Lifelong learning and collaboration key to Scotland's future workforce
Skills and apprenticeships event report
“Migration after Brexit is a huge issue, it requires a massive recharge of the skills agenda,” Scotland’s Rural College principal and chief executive, Wayne Powell, told Holyrood’s annual Skills and Apprenticeships Conference.
Scotland’s rapidly ageing population, static birth rates and the impending reduction in EU labour after Brexit were all hot topics at the recent event, which was attended by 130 people across government, education, training and skills organisations.
Scottish Government Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills, Jamie Hepburn, kicked off the conference, as the word of the day – collaboration – was first raised.
“Developing a culture of shared investment is critically central to our ambitions. To ensure those already in work have the skills that they need to fulfil the potential to drive forward businesses, must be a shared ambition through all parts of the Scottish economy,” he said.
“We can only unlock the potential of our people, our businesses and our economy through collaboration, through shared ambition and a shared commitment to ensure that Scotland has a highly-skilled and productive workforce.”
Speaking one week after the Scottish Government unveiled its Future Skills Action Plan, Hepburn said: “Our vision is that Scotland’s highly skilled workforce ensures we become an ever-more ambitious, productive, competitive niche.”
He listed the issues, from an ageing workforce and “international uncertainty” due to a “likely reduction in labour from other parts of the EU”, to the impact of climate change.
“The Future Skills Action Plan creates the framework in which we seek to respond to these issues,” he said.
The first panel session of the day drew leaders from across technology, education, construction and finance sectors.
“The tech sector in Scotland is amazingly collaborative,” CodeClan chief executive Melinda Matthews-Clarkson said
“I absolutely love the fact that it’s a nation of people who want to learn and grow and do good things, and it’s not always about money, which is an interesting principle.”
Following on from this, fellow panel member, Powell, added: “When you have collaboration take place effectively, then leadership and strategic leadership becomes paramount.”
“I think we need to give people a reason to collaborate,” another panellist, Scottish Financial Enterprise Skills and Talent Steering Group member, Alison Houston, noted. “At the moment, there might not be a need to collaborate. In the future, it is going to be about complex problem solving, growth, innovation. You can’t do that on your own, you’re going to have to collaborate.”
In the next session, CBI Scotland director Tracy Black discussed the role of business in shaping Scotland’s future workforce.
“We know Scotland faces a significant demographic challenge,” she said. “Workforce projections show that Scotland and the North East of England are the only parts of the UK expected to see a reduction in the total available workforce by 2025. We also know that technology is already impacting on the world of work.”
She said that while research showed technological skills would represent “almost a fifth of workers’ time in 2030”, at the same time: “1.1 million people in Scotland lack digital skills.
“Finally, if that wasn’t enough, there will be an undoubted squeeze on access to overseas skills and labour after Brexit, which will only exacerbate the competition for talent,” she said. “That’s why it’s so important to get everything we can, from the talent pool already available to us. It’s a cliché but it really does need a collaborative effort, with employers, workers and government all playing their part.”
IPPR Scotland director Russell Gunson put things into perspective, saying automation will mean “jobs will vanish, but a significant number of jobs will change significantly”.
“And that will place the skills system at the heart of how we shape automation, who wins, and who loses. If you do nothing, we can probably know what will happen,” he continued. “Wealth inequality, gender inequality, income inequality will widen, job polarisation could get worse. But with these big disruptions come big opportunities. Technology is not destined; the effect of this change can be shaped by public policy.”
He recommended that economic policy be focused on “those parts of the economy where low pay exists, where inequality exists”, such as retail and hospitality.
One of the final speakers of the day was Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board chair, Nora Senior, who said Scotland must “ensure that we have a skills system that’s joined up with our foreign direct investment strategy”.
“If we want to maximise our status as a trading nation then there are some obvious skills that we might need to focus on – languages, conversational and technical, legal skills and awareness of international law, arbitration, regulation, logistics, economics,” she said.
However, Senior said “less obvious skills” were actually “more important”, such as innovation, sales skills, the quality of management and leadership.
“Learning shouldn’t stop when you get to work, it should continue at all stages of your career,” she said
Senior said Scotland needed to “look at what skills are needed to survive a post-Brexit changing economic environment”.