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Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy


chapter 3
making skills work for scotland

When technically competent individuals - who know how to work, learn, innovate and develop - link up with ambitious employers - who know what skills they need and how to use them - the economic payback from our skills investment begins.

To achieve this we not only need to prepare individuals as well as we can for the world of work but, once in the workforce, individuals should continue to develop and invest in their own learning as their circumstances demand. We also need employers who are ambitious and see the value in recognising and addressing the skills needs of their staff.


We will encourage employer demand for skills.

This involves supporting employers at all levels to develop ambitious market strategies that clearly articulate what skills they will need to achieve their business objectives, how they will acquire these skills and how they will use them once they are secured.

To make this happen, we need to have business development support that can concentrate on building the demanding employers that will push our economy forward. Co-ordination between our skills and business development agencies will be critical.

It also means that we need high quality, robust and fully accessible labour market intelligence that can provide reliable information at the national, local and sectoral levels to underpin decision making and information, advice and guidance services for employers and employees. Futureskills Scotland already provides an excellent national service. We must build on this using local and sectoral intelligence from a range of sources including the Sector Skills Councils while recognising the local limitations of some of our national data sources.

Employers also need information about how similar employers are performing and how they are sharing innovation gains. This will drive confidence to invest in technology which will drive the need for higher skilled employees.

As employer demand for higher level skills increases, we need to ensure that all our publicly funded learning providers have the capacity to absorb this and can continue to deliver high quality education and training in a flexible manner.

We will listen to employers.

We need strong mechanisms for clearly articulating the skills that employers need now and what they may require in the future and we need providers who can listen and who have the capacity to deliver.

Employers are varied and numerous, so in practice this means that we need informed, aware and credible intermediary bodies who can act as an effective link between employers and those who develop and provide learning.

We believe that the sectoral approach to this that we have been pursuing is the right one and we support the Sector Skills Councils ( SSCs).

The SSC network comprises 25 employer-led Sector Skills Councils who are currently funded, supported and monitored by the Sector Skills Development Agency ( SSDA). The network is tasked with bringing the 'employer voice' to debates about skills provision.

However, we believe that the Network has more work to do to establish a strong basis for its influencing role in Scotland.

For example, employers' awareness of their SSC, although increasing, is still relatively low 27. The latest information from the SSDA suggests that only some 35% of employers in the UK know who their SSC is 28. The Network also needs to ensure that it fully understands and engages with Scotland's policy and institutions and that the financial and human resources allocated to Scotland are fit for the task in hand.

We accept that there are big challenges for UK organisations working in the new Scottish context and we believe that the Network has suffered from being tasked with too much. We are also aware that in Scotland to date, there has not been a clear niche for them to fill.

We want four things from the SSCs in Scotland:

  • to develop proper engagement with the broad spectrum of employers in their sector in order that they can speak with legitimacy on behalf of their employers. To do this they will need to focus on employer awareness and engagement;
  • to deliver sectoral labour market information that is trusted, well used and fits with the robust national information supplied by Futureskills Scotland;
  • to ensure that employers have a say in the design and development of learning at all levels and in all settings, not just in vocational qualifications; and
  • to maintain strong partnerships with other key players in their sector as well as with Government, providers and intermediary bodies.

These are the bones of what we want the SSCs to achieve in Scotland and we will elaborate on this in due course. We need to ensure that no extra burden is placed on the SSCs that could distract them for achieving these aims and we will also create appropriate governance structures to make this happen.

Part of these structures will be the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Our active contribution to the development of the Commission will allow us to share our best practice in skills and learn from other UK nations.

We will recruit a Scottish Commissioner who will represent Scottish interests and we will ensure that this person plays a productive role in the Scottish skills landscape.

We will improve how skills are used in the workplace.

In tandem with developing employers' demand for higher levels of skills, we believe that the way in which jobs are designed, filled and subsequently executed is key to unlocking Scotland's economic potential. As we highlighted in the previous chapter, this means that we need to enable employees to make an immediate positive difference to his or her workplace by applying the skills they have acquired in a productive way.

