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Careers advice in a mess

People don't know where to go amid confusing array of different approaches. Martin Whittaker reports

Careers guidance for people of all ages is "disjointed" according to the Guidance Council It has highlighted the confusing array of different approaches offering careers advice throughout the UK as the opening shots in a campaign to shake up services.

The council, which represents careers service users, wants a UK-wide guidance system for people of all ages that reflects changing learning and working patterns.

The council also called for a state-funded national campaign to raise awareness of the benefits of careers guidance, following the example of the basic skills Gremlins advertising.

The new demands shows how the Guidance Council , which had its 10th anniversary annual general meeting last week, is re-inventing itself as a vociferous, campaigning organisation. Chief executive Cathy Bereznicki said the organisation wants to "up the ante" on career issues.

"This is a mark in the sand for the Guidance Council, and a mark in the sand for the public to whom we owe a responsibility," she told careers sector representatives.

The body - full title the National Advisory Council for Careers and Educational Guidance - was founded in 1993 by the RSA and CBI to promote the needs of guidance service users to policy-makers, the media and employers.

It gained charitable status in 1999 and till now has concentrated on developing quality standards for learning at work and for information, advice and guidance services.

Its new agenda calls for countries in the UK to make sense of a very fragmented system. Wales and Scotland have both developed all-age career services, while Northern Ireland is developing a similar service that encompasses young people and adults.

In England services are very fragmented, with adult guidance partnerships funded through the Learning and Skills Council and the separate Connexions support service for teenagers.

Critics argue that Connexions is too bureaucratic: the system was built on a patchwork of privatised career services, resulting in different services in different regions.

"For decades we have shifted from national to local service delivery patterns and back again, and between all-age services and those segmented by age," says the council. "What we are calling for is coherence."

The body is also demanding better career development opportunities in the workplace, after its research showed that 47 per cent of full-time workers working full-time look to their employer for guidance.

"There's a feeling in the UK because of public policy that somehow if you are employed, you are OK," said careers consultant Dr Wendy Hirsh. "Quite rightly we attend most to people who have great difficulties with work and with their lives. But if we are not careful, people in work get the message that you shouldn't be thinking about your career."

The council's research also shows the public does not understand what guidance is. One of its new strategies calls for a national campaign using real-life stories of those who have benefited.

The organisation has collected 80 written case studies around the UK, and commissioned a video of adults and young people speaking about their experiences. Its new "customer-friendly" website, also has case studies and offers the chance to communicate directly with its chief executive.

www.guidancecouncil.com

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