Scottish Apprenticeship Week: the shadow of Brexit looms over the jobs market

Written by Kate Shannon on 5 March 2018 in Inside Politics

Workforce planning is not an easy task amid Brexit uncertainties, as Scottish Apprenticeship Week gets underway

Brexit and the jobs market - istock

In a speech to the David Hume Institute last month, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was asked to specifically talk about Brexit.

With just over a year until the UK is due to leave the EU, there’s still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the move.

Sturgeon said: “I’ve got to be frank with you in saying how disturbing I think it is that just 14 months away from the planned exit from the European Union, the UK Government’s plans still seem to be – and I am putting this as mildly as I can – in a state of chaos.”

She then referred to the importance of immigration and free movement and said she believes there’s a pressing need to “try and change the narrative around immigration and free movement”. 

She added: “When the impact of ending free movement within the EU is discussed, a lot of the focus tends to be on the immediate consequences for specific sectors of our economy. That’s very understandable. For many core public services, and key sectors for our economy, EU migration is absolutely crucial. 

“More than half of the people who work in [the] food processing industry are EU citizens; so are more than a quarter of our higher education researchers, and almost a tenth of the workers in our tourism sector.

“The potential consequences of reduced migration to those sectors are very important. And they are certainly one reason – among many – why I have been so determined, ever since the referendum, to ensure the rights of EU citizens are given priority and protected, and that EU citizens know that Scotland welcomes the contribution they make here and we want them to stay and to keep making that contribution.

“[Three] years ago, the Smith Commission – whose recommendations were signed off by all parties – recommended the reintroduction of the post-study work visa.

“That has not been implemented yet, and there are no plans on the part of the UK Government at this stage to do it. But I think these things have to be looked at again if we are to address these real challenges that we face. 

“That’s why the Scottish Government will soon publish proposals for powers over immigration to be devolved. The reintroduction of the post-work study visa is one of those proposals.

“We also argue that students in Scotland should not count within the UK’s targets and will argue for a more distinctive approach on family migration. We believe that it is counterproductive to restrict the ability of British citizens to bring family members home. So these are concrete proposals we’ll put forward in the near future and I hope they meet with a constructive attitude.”

Last month, Holyrood’s Finance and Constitution Committee unanimously agreed not to recommend that the Scottish Parliament give legislative consent to the UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill.

Clause 11 of the EU Withdrawal Bill is incompatible with the Scottish devolution settlement, the cross-party parliamentary committee concluded after taking evidence from experts.

Committee convener Bruce Crawford said that the clause would be a “fundamental shift” in the structure of devolution.

The committee said that even if Clause 11 was designed as a transitional measure, it failed to fully respect the devolution settlement and the committee could not recommend legislative consent unless it was replaced or removed.

Clause 11 would restrict the Scottish Parliament from making changes to legislation derived from the EU after Brexit, even if it relates to devolved areas.

The bill refers to these as ‘retained EU law’ – a new legal concept introduced by the bill – and the committee’s report notes that the evidence heard by the committee suggested it would confuse the boundary between devolved and reserved issues and it will be difficult to identify which areas of the UK have derived from EU law, particularly as they diverge after Brexit.

The situation for Scotland is not all bleak. In October, analysis of the latest ONS Labour Force Survey dataset from January to March 2017 showed the level of youth unemployment, excluding those in full-time education, fell to 27,000 in 2017, from 52,000 in 2014, a decrease of 48.3 per cent.

The headline target in the Scottish Government’s ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ strategy was to reduce youth unemployment excluding those in full-time education by 40 per cent between 2014 and 2021. 

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said: “These figures are fantastic news and testament to our work to support young people in the labour market, prepare them for work and equip them with the skills the economy needs.

“Our ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ programme has proven hugely successful, strengthening and diversifying our offer for young people as they progress through their education, alongside improving careers advice, work experience and Modern Apprenticeship opportunities.

“The most recent labour market data shows Scotland to have the lowest youth unemployment rate out of all the UK nations, and amongst the lowest in the EU. However, despite these encouraging results, there is much more we can and will do to ensure our good work in this area continues.

“Our future focus will now be on expanding the range of opportunities available to young people. In particular, we will continue to build on both the successful expansion of our Modern Apprenticeship programme and the initial success of Foundation Apprenticeships and graduate level apprenticeships. 