For employers, this means that they should be able to design jobs that make full and productive use of the freshly acquired skills of their recruits and closely aligned to business objectives.

To achieve this, employers need excellent management and leadership skills and this may require a change in the way that they view themselves and their capacities.

It also means that we need to align more closely the employment and skills agendas, which includes improving the fundamental links between parts of the system that are devolved - such as the services provided by Careers Scotland - and those employment services which are reserved and are operated through the Department for Work and Pensions and Jobcentre Plus. Our relationship with the UK Commission for Skills and Employment will be important here.

We will make it easy for employers to access the Information, Advice and Guidance ( IAG), training and support they need to develop their workforce.

Employers not only need to demand skills and know how to use them, they also need straightforward access to affordable, flexible and relevant training for all employees that need it.

Our providers in all their forms need to be able to deliver this. This has implications for their capacity not only to deliver learning but also to engage with the SSCs and other intermediary bodies.

We also need to provide employers with support to help them identify the training that will be most beneficial to their business and workforce. We will ensure we have the right IAG structures to do this - structures that are easy to find, are quality assured and have a strong local dimension.


We will stop distinguishing between Earners and Learners.

Working and learning are often seen as two distinct and separate entities, with the learning to be completed before the working can start. In practice, we never stop learning and we learn a vast amount in the workplace, often informally.

It is important then to be able to recognise and value the skills acquired at work, whether it is informal 'on the job' learning or more formal. The SCQF can help to achieve this. This needs to become increasingly widely used as a tool to recognise employer learning.

We also appreciate that for many people, their time is divided between working and learning - some full time workers study for as many hours per week as their full time student counterparts, but they do not have access to the same range of support.We are therefore currently reviewing our support arrangements.

The workplace is also an excellent location in which to impart skills and knowledge. We will build on the workplace literacy pilots, to ensure that literacies learning is embedded in all workplace training programmes.

Moreover, as part of our English for Speakers of Other Languages ( ESOL) Strategy 29 we will encourage more work-related and work-based ESOL programmes to be considered by, for example, organisations with a substantial number of actual or potential ESOL learners in their workforce. This could be in the context of policies/ schemes relating to citizenship and employability and local ESOL providers should work closely with a wide range of partners to develop such programmes.

We will listen to employees.

As employers need a voice on skills, so do employees. For many workers, trade unions are excellent intermediaries.

Evidence shows that trade unions engage with and raise the aspirations of individuals in the workplace that other agencies struggle to reach. We will encourage employers and unions to work together, using local learning agreements, to support the development of individuals in the workplace.

The Scottish Union Learning Fund ( SULF) has been instrumental in building the capacity of unions to offer learning opportunities to their members and, supported by Scottish Government funds, the Scottish Trades Union Congress ( STUC) has created a dedicated Skills and Lifelong Learning team. This team supports all unions, including those not affiliated to the STUC, to develop their approaches to skills and learning for their members.

Building on these initiatives, we will look at ways of supporting the STUC in the creation of a Scottish Union Academy, similar to unionlearn in England. The Scottish Union Academy would support unions in becoming learning organisations themselves and broker strategic learning offers on behalf of unions and members.

This does not address the issue of workers in non-unionised workplaces. We know that learndirect scotland deals with understanding the learning needs of employees in SMEs and we will look to them to develop this agenda further.

We will encourage employee learning.

Improving the skills of individual employees should have benefits for both the employees and the employer. Skills developed in a work setting are just as and often more relevant than skills developed through other channels. That is why we believe in learning at work.

Employers are pragmatic and will invest in training when they see a need for it, which again underlines the need to create employer demand for skills and develop a flexible learning provision to meet their needs.

