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But who needs to connect most?

Some serious questions about strategy and targets remain for the Connexions service. Joe Clancy reports

Should the Connexions service target young people regarded as "at risk" of dropping out of education and training? Or should it be a universal service that provides careers guidance for everyone aged between 13 and 19?

These were the questions which MPs on the education select committee was left to ponder after hearing conflicting evidence from careers experts on Monday.

The committee is looking at career guidance and the role of Connexions as part of its investigation into the national skills strategy for 14 to 19-year-olds.

Cathy Bereznicki, chief executive of the Guidance Council, told MPs that Connexions targeted young people not in education, employment or training.

"This represents 10 per cent of the cohort," she said. "This has meant services for other young people are not made available to the same extent."

Ms Bereznicki said there was a "clash of policy objectives" within Connexions between reaching out to the disaffected and meeting the needs of the labour market.

"There is tension between the two policies," she said.

Chris Heaume, chief executive of Connexions in central London, later told MPs: "We are a universal service. We are in touch with the vast proportion of young people aged between 14 and 19.

"We are spending 65 per cent of our budget supporting people who are in education, employment or training. We recognise that if we work with those who are in learning, they are more likely to stay in learning."

Deidre Hughes, director of the centre for guidance studies at Derby university, told the committee: "We must not underestimate the work that has gone into Connexions in supporting young people at risk."

She asked if young people outside that group should pay for the careers advice and services and products they receive.

"The reality is that careers guidance is not available for all young people. Do we need to see a market-led approach?" she asked.

"We are seeing a growing number of career coaches emerging that are not regulated. If we do not make a clear statement about entitlement, we are encouraging that market more.

"People are making decisions later and later in their lives. They are getting married later, having children later, and some people don't think about career choices until they leave university.

"We need to encourage people not to think they have destroyed their lives if they make the wrong decision at 14."

The committee was also offered varying perspectives on the abilities of personal advisers in the Connexions service. It heard that in some cases advisers have backgrounds in youth and social work, and not in careers guidance.

Ms Bereznicki said: "We need to look at the skills profile in Connexions.

We may find that people who do not have career-guidance skills are being asked to do things that are quite challenging."

Kieran Gordon, the chief executive of Greater Merseyside's Connexions service, told the committee that 73 per cent of personal advisers are trained in offering careers guidance and that all advisers are up to date on the needs of the local, regional and national labour market.

He said the proportion of young people in Liverpool not in education, training or work had fallen from 17 per cent to 11 per cent since the launch of Connexions.

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