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Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy

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chapter 2
developing potential - equipping individuals with the skills scotland needs

Individuals and their ability to learn, work and contribute to society and the economy will help us achieve sustainable economic growth by improving productivity levels. We need demanding employers who understand what skills development can contribute to their performance. We also need individuals capable of capitalising on their own abilities in the workplace.

We also need to recognise that people moving into work have a variety of starting points, for example:

  • they may be enthusiastic and work-ready new entrants, fresh from a positive experience in school, college or university;
  • they may have had a negative experience of education and work;
  • they may have had a break from labour market, either chosen or enforced and be taking steps to get back into work;
  • they may have particular needs or circumstances that stand in their way;
  • they may be seeking a change of career.

The people of Scotland need an appropriate combination of essential and vocational skills that will enable them to secure and retain employment. For this to happen, we need a more coherent, flexible and responsive post compulsory learning system that balances the needs of the individual with the needs of employers for the benefit of all.

In Scotland we have invested heavily over many years in developing learning providers who can achieve much of this delicate balancing act already. We have excellent colleges and universities, as well as a strong Community Learning and Development base and private training provision.

That said, there are specific areas that we need to address with increased confidence, for example:

  • accountability: It is imperative that we make clear where responsibility lies for individuals as they move through learning. This is especially important for some young people moving on from compulsory education - a critical transition stage at which it is currently too easy to drop from view.
  • demography: as our demographic profile changes and Scotland's population ages, older people also need to be able to return to learning to enhance their skills. These individuals will have different expectations and needs from young people leaving school. In particular, the greater demand for part-time and accelerated study options will present challenges to providers. Moreover, successful integration of migrant workers and those from diverse ethnic backgrounds living in Scotland is critical to Scotland's economic future. Reducing under-employment of skilled workers who have, for instance, come to Scotland since recent EU enlargement, or since the inception of the Fresh Talent initiative, depends on access to quality courses in English for Speakers of Other Languages ( ESOL) and better recognition of existing skills and qualifications. We will further explore these issues as part of the work that will be undertaken on equality impact.
  • geography: the geography of Scotland means that addressing issues of rurality by moving provision closer to individuals, either physically or virtually, is vital if individuals across the country are not to miss out on opportunity. This can be achieved through more effective collaboration between different providers within the post-compulsory system and by further developing the use of ICT.
  • integration: we need public services to work better together. This also means having effective links between learning and health, social care and justice services. We need to support the development of best practice across providers in supporting, for example, care leavers and other people with particular needs. We need to raise the awareness of specialist support services of the importance of employability skills and pathways into education, employment and training. We need to identify how best to deliver effective integrated learning, skills and employability provision for young people and adults who are in or leaving the justice system in order that they can go on to secure the work that will help to improve their life chances.

To achieve this, we will deliver on the following priorities.

A Coherent System

We will ensure flexible provision which is increasingly responsive to the needs of individuals, employers and the wider economy.

Flexible post-compulsory provision which works for modern Scots and contributes to a higher performing economy will give us the greatest return on our investment. In Scotland we are fortunate to have excellent institutions. This is clearly seen in work undertaken by Futureskills Scotland which shows employers believe that the majority of individuals they employ from our colleges and universities are ready for work. However, post-compulsory learning is delivered in a broader range of settings than this - Community Learning and Development, for example, is a vitally important part of the jigsaw, particularly for those who have been away from work and learning for a long time and may need more intensive, personalised support.

We believe that all of our providers - colleges, universities, Community Learning and Development, schools, private training providers, voluntary sector organisations and the Scottish Prison Service - are part of one and the same learning system, geared towards helping individuals develop the skills they need and with all providers understanding and supporting the transitions individuals make both into and out of particular courses or programmes.

Quality provision is also vital to ensuring that individuals stay in learning and we will continue to support improvement and assure quality through inspection, review, evaluation and audit.

The skills that individuals learn must also be the skills that employers want. To do this our providers must continue to build on and develop the links they have with employers, ensuring that employers are properly engaged in the development and design of learning and ensuring that what individuals learn is relevant to the jobs they will do.

We will encourage young people to stay in education and training post-16.

Strong local partnerships have been set in place 21 to encourage young people to stay in the learning system. This is the best option we have for ensuring the long-term employability of young people who need more choices, more chances and ensuring that they can make a contribution to a more prosperous Scotland.

