Training and support during and after COVID-19: Article 3: Career development counselling for people in employment

In this series of 4 articles, we are looking at the issue of continuity of service in the field of training and accompaniment. We will hear from professionals and networks to see exactly how they are coping, what they have put in place and the perspectives that this new situation opens up for them.

[Translation (French - English) : EPALE France]

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In this series of 4 articles, we are looking at the issue of continuity of service in the field of training and accompaniment. We will hear from professionals and networks to see exactly how they are coping, what they have put in place and the perspectives that this new situation opens up for them.

This third article is devoted to the career development counselling service for people in employment, which has been in operation since 1 January 2020. This service plays a central role in supporting informed choices and more generally, social equity. “Career development counselling is a process that supports all employees in taking stock of their professional situation and, if necessary, in developing, formalizing and implementing a strategy for career development”.  Any person in employment can benefit from career development counselling, free of charge. Career development counselling is provided for people in employment outside the public sector by regional operators that are financed and selected by France Compétences, on the basis of a national call for tenders. In the Bourgogne Franche-Comté region, a group led by CIBC provides this service for users (42 centres in Bourgogne Franche-Comté). We spoke with Fatène SALHI, Career Development Counselling Project Manager at CIBC Bourgogne Sud, to examine the conditions for continuity of service put in place and the lessons to be learned from this unprecedented experience.




1- What context were you in at the announcement of the lockdown? What reactions did you observe, both from the people being accompanied and from professionals?

I think it is important to distinguish several elements. There are issues relating to the general context, particularly the socio-economic context in the region; and to the way in which each person has experienced this period, adapting or initiating a strategy.

1-1 Concerning the socio-economic context, the Covid-19 situation is unprecedented. On top of the very severe consequences in terms of health, this unusual situation has drastically slowed down economic activity on a national scale: many companies have had to cease their activities, others are resorting massively to partial activity and some are having employees work from home where possible. This is all the more significant here, because Bourgogne Franche Comté is one of the three most heavily impacted regions in France. 580,700 pupils and students have been deprived of education in our region, causing problems of childcare, pedagogical continuity and organisation in families, thus impacting the activity of work.

For example, Belfort is the area which, by its size and population density, has seen the most cases of Covid-19 in France. Companies, particularly industrial ones, but also SMEs, are making massive use of partial activity. There are fears of "small collective redundancies" or Employment Safeguard Plans, as shown by DARES data for France (Source: Dgefp - Dares, 21-04-20).

According to INSEE, as of 14 April, 33,700 applications for partial activity due to Coronavirus had been filed in Bourgogne Franche Comté, affecting 327,300 employees, representing approximately 45% of the region's private sector employees. On April 21st, the Region accounted for 3.7% of employees in partial activity in France (370,709 employees): a 13% increase in 7 days when the end of lockdown was announced on 11 May. In concrete terms, 154,200 enterprises in the sectors of industry (13,248), construction (21,271), trade, transport, accommodation and food services (46,218), and market services to businesses and individuals are having to adapt (source: Insee).  These socio-economic data have a considerable impact on the way we perceive the future. The career development concerns of employees and the self-employed should be looked at in the light of these cyclical economic elements in a highly unusual situation: a systemic approach combining professional and personal situations is necessary.

1-2 While the first stages of lockdown were devoted to a new form of organisation, there are now fresh concerns: "desires" for change and/or the need to secure employment. With the fear of companies going under, career development counselling is initiated to anticipate and act on employees’ professional future. The requests are varied and should be looked at in the light of the Socio-professional Categories: for executives, technicians and supervisors, the lockdown is an opportunity to develop, perfect or even validate skills by making the most of the financing possibilities made available (FNE French training fund, CPF lifelong learning account credited with the annual amount, etc.). Fewer training projects are being undertaken, or are postponed for workers and employees, for whom the need to develop their professional strategy is becoming a concern. An analysis of individual situations is required, taking into account the personalised information provided by the counsellor on jobs, qualifications, professions, etc. available locally and the steps to be taken. Access to employment is necessarily associated with a career transition strategy, supported by the career development counsellor.

