Engineer of new approach;Interview;Rodney Buse

The man in charge of the Guidance Council wants a better deal for the consumer. Rodney Buse talks to Martin Whittaker

WITH A solid background in the retail and voluntary sectors, Rodney Buse has brought a wealth of experience to his role as head of the umbrella body for careers organisations in the state and private sector.

He also brings a wealth of boardroom jargon - one of his oft-used phrases is "business process re-engineering". In retailing, he says, it means cutting out middlemen and women, wholesalers, warehouses and stockrooms, to offer the product directly to the customer - like selling books over the Internet.

Buse believes that, with the onset of new technology, business process re-engineering has to happen with careers guidance. "As a retailer you learn that you can have the best product in the world, but if people don't know about it and how to access it, you're dead in the water."

"My philosophy on information advice and guidance is that most people don't know what it is. They have an antiquated feeling of what it was like at school, and mostly they didn't enjoy it."

Buse has been chairman of the Guidance Council (properly known as the National Advisory Council for Careers and Educational Guidance) for three years.

His initial training was as an accountant before embarking on a career with WH Smith. He became personnel director then moved to Do-It-All as managing director.

In his forties he went into the voluntary sector. He was chairman of Actionaid until last year and has been vice-chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations for 18 months.

He sees the Guidance Council's role as "merging the skills of the policymakers with the knowledge and experience of the practitioners". During his time, the council has established quality standards and "mystery shopper" schemes, where unannounced checks are made on careers services.

Allusions to the commercial and voluntary sectors crop up often in conversation. He wants to see changes which, with the help of new technology and initiatives such as Learning Direct, the Government's careers helpline, will put information in the hands of the customer. It is, he says, about exercising consumer choice.

"You've got eight million people needing advice in any one year. Where do they go? As a retailer you begin to brand, you begin to put quality controls in place and you begin to market the facility.

"I would ask through all these initiatives, how does the client get to know what's available and where's the shop window? Where's the Yellow Pages? Where are all the adverts in local newspapers?"

He believes the Internet will play a huge role.

But won't cutting out the middlemen hit jobs in the careers service? Buse doesn't believe jobs will disappear, but they will change.

"What we would need is something that puts the client and the customer straight away in line with the person who can deal with their problems.

"The careers service is going to have to learn that it must not and should not answer every question. It must on occasion network with the voluntary sector.

"Most of their enquirers will come from the voluntary sector. It will be the local community leader or scout leader who has the youngster saying 'I'm thinking of doing this - where do I turn?' "

Buse believes a consumer- choice approach will force a culture change in the service and stimulate demand for learning.

"For all this to work we need a much better understanding of what motivates the individual, and to put them in the driving seat.

"When that happens, demand will hugely exceed supply. Everybody in the sector is frightened of that. And I as a retailer will rejoice - because only when you get that panic will something happen and will MPs get letters from their constituencies saying we must have more resources.

"I would then say you don't throw money at it. What you then do is go through business process re-engineering and find a better way of doing it."

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