All change for advice and guidance

Advice and guidance for learners is about to change. But different kinds of delivery model are being implemented in different parts of Britain.

In England, the Connexions service, aimed at those making the transition into work from school, started its testing in pilot areas early last year. And the new Learning and Skills Council will shortly take over responsibility for Information Advice & Guidance - partnerships for which are just about to submit their plans for the coming year.

Then in the Summer (across all of Great Britain) the Employment Service and Benefits Agency will merge into a new agency offering advice, guidance and employability improvement services to all types of working age benefit recipients.

But next year, the Scottish Executive is going to launch a new single guidance service that carries no distinction between ‘young people’ and ‘adults’. It will also reduce what it calls the ‘clutter’ of different organisations: four managing agencies will be reduced to just one (Careers Scotland) whilst 80 delivery organisations will be brought together into 22 (one in each local area)

Genuinely based on the ethos of ‘lifelong learning’, the new Scottish service will recognise that people of all ages face many 'transition points' in their working lives - not just when they leave school.

Many adults face critical and complex choices about how to re-vamp their skills in a shifting labour market and how to overcome intractable barriers to learning and progression. There is a clear case for providing comprehensive and accessible guidance, on demand, to people of all ages.

Two years ago, this was the logic that led us to argue that the ‘post 16 review’ in England should recommend an all-ages advice service. But such a service should go further than the orthodox approach.

There should be no artificial divide between ‘educational’ guidance and services that improve employability or help individuals navigate barriers to work - like the tax and benefit system. For the long term unemployed, many of whom are disengaged from the labour market and face multiple barriers to entering work, traditional advice and guidance on learning opportunities is not much use.

However an all-ages service should also bear the hallmark of independence. This is best achieved by maintaining a split between guidance and placement. Discrete services provided by discrete agencies will help to preserve client faith in the impartiality of the advice they are given.

So, guidance services and placement activity should be connected but separate. How do we square this? By effective partnership arrangements between guidance institutions, the ES/Benefit Agency placement agency and the infrastructure of learning providers.

But, this is not what England is about to get. The English reforms are restricted to those aged 13-19 with a phased-in Connexions Service - but no coherent strategy for 19+ provision. Initiatives like learndirect have been launched - but this offers extra information sources rather than expert guidance. Overall, for those 19+, the existing network of Careers Services has been left to it - albeit with some new standards guidelines.

However, David Blunkett's recent ‘remit’ letter to the Learning and Skills Council points towards some eventual convergence between youth and adult guidance. Eventually, the LSC will need to contract for adult Information Advice and Guidance (IAG) services ‘on a geographical basis that is co-terminous with Connexions partnerships’. They will develop adult IAG services ‘based on stronger links with those provided by Connexions partnerships’.

Although Scotland has the right approach, there may be two tricks worth learning from south of the border. The Scottish Executive has not yet fully fixed its plan so there is time for refinement.

Firstly, the Connexions Service - although universal and open to all - will be targeted on individuals and areas that need the most help. A consultation paper on Connexions Service funding, published in January, (see p.5) proposes weighting of funds towards areas with low educational attainment and poor labour market engagement by young people.

Secondly, Connexions Personal Advisers will act as points of referral as well as guidance. Advisers who identify barriers to progression will bring in expert help - like homelessness agencies, drug rehabilitation and probation services. The Personal Adviser would remain the ‘case manager’ and a stable point of support for the young person - a role that is dramatically different to the old-style careers advisers who often remained firmly detached from anything not narrowly focused on career choice.