Although slowed down, the steps towards implementing a career development strategy are identified, planned and organised. For example, it is still possible to collect information from a skills development provider, look at retraining courses, organise a telephone interview to investigate a trade, etc. As training bodies are required to maintain pedagogical continuity, information on training and certifications is accessible. Companies, for their part, are faced with the economic challenges of safeguarding activity and employment: it is clear that they are less willing to accept requests for investigations. In this context, counsellors need to support people in the search for information, in order to make it legible and understandable.

The impact on the volume of activity is thus differentiated according to the economy and local dynamics in the Region and according to the sectors of activity they represent. This disruption in people’s professional practices has also highlighted differences in the work schedules of employees and self-employed people: some have been working more (health - agri-food industry - equipment manufacture, etc.) and others have been forced to stop working or work partially. There has been a predominance of IT tools for people working from home, which requires more effort from those who previously had no need for digital tools (collaborative platforms, presentation and sharing tools, etc.), thus separating those who know from those who have to learn.


2- What have you done to ensure this continuity of service?

First, it must be pointed out that service could only be maintained thanks to the involvement and investment of our counsellors and their managers. They too have been confronted with major organisational constraints to be able to provide a warm welcome for the public by telephone or videoconference. Like the users of the service, they are confronted with personal preoccupations of childcare, support for the pedagogical continuity of their children among other things, and must build structuring frameworks for themselves and the persons accompanied. Organising a space and time that is favourable to the counselling interview is essential in ensuring active listening and availability. A number of steps have been taken in this regard:

Appointments initiated before 16 March have been switched to remote appointments: an email along with a call from the counsellor to each person concerned confirms acceptance of this change. All new appointments are offered by telephone or web conferencing: users of the service are informed of the continuity of service from our web page and social networks. We make great efforts to communicate via partner networks and through press, radio and even WebTv! Every effort is made to support users in the remote counselling process: tutorials to help use videoconferencing tools and with navigation in the personal space of the website.

We testify to the service provided for in the Career Development Counselling specifications by all possible means, providing pedagogical accompaniment for employees and self-employed people: the written reports of the accompaniment are recorded by the counsellor and submitted to users for signature, as expected. Our management tool allows us to deliver the summary of the interview in the personal space, where users can save their documents. Documents can be signed electronically. According to the profiles of individuals (no computer tools, digital illiteracy, etc.) adjustments are made and implemented to support the beneficiaries of the service as effectively as possible;

Asynchronous contact is continued by e-mail or via the personal space on the website.

Developing of our partners' practices implies a pedagogical approach by our consultants to support requests for Professional Transition Projects or resignation-reconversion projects, which are now totally paperless in the “Transitions Pro” personal pages. The digitalised training offer accessible via the mobile application “Compte Personnel de Formation” requires some exchanges in particular to identify a certification in the system, to enter DIF hours or to cancel a training purchase following the Covid-19 period.

Organising remote interviews has also meant ensuring that our consultants were ready to work from home: they were equipped (telephone - PC - 4G dongle, etc.), had access to tutorials and coaching sessions to familiarise them with the web conferencing tool. They also had to organise themselves in a way that balanced family imperatives with professional activities. They were supported by managers in preparing to work from home.

During the lockdown, keeping in touch with the teams through different channels has been essential:

  • A digital learning community brings together all our consultants and managers. There have been many reactions since March 16th: help in solving concrete problems raised in interview situations, support in understanding a regulatory text or changes in a system, shared resource space, and more.
  • Our Corporate Social Network provides collaborative answers: the Career Development Counselling teams in the 8 regions led by CIBC pool their knowledge in order to support a situation or solve a problem.
  • Distance workshops have been initiated between consultants: small groups that allow for the initiation and pooling of ideas, particularly on capitalising information flows in collaborative spaces.
  • Many government measures have also been put in place in the Covid-19 period: strategic monitoring shared with counsellors and managers, to deliver the most accurate information to employees and self-employed people.
  • Webinars have been organised on a regular basis, providing progress reports and supporting the professionalisation of our counsellors: on average, 2 webinars per week are held by our network of partners, who are always in favour of the approach (Opco - regional Carif - Agefiph - organisations dedicated to business creation/takeover, etc.).

