European Competence Standards

European Competence Standards

The objective of the European Competence Standards for the Academic Training of Career Practitioners (ECS) is to create a common reference framework, which promotes excellence and quality development in the academic training and certification of career practitioners within the European Higher Education Area. As a translation device, they shall also improve the transparency, comparability and validity of relevant qualifications awarded in the different European countries. The implementation of the ECS will promote the continuous professional development of career practitioners, increase the recognition of their competences both nationally and internationally, and support the quality assurance of training, further education and certification related to career guidance and counselling (CGC).

Section Overview:

  1. Short Version and Translations of ECS for Download
  2. Competence Standards for Three Types of Career Practitioners
  3. Recommended Qualification Levels
  4. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
  5. Rights and References


1. Short Version of European Competence Standards for Download (Links)

2. Competence Standards for Three Types of Career Practitioners

NICE articulates the need for European Competence Standards for the qualification of three types of career practitioners:

  1. Career Advisors are important sources of basic information and support for people facing career-related challenges. Career Advisors are teachers, placement managers, psychologists, social workers or public administrators (among others). They are not Career Professionals, but professionals in another field, who offer some career support in addition to their primary roles and tasks. Often they are the first persons to whom people come for advice. They should be able to offer basic support and advice at a reliable level of quality and immediately understand when a person would benefit from professional career services, which is why we also define competence standards for them.
  2. Career Professionals are dedicated to CGC and see it as their vocation to support people in dealing with complex career-related challenges. They include career counsellors, employment counsellors, career coaches, school counsellors, personnel developers, educational or guidance counsellors (among others). In addition to the basic support offered by Career Advisors, Career Professionals need to be ready to support people who are facing uncertainty, multi-faceted problems and unpredictable situations, knowing that their career decisions could have a heavy impact on their lives. They support the development of strategic approaches, offer access to highly specialized knowledge, and help clients in facing stressful phases of transition and projects of personal change.
  3. Career Specialists are specialised in one (or more) of the five NICE Professional Roles and work towards the advancement of CGC in different ways. Some of them concentrate on practical matters, e.g. the management of career services, policy-making or the supervision of career practitioners. Others primarily engage in research and development or academic training in CGC. In addition to their ability to practice as Career Professionals, Career Specialists need to demonstrate substantial authority, scholarly and professional integrity in a particular area of career guidance and counselling.

All three types of services are of particular importance for quality assurance in the provision of lifelong guidance and counselling, whether they offer career support in addition to their primary occupation in another field (Career Advisors), as full Career Professionals, or as Career Specialists.

Interrelation between the three types of career practitioners. Open Educational Resource: NICE (2016). Reproduction and dissemination allowed, provided that the source is acknowledged. For reference, please cite NICE Handbook II (2016), p. 42.

From the perspective of NICE, increasingly high levels of competence are necessary for people to fulfil the professional tasks of these three groups. For this reason, NICE formulates competence standards at these three consecutive levels of practice in career guidance and counselling.

NICE stresses the need for each of these groups to engage in specialized academic training as an entry requirement for their type of practice in career guidance and counselling. Due to the high level of autonomy and responsibility required for the practice of each of these three groups, demonstrated by the complexity of their tasks and functions, NICE also pronounces their need to engage in continuous professional development and lifelong learning. Reflected practice should be a prerequisite of training and certification for practitioners of each type.

3. Recommended Qualification Levels

For the academic training and recognition of prior learning of Career Advisor competences, NICE recommends reference to Level 6 of the European Qualification Framework (EQF). Academic training could be as part of, or offered in addition to Undergraduate or Postgraduate certificates and degree programmes in diverse disciplines. It should also be accessible for people in vocational leadership positions, but should not be awarded at a lower level than EQF 5.

For the academic training and recognition of prior learning of Career Professional competences, NICE recommends full degree programmes at EQF Level 7, for instance specialized Master degrees or Postgraduate Diplomas. At the lowest, academic training should be offered in terms of specialized Bachelor programmes (EQF 6).

