Careers Central is the first careers service in Scotland to attain the prestigious SQMS award, designed specifically for use by educational and training organisations and allowing them to evaluate their performance against a series of set standards. The qualification has come from a collaboration between Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Vocational Educational Council and the Scottish Office and is assessed by Investors in People and British Standard 5750 - the national quality benchmark .
Danny Logue, business and development manager at Careers Central, explains: "It's given us a framework and a benchmark by which to set ourselves against the various standards that exist. It's also allowed us to set various standards. It's not just a piece of paper but a means of sharpening up the delivery of the service."
Mr Logue explains the process involved in getting SQMS up and running. "We had a series of staff familiarisation sessions on the benefits and what it was all about. We were trying to emphasise that a lot of what we were saying was already happening and then kicked it off by looking at the standards we had to work to. We conducted an internal audit and then spent about a year trying to plug the gaps in the standard of service we had identified."
This system of auditing was a key part in staff participation. Mr Logue, says: "We set up a quality assurance development group comprising staff from all levels. This job was to arrive at customer care policy, service standards and performance indicators. It was coming from the ground up - the staff themselves identified what they thought was good practice."
Crucial to the successful implementation of SQMS is the staff's understanding of it. Organisations the land over are filled with employees who have been baffled and alienated by new management ideas and systems. However, SQMS demands that staff are questioned at length about their knowledge and understanding of the systems that are in place.
Alan Owenson, careers service inspector with the Scottish Office, echoes this view: "It wouldn't work if you tried to impose it on people. Staff feel that there is some 'ownership' there - they have shown that they are committed to it. Some long-in-the-tooth careers advisers might think what is this quality nonsense. But if it is introduced properly then doubts can be overcome, " he says.
Within Careers Central there is now greater openness and a willingness to discuss problems. Jim Thompson, a careers adviser, says: "I think there is more confidence now if you get a problem with a parent or a client. You've got the documents there to help you deal with the situation. As part of SQMS, everybody has to understand what to do so you're not wasting time phoning people to find out how to solve problems."
Quality development groups, run on a voluntary basis, look at all aspects of their work and can be made up of senior managers as well junior clerical assistants. Each of the groups has a plan with aims and objectives and is steered - but not led - by the senior manager present.
Melissa Gray, an administrative assistant, adds: "We always did have good communication but now we have it set down. We have regular meetings and I think we talk more as staff."
Mr Logue sums up what SQMS has done for Careers Central. "First we identified what were the good practices that we wanted to have in place and it put the systems in place to implement them. Second it increased the staff participation - communication and their development. The third thing we've looked at is the evaluation of clients - sending out questionnaires, interviewing clients in small groups and follow up telephone calls to find out what they thought of the services."