Scottish Apprenticeship Week: Business must lead the change

Written by Damien Yeates on 7 March 2018 in Comment

Skills Development Scotland chief Damien Yeates on how apprentices can build Scotland's resilience to change

The impact of artificial intelligence, automation and the unfolding fourth industrial revolution are gaining an increasing profile within the public consciousness, as policymakers and business leaders grapple with the prospect of even more challenges and changes to the existing work model.

We ignore these advances at our peril but therein lies opportunity. In the words of the First Minister: “Scotland’s ambition is to be the inventor and the producer, not just a consumer, of the innovations that will shape the lives of our children and grandchildren.” 

We should keep in mind that Scotland has faced, and ultimately thrived through periods of major transformation brought about by advancements in technology in the past. The legacy of a financial crisis, a loss in business confidence, a fall in real incomes and a technological revolution were the direct precursors of the Industrial Revolution in the mid-19th century.

As a society, we have shown the resilience to flourish through change and the ability to create opportunities from challenge. We need to do so again.

Looking ahead, we know that low productivity, a tightening labour market, longer-term pressures on public spending and the rapid rate of change are very real challenges for our economy.  

As the national skills agency, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is responding on many levels. Extensive evidence from around the globe points to a high correlation between economic resilience, higher levels of productivity and crucially, industry leadership and investment in skills.

We continue to champion the critical role of Scottish businesses in building the capabilities of the workforce today and into the future. With the strong backing of the Scottish Government, we have supported industry to rapidly expand the number of apprenticeship opportunities.  

Alongside the growth in Modern Apprenticeships, SDS is working hand-in-glove with business to further promote the value of work-based learning, with new apprentices combining on-the-job training with academic studies. 

Innovative new developments in the form of Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships enable industry and employers to lead and invest in young talent straight from school, right up to Master’s degree level.

Through the Scottish Government’s Enterprise and Skills Review, SDS is also collaborating with the Scottish Funding Council to ensure that the investment of around £1.7bn in the higher and further education system is more responsive and aligned to the skills required by Scotland’s businesses and economy.  

If we are to embrace the challenges ahead and prosper in the fourth industrial revolution as we have done in the past, we firmly believe that businesses have a lead role to play in developing and upskilling the talent of the future.  

We are moving towards a new economic model which will, more than ever, thrive on workforce competencies built around the innate human skills of – critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication. By combining on-the-job learning alongside rigorous academic learning, we can more rapidly upskill and reskill Scotland’s workforce “to be the inventor and the producer”. Crucially, business must take the lead. 

Damien Yeates is the chief executive of Skills Development Scotland

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