Scotland’s talent needs nurturing
Scotland’s economic progress is at risk of being held back by skills shortages, writes Mairi Mallon
SCOTLAND’S business will be held back by a skills shortage if employers, government and the workforce don’t act quickly to improve employees’ skills Leading economists and employers say that Scotland will have to work very hard at improving the education and skill sets of its population to stay ahead of the pack in an increasingly global economy.
“In a world where it does not matter where you locate any of your operations or services, it will be the skills of the workers in a country that will differentiate it from the others,” says Professor Mike Campbell, a leading international expert in the field of skills and learning. “If we are left behind the prospect is not great. We have got a real challenge on our hands.”
Campbell is also director of development at the Sector Skills Development Agency (SSDA) which has been working with businesses to try and raise awareness of the importance of continued learning while working to improve the skills of Scotland’s existing and future workforce.
He and the SSDA are looking at ways of making Scottish workers more productive and Scottish businesses more competitive in a global market.
Campbell says that it is easy to see how much improved skills would help the economy and that in the last 10 years improving skills have generated £3bn for the Scottish economy and 16,000 additional jobs.
A recent report, the Leitch Review, warned about the fundamental weakness of UK skills compared with emerging competitive economies. Campbell says that in Scotland alone, improving training in line with targets to be reached by 2020 would result in an additional £7bn on the gross domestic product of Scotland. This figure is net, after taking into account the cost of the education curriculum at £180m a year and would equate to each worker being £1800 more productive each year.
“It is a really big prize,” he says. “Obviously all the benefits don’t arrive in year one, and not everyone gets skilled-up at the same time, but it will take time.”
He says a starting point is improving general literacy, numeracy and IT skills. But other more intangible skills need to be worked on, such as “employability skills” such as good communication, being innovative, and leadership.
“The business community needs to know just what a big issue this is,” says Campbell. “In real terms, compared to the rest of the world, the performance the UK and Scotland is not great. Even if we meet the stellar targets set, we won’t improve much by 2020. We have improved, but not enough.”
Campbell has outlined 10 key steps Scotland should consider as it takes forward its skills agenda, and one of the most fundamental is to develop the adult workforce
“More than 70% of the people who will be in work in 2020 are already in work now and we need to concentrate as much, if not more, on the adult workforce of today – and this is a workforce that is both shrinking and ageing,”
His ten-point action plan also includes the need for education and training providers to be customer-focused and get close to the needs of their sectors. It also says training needs to be of a good enough quality and relevance to encourage businesses and individuals to become involved.
And he added that, while it is appropriate to raise the overall skills and qualification profile of Scotland’s workforce, it’s just as important to ensure the skills are appropriate to the needs of the economy.
The SSDA has been working with employers in Scotland and together they have called for a full national skills debate to make sure that policies on workforce development take on higher priority in the political agenda.
Mark Fisher, chief executive of the SSDA said: “It is vital that employers speak loudly and challenge all political parties to enable Scotland to develop a focused skill strategy.”
Employers in Scotland have raised concerns about the skills gaps that already exist, with several sectors flagging their growing problems in recruitment, training and retaining suitably
skilled staff as major barriers to success.
They want public sector agencies to work more closely with companies and for Scotland’s education system to be developed so the curriculum addresses the needs of Scottish business more directly.
“We are not talking about dumbing-down the education system, but of adding something to the curriculum at all levels that give not only the employers what they want, but also make the students more employable.”
The Skills for Business Network, an employer-led network consisting of 25 Sector Skills Councils and the SSDA, is also working in Scotland to make sure the employer’s voice is kept loud and clear.
The independent network, which has both private and public funding, identifies change needed in policy and practice relating to education and skills development, not just in Scotland but in the rest of the UK as well.
“This independent network engages with the education and training supply-side, such as universities, colleges, funders and qualifications bodies, to increase productivity at all levels in the workforce,” says Aileen Ponton, SSDA’s policy manager in Scotland.
The Scottish Executive is currently looking at “refreshing” its lifelong learning strategy, and Ponton is going to be there to make sure the employers voice is heard in their formal response to the Scottish Executive.
Ensuring that the skills are appropriate to the needs of the economy is helping trainers build a better Scotland