What's the best way to get into the scent business? And how can I arrange training for staff?

Follow the scent

Q. I am very interested in a job in perfumery but unsure how to find out more about it. Can you help?

It can be difficult to work out the way this industry works - there's a huge hinterland behind the named brands - perfume-supply companies creating smells and supplying oils, for example, as well as the better-known manufacturers who actually employ the "noses" - those who work out which smells will sell. The good news is that a perfumer's skill is a result of training and experience and can be taught - it's not an ability someone is born with, although it does help to have what the British Society of Perfumers calls a good "odour memory" to enable the recall of thousands of aromas of ingredients, blends and perfumes. Independent creative perfumer Arthur Burnham says the best way to get a foothold in the business is, unfortunately, to do some basic hard research, writing to or phoning companies involved at any stage in the perfumery chain.

"There are no rules for starting out - it is really a case of beginning at the bottom and working your way up," he says. You can find out which companies to contact on the website of the Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association ( www.ctpa.org.uk), which lists members (click on "About the CTPA"). These range from manufacturers like Chanel to fragrance suppliers, packagers and retailers. You should also check individual company websites for information on career development.

One university in the UK runs a course in perfumery - Plymouth offers a BSc in aroma and formulation science. Fragrance Foundation UK also runs a course in selling in the industry, visit www.fragrancefoundation.org.uk/cfss.htm; and the Society of Cosmetic Scientists can be found on www.scs.org.uk.

Access all areas

Q. I am a 27-year-old administrator for a mental health team. I am interested in ensuring that employees have access to training and development, particularly those in lower-grade positions, and that superiors make clear work rights as I feel employees can sometimes be left in the dark. What organisations or roles do you recommend?

You can exploit the fact that further education colleges try to be responsive to the demands of local institutions. They will be interested in setting up appropriate courses, if they haven't done so already. The NVQ training website ( www.nvqweb.com) shows the sort of courses available. If you have a group of people keen to take a particular course you can raise the issue with employers and the college nearest you, and see if it is possible to raise the money. If you are a union member, you can also take advantage of the TUC's learning and skills project Unionlearn ( www.unionlearn.org.uk). Under this scheme, union learning representatives, or ULRs, are trained on issues such as information, guidance, and working with management. If a learning agreement can be negotiated with the employer, a ULR can work out what his or her colleagues need simply by chatting to them. That way you would be in touch with a vast network of people who have the same interests as you - Unionlearn has 1,500 ULRs in NHS workplaces. You could also ask Investors in People ( www.investorsinpeopledirect.co.uk); the Equal Opportunities Commission ( www.eoc.org.uk); or Opportunity Now, mainly for women ( www.opportunitynow.org.uk/), what they are doing in your area.

Careers adviser: Siobhan Hamilton-Phillips, managing director, Career Psychology Send your queries to Caroline Haydon at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; fax 020-7005 2143; or e-mail chaydon@blueyonder.co.uk