Inspiring and motivating are words that crop up throughout this week's TESS, casting our News Focus on careers advice in a different perspective. At first sight, the investigation creates a grim impression. The economic downturn has led to record levels of unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds. The careers service is regarded by many as "not fit for purpose". The youngsters most at risk of joining the dole queues leave school with little understanding of their career options or the skills required for jobs. And guidance staff in schools and colleges face severe cutbacks (pages 12-15). But not all is doom and gloom.
The Scottish government is encouraging agencies like Skills Development Scotland to focus on those most at risk - the disaffected youngsters who may not have well-informed parents to guide them. Too much, some people say, but its track record is good. Of the 52,000 at-risk pupils it supported last year, almost 80 per cent landed in some kind of education, training or job.
Curriculum for Excellence is also thought to offer hope. Traditionally, pupils have chosen subjects in S2, done work experience in S4 and been pointed towards a pathway in higher education, further education or apprenticeships. But careers advisers have not always been up to speed on new industries, and pupils have sometimes ended up on courses that didn't appeal to them. The new curriculum is seen as providing the opportunity for a careers education that can raise aspirations rather than steer youngsters towards specific jobs, and build their confidence and self- awareness.
Confidence is all-important, as "Inspire Me", a programme that improves the skills, self-assurance and employability of 20,000 young people with learning disabilities, shows (pages 18-21). These 16- to 25-year-olds are twice as likely to be without education or employment than others their age. Yet charities such as Enable Scotland are managing to give them the self-belief to talk to people, deliver workshops at conferences, and go out and find voluntary work. "We see them as a person first, before the disability," says project manager Jane Nicol.
That surely is the key. No amount of career websites can be a substitute for face-to-face discussions and knowing the individual. Paralympian sprinter Libby Clegg is virtually blind, but her best teachers encouraged her at every opportunity. She hopes to compete in the 2012 London Paralympics (page 30). "They gave me the confidence to follow my dreams," she says.
Headteacher of the year Jane Saunders, of St Bartholomew's Primary in Castlemilk, Glasgow, invites pupils to lunch so that she can get to know them (page 6). She has also introduced a P7 careers conference and record of achievement folders to celebrate their talents and skills, and open their eyes to fresh possibilities. It doesn't matter where you come from, she says, you can always aim high.