First steps in finding a job

Elaine Carlton

Providing careers libraries has always been a problem. Elaine Carlton looks at how one area copes.

At Long Road Sixth Form College, Doreen Dace appreciates every day she spends working in the careers suite. Although it is a sparse room dotted with fraying armchairs, she remembers what it was like to have her careers information squashed into a classroom.

When she took on the role of careers external links liaison officer eight years ago, she was given a converted classroom for her work in the Cambridge college. She said: "It was far too small and too far away from the main part of the building. It was just a room with books and prospectuses."

When the Government's Careers Library Initiative raised the status of careers work in schools and colleges in 1992-3, senior management at Long Road gave Mrs Dace more time and space for her work.

"I was given an empty shell within the college and allowed to design the layout myself. Initially it was difficult to get hold of furnishings and I had to beg, borrow and steal chairs, but this was to do with lack of funds.

"The biggest task is ensuring that our information is current, but we have very good back-up from Cambridgeshire Careers Guidance Limited who let us know what we should stock."

In one corner of the careers suite is a row of computers. The college's 1,500 core students are keen to use the growing number of computer programmes advising them on different universities and jobs, but the software and hardware are expensive.

ECCTIS+ is the most popular as it gives students the vital details of different universities, from the grades needed to the facilities for the handicapped.

Every tutor group has an induction to the careers library and students are free to request an interview with a careers officer. They also receive a weekly careers bulletin produced by the college.

Mrs Dace estimates that it costs Pounds 1,000 a year to keep the basic operation running by updating the most essential information. The college is generous with its budget, but there is still a problem because the cost of careers materials is enormous There are only four personal computers in the suite. Although students can access information from computers throughout the college, a survey has shown they prefer to do so in the suite. "There are quite often queues of students waiting to use the machines and I advise them that they can go elsewhere but obviously we would prefer to have morecomputers here.

"The biggest problem is printing. Often so many students are using the network at the same time that people have to wait to print out the information they have found."

There is also a shortage of members of staff. Mrs Dace's job is split - half teaching and half careers work - so she cannot be on hand all the time.

"There are a number of part-time careers officers who interview the students and help map out their futures. Although we would like a full-time member of staff to man the suite funds are not sufficient to cover this. So from next year the careers officers will stop their interviewing during lunch hours so they can help out any students with queries."

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