But not all employers will see a need for training - there are some employers who choose to operate in a low-cost environment and see training as a cost rather than an investment. Choosing not to train may be the right business decision for them, but this does not help their employees who may have skills development needs, perhaps at a basic level or in essential skills to give them a platform on which to build. The evidence bears this out - individuals with low qualification levels who work in small firms are much less likely to be trained than those with higher level qualifications who work in a large organisation. Moreover we know that young people with no or low qualifications in jobs without training are more likely to experience 'churn' in and out of employment and to find it harder to progress.

Equally, choosing not to train their workforce might be the wrong decision. If employers do not know enough about the benefits of investing in staff development, the skills needs of their staff or where to access the training they need, then they may be making the wrong choice. Evidence suggests that individuals benefit significantly from improving their levels of literacy and numeracy and, although the evidence on the benefits to employers of investing in essential skills training is very sparse, some studies have indicated that such benefits may include increases in productivity, reductions in costs and enhanced customer satisfaction. Recent research from England, for example, shows that almost a third of the working population admit to losing money for their company due to a lack of basic maths and English 30. A much larger body of research on the benefits of workforce training in general suggests that this has a positive impact on firm performance and that workforce training is associated with lower staff turnover and higher levels of commitment to the organisation 31.

For individuals and employers alike, therefore, an awareness of the benefits that training could bring and easy access to that training could help to unlock benefits for all.

What we need is a system that:

  • stimulates demand;
  • provides the right information advice and guidance to both employers and employees;
  • trusts employers to train when they need to;
  • delivers the right training at the right time;
  • focusses on the needs of the individual; and
  • identifies and addresses pockets of market failure.

The evidence we have shows that using financial incentives to persuade employers to undertake more training is unlikely to be effective and may even displace money that employers would have spent anyway. This will not always be the case, however and we recognise that certain situations of low paid and low skilled employees and we recognise this.

Equality is key in this regard. The work of the Government's Cross Directorate Working Group on Occupational Segregation will continue to seek ways of challenging gender stereotyping in roles throughout education, training and employment in order to encourage both men and women to consider the full range of options open to them 32. These issues and issues surrounding addressing every kind of discrimination in the workplace, will be considered within the scope of the equality impact process.

We will ensure that our National Training Programmes meet the needs of individuals and employers.

Modern Apprenticeships offer those aged over 16 paid employment, combined with the opportunity to train for jobs at craft, technician and management level ( SVQ level 3 or above). This is an excellent example of employers and Government working together to ensure individual businesses gain skilled employees whilst providing Scotland with a deployable and flexible workforce. We recognise that the Modern Apprenticeship ( MA) programme achieves two separate, but interlinked objectives: to build skills thus growing the economy and supporting a wider social inclusion agenda. On balance we believe that the primary aim of the MA programme is economic development through enabling individuals to earn while they learn and develop skills relevant to their job.

The MA programme is about much more than the numbers of people in training and, although in the past we have focussed on achieving volume targets, we are committed to ensure MAs meet employers current and future needs. We believe MAs provide security of employment for the trainee whilst developing skills that are relevant within the workplace. We will therefore implement the conclusions of the MA consultation 33 and in particular we will extend MAs to S/ NVQ level 2 ( SCQF 5) and phase out the current the Skillseekers programme. We shall also seek to embed the SCQF into the MA programme to help participants gain credit for the skills they gain within their training.

We fully support the all age nature of MAs, but recognise the need for us to prioritise our resources. We will therefore look at the structures and funding mechanisms needed to support the MA programme.

Currently Get Ready for Work aims to prepare young people with additional support needs for employment or further training. Training for Work, meanwhile, provides tailored job-related skills interventions for adults who are otherwise well suited to enter/re-enter sustained employment.

In tandem with the changes to MAs, we will review Get Ready for Work and Training for Work to ensure that everyone has a route through which they can learn, develop and prepare themselves for life and work. In doing so, we will seek to build upon the strengths whilst addressing any gaps or overlaps of our current training provision.

We will develop the skills of the public sector workforce.

