By conquering cyberspace, Grampian Careers went where no Scottish advice service had gone before, writes Judy Mackie
One sure way for someone to disappoint a careers adviser is to spend an entire one-to-one interview asking for general information on career opportunities. Grampian Careers' solution is electronically inspired.
Its pioneering interactive website - part of a carefully-planned information and communications technology strategy to improve and increase access to its services - paves the way for a prospective face-to-face meeting by providing a wealth of information for young people and adults. "It helps us to meet the increasingly sophisticated needs of our clients," says acting chief executive Pat Pugh.
Launched in June last year by the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, Wendy Alexander, www.grampiancareers.com now serves not just the north-east but far beyond. As well as helping job-seekers, it also provides a job matching and labour market information service for employers and has links to resources at other sites.
Pages that are particularly beneficial to young people in school or college offer a checklist of considerations to help them in the decision-making process; the chance to create, edit, save and print their own action plan; a step-by-step guide to making informed career choices; a list of frequently asked questions; and a discussion forum where they can quiz a Grampian Careers adviser online or chat with other clients.
"One of our aims," says Ms Pugh, "is to help young people develop effective career planning and decision-making skills so that they are empowered to take responsibility for their own career planning throughout their lives."
However, she adds, the website, is not intended to replace face-to-face guidance, rather "to enhance it, to make the interview experience more useful for the client".
The company has developed three exclusive software products in conjunction with other private sector ICT partners: Kudos in Scotland, an interactive matching program providing career ideas and job information based on the user's interests and abilities; Careerscape in Scotland, an instant access careers information database; and Worktrends in Scotland, a comprehensive labour market resource. Kudos is available in all north-east schools, and all three packages are selling well to educational establishments, libraries and voluntary organisations throughout Scotland.
Internet-enabled laptops, complete with telephone card, are now used by all visiting Grampian Careers advisers so that they can quickly signpost the website resource and its links to S1 pupils upwards and to guidance and subject teachers. This has strengthened links with schools, and means that teachers, librarians and advisers can play complementary roles.
Terry Ashton, guidance adviser with Aberdeen City Council, says the website's main benefits are its accessibility and the pathway it provides to Grampian Careers' services for students, parents and teachers. He says:
"It enables young people to do a lot more of their own research."
Sophie Garnham, a fifth-year student at Aberdeen's Albyn School for Girls, visited the website at home one evening. "I was interested in finding out more about journalism,"she says, "and about the characteristics and qualifications employers would look for when recruiting trainee journalists. I also wanted to know which universities offered specific courses in journalism and which Higher subjects I should choose."
Sophie downloaded information answering her first three queries, but wanted a personal response to the last. She e-mailed Grampian Careers and was satisfied with the advice she received.
"The site was easy to use and it was great to be able to find things out so quickly, from home."
Customer satisfaction is not the end of the story, however, since Grampian Careers has a team dedicated to updating its website and online services continually.
Ms Pugh says the take-up of the company's web services has far exceeded expectations - 70,000 "site sessions" against a target of 30,000.