by taking specific courses at university colleges of teacher education. Relevant training courses also have to be completed.
Chart 3: Qualifications for careers education © BMBWF
The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research has published several reference papers, with the most important one being the ‘Catalogue of measures in the field of information, counselling and guidance for careers and education’ (Review 17/2012). This catalogue of measures for pupils between the ages of 12 and 14 can be used as the basis for developing and rolling out an implementation concept tailored to a specific site.
Here are some additional relevant reference papers:
- General Ordinance on Careers Guidance Coordination (Review 30/2017)
- General Ordinance on School and Educational Counselling (22/17)
(Both were released in 2017, and have been mandatory for schools in Austria since then.)
- Quality criteria for the new secondary school and academic secondary school, lower level
- Target vision of successful implementation
- Information on supporting career management skills
- Information sheet for headmasters in schools
In summary, it can be said that schools are strongly supported by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research in the provision of careers education and guidance. The main aim is to ensure that pupils have an understanding of the working world, career options and career pathways as a basis for vocational education and training, further education, occupation and lifelong learning.
CEDEFOP – European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training. Vocational education and training in Austria. Accessed at https://www.cedefop.europa.eu/en/tools/vet-in-europe/systems/austria
Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. Accessed at https://www.bmbwf.gv.at/Themen/schule/schulpraxis/ba/bo.html
National Agency Erasmus+ Education, Euroguidance Austria. Accessed at https://www.bildungssystem.at/en/footer-boxen/guidance-in-austria/the-austrian-guidance-system/
Sultana, Ronald G. (2016): MyFuture: Enhancing the Quality of Career Guidance in Secondary Schools: A Handbook.
Langenecker, Evelyn (2018): National Survey. In “Cross Border Seminar Compendium: Guidance and Counselling in the School Curriculum” page 7 ff)
This article is based on notes and transcripts from a Workshop held at the Euroguidance Conference (link is external)(link is external) ‘Opening Opportunities – Career guidance approaches through a social justice lens’ on 7 November 2019 in Vienna.
About the author
Margit Picher © OeAD_APA-FotoserviceHörmandinger
Prof.in Margit Pichler, BEd, MA, is a researcher and university lecturer in the field of vocational orientation at the Centre for Vocational Education at the University College for Teacher Education in Baden, Lower Austria, and a lecturer at several other University Colleges for Teacher Education in Austria. She is an expert of the national Lifelong Guidance Strategy of the Ministry of Education (BMBWF). Based on this expertise, she has accompanied, advised and evaluated various career guidance projects at national and international level, developed a European curriculum on "Careers Education and Guidance in Schools", implemented a training concept with IFEN - Institut de Formation de l'Éducation Nationale, Luxembourg. Margit Pichler is member of the National Lifelong Guidance Forum and the national networking group for ibobb of the BMBWF as well as advisory member of the APS Education and Career Guidance Network of the Lower Austrian Board of Education.