The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) said more needs to be done to promote interaction between education authorities and employers, to ensure young people entering the workplace have the skills they require.
Mary Goodman, senior policy adviser with the FSB, told members of Holyrood’s Education Committee that the national Employer Skills Survey had consistently returned results that corroborate anecdotal evidence about a lack of so-called ‘soft skills’ – for example, communication and interpersonal skills, team building and problem solving – among those young people starting work.
Her comments came as the committee took evidence on the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy, and as the latest figures published last week showed that 103,000 16-24 year olds were out of work.
MSPs also heard from Stephen Boyd, assistant secretary with trade union body the STUC, who said research had shown that employers who do take on young people have an “extremely positive” experience, which stands in “stark contrast” to much of what is said.
“I think it is probably fair to say the STUC is extremely sceptical of some of these stories we hear about the poor quality of soft skills,” he said. “I think the extent of this problem is exaggerated.
I have been in this post now for eight years at the STUC and I have heard this has been a constant over that eight years, that soft skills amongst our young people are not up to scratch. Yet the evidence remains anecdotal.” Goodman said: “I think one of the reasons why we have this standoff here is because of the yawning gulf between education and employment at the moment. Each is peering round a closed door at the other and pointing fingers, and I think there is probably an element of truth on both sides, let’s face it.
“I definitely think there needs to be more interaction. Policy makers are constantly suggesting ways of addressing issues in education and employment that just disregard what the reality is out there.” She said more employer involvement in schools would be useful, while the Curriculum for Excellence, currently being rolled out across Scotland, would also help to embed soft skills in young people.
In a written submission to the committee, the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils in Scotland, set up to help support the work of Sector Skills Councils, which act as the voice of employers on skills issues, raised concerns about literacy and numeracy skills.
It pointed out a survey last May which found 42 per cent of employers were unhappy with the basic use of English by school and college leavers, with 35 per cent concerned about basic numeracy skills amongst this group. It said: “There is clearly an urgent need, as part of the current youth employment strategy, to raise standards of literacy and numeracy more generally amongst today’s school and college leavers.” Committee member Neil Findlay raised concerns about reductions in the number of frontline careers advisers.
He said frontline advice, which was so crucial to young people, seemed to be “shoved right down the agenda”.
Danny Logue, director of operations at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the public body for careers services, said SDS was looking at how it could prioritise its services to meet the needs of those young people most in need. “We’re also prioritising our services particularly to the 16-19 year olds who are not in a positive destination,” he said.
Findlay, a list MSP for Lothian, said current figures for positive destinations did not match up with employment figures. “The more I look into this whole skills and youth employment agenda, the more smoke and mirrors I find, there is a lot of sleight of hand going on,” he said. “Why is it that there is such a mismatch between positive destinations and those who are currently unemployed?” Logue said there were a number of other categories now included as positive destinations. “Voluntary work, for example, came in a couple of years ago, activity agreements were included last year as well,” he told the committee.
“It still reflects, in terms of the youth employment issue, more people staying on in school or education.”.
Youth strategy published
One of the Government’s first initiatives this year was the publication of a strategy focusing on individual support for the wide range of young people in Scotland who are not in work.
The draft Youth Employment Strategy was published by Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance. It brought together a range of actions across the Scottish Government and beyond aimed at tackling unemployment in Scotland’s younger generation including: The development of a cohesive all-government, all-Scotland effort to increase youth employment; A clear and targeted approach to support young people at different points on the journey to employment; The development of progression opportunities with the apprenticeship programme targeted support to help young people take advantage of job opportunities in growth areas such as energy and the low carbon economy; Intensive support for those furthest from the labour market through My Work Coach, under development by Skills Development Scotland; Specific financial support to employers to encourage them to employ young people from disadvantaged groups such as care leavers and young carers; And intensive support services for disengaged young people.
Criminals’ cash helps apprentices
Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill launched a scheme which uses criminals’ cash to help young people access apprenticeships.
The PowerSkills programme offers opportunities for youths coming through the CashBack programme to gain an engineering qualification and the chance to progress towards an apprenticeship with ScottishPower.
It is the first time the Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities Programme has worked with business to give young people the opportunity to get into employment.
