Next Step fails to hit the mark in London

A survey on a countrywide government careers advice service uncovered varying levels of satisfaction and methods of delivery.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) ordered the study into the Next Step service — the National Careers Service since April — to see how it was performing on telephone advice. It also looked at the face-to-face advice provided regionally by prime contractors.

The report, by IFF Research and published last month, said face-to-face satisfaction ratings, “while still very positive, were consistently lower than average in London”.

Clearly the National Careers Service needs to consider the extent to which variation is acceptable and potentially reflecting local needs”

It added: “Assessing how the service is being delivered across the capital, and how well this meets the needs of its customers, should be considered.”

The report also highlighted regional differences in the number of face-to-face meetings and variations in the use of skills checklists and action plans.

“Clearly the National Careers Service needs to consider the extent to which variation is acceptable and potentially reflecting local needs, compared against a more uniform service being delivered nationwide,” it said.

Mark Ravenhall, director of policy and impact at the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE), said that the findings raised two important points.

He said: “First, the regional variations in a national service are interesting. Is this indicative of regional responsiveness, or is it due to different delivery outcomes by separate prime contractors?

“Second, NIACE has worked with the National Careers Service, Next Step and successor agencies — in particular on Adult Learners’ Week — and we, like them, value longitudinal studies that look at quality of outcomes as well as the quality of processes.

“It’s vital that adult learners get the best service that works for them.”

The National Careers Service does around 52,000 face-to-face interviews a-month. It also fields around 23,500 telephone queries on top of handling a number of emails.

The report, based on more than 11,000 interviews, was largely positive.

“Customers rate the service highly,” the report said. “As many as 93 per cent agree the service was good and 84 per cent were very satisfied…compared with 6 per cent dissatisfied.”

It recommended moving “face-to-face customers to the less resource-intensive telephone advice service after their initial session”.

The report was welcomed at BIS. “This survey demonstrates the Next Step service played a valuable role in helping people choose their career path, and progress in learning and work,” said a spokesperson.

“The National Careers Service is now building on that success, providing young people and adults with access to authoritative information on careers, skills and the labour market and professional advice on how to use it.

“We will use these results to drive up performance and improve the customer experience.”