The first all-ages careers advice service, catering for people as young as 13 up until retirement age, will begin operation next year, the Government has announced.
Connexions, the 14-19 careers service, and Next Step, its adult counterpart, will be merged into a new all-ages advice agency. It will begin working with teenagers next September before becoming fully operational by April 2012.
FE and skills minister John Hayes said: "Informed learners are empowered learners. The right guidance at the right time not only helps people progress in learning, but also increases their confidence and motivation to succeed. Careers guidance is at the heart of increasing social mobility, and a vital part of the machinery of social justice.
"I have long argued for the creation of an all-ages careers service. A unified, consistent service that offers seamless support to young people as they make the transition to adulthood and have a true focus on lifelong learning."
Mr Hayes' new agency is as yet unnamed, but he says it will feature the word "careers" in its title.
However, the service still has to win over schools, which will have a legal duty to provide independent, impartial careers guidance, but are free to decide how best to provide it.
A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research this year found that advice given internally by schools and colleges was trusted less than the guidance from agencies such as Connexions.
The Department for Education has also so far failed to ensure that pupils are informed about apprenticeships before they choose their courses and career.
Schools career guidance is still under review and a final report is not due until March 2012.
The Government is considering establishing a register of providers and a Kitemark for best practice as well as ensuring that advisers are qualified to degree level. Ministers also intend to consult on whether to introduce a licence to practice for advisers, ensuring that minimum levels of qualification are met and skills are updated.
Mr Hayes said: "Everyone knows that impartial advice is always the best advice. But that independent advice must also be underpinned by professional expertise.
"I want to re-professionalise the careers service and create an environment in which careers guidance is recognised for the important public good it is, in which young people, adults, schools, colleges, universities and whole communities see its value, use it and invest in it."
Deirdre Hughes, president of the Institute of Career Guidance, has welcomed Mr Hayes' plans. "The institute has worked hard to influence national thinking and is delighted to see that high-quality, independent careers advice is now at the centre of the Government's social and economic agenda."
Ms Hughes added the planned new service will be independent of vested interests and operate under clear national standards.