“Apprenticeships are pathways into work. This is in addition to delivering more activity for school pupils through colleges, and further strengthening partnerships between education and employers.

“Additionally, we [recently] announced Fair Start Scotland contracts up to the value of £96 million to create fairer employment support services, helping people facing barriers to enter the labour market and stay in work.”

Labour market statistics released by the ONS for September to November 2017 show the number of people in employment increased by 7,000 over the quarter, with 2,662,000 people in employment in Scotland. 

Scotland’s employment rate increased over the year to 75 per cent but decreased by 0.2 percentage points over the quarter. 112,000 people were unemployed, with the unemployment rate at four per cent below the UK rate of 4.3 per cent.

Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Employability and Training, said: “These latest figures show 97,000 more people in employment compared to the pre-recession peak in Scotland’s economy and labour market, with rises in the numbers of people in work over the quarter and the year.

“It is also encouraging to see youth unemployment and female employment rates continuing to outperform the rest of the UK.

“The 2018/19 Draft Budget includes an extra £270 million of support for Scotland’s economy, including a new £150 million Building Scotland Fund to increase house building, commercial property and research and development, and £340 million to capitalise a Scottish National Investment Bank.

“These results come despite the economic uncertainty caused by Brexit. We have been absolutely clear that the best option for Scotland’s economy and labour market is the one people voted for – remaining within the EU.”

Another important focus for the Scottish Government has been on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and at the end of 2017, Scotland’s STEM strategy was unveiled. 

Spanning 2017 to 2022, it outlines actions designed to inspire enthusiasm for STEM across all sectors of society.

Key measures include strengthening the delivery of STEM education, addressing unconscious bias and gender stereotyping, and ensuring the development of skills that meet employers’ needs.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, said: “It is our ambition to build a modern and dynamic economy, so it is critical that Scotland recognises the value of, and achieves its full potential in STEM.

“The sectors which feature in our vision for a high-tech, low-carbon economy have a golden thread –they all require a highly educated and skilled workforce with STEM capabilities in order to develop and grow.

“The future is truly one of opportunity and we must ensure everyone is equipped and supported to make the most of fast-paced technological change around us and the job opportunities this generates, enabling Scotland to become a STEM nation.” 

The STEM strategy includes the following key actions:

Improving the supply of STEM talent to the teaching profession

Establishing a new network of specialist STEM advisers for schools

Addressing unconscious bias and gender stereotyping

Prioritising STEM in the expansion of apprenticeships

Increasing access to public science engagement events

Creating positive STEM role models, mentors and coaches

Delivering up-to-date advice and information on STEM careers

An implementation group will be established to oversee the delivery of the strategy and publish an annual report on progress.

Meanwhile, work is still being done to close the gender gap in business.

New measures were announced last year to support women in enterprise. A range of projects will share in £230,000 of funding to tackle the gender gap and help break down some of the barriers which can prevent women achieving equality in business.

Nicola Sturgeon said: “The gender gap, although narrowing, is still an unfortunate reality. That is why I am pleased to announce Scottish Government funding for projects to support, encourage and develop female entrepreneurs.

“Without gender equality in business, we will not be able to achieve our vision of Scotland becoming the most entrepreneurial and innovative society in the world.”

The projects to be funded are:

Women’s Enterprise Scotland will receive £60,000 to recruit and train a further ten ambassadors to act as role models to encourage more women to start up and grow their own businesses. 

Business Women Scotland’s #BWSLiveEvents programme will receive £60,000 for events across Scotland to bring together female entrepreneurs for networking and support

The Principally Women programme, delivered by Scottish Enterprise, will receive £60,000 to encourage inclusive growth through the skills development of female company leaders

The Ingenious and Enterprising Women in Scotland programme will receive £50,000. Led by the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, the programme will support female early career researchers in industry and academia from across Scotland to develop entrepreneurial skills to realise the full potential of their ideas

Carolyn Currie, chief operating officer at Women’s Enterprise Scotland, said: “No nation can afford to restrict its pool of talent when seeking to grow productivity and competitiveness. Diversity powers innovation and creates a vibrant and prosperous economy.”  

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