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Orkney Islands mobile unit reaches out

Boats and planes (but not trains) are as much vehicles for the development of the careers service in Orkney as anything else.

The Orkney Opportunities Centre, the one-stop shop in the middle of Kirkwall which serves pupils and adults, has been stepping up its outreach work with clients on Orkney's offshore islands. Officers visited 12 of the islands last year on what Ian Carse, the centre's general manager, calls an "outward marketing" mission - complete, as he says, with appropriate poly bags.

The purpose is partly to fly the flag for the centre, which was set up with its snappy title in 1993 before others such as Careers Central and Career Development Edinburgh and Lothians reinvented themselves. But Mr Carse and his colleagues use the opportunity to sign up clients while they are on their flying visits.

The Orkney Opportunities Centre was among the first to seize upon adults as well as the careers service's traditional core group of pupils. In August 1994, adults formed 72 per cent of its clients and Mr Carse says that remains roughly the proportion.

Now the centre is interpreting "opportunities" in its widest possible sense so that careers become a matter of continuous professional development, not just information and guidance. Orkney's outreach work has therefore included updating local solicitors, nurses, surveyors and civil engineers. Video-conferencing has allowed experts from Aberdeen University and Thurso College to talk to the professionals.

The contractual world which the careers service now inhabits has led to "service level agreements" with schools. This sets out clearly what each expects of the other and ought to answer the perennial criticisms that "never the twain shall meet". The service is thus committed to tell S1 about jobs in Orkney, while Stromness Academy undertakes to give the first years an indication of the personal qualities different kinds of employers may want.

Learning outcomes have also been established for each year group so that, for example, first year pupils are given a pledge at least that they will know who their careers officer is. By sixth year, pupils will expect to be told not just about entry to college or university but also about the implications of taking a year out and even security ("to become aware of the possible dangers of collegeuniversity life").

The careers agreement envisaged that, last session in the case of Stromness Academy, the total time devoted to career interviews was 152 hours with an additional 40 hours per academic year on other careers activities.

"It all helps to keep us out of mischief," Mr Carse observes.

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