The future for Careers Scotland in the Internet age lies in high quality, face-to-face counselling and fresh innovations, Grant Jeffrey argues
Globalisation and the Internet are beginning to make Scotland seem like a very small country and, at a time when it does indeed seem that we are living in a global village, many more Scots are finding themselves in the international job market.
The Internet is an important shopfront for higher education and training and a key portal to jobs at home and abroad. Websites such as the Government's jobs and learning site Worktrain (www.worktrain.gov.uk), and StepStone (www.stepstone.com), run by an international recruitment agency and offering vacancy information and advice about job-searching, are proliferating.
Every week there are announcements about new career services online. This month the Government is launching an online service, based initially in 267 post offices, which will include job-seeking news along with information on benefits and local government services.
A key question is, how will these free services affect Careers Scotland?
Some Scottish career companies have good websites already. Grampian Careers, for example, has a well-managed online advice and vacancies service but essentially it caters for niche markets. It will be important for Careers Scotland to develop a coherent, national online identity, and the diverse identities of its component career companies will have to be integrated into a service capable of competing with international commercial players.
Even if Careers Scotland can develop a weighty online presence, it will still have serious competition. Where once career companies had a captive market, providing career information to schools and parents, these days guidance teachers, community education workers and social workers can access the same information online as career advisers.
Advisers must no longer define themselves in terms of what they know, but what they can do. Eventually, it is likely that centralised management of information, vacancies, testing and assessment will give them more time and resources. These can be used to develop one service the Internet is unlikely to replace: quality face-to-face career counselling.
Careers Scotland's Internet presence will probably stand or fall on the basis of how well it is able to capitalise on such personal work. Take vacancy management, for example. Much will depend on its ability to manage local, lower status vacancies and trainee positions, perhaps at smaller companies which already have close relationships with careers company staff.
The many possibilities to innovate include offering a secure facility for clients to post their electronic CVs. StepStone claims to have 650,000 CVs in its database, so perhaps Careers Scotland could help job-seekers in a similar manner.
Another way the new organisation could make itself essential would be by complementing careers education in schools with web-based support for hard-pressed guidance teachers. Careers education online, which might involve parents and the community, is bound to emerge, and pupils must be given the skills to access such services.
The long-term solution for Careers Scotland must be to offer the best face-to-face counselling - the kind of extended personal support that will never be offered by a Finnish or Canadian website. That can be followed with online support, using e-mail, information resources and online chat, perhaps even by moderating support groups for job-seeking clients.
A presence on the Internet will become indispensable as a complement to careers education and careers counselling services, but ultimately it will never win the battle against corporate competition. Only a combination of top class holistic personal guidance and efficient Internet support will give Careers Scotland the essential edge.
Grant Jeffrey lectures on guidance and counselling psychology at Napier University. For guidance related Internet links see his www.pacarras.net