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Shetland target is "sooth mooth" school-leavers

The recent transition from local authority careers service to the new Shetland Careers Service company has largely met with approval. Its aim is to provide impartial information, advice and support for the local education and training structure for the islands and their 23,000 inhabitants.

The careers service manager, Andy Carter, was first appointed careers officer in Shetland at the beginning of the oil boom in the 1970s. He has lived through considerable change in the islands' economy, most of it favourable. "My first priority as manager of the new careers company was to handle the loss of backup which being part of the council provided," he says.

"Services like financial, personnel, and even cleaning, previously taken for granted had to be set up. Now we have got that out of the way, we can look forward to developing the company in line with the community's needs."

Where previously, a careers service would simply have concentrated on the needs of school pupils, the new company has been able to take a broader view of the community needs. New partnerships have been forged. "We have many disadvantages, distance from markets, cost of travel, climate. We need to overcome them by having a better workforce than anybody else, so we can have a high-skill, high-wage economy," says Carter.

One crucial partnership under development is with Shetland College, the local FE college, along with whom the careers company has built up a comprehensive range of services for adults.

Shetland Enterprise has been particularly keen on this avenue, and its chief executive, David Finch, comments: "In today's changing labour market, the provision of up-to-date, accurate and relevant information is vitally important.

"Through this partnership, we have been able to ensure that adults who are seeking to obtain qualifications which will enable them to enter, or re-enter the labour market, or just to improve the current job performance, have the opportunity to make well founded decisions about their future."

Shetland Enterprise has also supported the careers company in promoting projects to attract back some of the 32 per cent of Shetland's school-leavers who disappear "oot the sooth mooth" of Lerwick harbour to higher education in Scotland.

Schemes for both graduates and undergraduates have been funded whereby local companies, invariably tiny by national standards, are actively encouraged to recruit from this pool of exported talent, thereby strengthening their own business structure.

A spin-off of this has been enhanced credibility for the careers company among young people who had previously thought of a careers officer as someone you saw when you were at school, then never again, on duty at any rate.

Instead, the service is now seen as supporting personal development of people of all ages; support of lifelong learning. Equal opportunities is another issue which figures highly for the new service. In Shetland this means taking positive steps to combat remoteness, including substantial investment in the application of new technologies, and a heavy emphasis on outreach work to people in the outer isles of Shetland.

Drew Ratter is chairman of Shetland Careers Service

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