(Open Letter in response to the participation of Frédéric Nils, Dean of the Faculty of Economics, Social and Political science at the University of St. Louis, on the show “Questions Clés” on 19.08.2015)

While there are some concepts expressed by Dean Frédéric Nils that we share, in general he shows certain prejudices which are now baseless, and may be the result of a lack of knowledge of other more non-traditional lines of action. The fact that Mr. Nils recommends caution regarding all guidance tests unless they come from the French community is for me a good indicator of this lack of knowledge. I understand that in Belgium there is a bias against private and lucrative practice, and discussion about it goes beyond the boundaries of this forum. However, even if this prejudice was well-founded, there is an alternative between public practice and commercial practice, and it is the existence of guidance specialists who operate on a non-profit basis, like OrientaEuro Belgium for which I am the managing director.

The same thing goes for the argument put forward by Mr. Nils about the unreliability of the tests because, according to him, they measure fields of interest that are unidentifiable to a teenager who has not yet been exposed to the professional world. We share the view that these explicit interest tests are of little use, but between that and excluding the usefulness of other tests there is a big difference. This would indicate to me that, in the report, he either ignores or fails to acknowledge the existence of tests that can help identify the person’s profile from other angles and not simply by asking the young person if they are interested in working as a sociologist for example.

On the other hand, Mr. Nils suggests that the only alternative is to do internships in order to identify ones interests. Now, if the validity of the tests is in doubt because of the adolescent’s lack of experience, how can they choose in what area to carry out the training, as he suggests? Trust their intuition? By doing internships through trial and error in different areas until they find one that they are interested in? That would seem impractical, unrealistic and dangerous to me: the vast majority of young people will become frustrated and give up after their second or third experience and spend many years of their life on a career path that is perhaps not the most appropriate for their professional well-being.

The method proposed by Mr. Nils is similar to the method he criticises: Mr. Nils proposes to start by analysing the external reality and thus find their path. Others think it best to move straight past the interest test and go directly to the choice of studies. Both are impractical as it is essential to have a systematic process that covers both these aspects, and others also that are essential for a good choice of studies and future professional performance and that maximise the professional (and personal) well-being of the person.

What we do is an alternative to mechanical testing and aimless experimentation. A methodology that has proven itself for 8 years in Latin America and since 2012 in Belgium: Personalised Career Guidance towards studies and professions. It is an individual process done in six sessions that covers all areas needed to start a career that suits you:

  • Self-awareness: the use of tests, not as an absolute truth, but as discussion triggers with the counsellor. We define the person’s strengths, weaknesses, skills, values, priorities, and goals together.
  • External reality: we propose and analyse all professions and studies that correspond to the previously defined profile. This can include, where appropriate, contact with professionals from relevant sectors, visiting a university, etc.
  • Decision making: from a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), the teenager creates an action plan that includes what to study, where, when and why, as well as other actions to make use of the opportunities, reduce the risks, leverage their strengths and avoid being faced with their weaknesses.
  • Implementation: The young person implements their action plan with all the necessary self-confidence and motivation, thanks to the systematic process they took part in. The counsellor remains available to help them in case of any unforeseen obstacles, new opportunities, etc.

More information: www.orientaeuro.eu/career-guidance