Good options and clear pathways out of school are essential to ensuring continuity and progression in learning and achievement. The specific needs of young people who are lower achieving and at risk of disengagement must be addressed. Impartial information and guidance to young people about their post-compulsory school options is key to this and - for those who need it - sustained, focussed, one to one support. Schools must work closely with post-16 providers, particularly specialist providers, to secure the effective transition of each young person to post-compulsory learning.

We maximise the impact of community-based learning.

We will establish a task group to advise on how to ensure that resources allocated for learning outside institutions support the strategic direction set by the Government for Community Learning and Development (through Working and Learning Together22, Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Scotland23 and the youth work strategy 24). We will complete the refresh of the Scottish Adult Literacy and Numeracy Strategy to ensure that we continue to pursue our goal of Scotland exceeding world class levels of provision in literacy and numeracy. This will consider effective partnership working, quality and funding.

We will encourage the integration of employment and skills services to facilitate the journey individuals make from long-term unemployment to sustained employment and in-work progression.

This will include close working with Jobcentre Plus to make sure we are delivering a system for the benefit of all.

We will facilitate local design and delivery of learning for those who are furthest away from the labour market.

We want those furthest from the labour market to be supported in a journey through flexible provision that leads to sustained work and further learning in work. This can only be achieved through an integrated employment and skills service offering a coordinated menu of advice and support which meets the needs of individuals and employers. We will work at a national and local level with the relevant organisations who fund learning provision to make that service a reality.

The voluntary sector has an important contribution to make - both as learning providers and as advocates and campaigners - in fostering community engagement and facilitating local service design.

We will deliver effective integrated offender learning, skills and employability provision.

We will establish a representative group to identify how best to deliver effective integrated learning, skills and employability provision for young people and adults who are in or leaving the justice system with a view to producing an offender learning and skills strategy.

Improving Transition and Progression

We will smooth transitions between and through learning.

There needs to be a wider range of progression pathways for individuals. We need to discuss with providers at all levels the extent to which they can take additional responsibility for helping individuals who have studied with them achieve positive transitions.

Providers have a two-way responsibility - admission into learning and transition from learning. Admission to learning opportunities should be more flexible, valuing equally the various routes that individuals might take to get there. Transitions from school should be as fluid as possible - to give people the best chance of success - but transitions from learning with other providers must also work in the interests of the individual.

For some of the hardest-to-reach individuals, greater support is needed to help them in their initial engagement in learning and in the community and economy, through developing skills in literacy, numeracy, problem solving and communication, to enable their involvement as active, effective contributors to their communities and to the wider economy and society.

The SCQF and awarding bodies have a vital role to play in building bridges and links between qualifications to allow individuals to receive appropriate credit for the learning they have achieved and to provide routes into other learning opportunities. This can only work if we have a strong partnership between all the relevant players.

We will challenge and encourage learning providers and awarding bodies to develop a system to ensure that they recognise the value of individuals' prior learning and wider achievement by building on work already undertaken through the SCQF.

Time spent going over old ground is time wasted. With a changing demographic profile we must increase and improve our recognition of prior learning and the certification of an individual's existing skills. We will do this through better use of the SCQF to help individuals fully focus on developing new skills as efficiently as possible. This enables individuals and providers to decide on the most appropriate entry points, providing a launch pad to further achievements.

More of Scotland's qualifications are being placed into the SCQF; this must continue and expand.

This objective will be best achieved through collaboration between providers, awarding bodies and other partners removing barriers to admission and progression and is a major challenge if we are to meet statutory requirements of the care and health sectors.

Acquiring and Using Skills

We will improve essential skills.

The Scottish economy needs a workforce with appropriate skill levels. If individuals are to access and succeed at work, having the right essential skills is vital for them. We need to build on existing frameworks to define appropriate levels and mix of essential skills, with reference to SCQF levels and support our learning providers to deliver for them. Provision must not be just about subject-specific knowledge and understanding - the development of essential skills must be embedded at all levels of post-compulsory learning.

We will investigate drops in participation on Higher National courses.

Over recent years participation in HN courses has been falling. While a range of opinions on the causes of the drop have been given by commentators there has been limited systematic investigation of the causes of this drop. Intermediate level skills are important in a range of sectors of our economy. For that reason this drop in participation in our main route to intermediate level qualifications requires investigation and the findings will require serious consideration.

We will carry out this investigation working with the Funding Council, institutions and other partners to inform future decisions on HN provision.

We will support the central role played by colleges.

Scotland's colleges occupy a pivotal position in the skills community because of the diversity of the individuals they serve, in the range of opportunities they provide and in the breadth of their partnership working.

