Scotland's careers strategy: moving forward

Strategy highlighting the role that career education, information, advice and guidance (CIAG) services in Scotland can play in helping to address future skills demands and deliver inclusive growth.


Photo of Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE Director, DMH Associates

Dr Deirdre Hughes OBE Director, DMH Associates

For both young people and adults, career information, advice and guidance (CIAG) is becoming ever more important. Never before have so many young people stayed on in education or entered the working world more highly qualified. As they go through the education system, young people need to make ever more frequent decisions about what education and training they will pursue, where they will study and what other experience they will require in order to enter the labour market with the knowledge and skills that employers want. 

Not only do young people need to make more decisions than ever, the decisions themselves are becoming more difficult due to growing choice over education and training pathways and changes in how people work and what skills employers demand. Being able to respond to the increasingly fluid and rapidly changing economy, with different expectations of work, requires different skills to working for an employer in a traditional way[1]. Technological advances are significantly changing demand for skills and enabling, as in the ‘gig’ economy, new ways of working – with implications for adults as well as young people. The Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD) estimates that one-third of UK jobs can be expected to either disappear or radically change due to automation over the next 10 to 15 years.[2] The adults already in work who are at greatest risk of getting caught out by this change are often those currently working in lower skilled jobs. This is a group already facing significant challenges related to in-work poverty (Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2018).[3]  In the near future, a large proportion of the population will need to make new and more frequent decisions about retraining and upskilling. Already one adult in three can be expected to make use of careers information every year – that demand can be expected to grow. [4]

New and challenging economic conditions, including the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union, underline the need to maximise resources and to consider a dynamic approach to the design and development of career services across Scotland. In such circumstances, the need for efficient and effective access to CIAG is critical. 

The word ‘career’ describes a sequence of life and work experiences over time in a world where people’s lives, education and labour markets are constantly changing. Everyone has their own unique career journey. This is a lifelong process of managing learning, work, leisure and transitions moving towards a personally determined and evolving future. For individuals who want to maintain their employability, career management skills are essential. High quality CIAG enables people to take stock of their interests and abilities, constraints and ambitions. It supports young people and adults to understand what opportunities are available and find prospects that meet their needs. It helps them to make better decisions about the education, training and experience needed to find first employment and later to change jobs and build successful careers. It helps people to make sense of the world of work and how to make it work best for them. It offers the opportunity to bring a sense of ownership and control to a complex and unpredictable world.

Research studies are clear about the need for career guidance – individuals’ career ambitions are typically both heavily shaped by their social backgrounds (social class, gender, migrant status) and are often a poor reflection of actual employer demand.[5] In Scotland as elsewhere, employers often struggle in recruitment while ambitious and capable individuals find it hard to locate work that matches their aspirations.  Research undertaken on the impact of career guidance on young people shows that provision can typically be expected to make a positive difference to learners, helping them into better paying jobs than could be otherwise expected. It is associated moreover with better academic achievement.[6]

What makes for high quality CIAG is now well understood. It is delivered by impartial and well-trained professionals, drawing on reliable and trusted labour market information and delivered in a wide variety of settings. High quality CIAG focuses on experience as much as information, and is enriched by plentiful first-hand exposure to the world of work. The process starts early and helps individuals to connect classroom learning with future working lives. It challenges expectations and assumptions that can be narrow, stereotypical and unrealistic. It broadens aspirations and targets especially those facing the greatest ultimate challenges in finding fair work. 

In Scotland, as in many countries, CIAG provision is undertaken by large numbers of diverse providers – individual advisers, private, public and third sector organisations.  This is a delivery model rooted in schools, colleges and universities, jobcentre plus offices, employment agencies, trade unions, and local communities. The challenge for national governments is to ensure that the benefits of services targeted around the specific needs of users do not lead to inefficient and fragmented provision, uneven quality or weak opportunity for peer learning and improvement. In this Strategy, the Scottish Government is working towards ensuring all users can expect high quality provision that addresses their often very different needs. 

Scotland has much to celebrate as a world leader in universal and targeted CIAG services. The Strategy provides an opportunity to build on what works, to consider what more can be done to smooth individuals’ transitions, and to create a fairer society with opportunities for all.



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