The Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets says the current system has created a chaos of agencies and initiatives, in which misunderstandings over roles and responsibilities abound. It has been estimated that pupils embarking on the wrong course or job may be costing the Scottish economy millions of pounds a year.
The issue was raised at the last meeting of the Scottish Economic Council,a widely representative body of industrialists, academics, trade unionists and local authority leaders which advises the Government. ASCETT says the relationship between education, training and the world of work continues to be the major concern raised by employers. John Ward, the council's chairman, has pressed home his concerns in a letter to Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State.
While commending the "independence and impartiality" of the careers service, Professor Ward adds: "The picture that currently emerges is a confusing one and it is therefore difficult to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of public expenditure. In particular, it is difficult to assess whether current arrangemen ts meet the needs of individuals andor assist in the efficient operation of the labour market."
New "service level agreements" have been introduced between schools and careers companies but the council suggests these are influenced more by careers service targets than the needs of schools.
Dermot Dick, chair of the Association of Careers Services in Scotland, dismisses the charge that the contracts are inflexible and target driven. "Agreements with schools are built from the bottom up and renegotiated at least once a year. They are not a sort of standard plaster cast: they do reflect schools' requirements and the environment in which they operate. "
The council is adamant, however, that "careers education is in danger of becoming marginalised if it is not provided with an adequate place on the timetable and in the curriculum". It condemns "the failure of school management to adequately support resourcing, staffing, curriculum time and a whole-school policy".
The council's paper claims careers education and guidance has effectively stagnated over the past 10 years. Changes such as Standard grade and the 5-14 reforms have been subject led which has resulted in careers provision being given "only a secondary thought".
The council's key demand, which Mr Dick supports, is for an all-age national careers framework, under a widely representative national co-ordinating committee for careers education and guidance. Among its priorities would be to sort out "who does what?" and to bring parents more into the process in recognition of the fact that they are "the single most important source of careers advice for young people".
Professor Ward stresses the importance of establishing a clear mechanism for conveying accurate information about the labour market. He described the current provision as being "in disarray". Mr Dick agreed that "nothing dates so quickly as careers information".
The Audit Commission and OFSTED, the schools inspectorate south of the border, estimated in 1993 that poor choices about post-16 education, training and employment waste #163;500 million a year in England and Wales.
The Scottish Office is expected to unveil proposals for improving access to careers information when it launches a national drive on adult guidance and lifelong learning later this month.