Vocational orientation as a biographical long-term project

Hubert Ertl

Dear readers

Despite the multitude of occupations on offer, young people often concentrate on only a small number of these when making their career choices. This is borne out in the annual analysis of newly concluded training contracts conducted by BIBB. For this reason, one of the objectives of vocational orientation provision is to expand young people’s range of career choices. There is also a focus on fostering the development of career choice competence; an important prerequisite along the route to training and employment. This issue of BWP focuses on how effective and sustainable success in this regard can be achieved via vocational orientation provision.

A comprehensive understanding of vocational orientation

Career choice is framed by an array of contextual factors which may influence young people’s orientation and decision-making processes. Examples include parental notions or expectations and peer group opinions. But the mechanisms of the training market also play an important role when young people are weighing up their options. If the goal of vocational orientation is to harmonise individual wishes and aspirations with the requirements of the world of work in order to support successful transitions to training and employment, then crucial significance must be attached to matching supply and demand. The aim of vocational orientation, however, goes beyond concluding a training contract.

In the light of current and future transformation processes in the world of work, vocational orientation is gaining in importance as a lifelong process which provides preparation and support for vocational reorientation and continuing training. This is associated with issues relating to individual repositioning and a redefinition of occupational roles. Vocational orientation is thus becoming a biographical long-term project, and it needs to be treated as such in VET practice and research. For this reason, possible occupational development levels need to be included in the relevant considerations and planning from the outset. But it is also helpful to look back. Why were career preferences discarded during childhood, and how have they altered over time?

Vocational orientation as a self-reflective process

More recent career choice theories view people as stakeholders who actively shape things. This leads to requirements in terms of adequate vocational orientation services. These services must not be restricted to imparting information about occupations. Instead, provision must integrate personal factors such as people’s knowledge of their own skills and interests to a greater degree. The encouragement of self-reflective processes – including, for example, addressing parental expectations – should be a central component of vocational orientation.

Initiating, shaping and supporting self-reflective processes places heavy demands on education and training staff. Specific training and in-service provision are especially needed to sustainably strengthen the pedagogical competences of all specialists involved in the process, such as careers advisors and teaching staff at general and vocational schools.

Given the multitude of challenges, it is to be expected that educational policy will focus on vocational orientation for some considerable time to come. The insights collated in this issue will reinforce the basis for an objective consideration of the topic.

Prof. Dr. Hubert Ertl
Director of Research and Vice-President of BIBB

Translation from the German original (published in BWP 2/2023): Martin Kelsey, GlobalSprachTeam, Berlin