Scotland's skills gaps

Written by Tom Freeman on 26 May 2015 in Feature

Plugging Scotland's skills gaps will require a mindset shift

It has been one year since publication of the Wood Commission’s ‘Education Working for All’ recommendations, which offered solutions to one of the main obstacles faced by Scotland’s greatest industries and the productivity of its economy: the skills and knowledge of its workforce.


According to a report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES), produced around the same time, a larger proportion of employers face skills gaps in Scotland (19 per cent) than anywhere else in the UK as required skills modernise and workforces get older.


The figure has fallen since 2011, though, when it was 21 per cent, and this reflects the political and economic will to address the problem. After all, the benefits are multifaceted – Scotland’s economic competitiveness would improve, while at the same time its young people would have access to a greater variety of positive destinations.
According to Damien Yeates, chief executive of Skills Development Scotland, this will to change grew out of “one of the big conundrums of the recent financial crisis”, which saw a record 19 per cent youth unemployment despite a £1.7bn spend on post-school education. “How can you have so many young people out of the labour market, and how can you be spending so much money on education, and have skills shortages?”


Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training, Roseanna Cunningham, says the Scottish Government moved away from a traditional view of employment to future-proof the workforce. “We’re committed to ensuring businesses in Scotland can access the skills they need to grow. It is about building a skills base for the future,” she said during Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Week.  This will involve encouraging more children at an early age into science technology, engineering and maths (STEM), as well as other areas experiencing skills gaps.
“We know we’re facing skills gaps in some of these areas, so that makes it even more vital employers in these areas already help the process of training up those who will be the employees of the future,” she said.


It is estimated the ICT and digital sector will need 11,000 new people every year for the next five years. “One of the challenges we’re making is can industry take even more of a strategic look at workforce development?” said Yeates.


It would seem the message is being heard. Employers in Scotland are among the most likely in the UK to meet this challenge by investing in training and skilling-up employees, with the UKCES figures showing 70 per cent of Scottish employers say they had funded or arranged training in recent months. 
Scottish employers are also training a greater proportion of their workforce (65 per cent) than any other part of the UK. It remains the larger companies which are more likely to do this, however.
The Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, chaired by North Sea industrialist Sir Ian Wood, recommended closer links were needed between schools, colleges and employers to upskill the nation’s youngsters, reduce youth unemployment and strengthen the economy.


It also identified significant cultural change was needed to challenge the misconceptions of vocational training as having less value than an academic pathway. Indeed, the pathways could cross.
The Scottish Parliament’s biggest successes, according to Ross Martin, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), have been “mindset shifts” where established cultural norms have been challenged.
“The smoking ban and the separation of domestic waste at the kerbside are both massive collective mindset shifts, and we need a similar collective mindset shift in terms of opening up the labour market to the whole of the potential workforce and therefore starting to tackle part of that productivity gap we face in this country,” he told a SCDI and Skills Development Scotland summit last week to mark Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship Week.


Cunningham told industry leaders at the event part of this mindset shift would be to ensure everyone, regardless of background, should have the ability to benefit from economic growth. “You had girls’ jobs, and boys’ jobs, people with disabilities who found it almost impossible to get jobs, people from black and minority ethnic communities who would struggle to get into certain aspects of work. We’ve got big challenges for these parts of society. But these are enormous opportunities for employers as well,” she said, to discover and train new workforces.

 

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