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Understanding the Career Review

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Understanding the Career Review

The world of work is changing fast, we need a careers system which is built for Scotland's future.

SDS should be asked to consider how best a career advice service could operate from early years right through until a young person enters employment. This would also start to address the long-term issue of how best to give young people the insight to what the economy of Scotland is likely to need in the future and how that might influence their decision around career paths.

Sandy Begbie

Initial Report: Youth Guarantee - No-one Left Behind

Young Persons Guarantee

As part of its commitment to the Young Person's Guarantee, Scottish Government commissioned Skills Development Scotland to lead a review of Scotland's career services.

Use the '+' symbol to learn more about the background to the Career Review. 

Delivering on Scotland’s Career Strategy

In February 2020, the Scottish Government published Scotlandʼs Careers Strategy: Moving Forward. This strategy recognises the rapidly changing labour market and the need to ensure career education, information, advice and guidance in Scotland is more obvious, accessible, personalised and joined up. It highlights a need to ensure people of all ages are supported to make better informed decisions about their future and navigate the dynamic world of work.

In September 2020, the Scottish Government published Sandy Begbieʼs Initial Report: Youth Guarantee - No-one Left Behind. This report identifies the wide-ranging resource devoted to career services and employability support for young people. It also highlights the importance of maximising the impact of this investment on the lives of young people.

In this report, SDS was tasked with developing an implementation plan to take forward the recommendations of Scotland's Careers Strategy - Moving Forward report and so began the most comprehensive review of Career Services in Scotland in a generation. 

Scotland’s Career Strategy: Vision 

  • For a world class, professionally led, aligned and flexible system of career information, advice and guidance (CIAG) services which delivers for everyone
  • A system where people can expect a high standard of support that meets their needs when they need it most
  • A system that is fully interconnected to ensure citizens access the right people and services, including employability and skills support.
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Career services in Scotland are provided by a wide range of organisations and institutions - schools, colleges, universities, local authorities, Skills Development Scotland, Developing the Young Workforce, third sector organisations and others. ​​

Use the '+' symbol to learn more about the organisations in scope. ​​

The following were in scope for the review:​

  • Skills Development Scotland​
  • Developing the Young Workforce​
  • Schools​
  • Colleges​
  • Universities

Between them, these organisations:​

  • invest between £159m – 216m in career services each year​
  • have over 1,700 career related staff (1.2 million young people between ages of 5-25)
Career Review

The Scotlandʼs Careers Strategy: Moving Forward report sets out the need for accessible and consistently high-quality career information, advice and guidance for all ages against the background of a rapidly changing labour market.

However, since its publication the context has changed significantly. 

Use the '+' symbol to read more about these drivers of change considered through the career review. These are also explored in more detail in the full Careers by Design report


COVID-19 has impacted education, career development and highlighted and exacerbated a range of existing inequalities driven by skills and access to work.

Educational reform

The OECD has recently completed a review of Scotlandʼs education system, which has signalled significant reform. Progress toward change is already underway. The Scottish Funding Council has also undertaken a review of Coherence and Sustainability in Further and Higher Education.

Poverty and inequality

Despite relatively high rates of participation in the labour market, poverty and inequality remain a significant issue. Two thirds of children living in poverty are members of working households. The Black Lives Matter movement continues to shine a light on persistent and systemic racism in society.

The climate emergency

This Scottish Government was the first in the world to formally recognise a climate emergency and has committed to a just and fair transition to net zero, requiring transformation in all areas of our society and economy.

Industry 4.0 and disruptive technologies

Advances in technology continue to change the demand for skills and create new ways of working. This is likely to result in frequent disruption in the labour market that requires recurring occupational change and a need to significantly and regularly retrain and upskill.

A dynamic labour market

Skills shortages in Scotland are being mirrored around the world, resulting in a global war for talent in many sectors. Scotland has a shrinking working age population and there is a critical requirement to maximise all the talent and skills available.

The nature of work

These changes and more are driving fundamental shifts in the nature of work and where it takes place. There is a need to place increased emphasis on career management skills, meta skills and wellbeing, as part of a wider approach to fair work. Non-traditional working models highlight both advantages and risks. There is a need to ensure young people are supported to work safely, free of discrimination and harassment.

Career Review Programme Board

In December 2020, an independent Programme Board, chaired by Grahame Smith, was established to oversee SDSʼs work to undertake this end-to-end review of career services.

Programme Board members were drawn from a wide range of key stakeholders in the career system, they represent a diverse range of individuals with a specific focus on those with protected characteristics.

From the outset, the Programme Board was clear that the review would be evidence led, driven by insight and co-design by stakeholders and young people. 

