Welcome to my Blog

I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Website no substitute for careers advisors

Careers websites like 'My World of Work' have a role, but they are no substitute for face to face advice. Particularly for those pupils who need the most help.

I was in Parliament today for the presentation of a research report on the careers service by academics at Edinburgh University. The report was sponsored by our Skills Development Scotland (SDS) branch and is based on interviews with students and teaching staff. SDS management didn't cooperate with the study, which sadly says much about their approach. Lets not let evidence interfere with our cuts strategy! The latest staff survey finds that morale is very low, staff feel deskilled and that their professional judgement is no longer required. Nor is there much room for debate about how this service should move forward.

For those of my generation who had a face to face interview with a professional careers advisor, being pushed towards a website seems a poor substitute. Looking back, I do feel a bit sorry for my long suffering careers advisor, faced with a string of lads all wanting to be an astronaut! My Gran probably should have been one, as she often said that I would make an excellent union official, "answer for everything that lad!". This wasn't a compliment!

The research shows that common assumptions that all young people are 'digital natives' may not be helpful or accurate. In fact less than half use the MyWoW website and even fewer are registered. In addition pupils who were uncertain about their career ideas were less likely to access it than those who were more definite. Pupils highlighted the complexity of using websites such as MyWoW and in interpreting the information and relating it to their own circumstances. As a result most pupils who accessed MyWoW also used other sources of career information, advice and guidance (CIAG) including leaflets and books in the school careers library,  face-to-face contact with careers advisers and discussions with teachers.

A real concern must be that 17% of pupils did not have any CIAG in S4 (apart from discussion with their family). Non-activity was related to lower attainment, school attended and if pupils felt their school was not helping to develop decision-making skills. These are just the sort of pupils who most need support if they are not to end up without a job or training place. We should also take account of digital access out of school.

Pupils and teachers valued MyWoW but as part of provision that includes face-to-face support, including from a careers adviser, for the majority of pupils. Compared with other sources of career support, MyWoW had a limited impact on pupils’ careers management skills as did the PlanitPlus website. Clinic sessions with a career adviser, discussion with teachers and use of the school careers library each had a substantial impact on pupils’ career management skills. In this context it is disappointing that SDS are not promoting face to face guidance.

It is clear from the research that pupils would like face-to-face contact with careers advisers as well as access to websites. As one pupil put it, “On a website you only support yourself, if you’d someone supporting you, you might get more interested in your career and you might go and use a website then". This was echoed by teaching staff who thought that careers websites on their own could not provide the personal support young people need. As one teacher said, “You can’t ask a question and the website doesn’t know you and can’t personalise what it is telling you to suit you.  A person will know what you have done so the advice can be much more personal and rich and useful.”

The overall conclusion is that while MyWoW is a useful resource, it is no substitute for face to face guidance and other forms of assistance. It confirms the evidence we gave to the Scottish Parliament's Education Committee in December last year. Some 100,000 pupils are assumed to be excluded from face to face guidance in the current plan. SDS and the Scottish Government should take note of these findings, stop the cuts and promote face to face careers guidance - not hide it away!


  1. Conversely, it doesn't help when a face to face meeting results in the advice "look up companies in the Yellow Pages".

    My (now) 21 year old son had no idea what they were talking about.

    And the bigger problem was that he was looking for advice on apprenticeships when Glasgow City Council had blocked off the majority of them to him because he went to college rather than doss about in school for another year.

    When that became apparent, he was told there was nothing they could offer as he had no "issues" that required support.

    Face to face is only useful if there are helpful outcomes and resources. Sadly that wasn't his experience, nor of other friends.

  2. Very nice stuff you have posted here, thanks for the posting.

  3. Thank you for your post. This is excellent information.