Skills Development Scotland defends its value

Written by Tom Freeman on 4 November 2015

The last body to be scrutinised by the Education and Culture Committee’s examination of relevant public bodies was Skills Development Scotland.

A recurring theme emerged from yesterday’s session. That is, it is hard to quantify the success of individual budgets when there is so much collaboration going on.

SDS chief executive Damien Yeates conceded positive destinations could equally be down to the good work of schools, while regeneration in the Highlands had been originated in a joint report from SDS and HIE.

“There’s nothing we do on our own,” he told MSPs, but said “The Scottish parliament can be assured we deliver a five star service.”

Although SDS has an agreement to work with every secondary school in Scotland, John McClelland CBE said SDS was focused on demand from industry.

Interesting, then, that SDS was not frightened to criticise industry. “We are very much in catch up mode” said McClelland, adding “Until we launched our skills investment plans there was no formal mechanism” for planning for the future.

Yeates agreed. “Workforce planning is generally not that good,” he said, and UK firms tend to sit back and wait for government. “Skills don’t just sit on the shelf” he said.

“What we’re trying to do is plug a gap. The idea the Scottish Government would invest 1.7bn in further and higher education and we have no demand statement from industry begs a question. We have come in and filled the gap, and one of the advantages of a new skills agency being available is we’re calling that out, and working intensively with industry to say ‘help us understand what this demand is going to be?’, and even in asking the question we don’t get great answers.”

But if there is a void of information, how can success be measured? Two years ago Audit Scotland said the link between SDS performance measures on modern apprenticeships and national outcomes were perhaps not clear enough.

Yeates said the skills investments plans ‘built responsiveness in’, and the OECD had been engaged to look at the longer term success.

“We’re right at the start of agreeing a framework with the OECD, we’ve funded a PhD student to work with the OECD and ourselves to put in place a longitudinal study bthat will track the long term benefits” of modern apprentices, said Yeates. 

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