The newly privatised careers service should be the key to bridging the gap between education and employment which has "bedevilled this country for two centuries", Gillian Shephard said this week.
The Education and Employment Secretary was speaking at a conference in London which brought together for the first time the chairs and chief executives of 80 independent companies that will run the service from April. The companies have been awarded Pounds 200m in contracts by the DFEE to run the service.
Thirteen companies piloted the service two years ago, 40 started last year and the remainder begin next month. They are a mixture of private-sector organisations, former local authority services and local authority and training and enterprise council partnerships.
Mrs Shephard defended the Government's radical reorganisation of the service, previously run by local authorities, saying: "We couldn't have got it right unless we dismantled it first. I see the new one as a bridge between education and employment. It had a firm root in education, but not in employment. "
Mrs Shephard stressed the importance of working with parents, but said many did not understand the new qualifications. Teachers and lecturers needed to know more about national vocational qualifications and modern apprenticeships, while employers should learn more about GNVQs.
Some companies were running evening or Saturday sessions for parents to keep them informed on all the options.
Not all the 200 delegates were happy with the new arrangements. Clive Button, chairman of Career Connections in Wirral, was concerned about the "straitjacket" of prescriptive contracts and bureaucracy faced by the new boards.
Mrs Shephard said she said she was prepared to listen and cut down on regulations in the interests of a better service.