Just months after a union survey revealed a "bleak picture" of unrest and dissatisfaction at Careers Scotland, one of the UK's top academics in careers guidance has rated it among the best such organisations in the world.
A review of Careers Scotland by Tony Watts, visiting professor of career development at Derby University, benchmarked its progress against best practice set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, which has already looked at careers services in 14 other countries.
Professor Watts concluded: "The practices being adopted by Careers Scotland are comparable to leading good practice across the world."
His report, Progress and Potential, observed that much work remains to be done but stated: "The building blocks are strong and robust. The progress that has been made in little over two years is impressive."
The Scottish approach, Professor Watts found, was strongly in line with the OECD emphasis on "ensuring that resource allocation decisions give the first priority to systems that develop career self-management skills rather than assuming everyone needs intensive personal careers guidance".
Vivienne Brown, head of career planning at Careers Scotland, commented: "As a young organisation, we now have a clear endorsement of the approaches that we have been developing and implementing. The findings build on our recent customer satisfaction levels and external evaluation of our services, which have been positive."
The report has some messages for Careers Scotland, however, such as the need to fully define its strategic aims, strengthen distance guidance, ensure a closer dialogue with business and other career providers, and support career planning in the workplace.
Professor Watts looked at the split in Careers Scotland, which is a part of Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise. He acknowledged that there was close collaboration between the two, based largely on good working relationships within the top management.
While he did not advocate any change in the present system, he did note that "the continuation of such relationships cannot be taken for granted".
The report also examined concerns from schools and universities that the approach being taken by Careers Scotland, in which pupils "self-refer" themselves for careers advice, was disadvantaging youngsters who were not proactive enough or did not have clear career plans.
Professor Watts commented: "There is a danger that its differentiated model may miss some pupils who are undecided, or who have a declared career goal that is based on little reflection or reality testing. The old models of 'blanket interviewing' (which had been largely abandoned well before Careers Scotland was set up) were crude and inflexible, but they at least provided some form of quality assurance in the decision-making process."
His report acknowledged that the new approach would be a challenge for schools and Careers Scotland. But he took comfort from estimates which showed that, in most schools, 85-90 per cent of pupils would still receive at least one interview from a Careers Scotland adviser (although one headteacher put the figure much lower than that).
Professor Watts concluded: "If the challenges identified in this report are addressed, (Careers Scotland) has the potential not only to achieve its ambition of becoming a world-leading public career planning service, but also to make Scotland as a whole a genuine world leader in the career guidance field - with the economic and social benefits . . . this may induce."