The careers service is to be the latest handmaiden of the Scottish Executive's lifelong learning strategy as it faces the most significant shake-up in its history.
A new national public organisation, branded as Careers Scotland, is to be expanded beyond advice to young people to become an all-age service, Wendy Alexander, Lifelong Learning Minister, announced yesterday (Thursday).
It will take over responsibility for the 17 careers service companies, adult guidance networks,education business partnerships and local learning partnerships. In a mini-bonfire of the quangos, the number of bodies involved will be reduced from 80 to 22 by April next year.
The Executive's action is broadly in line with 46 recommendations from the Duffner committee, set up to review the careers service under the chairmanship of Barbara Duffner, head of personnel at the Royal Mail in Scotland.
Ms Duffner said it was important for the new service to be "impartial, informed, client-centred, all-age, confidential and coherent".
She told The TES Scotland: "The importance of impartiality keeps cropping up again and again. The key requirement is for informed guidance. You cannot have a service simply targeted on what the Royal Mail wants, for example."
The Executive's response to the report makes it clear that the need for impartial careers guidance must sit alongside the requirements of the labour market. "Indeed to the extent that a careers service is out of touch with the most up-to-date information on the wider economic context, or the labour and learning markets, then the service to the individual client may be regarded as deficient."
Ms Alexander said change was necessary because "a cluttered institutional landscape of education and guidance providers" was creating barriers to effective delivery of services.
She added: "Careers guidance and education, education and industry links, careers guidance and lifelong learning are indivisible. People are making many more decisions throughout their lives. Decisions are increasingly about lifelong learning and lifelong employability."
The new careers organisations will be expected to reflect these needs with much more technlogically advanced services. The Executive's statement notes rather scornfully that current provision "does not even allow full advantage to be taken of a web-enabled environment with common information potentially available at the touch of a button across Scotland".
In a reversal of the perceptions about new Labour, the revamped careers service will be firmly in the public sector although it will be expected to maintain close links with employers and the local enterprise companies (lecs). The new local careers organisations will be aligned with the boundaries of the 22 lecs.
The changes mean that more than 900 staff of the existing careers service companies will become public employees. The companies currently are private organisations run as partnerships between the lecs and the local authorities to deliver "core services". These are largely centred on secondary and further education students, 16 and 17-year-olds who have left education and clients of any age with disabilities.
Expansion into an all-age service will be funded by an extra pound;9 million over three years and there will be another pound;15 million to promote "inclusiveness", which is effectively the money to implement the Beattie report on disadvantaged young people. This is in addition to the budgets for the four organisations in the field which total pound;24 million.
Ms Alexander's plans will now go to the parliamentary enterprise and lifelong learning committee, which has also criticised the "cluttered landscape" affecting local economic development. It is shortly to begin a new inquiry into the way lifelong learning is organised and delivered.
* Careers service delivery inconsistent across Scotland.
* Confusing organisation arrangements at local level.
* Local relationships with other agencies variable.
* Lack of clear perceptions of the needs of many sectors of the economy.
* Access to careers services by other organisations looking for or wishing to impart information was patchy.
* Lines of accountability were poor.
* "Consistent and appropriate performance measurement" was lacking.
* Contracting arrangements were unsatisfactory.