Many teenagers are receiving misleading advice on future jobs from Connexions staff, according to careers guidance workers.
They have reported a series of blunders including the case of a teenage girl who was led to believe that she would become a vet simply by completing a vocational course in animal care. The incidents are recorded in a catalogue of complaints about Connexions compiled by the Institute of Career Guidance, which represents more than 3,500 careers advisers.
The institute says the complaints raise serious questions about the quality of the government service, which provides careers and pastoral advice for 13 to 19-year-olds. The Department for Education and Skills will spend an estimated pound;441 million on Connexions this year.
Institute members who work for Connexions complain that most of their colleagues gave out careers advice even though they were untrained to do so.
Examples of poor advice included the case of a teenager who wanted to study medicine at university and was informed that doing a vocational A-level in science was "fine". Trained advisers said this was misleading because universities prefer traditional A-levels in chemistry and biology.
Another teenager believed she would become a vet - something that demands years of university study and clinical training - when she had completed a BTEC first diploma in animal care. A trained careers worker said he was horrified to see that the teenager's misguided belief was based on a careers action plan written by a Connexions employee. The adviser said: "I would like to be able to say that this is one outrageous example, but as Connexions develops I sadly see bad advice becoming part of the norm."
Similar concerns were raised by other advisers. One, who claimed to be one of the very few trained careers workers in their Connexions team, said: "I have witnessed lots of incidents of poor amateur careers advice and picked up the pieces on numerous occasions."
Tom Wylie, chief executive of the National Youth Agency, said that he did not believe careers advice from Connexions staff was poor nationwide but there might be cause for concern in some partnerships.
He said greater attention was needed to ensure teenagers were referred to staff with approriate specialisms. "If a personal adviser has built up a good relationship with a young person and they come to them for careers advice I can understand why they would want to try to help them, even if they should refer it to a colleague," he said.
The DfES said that its own recent survey of 16,000 teenagers showed that 91 per cent had been satisfied with Connexions advice. The Office for Standards in Education has reported that the service has generally maintained or improved careers guidance in schools.
However, three of the first 12 partnerships it inspected have been rated as unsatisfactory or having significant weaknesses.