The public sector in Scotland employs nearly a quarter of the workforce 34. The public sector should continue to act as an example of good practice to other employers by employing trainees and investing in its people to create a flexible and responsive workforce that is sufficiently skilled and flexible enough to meet 21st century demands. In the NHS, for example, NHS Education for Scotland ( NES) helps to provide better patient care by designing, commissioning, quality assuring and, where appropriate, providing education, training and lifelong learning for the NHS workforce in Scotland.

case study 4:

"The global aerospace market is a highly competitive market and our competitors use similar machine tools and methods of manufacture… our differentiator in the market place is our employees."
Les Carey, Operations Manager

The Rolls-Royce factory at Inchinnan opened in October 2004 close to Glasgow Airport and manufactures components for aeroplane engines. There is very high union density in the factory, which employs some 1200 people, with workers being represented by Unite-Amicus and GMB through a joint shop stewards' committee. The factory takes on and trains apprentices and provides highly skilled, well-paid jobs. There is also a drive from the company to improve skills, as new technology is introduced and improve productivity.

Unite-Amicus was awarded funding through Round 6 of the Scottish Union Learning Fund. This allowed the Union Learning Representatives ( ULRs) on the site to re-new their own skills. The ULRs were then able to map the learning needs of the workforce and put in place a learning programme in partnership with local learning provides such as Paisley University, Stow College and the Open University.

"Training is perceived as part of the normal working environment, but lifelong learning is about making our working lives a more satisfying and rewarding experience", said senior convener Gerry Docherty.

photo of the management at Rolls-Royce

Management at Rolls-Royce have bought into union learning, largely because they are impressed by the commitment and hard work of the ULRs and because they can see the benefit to the business. The company has Investors in People status and the learning programme accords with their own values. According to Operations Manager Les Carey,

"Rolls-Royce plc took the decision to invest £85 million in the new facility at Inchinnan because of the skill and commitment of our people. The development of our people is seen as the foundation for future success and the ULR process is a critical enabler in the overall employee engagement and development of our site. We see the ULRs as key facilitators within this journey. The global aerospace market is a highly competitive market and our competitors use similar machine tools and methods of manufacture, therefore our differentiator in the market place is our employees. For our business to remain competitive it is essential that we fully develop and grow our team members."

The work done at Rolls-Royce has been widely praised as innovative and lead ULR Pat McIlvogue won the TUC learning rep of the year award for 2007 in recognition for achievement.

case study 5:
Lantra Project

"We want to encourage mature workers into learning to learn new skills or refresh their existing skills. It's important that we understand their preferred learning styles and the barriers that prevent individuals from engaging in training."
Morag Holdsworth, Lantra Project Manager

photo of John AddyThe Experience Counts initiative encourages Sector Skills Councils and learning providers to deliver tailored 'bite-sized' learning programmes for the over 50's workforce - encouraging mature workers to learn new skills, increase their confidence and improve their employment and development opportunities.

Lantra, the Sector Skills Council for the environmental and land-based sector, delivers a highly successful and well received project funded through Experience Counts. North West Mull Community Woodland Company recently participated in the project and John Morrison, the company treasurer has said:

"In order to achieve several of our objectives, it was essential that a core of people be trained in the safe use of chainsaws. Initially four 'volunteers' were sought, three of whom were over 50 and thus eligible for Lantra funding. The course has proved immensely beneficial to all of us. It has given us a skills base which will enable us to actively take part in a range of activities such as new path creation, clearance of fallen timber, provision of timber as a source of woodfuel or for other added value purposes. This has been a great start and it is envisaged that we will expand the skills base for the four of us in the future and encourage others to follow suit."

One of the company 'volunteers' who benefited from the training was John Addy:

"What really impressed me was the way the practical instruction was put across in the workshop and out in the woods. There was a great balance between demonstration, observation and encouragement, at the same time as attention to detail and ensuring that we had plenty of practice at the key skills. At my age I thought I'd seen the last of exam nerves, but the prospect of the independent assessment following the course certainly focussed the mind."