Vocational Guidance and Career Development Services at Universities in Spain

By Marta Fernández-González

The Bolonia Process is changing the way universities in Europe approach students and the labor market. Although universities in Spain began offering services to help students develop their professional careers in the seventies, when the universities began the transition required by the Bolonia Process, they had a long way to go. Each university offered different services with little structure and career planning services were independent from other services universities offered.

Origins of Spanish Services for Career Development and Vocational Guidance at Universities

In Spain, according to data from the Minister for Education and Science (http://www.mepsyd.es/), there are about 50 public and 20 private Universities today. Their educational model has been quite classic, with much more theory than training and the students had a passive role. They are now in the middle of an intensive change process.  Students have a different role, but also universities have a new role and must become places where companies can find their future workers (Fernández-González, 2007). In this context guidance services play an important part.

The first three guidance service centers for students at universities were born in the seventies in three public universities in Madrid.  They were called Centres of Guidance and Information for Employment (COIE) (Sánchez García, 1998). There were two main reasons for their creation:

  1. The number of different degrees increased, so it was much more difficult for students to choose between possibilities 
  2. It was difficult for students to find employment because of the large number of unemployed people.

In spite of these problems, guidance service offices were staffed by a small number of professionals who were often teachers who gave information to students and accepted curriculum vitae in application for employment. 

By the nineties, more universities had created these kinds of centers and the variety of assistance given to the students had increased, even though each university used a different name for this service. Today, most public and private universities have services to help students with their careers, qualifications, or academic questions, and they also have agreements with the National Institute for Employment (INEM) to facilitate the students' transition into the labor market.

Heterogeneity of Services

As in America, Spanish services vary greatly between the different universities. They have different names and they offer different types of assistance to students.

There are three kinds of guidance they can offer:

  • personal
  • professional
  • academic

Each center gives more importance to one or more of these, but there are some universities which have created multiple centers which offer more than one kind of guidance in more than one place. 

In the table below there is a short enumeration of services arranged in order based on how frequent the service is offered  (Vidal, Díez, Vieira, 2001).

Services Offered to Students in Order of Importance:

  1. Information About degrees, grants, Ph.D. or professional outcomes
  2. Employment Exchange
  3. Training in companies
  4. Training in employment search
  5. Training in how to study
  6. Guidance in degree choice
  7. Elaboration of professional profiles (resume preparation)
  8. Guidance in career development.


As you can see, the less important services are related to vocational guidance and career development. That means that, in Spain, we pay much more attention to the information exchange or to the employment search than to guidance or to career development. These two disciplines are not well developed: specific qualifications to be a Vocational Guide or a Career Development Professional do not exist, and there are few independent professionals who are not attached to universities or other similar organizations.

Most of the students who use the services are finishing their degrees or they have just finished. We seldom work with students before they begin university or students who have just begun.

Professionals who provide these services are mostly psychologists or pedagogues. Things have changed from the seventies into a more specialized model, but there are also work-study students and administrative staff providing services in addition to the professionals.

Future Development in the Context of Bolonia

The Bolonia Process, in our opinion, has caused two main challenges to guidance services.

First, the opportunity for students to study in other countries means that degrees in all countries must be similar. This opportunity is a challenge for people who work in guidance services because they have to understand how this works in other countries, but also encourage students to make good use of this opportunity to improve their qualifications and to design their future careers (Montanero, Lucero, 2007).

Second, as a consequence, we need more and better professionals specialized in vocational guidance and career development.

The role of career guidance in Spain is changing rapidly as professionals develop the necessary skills to face the challenges and plan for growth this new environment.


Fernández-González, M. (2007). <<La Orientación Profesional en la Educación Superior ante el reto de Bolonia>>. Cuadernos DEP par al Educación Superior. Vol. 2006-2007, ISN: 1579-3834.

Montanero, M, Lucero, M. (2007). <<Hacia un nuevo modelo organizativo de los servicios universitarios de orientación y asesoramiento en el Espacio Europeo de Educación Superior>>. Cuadernos DEP para la Educación Superior. Vol. 2006, ISN: 1579-3834

Sánchez García, Mª F. (1998). Análisis y valoración de necesidades y servicios de orientación en las universidades de la Comunidad de Madrid. Tesis doctoral sin publicar. UNED.

Vidal, J., Díez, G. and Vieira, Mª J. (2001). La oferta de los servicios de orientación en las universidades españolas: innovación y ajuste a las necesidades de la comunidad universitaria. León: Universidad de León. Available at www3.unileon.es/dp/amide/inves/publi/Servori.pdf.

Marta Fernández-González is an independent Vocational Guide from the north of Spain and also the leader of a forum about Career Development, Qualifications and Curriculum Vitae on the net. She can be reached at mfernand@igijon.com.

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