Twelve teenagers are already enrolled in a six-month training programme at Cardonald College in Glasgow. The resulting qualification offers eligibility to the ScottishPower Foundation Engineering Programme.
CashBack PowerSkills also offers youngsters two-day energy sector taster sessions at Scottish Power’s training centre.
Young people from challenging backgrounds are selected for the scheme through CashBack’s Personal Development Partnership, which is run by Venture Trust, the Prince’s Trust Scotland / Fairbridge and Venture Scotland.
£8.5m to support employment
Further details of how thousands of young people will be helped into employment were outlined in the Scottish Parliament in February.
Angela Constance announced that £8.5m will be invested in projects to support young people into work. This includes: £6m to create 1000 jobs for young people through a continuation of Community Jobs Scotland into 2012-13; £2.5m towards a challenge fund to support the third sector to work with employers, delivering 800 opportunities for young people.
The investment was the second tranche of funding from the additional £30m announced last December to tackle youth unemployment throughout Scotland.
Dormant money aids young people
A new multi-million-pound fund supporting Scotland’s children and young people opened for business with young Scots aged 8 to 24 taking centre stage.
Young Start, developed and run by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG), will unlock the potential of thousands of children and young people helping them to be more confident, healthy and connected with older people in their community. It will also focus on tackling youth unemployment by preparing young people for getting a job or starting a business.
It will invest £8.9m over the next year. The money comes from dormant accounts which are bank and building society accounts that have seen no customer-initiated activity for at least 15 years.
Speaking at the launch of the new fund at Out of the Blue in Leith, Big Lottery Fund Scotland Chair, Maureen McGinn, said: “Young Start is a springboard to a better life for many of Scotland’s children and young people. Whether it’s helping young people prepare for the world of work, encouraging children to be more physically active or sharing knowledge and skills between generations, this fund will help young Scots flourish and be all they can be.
Aimed at third sector organisations, Young Start will provide grants of between £10,000 and £50,000 for up to two years for projects that help to unlock the potential of children and young people aged 8 to 24.
Hard-hit local authorities boosted
Six local authorities facing “particular challenges” with youth unemployment are to share £9m to create work opportunities.
The Scottish Government announced the priority areas set to benefit from its youth employment strategy fund. They are Glasgow, Renfrewshire, North and South Lanarkshire and North and East Ayrshire. The councils will have flexibility on how the cash is spent.
Youth Employment Minister Angela Constance said: “The councils in question have a number of options open to them on how best to direct this funding, but we all have the same objective – improving employment opportunities, and therefore life chances, of Scotland’s young people.
We are also looking towards the Westminster Government to deliver a budget for jobs, including a National Insurance holiday for employers who recruit young people. This is a relatively simple measure that could significantly enhance employment opportunities for young people.” Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour’s youth unemployment spokeswoman, said: “It will be interesting to see if this money is being used as a headline grabbing give-away just days before the council elections start, or whether it is a strategic and sustainable investment in the lives of young people who desperately need their government to act.”.
Older workers needed to address employment gap
Older workers are needed to help the UK remedy the challenges of a future employment gap. It is predicted that UK employers will need to fill an estimated 13.5 million job vacancies in the next ten years, but only 7 million young people will leave education over this period. Employers will increasingly need to rely on older workers to fill these vacancies.
New guidance from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development ‘Managing a healthy ageing workforce: A national business imperative,’ produced in collaboration with the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives, stresses the need for employers to act now, or risk the consequences.
Research shows that the age of the UK population is predicted to grow: by 2020, 36 per cent of the working population will be aged over 54. And the number of people aged 90+ will triple by 2035. Although some employers have begun to manage the issues associated with an ageing workforce, for those who have yet to make headway, the main barrier appears to be a lack of expertise and awareness around these changing demographics.
Glasgow 2014 encourages skills
‘Games fever’ grew as 32 youngsters from local secondary schools attended a sporting conference at Strathclyde University recently, in the lead-up to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
The day-long event was part of an exciting national programme aimed at developing the leadership skills and harnessing the enthusiasm of young Scots.
