Adult guidance and lifelong education are snug companions. From being on the margins only a few years ago, they are moving centre stage as part of the Government drive on lifelong education.
The push is being provided by the changing jobs market. Updating and enhancing skills and confidence therefore become essential to survival. Advice and guidance is the first step.
The campaign for guidance is a long-standing concern of the adult education lobby but it has taken the impetus of agencies like the high-powered Advisory Scottish Council on Education and Training Targets which has identified a more educated and trained workforce as the backbone of any future economic progress, to convince central government.
Adult guidance is seen as one way of linking the learners and the providers. Even Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State, is now on board and earlier this year pointed out both public and private sectors are beginning to see "lifelong learning as a serious strategic and operational objective". He emphasised that "people must not be put off by a complex and perhaps threatening array of different types of educational and training provision."
Following a Scottish Office blueprint for adult guidance issued last February, Mr Forsyth is now expected in January to announce a series of initiatives, including a national guidance helpline to boost the lifelong learning strategy.
Astrid Ritchie, chair of the Scottish Adult Education Forum, believes Scotland has made good progress in recent years and is almost halfway towards achieving a network of support. She hopes more "one stop" guidance shops will spring up.
Mrs Ritchie observes: "Higher Still has put the whole thing on the frontburner because it affects adults just as much as school pupils. As soon as you start making provision for groups who have not been interested or involved, you then need clear guidance."
All kinds of educational institutions, from schools, further education colleges, universities, community education and local enterprise companies, have joined the guidance bandwagon, Mrs Ritchie points out. Unevenness of provision and its quality are aspects she hopes will eventually be ironed out.
Fife has run an adult guidance service for nine years and spends a third of its time advising people looking for a career change. European funding ensures a free service.
With 12 full-timers and six support staff, the service operates bases in careers' offices, colleges, community centres and local service offices. It deals with around 4,500 clients a year on a one-to-one basis. Redundancy counselling is a feature.
Janice Laird, co-ordinator, said: "A lot of people do not know what guidance is and do not think it's relevant to them, particularly those who are returning to learning. There are a lot of barriers to returning to learning, especially psychological barriers. In some communities there's not the culture of going back into education. There's also peer group pressure and people with bad experiences of learning. Those are people we cannot always reach."
Never the less, the benefits of guidance are clear, Ms Laird maintains: "It reduces the drop-out rate and makes learning more appropriate."
If Scotland is to get anywhere near the education and training targets set by Ascett, adult guidance can anticipate a bright future.