All students should be able to access face-to-face careers advice instead of having to rely on the web-based services being promoted by the Scottish government, according to researchers from the University of Edinburgh.
Academics questioned more than 1,000 S4 students to investigate whether a major shift to web-based careers advice was working. They found that students viewed personal contact with someone they knew - and who knew them - as a key factor in obtaining the right advice.
"As such, face-to-face approaches represent a better use of Skills Development Scotland resources," Cathy Howieson and Sheila Semple from the Centre for Educational Sociology at the University of Edinburgh write in their report. "All students should be able to access such in-depth provision."
The report, published last month, builds on earlier work by the academics on the introduction of the My World at Work website. This was designed to be part of an overall service, with personal support available via webchats and the call centre, according to the report. However, it goes on to state that students have "little or no perception of the availability of this support", and adds: "They did not appear to value webchat or call centre support as a way to access careers advice."
Current policy assumes that the site can meet "all the requirements of the majority of students" but research does not support this, the report says. It adds that although My World of Work is of some benefit, it fails to provide adequate support to a diverse range of students and is not as effective as face-to-face contact.
Although there is an assumption that young people are "digital natives", the study suggests that students' ability to use websites effectively in relation to their own career development is limited.
"The research reveals considerable variation across schools, not only in use of career websites, but also in the extent of contact with teachers and careers advisers and use of the careers library," it says.
The researchers stressed that a "significant minority of students", most likely to be in the lowest-attaining group and therefore particularly vulnerable, were missing out on careers advice altogether.
David Cameron, head of career management skills at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), said the report backed the aims of his organisation in developing a comprehensive service.
"School students are now learning career-management skills through group sessions, personalised coaching and drop-in clinics, as well as My World of Work and through their school learning experience," he said.
"We know it is important to monitor how we deal with every individual. We also need to work harder with parents and work with individuals and careers advisers to make sure that everyone is aware of what we offer and how they can access them."
"Over the next three years, we will be working closely with teaching staff to ensure the skills young people need are built into the curriculum, and all students from S3 are registered on My World of Work."
When the University of Edinburgh researchers published a summary of their work earlier this year, Unison, the union representing SDS careers advisers, said the survey showed that "while careers websites are of value, they are no substitute for expert face-to-face guidance".