The Young Ambassadors and Community Sports Leader Award (CSLA) pupils took part in event management workshops led by university students, designed to inspire the younger students to organise Commonwealth Gamesthemed sports festivals back in their own school communities.
Active Schools Co-ordinator, Gordon Cunningham, said: “LEAD 2014 is an excellent programme for our Young Ambassadors and CSLA pupils, as it gives them the tools to deliver something schools can be proud of.”.
McClelland new chairman of SDS
Education Secretary Michael Russell announced the appointment of John McClelland CBE as chairman of Skills Development Scotland. The appointment was made in accordance with the code of practice published by the Public Appointments Commissioner for Scotland and is for four years, effective from 28 February 2012.
Welcoming the appointment, Russell said “Skills Development Scotland has a crucial role to play in our work to help more young people into employment and in delivering Opportunities for All – our guarantee of a place in education or training for every 16-19 year old in Scotland. John has been interim chair of the organisation and has shown he has the skills and experience necessary to lead the organisation at this crucial time.” McClelland has been interim chair since August 2010 and has extensive experience across the private and public sectors. Commenting on his appointment, he said, “I am pleased to be appointed Chair of SDS at this important and exciting time. As the national skills body, SDS plays a central role in working throughout Scotland providing leadership, support and responding to the needs of both individuals and employers.”.
Cut-price fares for Scottish jobless
Unemployed people in Scotland are to be entitled to claim 50 per cent off rail travel from this month under a new scheme. ScotRail has agreed the offer for those out of work for three months or more in a deal with Jobcentre Plus. A version of the discount already operates in England and Wales, but the Scottish scheme starts earlier and can be claimed for longer.
The scheme will help jobless people with their travel costs to interviews or training. News of the move was revealed as leading politicians met at the National Convention on Youth Employment being held in Dundee last month.
Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said: “This is an excellent and generous ScotRail initiative which will give practical support to those looking for work”.
Science teaching recognised
Additional funding has been awarded to the professional development of Scotland’s science teachers as the Scottish Government welcomes experts’ recommendations to further improve science and engineering learning.
Dr Alasdair Allan, Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, announced funding of £600,000 as he welcomed the Science and Engineering Education Advisory Group (SEEAG) report which set out a range of recommendations for the Scottish Government and its partners.
The independent experts’ advice aims to improve the profile of science in the community, to enhance science and engineering learning and to help develop the future skills required to help growth of the industry in future years.
Commenting on the report, Dr Allan said: “Scotland has an exceptionally rich and world renowned heritage in the field of science and engineering.
Visitors to our country marvel at the feat of engineering that is the Forth Bridge.
“Advances in medicine such as the discovery of penicillin originated in Scotland and our contribution to modern society with the invention of the television and telephone are but some examples that further demonstrate the case.
“We want to ensure that our children not only learn about that tradition but are given the opportunity to develop their skills and maintain Scotland’s place on the world stage in the future.”.
Celtic helps find placements and jobs
The Celtic Foundation is working with Community Jobs Scotland to provide opportunities for young people aged 18 to 24 who have found it difficult to gain employment. Community Jobs Scotland is the new national skills body following on from the Future Jobs Fund.
Over the past 18 months, working with the Future Jobs Fund and now with Community Jobs Scotland, the Celtic Foundation has given 113 young people the opportunity to work at Celtic, with the help of all the departments at the club. Placements have lasted for six months, and many have gone on to useful employment or further education courses.
Community Jobs Scotland is funded by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. The foundation also receives support from John Wheatley College, Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, Jobcentre Plus, Street Soccer Scotland and Skills Development Scotland.
Europe funds north colleges’ projects
Three colleges in the north of Scotland will share almost £1.95m to help tackle youth unemployment in the Highlands and Moray.
The European Social Fund grants are part of the latest round of European Structural Funds and follow the £5.3m announced earlier this year to aid economic growth in the area.
The successful projects are as follows: North Highland College – Highland Energy Collaboration, English Speakers of Other Languages, The Personal Empowerment Programme, Developing Digital Literacies; Inverness College UHI – Meeting the demand for full-time college places in Inverness, Inverness College Centre for Engineering and Technology Skills; and Moray College – Fresh approaches for e-hospitality.