Scot­land’s tal­ent needs nur­tur­ing

Scot­land’s eco­nomic progress is at risk of be­ing held back by skills short­ages, writes Mairi Mal­lon

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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

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