View the Programme Board member biographies 

Read blogs written by Programme Board members and other experts on the Career Review 

Use the '+' symbol to learn more about the objectives of the Programme Board. 


Their high level objectives were:

1) Undertake a detailed gap analysis across the three dimensions of:

  • Scottish Government policy direction 
  • Service expectations
  • Future demands

2) Working with key stakeholders and users, develop a set of options and possible service enhancements to address identified gaps.

3) Develop recommendations for submission to Scottish Government in line with findings and explored options.

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The Career Review Programme Board were clear that the review had to be led by the development of an extensive evidence base and that the voice of users would be of particular importance in driving the design of a new service. 

Use the '+' symbol to hear from the young people involved and learn more about the types of engagement used throughout the Career Review.

Following SDSʼs Service Design approach, extensive stakeholder engagement and co-design has been central to the development of the Careers by Design recommendations.

And as the review was focused on designing a truly accessible service for all young people in Scotland input, feedback and ideas were sought from a vast range of over 80 young people ranging from primary school to post school ages, various locations, in education and employment settings, those in transition and across all protected characteristics.

Hear from the young people involved 

David Scott, a former Modern Apprenticeship at East Dunbartonshire Council who progressed to a Graduate Apprenticeship with Aviva, spoke on behalf of over 80 young people who contributed to the review - watch his video

20 year old Jack, a non-binary Computer Arts student, also took part in the Career Review and shared their honest experience of career services. Feedback like this has been vital in designing the recommendations and actions required to ensure our often-fragmented system doesn't leave anyone behind. Read Jack's case study 

There were four main types of engagement:

In-depth interviews

Approach: one-to one-interviews led by a facilitator, over three sessions with each young person. Each interview built on the previous one(s) to create rich insight and in depth understanding of challenges and opportunities within the service as it is.

The purpose of these interviews was to understand the lived experience, influences and motivations of young people at a deeper level than what we already know from surveys and focus groups with young people.

Strategic engagement 

The Chair of the Programme Board undertook multiple stages of engagement, at key points during the Review, with a wide range of organisations, agencies and bodies from across the education, learning, skills and economic development landscape in Scotland.

The purpose of this strategic dialogue was to ensure they, as key leaders and influencers, were engaged in; developing an awareness of the Review; providing their views and perspectives on career services, understanding the findings and progress throughout the programme and contributing evidence, where relevant; and identifying their support for the direction of travel towards the recommendations.

Co-design labs and testing workshops 

Approach: facilitator-led co-design workshops with participant numbers of up to 10.

The purpose of the co-design labs was to make use of the unique perspectives that our stakeholders have to drive and develop upon our design ideas. This allowed us to understand the everyday experiences and insights, providing visibility of current challenges and contexts.

Facilitator packs 

Approach: packs were designed for each stakeholder group that provided a plan and resources for external facilitators. These covered activities for two stages of the design process – generating insight and developing ideas. This defines mechanism for feeding information back to us in a succinct way.

The purpose of these packs was to ensure a wider range of people were able to input into the recommendations and test ideas. Packs were designed in a way that they could be facilitated by someone outside the project team. The design of each facilitation pack was to mimic the co-design labs and provide an equal opportunity to engage with more participants in a similar but different way, that would yield the same type of results.

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The recommendations of the Career Review have potential to address the pervasive inequality that until now has persisted in society.

In particular, they have critical value in addressing the needs of equality groups, supporting individuals to overcome barriers and disadvantage and in advocating for equality, inclusion and diversity across education, training and employment.

Use the '+' symbol to find out more about the equality factors and equality indicators used to ensure the recommendations are inclusive and effective in reducing inequality.

Equality factors

Career services across the ecosystem need to be aspirational in their approach to addressing disadvantage and supporting individuals to meet their goals and reach their potential in a career that is meaningful to them. The Career Review identified equality factors that will be crucial in ensuring recommendations are inclusive and effective in reducing inequality. These are noted below with a full statement on each factor available in the Careers by Design report.  

  • Age 
  • Additional support needs / disability 
  • Care experience 
  • Gender 
  • Poverty 
  • Race
  • Sexual orientation and transgender 

Equality indicators 

Through the Career Review Equality Impact Assessment, a set of equality indicators were also identified and each recommendation aligns to one or more of the following indicators.  These are noted below with a full statement on each indicator available in the Careers by Design report.  

  • Address persistent inequalities
  • Support individuals with diverse needs
  • Encourage a culture of inclusive and fair work
  • Value and recognise skills


Career Review

Over recent months we have worked with partners across Scotland on the most comprehensive review of Scotland’s career services in a generation.

Career Review

The evidence

SDS have gathered extensive evidence on the Scottish career system.

The evidence