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Employability and Skills: Taking forward our National Conversation

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2 Where are we now?

Chapter Summary

  • The Scottish Government is employing a variety of tools to tackle the root causes of poverty, remove barriers and address employability in Scotland
  • Examples include the implementation of the Curriculum for Excellence and the publication of Skills for Scotland.
  • Despite progress made, the current devolution settlement constrains what the Scottish Government can do to improve employability, as the Scottish Government does not have full responsibility for all policy implemented in Scotland, such as social security benefits and employment support.

2.1. Scotland experiences a unique skills and employability paradox. Scotland has fewer lower skilled people and more highly skilled people than anywhere else in the UK outside London. In addition, Scotland's qualification profile is improving at a faster rate than for the UK as a whole: between 1997 and 2004 the proportion of the working age population in Scotland with at least a level 4 qualification increased from 22 per cent to 29 per cent, relative to an increase across the UK as a whole from 21 per cent to 26 per cent. Scotland also has the highest labour market participation rate of any UK country.

2.2. Despite this highly qualified and active workforce Scotland's long term economic performance lags that of the UK as a whole and falls well below that of comparable independent European countries.

2.3. It is increasingly evident that inequalities in employment opportunities are closely related to wider inequalities and impact negatively on efforts to improve Scotland's economic performance and to address poverty. The Government Economic Strategy links these issues through the growth, participation, cohesion and solidarity purpose targets.

2.4. Skills for Scotland, published in September 2007, was one of the current government's first major policy statements. This publication highlighted Scotland's skills and employability paradox and set out this government's ambitions and guiding principles for skills in Scotland.

2.5. A key ambition for us then, as now, was to create a fully cohesive learning system that is clearly understood and accessible by all. This means long term, strategic change and we are still on the journey towards achieving this.

2.6. The skills strategy has set out the Scottish Government's philosophy for what skills can achieve for Scotland. This has provided all of those involved in the delivery of learning and skills in Scotland with a strong base from which to work. This is the first strategy to focus on skills that has been produced in Scotland since devolution.

2.7. The development of an Early Years Framework and of Curriculum for Excellence is setting firm foundations for skills development in young people. Through their education young people will develop skills for learning, life and work, including the necessity for high levels of literacy and numeracy and ICT.

2.8. We are also working with our partners, through Curriculum for Excellence, to raise standards in order to nurture successful, effective, confident and responsible young people with an open mindset primed for learning, capable of responding creatively to a faster, smaller, more vulnerable and more interconnected world.

2.9. Guidance has been published, as part of the "Building the Curriculum" series, which aims to help all those who are involved in planning and delivering young people's learning across all sectors and settings. It sets out key messages about how children and young people develop and apply skills as part of Curriculum for Excellence, so as to bring about the transformational changes needed to improve the life chances of young people in Scotland, including their future success in the labour market.

2.10. The creation of Skills Development Scotland has given Scotland a national skills agency for the first time. Through its own programmes and by working in partnership with others, Skills Development Scotland is well paced to drive the step change Scotland needs in skills delivery and skills use. This is designed to make a significant impact on Scotland's economic performance, labour market participation and social cohesion. An early focus for the new organisation has focussed on the skills and training response to the economic downturn.

Box 1: Case Study - ScotAction - supporting skills for recovery

ScotAction, launched on 10 June is the Scottish Government's skills support package for leading Scotland out of recession and on to economic growth.

ScotAction is an integrated support package combining new and improved measures to help individuals and businesses through the recession and provides skills assistance - including wage subsidies in some circumstances - for training for work, training in work and training from work to work to help Scottish people and businesses survive the downturn and thrive when the economy starts to recover.

In developing and implementing ScotAction the Scottish Government has worked closely with the business community, listening to their views of what support is needed and then working with partners in the education and skills systems to adapt and shape existing policies and put in place new measures to meet the needs of individuals and businesses.

The Scottish Government has boosted the number of opportunities to undertake job related training to support individuals into employment through Training for Work. Recognising that many individuals will choose to learn rather than earn the Scottish Government has increased the number of learning opportunities available as well as providing more financial support directly to individuals to learn. Individual Learning Accounts have been adapted to allow many more individuals to access funding for learning and uptake is already up 42% on this time last year. The Scottish Government is providing grants to students in higher education, both on a full and part time basis.

The Scottish Government has introduced the most comprehensive support package in the UK for apprentices. It is providing financial incentives to employers to invest in new apprentices safeguard existing apprentices and adopt redundant apprentices. This support package is boosted by almost £3 million of ESF funding.

To ensure that individuals are able to move swiftly from work to work the Scottish Government has strengthened PACE - our national partnership approach to supporting redundancy, ensuring all individuals facing redundancy have access to the right support and the right training.

2.11. We have created a Strategic Forum, which brings together Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and islands Enterprise, VisitScotland and the Scottish Funding Council . This is the first time since devolution that agencies leading on skills and economic development have been able to come together to discuss how best to progress their agendas in a complementary way.

2.12. The Scottish Funding Council's Skills Committee has evolved into a committee that is jointly led by the Scottish Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland. This is the first time Scotland will have had a jointly managed, strategic level committee who will have a direct influence on how best to drive forward skills in post school settings.

2.13. Realising our ambitions will take more than a cohesive system however. We will also need to have:

  • a system that is smart about developing and deploying the right skills interventions in the right place and at the right time;
  • a range of different types of intervention at our disposal, that are tailored to specific needs and that are delivered by the right agents in the right environment;
  • a funding model that supports a more agile delivery, and that encourages individuals to participate in learning and work; and
  • an ability to be able to mobilise our resources quickly and effectively in order to respond to the skills and employment needs as these evolve through different economic cycles and in response to ongoing global economic development and technological change.

2.14. Scottish employability policy is set within the Workforce Plus framework 9 and its sister strategy focused on young people, More Choices, More Chances. These aim to encourage all relevant agencies at local, Scottish and UK levels to work together more cohesively and make better use of existing resources to help people into work, largely through local partnerships that set priorities for the use of pooled employability funding.

2.15. Local and national government in Scotland have a joint commitment to break the cycle of systemic unemployment through effective intervention that works in the different local contexts we see across Scotland.. A key part of this relationship is around the work of Community Planning Partnership employability frameworks in support of the Single Outcome Agreements. The importance of this is reflected in the National Performance Framework.

2.16. The move away from micro-management from the centre and "one-size-fits-all" national solutions, coupled with an outcomes based approach, provides local authorities with the freedom they need to take effective and decisive local action. The Scottish Government is working to become an effective partner with local authorities in this area as exemplified through its work to support the development of the National Delivery Group for Workforce Plus.

2.17. The Scottish Government and its Scottish partners influence and deliver some of the key services affecting an individual's employability, including education, skills, healthcare and provision of childcare (including care for disabled children). In addition, Scottish partners also influence schools, further and higher education, private and third sectors to provide the right kind of learning, training and skills interventions.

2.18. However, other major factors affecting employability, such as social security benefits, personal taxation, help with the cost of childcare, pension's policy (such as retirement age) and employment support are reserved to the UK Parliament. These services do not always fit well with the systems devolved to and developed in Scotland.

2.19. This is a complex landscape. Tax credits, social security benefits and employment support are hugely important in helping to improve employability in Scotland - and these are not within the responsibility of the Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Government believes that this places significant barriers in the way of a Scottish Government wishing to address employability in Scotland (see Annexes B, C and D for further information).