Blog: Between choices and going with the flow. The role of career guidance in young Roma people’s life course

November 10, 2020

By Abel Beremenyi

This post is a brief version of the paper presented at the online conference entitled: “Sociology at the Dawn of a Successful Century?”, that took place the 8th – 9th of October, 2020.

The paper inquiries into the school to work transition of Roma young people, focusing on the role of guidance services. 21st century life paths have become atypical (Super, 1980) compared to the life path patterns of the industrial societies (Heinz, 2009). Globalized economy, and in particular flexible employment, has contributed to the gradual distancing of education/training and work, making the school-to-work transition longer, more diversified, more contingent and precarious (Borbély-Pecze, 2017; Pohl & Walther, 2007). In this series of complex, fragmented and highly individualized transitions, a broadly interpreted career guidance can help prepare young people to “deal with unpredictable life situations and the myriad decision-making situations that arise in their careers” (Borbély-Pecze, 2017). Guidance is defined by the EU Council as a lasting process (Council of the EU, 2008) and in this sense the consensus points to the “development of career management skills” (Sultana, 2012) as a key task. On the other hand, career choice acts as a bridge between education, training and work and plays a major role in social equality and integration, as its ability to compensate for inequalities is undeniable (Sipeki, 2017).

In my presentation, I examine the form, intensity and continuity of orientation in the lives of disadvantaged Roma young people from school to the world of work, from elementary school teachers to clerks in public employment services (PES), especially in the crucial turning points of young people’s lives.

The analysis is based on career interviews with young (20-33) women and men (18 w, 15 m) centering on a highly subjective interpretation, the informant’s own explanation. In contrast, I asked teachers working in primary school, vocational training and Baccalaureate, as well as support professionals contracted in non-governmental organizations (23 in total) about the Roma youth’s school-to-work transition and about the related support structures, projects and key agents. In selecting the informants, beyond age, the main consideration was to show the widest possible variety of life paths. The fieldwork, suspended for COVID-related restrictions, was carried out between January and March 2020 in a large city in the Hungarian region of South Transdanubia and in adjacent small settlements.

Preliminary results of my ongoing analysis show that a career guidance is only occasionally, randomly and by no means systematically present in young people's school years and beyond. In no case could I identify any overarching system of guidance across educational, vocational training and employment institutions. Disadvantaged conditions imply that the otherwise strong network of contacts do not bridge people with middle class individuals or groups, and that their network is limited and contingent in terms of formal or informal career guidance. This makes it difficult for them to promote social mobility through schooling. Contrary, in many places I found reference persons or role models - relatives, specialist teachers, church persons, etc. - who were able to partially replace the professional orientation with motivation and talent nurturing. I was able to identify fewer than expected guidance activities (classes, activities, subject supplements, tutorial classes, school visits, etc.) in the last grades of elementary school (13-14 years), or these were given little importance by my informants. The orientation of further learning was often aided by the personal charm of a supporter rather than by widescale professional counseling. In Baccalaureate and vocational schools, if not directly involved in support programs, the presence of a guidance specialist, programme or activity is negligible. A common view in vocational training is that work practice at companies results a sufficient tool to access to jobs and to knowledge of the relevant segments of the labour market. Here, too, I found supporting professionals who helped pupils stay in training, but their guiding activities did not appear to be extensive. Active labor market policies, training or supported jobs offered by PES are often not personalized or not best suited to the jobseeker. If the students disengage from guidance or reluctant to participate in guidance activities, it appears fairly easy to get excluded from the system. I could not identify systematic follow-up or reengagement procedures or protocols. This means that disadvantaged young people with “risk biography” (Walther, Stauber, & Pohl, 2005) - who lack school- and job-related guidance the most –, will probably have less access to it than his/her fellow students. This latter implies the reproduction of inequalities through the present guidance actions in Hungary, that have been found segmented, discontinuous, disconnected, non-specialised and biased.

Forecoming CEU/CPS Working Paper (2020) will develop the abovementioned arguments.


Borbély-Pecze, T. B. (2017). Az életút - támogató pályaorientáció rendszere változó gazdasági és társadalmi környezetben. Munkaügyi Szemle, 60(1), 11–15.

Council of the EU. (2008). Council Resolution on better integrating lifelong guidance into lifelong learning strategies. In 2905th Education, Youth and Culture Council meeting (Vol. 32, pp. 1–7). Brussels.

Heinz, W. R. (2009). Youth transitions in an age of uncertainty. In A. Furlong (Ed.), Handbook of Youth and Young Adulthood. New perspectives and agendas (pp. 3–14). London and New York: Routledge.

Pohl, A., & Walther, A. (2007). Activating the disadvantaged. Variations in addressing youth transitions across Europe. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 26(5), 533–553.

Sipeki, I. (2017). Esélyegyenlőség és integrációs lehetőségek a pályaorientációban. Iskolai kompetenciák és a munkaerőpiaci integráció összefüggései. Metszetek -Társadalomtudományi Folyóirat, 4, 173–190.

Sultana, R. G. (2012). Learning career management skills in Europe: a critical review. Journal of Education and Work, 25(2), 225–248.

Walther, A., Stauber, B., & Pohl, A. (2005). Informal Networks in Youth Transitions in West Germany: Biographical Resource or Reproduction of Social Inequality ? Informal Networks in Youth Transitions in West Germany : Biographical Resource or Reproduction of Social Inequality ? Journal of Youth Studies, 8(2), 221–240.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 845196.