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Effective Skills Use

Scotland has a relatively good record on skills qualifications. However, that has not translated as well as it could into enhanced economic performance. This is a key message articulated in the Government Economic Strategy and Skills for Scotland, the lifelong skills strategy.

Our nation has the potential to do much more with the skills available to us. If Scotland is to become a more successful country with opportunities for all to flourish through increasing sustainable economic growth, we collectively need to make better use of skills.

Recognising the value of skills to performance, productivity and economic growth through funding and supporting learning is vitally important. However, it is not enough simply to invest in training. Organisations and individuals will only reap the full benefits of skills investment when workplaces fully enable staff to also use their skills effectively. Not realising these benefits is something organisations can ill-afford at the best of times; it is something they especially cannot ignore in current economic circumstances.

Effective skills use is about:

  • confident, motivated and relevantly skilled people who are aware of the skills they possess and know how to best use them in the workplace

engaged in

  • workplaces that provide them with meaningful and appropriate encouragement, opportunity and support to use their skills effectively

in order to

  • increase performance and productivity, improve job satisfaction and employee well-being, and stimulate investment, enterprise and innovation.

Actions to Make Better Use of Skills in the Workplace

Effective skills use involves developing skills in ways that best enable their effective application in the workplace. However, it also crucially depends on organisations embracing workplace cultures that enable people to perform at their best. This has many aspects to it, including:

  • business/organisational ambition;
  • leadership and people management practices;
  • effective employee engagement;
  • job design that encourages autonomy;
  • how well learning is transferred to the workplace setting; and
  • effective equality, diversity and healthy business practices.

Information for Employers - Making Better Use of Skills

Social Partnership

The challenge of making the better use of skills has given the Scottish Government an opportunity to develop a distinctively Scottish approach to social partnership, working together with employers and trades unions.

In January 2008, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) signed a Joint Communiqué on Skills Utilisation, which among other things, commits to working together to undertake policy development and research into skills utilisation in the workplace that will examine existing good practice in the UK and beyond.

Transcript of speech by Grahame Smith, STUC , National Economic Forum, 16 December 2009

Leadership Group

The Skills Utilisation Leadership Group was established in September 2008. The Group brings together business and trade union leaders with the Government, Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations to champion the better use of skills in the workplace.

The Skills Utilisation Leadership Group met in October 2010 to discuss, among other things, its progress to date. The Group considered that the meeting marked, in the words of one member, the "end of the beginning". Members felt they have moved the effective skills use agenda forward over the past two years and were going in the right direction. However, they also recognised that they are dealing with a difficult and challenging, long-term issue and there remains much for members individually and the Group collectively to do. This report summaries what the Group is achieving.

Progress reports were circulated at the March and December 2009 and May 2010 meetings of the National Economic Forum.

Balanced Scorecard

The balanced scorecard provides a national picture of effective skills use and includes international comparison measures where available. It shows that:

  • Scotland has a highly qualified labour force; skill shortages are uncommon; and 94 per of employees in Scotland are considered to be fully proficient by their employers. Employers are actively thinking about how best to develop the skills of their staff. This is evident by the provision of training and the presence of high performance working practices in the workplace.
  • However, we do not know the impact of these high performance working practices where they exist. There are also more people with qualifications than there are jobs that demand those qualifications for entry and there has a been only modest change in the skills used at work in Scotland. Scotland is ranked 12th out of 31 countries in terms of productivity across OECD countries.
  • Gaps in the evidence exist. Most notably around: the impact of high performance working practices; leadership and management; progression routes; workplace design; and outcome measures such as employee engagement. The balanced scorecard helps us identify these evidence gaps. It will be used to focus our engagement with the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, informing the development of national skills surveys.


Skills Utilisation E-Bulletins, which outline progress made to improve skills utilisation in Scotland, are regularly issued.

Reaping the Benefits: Encouraging Employer Engagement in Skills Utilisation

The Leadership Group has adopted a strategy to encourage employer engagement in skills utilisation. A News Release announcing the issue of the report Reaping the Benefits was issued on 19 June. The report was prepared by a stakeholder Action Group that examined how to increase the numbers of employers in the private, public and third sectors in Scotland who engage in activities to improve the effective use of skills in the workplace.

The strategy has an accompanying Communications Action Plan.

A Cross-Sectoral Network was established in September 2009 to help implement the strategy and communications action plan.


Work on skills utilisation is being informed by evidence from research.

Skills Utilisation Projects

As part of the Leadership Group's overall activities, the Scottish Funding Council issued a circular to colleges and universities in October 2008 which called for proposals to enhance their contribution to skills utilisation. The Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland worked together to select the projects.

A News Release outlining details of the twelve successful college/university-led projects was issued on 5 June. The total funding for the suite of projects is £1.8 million over the next two years. The projects will be considered as constituent parts of a research programme rather than as separate initiatives.

The Scottish Funding Council has issued progress reports on the projects in November 2009 and August 2010.

Scotland's skills utilisation programme: an interim evaluation , ESRC centre for Skills, Knowledge and Organisational Performance (SKOPE), 2011 is an independent interim evaluation of the Scottish skills utilisation project programme. Drawing upon interviews with project managers, employers and employees involved with four of the 12 projects as well as discussions with key Scottish policy makers, it finds some evidence that universities and colleges can make a positive contribution to skills utilisation, thereby providing an initial empirical basis for establishing 'proof of concept', and also highlights a number of issues and challenges which have implications in terms of programme development and next steps.

Leadership and Management Review

Following the Leadership Group's meeting in September 2009, the Scottish Government embarked on a review "to recommend action on how best to encourage progressive and innovative leadership and management in workplaces in Scotland to improve productivity levels". The findings of the review were reported to the Leadership Group in April 2010.

Following the review, Empowering Ambition and Leadership Excellence: A Framework for Action was agreed by the Strategic Forum in March 2011. It aims to help stimulate sustainable economic growth by providing clear vision, strategic direction and a coherent approach to ambition and leadership across Scotland. It seeks to align relevant support provided by Scotland's key public sector delivery agencies and through their activities and influence, the Framework is also expected to act as a catalyst for others to act to help raise the quality of leadership and level of ambition across the private, public and third sectors. The Framework partner agencies will now initiate a deeper dialogue with key influencers and other delivery bodies over the next year to agree the roles that all sectors can play in its delivery .


A series of skills utilisation diagrams have been developed:

Curriculum for Excellence: An Example of a Policy Encouraging Effective Skills Use in Action

A Curriculum for Excellence is about returning autonomy to teachers, enabling teachers to better use their skills and provides many examples of how the skills of teachers are being better utilised. It recognises that teacher continuous professional development can be less about expensive courses, but more about time and space to reflect on their own practice.

UK Commission on Employment and Skills

The Scottish Government is also working closely with colleagues in the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) on skills utilisation. Relevant UKCES reports can be found on our research page.