This period has forced an accelerated learning and discovery of digital tools to continue to ensure a quality service for the benefit of users.


3- To date, considering this is a recently implemented service, what impacts, contributions and difficulties have you observed?

Our society has been forced to create new forms of personal and professional organisation, and the Career Development Counselling service is part of this. While the first days of lockdown were devoted to reorganising "home" and "work", the extension of this period has involved a more stabilised organisation for people, where academic, professional and personal schedules are better defined.  The number of requests at the beginning of the service was in sharp decline during the first week of lockdown (16 March) but the appointments made were maintained and conducted remotely. The proposal was well received and the workload plan for the counsellors was maintained for the first 15 days of lockdown. Since then, new requests have been on the rise, although they have not reached the rates recorded prior to the Covid-19 lockdown. Remote support varies greatly from one region to another: the service is in demand in the Region's urban centres (Dijon - Besançon, etc.) and more contrasted in rural areas. Poor digital coverage in some areas, different cultural practices (attributes allocated to face-to-face encounters) or insufficient technical tools partly explain this.

The specifications of Career Development Counselling favour a face-to-face service. Multimodal appointments are nevertheless possible, according to the wishes or level of autonomy of the person as suggested by the decree. We chose a physical presence that meets this challenge (42 locations in Bourgogne Franche Comté). The Covid-19 lockdown has reversed the trend and forced us to rethink our business activities by opting for inventiveness and creativity, particularly in order to respond to the least digitally equipped and most constrained audiences (handicapped, illiterate, digitally illiterate, etc.). CIBC counsellors are trained in the use of a digital learning platform: we are working to develop educational content specific to the Career Development Counselling service.

Synchronous exchanges (telephone - videoconference) are shorter but more numerous. Asynchronous exchanges are also becoming more numerous and richer.

Our information meetings, organised in partnership with the regional Transitions Pro association, are also maintained and conducted remotely.

4- What are the perspectives in terms of a long-term service?

Having to work remotely forces organisations to think about a new model: new user, professional and managerial practices that we observe and support. Although it has been rushed, this learning process has helped us to develop, and must make us look at digitalisation of the service. The goal is not to go fully remote, rather to use differentiated modalities, self-supporting tools that favour reflection, greater autonomy, while still accompanied. This implies intersessional appointments to be organised in a structured way and with greater content. We are also working digitise more educational tools and content through our platform in order to implement effective distance learning. In this way, we are participating in the challenge of helping people to guide themselves, provide cultural support for change and promote digital inclusion.

This is a collective and individual learning experience that builds on the accelerating effect of the Covid-19 situation and provides opportunities for observations. A learning experience to develop skills, perform and innovate.  We have seen that reflective analysis can take place at a distance. People remain in charge of their professional future. Our goal is not to create a fully remote service, but to encourage a hybrid service that responds to a variety of requests, situations and user profiles, a range of possibilities that allows the notion of "choice" and not of "constraint": a service capable of adapting and adapting. The Covid-19 period has highlighted a strong challenge in flexibility and agility for organisations.

The practices of those involved in vocational training are also changing (digitalisation and disintermediation of the CPF lifelong learning account - flat-rate support for distance training - certification of training actions - dematerialisation of the Professional Transition Project and resignation-reconversion): all those involved at the EFOP have a responsibility to support society in terms of general skills, although digital competence is the most salient. This period will be a great opportunity for all Career Development Counselling stakeholders to support the acceleration of the evolution of support practices.

Thanks to Fatène Salhi for this clarification and in-depth analysis. We clearly see that it was not only a question of dealing with a new context but also of maintaining high-quality service taking into account the impact of the situation on all the actors and multiplying the modalities to pursue a guided reflexive work. And also taking into account as best as possible the mastery of the many digital tools. It was no simple task to implement this in such a short time and with so many constraints but nevertheless an opportunity to develop personalized and multimodal services by all and for all.



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