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Salvation in Catford

IN A TATTY parade of shops in Catford, south-east London, lurks Youth Aid Lewisham. Its offices are a few doors down from Kwik Fit and the Salvation Army Hostel.

Youth Aid is a referral agency, an organisation that finds accommodation for the young and homeless. Besides a bed for the night, visitors could also find a career. Every Friday Jean Kerr, an adviser from the London South Bank Careers Service, comes to talk about life options, suitable jobs or college courses with clients from their late teens to mid-twenties.

The careers service has changed radically since the days when its officers went into school to interview pupils embarking on their GCSEs. The previous government privatised it three years ago and funded it with a mix of government grant aid and cash from the training and enterprise councils. Now the careers companies provide a free service intended to meet the needs of students in full-time education and adults both in work and out of it.

Although school visits are still important, careers service companies are increasingly looking at outreach work and, like London South Bank, are working with the community, youth, probation and welfare services.

Careers services are refocusing. The Careers Guidance Council recently conducted a market survey to identify adults' advice and guidance needs. It discovered that what people needed was information - about training opportunities, jobs, prospects, college grants, the cost of training and aptitude testing. They also wanted as well help writing a CV, support in their learning, and basic information about how to market their skills.

They found people gain most benefit from careers guidance when they have made the first move in requesting information. Service delivery has to be flexible as London South Bank's involvement with Lewisham Youth Aid shows. Jean Kerr says: "We're really focusing on the 16 to 17-year-olds - people who are slipping through the net. I tell them there's no job for life and to take what opportunities they can - whether it is training allowances, or going to college. They need to know what's out there and how they can achieve it."

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