Good careers advice is considered essential if the Government is to move teenagers off the dole queue and into work. But well-judged advice is not always easy to find. Three young journalists from the Children's Express news agency compared the help they received from three standard sources: the computer careers package; local authority careers counsellors; and adult friends or relatives. What they were told and their rating of the advice appears in the table on the right.
Despite the many claims made for information technology, the software clearly failed all three candidates. Every program suffered from being too broad and inflexible, incapable of responding sensitively enough to young people's interests. The general nature of the questions was frustrating, the sheer volume off-putting.
The Government careers service proved invaluable for two of the teenagers. But Jay gave his counsellor only three out of ten. He was shocked to be told that further education was the only viable option - even though he has no intention of gong to college. He found the experience not only useless but demoralising.
Informal advice from friends and adults was consistently popular. Even where the advisers lacked experience, the teenagers felt they had been helpful, broadening their understanding about the world of work.
Jay Burnett, 18
Gave up A-levels in philosophy, English literature, sociology after a year. Works full-time in a record shop. Wants to write fiction but doesn't want to go through higher education.
Computer package: "Adult direction"
"It said I could make it as a writer if I worked really hard, but steered me towards something more practical...like a funeral director or a scenes of crime officer, a home-care organiser or an industrial relations officer. In theory, you could print a recommended plan of action, but the computer crashed. One member of staff had gone to lunch, and the others didn't have the password so I was locked out." RATING 410
"The appointment was an hour of being told to go back to college and come back in a couple of years. I felt like an outlaw because I didn't want to continue studying full-time. The advice was geared to getting you back into the system. I got the impression it was more "okay, you're here for your allotted time. Don't nick anything and you'll be out in half an hour". It felt like careers advice by numbers. RATING 310
Peer advice: Graham Reid, youth worker
"He picked up immediately that I wouldn't go back to education without a major personality change. He asked questions I hadn't thought about - did I think my writing was of publishable standard, where did I see myself in 10 years' time? He suggested I do something with my writing - show it to friends for comment, send it to publishers, network with people who have friends in the business. He actually gave a damn and his advice gave me the confidence to trust myself. RATING 1010
Tara Glynn, 18
Just received her results for an A-level in English literature and AS-levels in biology and geography. Has applied to study marine biology at university. Hopes to work in a related field.
Computer package: "Ectis"
"The questions it asked seemed irrelevant - would you rather build a barbecue or a shed? I cheated to get it to tell me what I wanted. There's a larger margin of error with the computer than with a personal career adviser. Though Ectis was the program I was recommended, it didn't take me beyond choosing courses I have already done. I want to know what else I should be doing to get the job I want. What will give me the edge." Rating 310
"He questioned my understanding of marine biology to make sure I didn't have some way-out idea of living with dolphins and whales in the South Pacific. He tried to ascertain whether my personality is suited to the profession. He also explored other choices and reminded me that it was okay to change my mind later on. It wasn't like advice at school. You're there off your own bat and you're treated with respect." RATING 910
Peer advice: two science graduates
"I learnt that there are few women in science, even now. I liked the idea I could excel in an area where others haven't. They confirmed my fears about the lack of jobs . . . and the need for hard work. They knew I can be impatient and warned me sciences can be really slow. Hearing how they had changed direction made me realise I was talking about the rest of my life, but their success reassured me." RATING 910
Michelle Rielly, 16
Awaiting GCSE results in English language and literature, maths, double science, drama, French, business studies, geography. Wants to take up modern dance.
Computer package: "Kudos" "None of these questions seemed relevant to me. Though I knew what I wanted to do, the computer program produced other careers it thought I should do. Like becoming an army officer or a fashion designer . . . I've never dreamed of doing that! The only advantage is that you could work at your own pace, you control it. When you talk to a counsellor, you can get nervous." RATING 410
"He listened to the reasons why I wanted to dance and told me about the steps I should take. I want to take the qualifications he recommended to give myself a better chance of making it. He showed me dance needn't stop at 35 - there's also dance therapy and choreography. He gave a list of all the local colleges and people I could contact to find out more." RATING910 Peer advice: Uncle Gary, musician
He told me it was a competitive field because so many young people wanted to break into dancing. He explained that some girls do "exotic" dancing - dancing naked in clubs - to pay their way through college. He knows my dancing and confirmed that I have the talent to make it a career. That was positive - my school had said it should stay a hobby. We agreed I should study hard to be successful." RATING 810