A human slant on dry figures

The careers service may now be competing in the open market against outside agencies advising people about jobs, but two Scottish companies have teamed up to investigate better ways of helping youngsters come to grips with the market.

Lanarkshire, along with Dumfries and Galloway Careers, has been awarded a Scottish Office grant, for one year initially, to see how labour-market information can be made more intelligible to pupils and their parents.

"One of the novel aspects is the fact that not only are we getting together but also intending to share good practice," says Alex Ross, assistant head of the Lanarkshire careers service.

He serves an area in which careers information is arguably more crucial than in most other places in Scotland. Lanarkshire became a symbol both for the death of manufacturing during the past 20 years and for the feverish efforts to create alternative jobs, be they sunrise orservice.

The project is to hire an economic planner for six months "to make sense of what can be very dry labour-market information both at national and local levels," Mr Ross says. "The idea is to interpret trends to help us help pupils and, very importantly, their parents. We need to answer more effectively the question careers officers always get asked: 'Where will the jobs be in six years' time?' " But the intention is not just to produce materials for careers guidance. "We want to be able to present information that can be used in the classroom as well, in maths as well as modern studies," Mr Ross says. In the past, information was not always up-to-date, was often poorly presented and could be haphazard.

The project will also make an ambitious attempt to provide a "person specification" for employers. "This aims to fill a gap for employers who say to us that they are not just interested in a young person's qualifications but in their qualities as well," Mr Ross says.

"We hope to try to get underneath terms such as 'adaptability' and 'flexibility' and, in the process, have pupils reflect on their own personal qualities as part of preparing their National Record of Achievement. It's not just a matter of kids making an impression by having short haircuts and no ear-rings through the noses: employers are looking for much more than that. "

Lanarkshire Careers has also received financial backing from the Scottish Office for its work with parents. "In the past we've really been dabbling, " Mr Ross admits. "We want to develop a more innovative and proactive strategy which will give parents flexible access to the service. The traditional nine-to-five pattern of office hours simply does not suit workingparents."

The project will include a free telephone careers link for Lanarkshire parents, operating outside office hours and at weekends.

Mr Ross adds: "Instead of one-off activities such as parents' evenings, we plan a comprehensive attack to make parents more aware of the service. This will be a rolling programme of parental contact, including consulting focus groups, extending home visits, establishing community outreach, and developing moreparent-friendly materials."

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