For the academic training and recognition of prior learning of Career Specialist competences, NICE recommends reference to EQF Level 8, e.g. as part of structured doctoral training. At the lowest, training should be provided in terms of specialized Postgraduate certificates or Master Degrees (EQF 7).

4. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who shall work with the ECS? What should users be doing with the ECS?
The ECS are a voluntary framework, so there are no formal legal obligations for their introduction.

The primary users of the ECS will be higher education institutions, which offer qualifications in career guidance and counselling. 2018 is the recommended target date higher education institutions offering study programmes in career guidance and counselling to relate their degree programmes to the ECS.

The ECS do not replace national qualification standards and benchmarks for career guidance and counselling. To enhance links and transparency in Europe, NICE calls on bodies in charge of national qualification frameworks for career practitioners, as well as relevant professional associations, to relate their standards and benchmarks to the ECS and to participate in the future development of the ECS.

How do the ECS relate to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) and the Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area?

Due to the high competence requirements associated to career guidance and counselling, the ECS only relate to the academic qualification levels. Short-cycle higher education offers (within or linked to the first cycle), corresponding to EQF Level 5, should only be offered for the training of Career Advisors. Career Professionals should at least train for practice through a full first-cycle programme (EQF 6), preferably through a second cycle programme (EQF 7). Career Specialist training should only be offered in terms of second or third cycle training (EQF 7 or 8). No full cycle programmes should be offered for the training of Career Advisors.

Why do the ECS refer to competences?

Competences provide measurable descriptions, of what a person holding a particular qualification should be able to do. By relating directly to the needs of citizens, clients and employers, competences support a better match between teaching, learning and assessment and labour market needs. For more information on the application of the ECS, please consult the NICE Handbook from 2015.

The ECS do not define learning outcomes in terms of knowledge, values, attitudes or skills. The translation of competences into these more concrete types of learning outcomes is a creative process, for which NICE offers suggestions via the NICE Curriculum Framework (see NICE Handbook from 2012).

Who does NICE represent in introducing the ECS?

NICE represents more than 40 higher education institutions offering degree programmes and promoting academic training in career guidance and counselling from 29 European countries, who have been working together since 2009 with financial support from the European Commission. This publication only reflects the views of NICE. The European Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

Does NICE award qualifications?

No, the ECS form a sectorial qualification framework for qualifications in career guidance and counselling, which is promoted by NICE and relates to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF). The awarding of qualifications remains a matter of national qualification bodies.

Does NICE aim at standardizing academic training in career guidance and counselling?

No. With the ECS, NICE proposes a consensus of minimal requirements for the competence of career practitioners working in Europe. NICE respects the autonomy of higher education systems and institutions, and promotes the diversity of degree programmes. The ECS are meant to be common points of reference for the development of academic training in career guidance and counselling, which shall be interpreted and adapted according to specific needs.

5. Rights and References

Which rights does NICE reserve concerning the ECS?

NICE reserves the rights to actualize the ECS regularly and publish translations. The use of the ECS for purposes of accreditation, training and certification is welcome, provided the source is acknowledged.

How should this information be cited in publications?

To cite the ECS, please refer to NICE (2016): European Competence Standards for the Academic Training of Career Practitioners. NICE Handbook Volume II, edited by C. Schiersmann, S. Einarsdóttir, J. Katsarov, J. Lerkkanen, R. Mulvey, J. Pouyaud, K. Pukelis, and P. Weber. Barbara Budrich Publishers: Opladen, Berlin, Toronto. ISBN: 978-3-8474-0504-7 (Paperback). eISBN: 978-3-8474-0925-5 (eBook).

Further Resources and References:

Schiersmann, C. (2015): European Competence Standards for the Academic Training of Career Professionals. Presentation at the 6th NICE Conference in Bratislava, May 28, 2015.

Katsarov, J., J. Lerkkanen, J. Pouyaud, & K. Pukelis (2014): Coming to European Competence Standards for the Practice of Career Guidance and Counselling. Presentation at the European Summit on Developing the Career Workforce of the Future in Canterbury (5th NICE Conference), September 4, 2014.