In two schemes offering a glimpse of adult life, primary pupils are having lessons in a factory and troubled teenagers are getting a taste of responsibility, writes John Cairney.
Not content with simply introducing Primary 7 pupils to the world of work, a pioneering careers project in Lanarkshire is preparing to take its next important step - into a factory.
Youngsters from Townhill Primary in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, have already studied career options in familiar surroundings. Now they are poised to go to a local factory for a technology-based environmental studies project.
The idea is an extension of Lanarkshire Careers Service's initiative, which has mushroomed since its pilot in one school three years ago. This year, about 1,800 pupils from nearly 80 primaries in North and South Lanarkshire will participate.
It is also spreading further afield. The Renfrewshire Career Partnership has bought the related education pack and last year used three advisers to deliver the programme to 10 primaries in East Renfrewshire and Inverclyde. Danny Logue, the partnership's chief executive, says he hopes to extend the course to other schools in all three Renfrewshire authorities.
Anne Aitken, of Lanarkshire Careers Service, points out that the project is not about pupils choosing which career they intend to follow in later life, but aims to raise aspirations and achievement at the same time as building confidence and self-esteem.
"We also hope that pupils will develop teamwork and communication skills and learn about the changing world of work. Promotion of equal opportunities is a key factor," she says.
One of the project's two primary careers advisers is Anne Casserly, who has been involved since the pilot when she and Julie Oswald, a senior teacher at Spittal Primary in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, produced the education pack World of Work. The pack, featuring 17 topics which can be covered in six weeks, now forms an integral part of the programme.
"Schools which use the pack usually teach discrete lessons in curricular time under a series of headings, such as skills and qualities or applying for jobs," says Ms Casserly. "Some schools use supported study time, while one school has incorporated World of Work into the English language component of 5-14. The complete package complies with the 5-14 curriculum."
Sandra McLean has been involved in the programme since 1998, first as senior teacher at Woodhead Primary in Hamilton and then as acting assistant headteacher at Townhill Primary.
She initially had reservations: "I felt that this was something else to be fitted in. But when I looked at the material I realised it was a very good language tool. Pupils enjoyed it and probably did far more reading, writing and discussing than they otherwise might have done.
"Another benefit was that everyone got involved and experienced a sense of achievement. The workplace visits were very useful in giving the children a realistic view of adulthood."
The project is also attempting to bridge the gap between primary and secondary careers education. Funding for social inclusion has brought together a careers adviser, a Primary 7 teacher and a secondary guidance teacher to prepare a pack for the early secondary years which links with careers education available from S3 upwards. Five secondaries and their associated primaries are involved in piloting this.
Another confidence-boosting initiative, being run by eight careers companies, targets older teenagers, particularly disaffected pupils who might have trouble moving on from school.
On Track, which now involves nearly 50 schools, arrived in Scotland via the United States and England and was piloted by Dunbartonshire and Lomond Careers Service (DLCS) in 1998.
The programme consists of three components, called enterprise activities, job competencies and individual mentoring. Students have to plan, cost and organise activities and fund raising, as well as setting up a bank account to administer them.
DLCS's project co-ordinator, Christine McDowall, says it is aimed at those in their last year of compulsory education: "Targeting the right group is vital and it is a process that needs to begin at the end of the third year." Pupils are identified by guidance staff, learning and behavioural support staff and the On Track adviser.
The reaction has been positive. John Wylie, head of guidance at Bannockburn High in Stirling, praised the initiative for "boosting self-confidence at a time when some pupils exhibit low self-esteem and are confused about how to engage with the world beyond school".
Stewart Murray, principal teacher of guidance at Vale of Leven Academy in West Dunbartonshire, said that On Track had "hit the mark", adding: "The benefits are clear to see and this form of inclusion is most helpful."
Figures from the Dunbartonshire careers area for the first year of the programme show a steady improvement in the number of teenagers finding a job or continuing in education or training. In 1999, 85 per cent were in this category. This year 88 per cent were - 3 per cent above the national target.
Three-fifths of the original participants have something positive to show at the end of their third year of On Track. Ms McDowall says this is "clear evidence" that early intervention and continued support from careers advisers helps young people to obtain and retain a successful place after leaving school.
Marjorie Logue, the chief executive of DLCS, attributes its success partly to the Government, which now recognises that this kind of programme needs to be adequately resourced. She hopes Careers Scotland will expand the scheme to other areas next year.