What is it and what does it aim to do?
Careers counselling can help individuals choose the most appropriate training programme to help further career development. Counselling may be provided to the unemployed or to those currently in work. The hope is that good advice will ensure better matches between programmes and participants, making individuals more likely to take-up, or complete, training and increasing the labour market returns.
How effective is it?
The evidence suggests that for the unemployed, counselling usually leads to a higher take up of training, and might lead to more employment or higher wages. But there is some evidence that inexpensive counselling (e.g. unqualified counsellors, fewer contact hours) has little effect.
For those already employed, counselling can also lead to higher take up of training, leading to more hours worked or higher wages.
How secure is the evidence?
Generally, the evidence base on counselling is quite weak, meaning that the conclusions on cost-effectiveness are based on a limited number of studies. More rigorous studies are required. We found no systematic reviews of effectiveness and no meta-analysis.
We found six studies that examined the effectiveness of counselling for employment training. Four of these provided high quality evidence based on a randomised control trial, while one provided before and after comparisons using a control group and one was based on a group who volunteered.Two of these studies come from the UK.
For a full list of studies and summaries see the Annex in the PDF download below.
Is it cost-effective?
The costs of counselling can vary substantially depending on the degree of support offered (e.g. the length of the counselling sessions or the period over which support is provided). In the programmes for which we have evidence the cost of support varied from a low of £17 per participant to a high of around £2,000 per participant.
The cheapest programme considered delivered no benefits, so does not appear to be cost-effective.
More expensive programmes do deliver benefits, but the effects on behaviour are not necessarily strong. Costs per additional trainee range from £5,000-£6,000 for the UK’s Employment Retention and Advancement (ERA) Demonstration (this cost also includes a financial incentive) to £21,000 per extra trainee for a Swedish programme (although this programme helped new immigrants who may experience significant labour market barriers).
Things to consider
- The costs and benefits of counselling can vary a lot across programmes so it is important to monitor and evaluate their impact on participation in, or completion of, appropriate training.
- The quality of counselling (e.g. in terms of the qualification of counsellors or the number of hours of contact) can affect both costs and benefits.
- Mandatory counselling may reduce uptake of training compared with voluntary counselling.
- In order to deliver the benefits that counselling can offer, it may be important to ensure that the potential benefits are understood by participants and that the counselling is easy to access.