Basic employability and vocational skills are central to the benefits students derive from colleges. The recently concluded Review of Scotland's Colleges 25 identified the following key roles for Scotland's colleges - to provide:

  • vocational education and training related to employment in response to national, regional and local needs;
  • positive and clear routes for learners into employment or into higher education institutions; and
  • support for learners to develop their knowledge and skills so that they can feel confident in their work and in their lives.

Colleges cater for the needs of individuals both in and out of employment at all stages in their lives from middle secondary school and earlier to retirement. In each year since 1998 about 7% of the Scottish population enrolled in a college with more than one in three 17 year olds being college students.

The college curriculum spans from specialised vocational education and training (such as construction, hairdressing, engineering, information technology, hospitality and health and social care) through to general educational programmes. Colleges also provide opportunities at almost every level of the SCQF, serving learners with the most basic educational needs, as well as providing courses up to and including higher education.

In fulfilling their roles colleges typically work in close partnership across the education and training community including Community Learning and Development partnerships, support agencies, employers and the voluntary sector thus supporting the work of colleges is critical to the success of this strategy.

We will capitalise on higher level skills.

It is vital to Scotland's economy that we have a steady supply of workers skilled to higher levels. A steady flow of graduates and technicians is vital in order that industries in which Scotland operates at the leading edge - the life sciences, the creative industries, financial services, or energy sectors such as renewables - can continue to compete favourably. For instance, while employers in scientific industries are generally happy with the labour market 26 at present, it is apparent that our modern knowledge economy will be ever-increasingly reliant upon a steady supply of skilled scientists, technologists and engineers. The demand for scientists in the future looks positive and the total employment for science occupations is projected to grow at a faster rate to 2014 than that expected for non-science occupations.

Moreover, Scotland must continue to increase technology transfer from our world-class research base into viable products and processes. Encouraging technology start-ups (including assisting scientists and technologists to develop entrepreneurial and business skills) and helping them to grow into our large companies of the future, will prove an ever-increasing priority.

Training for public sector occupations will continue to prove critical and we will continue to depend upon our universities to provide the next generation of key public sector workers, e.g. teachers, or healthcare workers such as doctors and dentists, with an ever-increasing range of higher-level skills.

We will encourage better utilisation of skills.

Through all levels of post-compulsory learning from the development of foundation-level skills to PhD study, learning to apply skills is as important as learning skills.

It is essential that individuals get a high quality relevant learning experience that relates to employment and working experiences and which can be applied in the workplace. There are benefits of experiential learning for individuals, employers and providers. For individuals, it is an opportunity to develop their skills in a real world environment. For employers, it is an opportunity to draw on fresh and innovative thinking. For providers, it is an opportunity to maintain the relevance of their provision in line with developments in the associated employment sectors.

We need individuals with business ideas and the skills to make them a success. We need individuals who are innovative and ambitious for themselves and their employers.

We look to learning providers, intermediary bodies and employers to work together to develop models of experiential learning which work in and for Scotland. For example, our distinctive Scottish approach to Community Learning and Development links learning with practical activity to improve community life, through which people develop skills that are essential in a work setting. By joining up our efforts, we can make fuller use of this. We also look to our providers and the Scottish Funding Council to work together to develop and implement strategies to deliver a step change in the skills utilisation of individuals.

case study 3:
Breadalbane Academy

"The course has been a roaring success. The students really enjoy getting out of the classroom and learning practical skills ."
Jenda Westwood, Breadalbane Academy

The Land Based Studies course, a pioneering vocational learning programme run by Breadalbane Academy in Highland Perthshire, is a practical way to get young people into employment. It gives them the skills they need to find and keep a job and helps them to learn about the varied opportunities within the Scottish land-based industries.

The innovative learning programme focuses on peoples' core and practical skills. This new approach to learning had been developed to add real value to the existing curriculum.

Now in its second year, this initiative presently offers courses in agriculture, fencing and dyking, horticulture, equine studies and gamekeeping. As a result, pupils, in years S4 - S6, can now choose from a range of SVQ units giving them appropriately focussed vocational learning.

A partnership between Breadalbane Academy, a Sector Skills Council, Perth and Kinross Council and local employers, the Land Based Studies course has been of benefit to the students, employers and the community as a whole. It demonstrates to young people that rural businesses can offer varied and exciting careers. It's also led to many students deciding to take further skills training and some have already been offered jobs as a result of their vocational learning.