Ministers are set to announce details next month of how the 17 careers companies will be expected to offer an all-age service instead of one focused on young people. The Executive's finance settlement unveiled in September has earmarked an extra pound;9 million for the careers service over the three years to 2003-04.
This will bring total expenditure to almost pound;33 million, giving the careers service a pivotal role in delivering the Government's lifelong learning agenda.
Existing provision of careers guidance to all is widely regarded as patchy; some of it is delivered through careers companies, some via adult guidance networks. The Executive has asked careers companies to co-ordinate bids aimed at delivering all-age guidance.
The study, based on work with 16 focus groups, criticises this "fragmented" approach which it believes contributes to the low awareness of adult guidance.
"Even people who had accessed some guidance, for example through a local initiative, were not aware of it," it states. "They saw it as part of a wider jobtraining initiative. Allied to thi low awareness was a generally poor understanding of what guidance involved."
The consultants recommend that any adult guidance service should be made distinctive from and add value to the jobcentre network, for example by appealing to those already in employment not just young people and the unemployed. The focus groups wanted face to face guidance with access at evenings and weekends for those in work.
The study notes that adults did see the value of having a guidance service. "Given the low awareness, this indicates an unmet demand," the report states. "Further, given Government policy to encourage learning, it is important to consider how people can be helped to make more informed choices about learning than was apparent in the focus groups."
The report adds that people in work should be charged for adult guidance. But it adds: "Prices should not be set too high as this will deter use, especially as people were unclear about what 'adult guidance' would entail. They often related it to 'careers'.
"This conceptualisation could be used in developing and marketing the service since it has more positive connotations than 'job', and would also appeal to those in employment."
Dermot Dick of the Association of Careers Services in Scotland welcomed the findings as "balanced and robust". He was particularly gratified at the emphasis on guidance as a passport to jobs and career progression.