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SU Progress Report


Scotland has a relatively good record on skills qualifications, but that has not translated into enhanced economic performance. We know that the development of skills is clearly necessary for economic growth, but on its own it is not enough. A good supply of skills has to be matched by increased demand for those skills - and crucially by workplace environments that support their effective use.

We can increase our productivity and create better - more satisfying - jobs if we better use skills. By improving how the existing skills of the workforce are deployed, we will be much better placed to weather the economic downturn. Employers have the undoubted potential to do much more with the skills available to them. While that is a long-term challenge, it is one which we all need to address now.

National Economic Forum Workshops - October 2008

Improving skills utilisation was discussed at the National Economic Forum on 8 October. There were seven sectorally-based workshops, each of which was facilitated by a member of the Skills Utilisation Leadership Group, supported by a sector representative (generally a representative from the relevant Sector Skills Council). The workshops were organised around the energy, construction, creative industries, financial services, food and drink, tourism and universities sectors.

Common Themes

  • Government has a role to lead and to facilitate. The energy sector workshop discussed that the impact of the Government giving a strategic lead and articulating its priorities should not be under-estimated. Government's role to foster closer working between industry and learning providers was specially mentioned by the tourism and financial services workshops. The latter workshop also discussed a wider role for government to bring stakeholders and the community together to support partnership working. (It also identified a role for government to increase skills in the public services in financial services). The creative industry sector workshop discussed that government should support businesses to encourage innovation and ensure that there is support for a route to market.
  • Good practice needs to be encouraged. Organisations at the 'centre' of the food and drink sector have a role in communicating best practice and success stories rather than specifying what needs to be done. Employer networks should be used to promote examples of good practice in the construction sector to show where the benefits lie in training the workforce and the proper utilisation of their skills. Financial services employers may be encouraged to invest if they were made aware of examples of improvements in profitability. There are pockets of good practice in universities concerning the employability of students that need to be spread further across the sector.
  • Management and leadership skills were lacking in many of the industries. Leadership and management skills are considered essential for all levels of management.
  • SMEs have difficulties funding training. A popular suggestion was for schemes to help larger organisations provide training for SMEs.
  • All of the industry groups commented on investment in training of staff. A common theme was that more training was required. The Energy group mentioned their strong investment in training. Food and Drink asked for government support with training. The Financial Services group mentioned that some employers failed to see the benefits of training to the bottom line. Management and leadership training was thought to be important.
  • Education providers have varying degrees of responsiveness to employers needs. The Tourism, Creative and Food and Drink groups mentioned a need for fit for purpose courses. Other contributions were for more science provision and stronger links between education and employers.
  • There was support for the curriculum for excellence especially in addressing gaps in the core skills of literacy and numeracy. The construction sector has particular concerns about literacy and numeracy.


  • Different perceptions of the work readiness of graduates emerged from the groups. The Financial services group, expressed concerns about the work readiness of recruits from schools, colleges and universities. The Tourism group expressed concern about the work readiness of graduates. The Universities group believed employability skills are gained through study at university including: time management, relationship building, communication skills and creativity. Work placements could be used to encourage employability skills in graduates.
  • Skills utilisation was covered in most groups with a range of different ideas emerging. Construction pointed to literacy and numeracy skills as a problem. The tourism group said "skills utilisation" was jargon that employers did not understand. Creative companies mentioned employees often moved companies to utilise their skills. Financial Services thought skills could be better utilised by improving management and leadership, or by aligning skill development with investment in technological infrastructure. The Universities group thought skills utilisation should be considered in a lifelong learning context and discussed the role of vocational training, academic qualification and of specialist skills.

Labour market and economy

Comments included the difficulty some sectors have in recruiting graduates (Energy). Graduates were leaving the sectors for which they were trained, especially in Tourism and Creative industries. The Universities group felt that this might lead to underutilisation of skills and wanted to encourage a better matching of the demand for, and supply of, skills in the labour market. Universities have difficulty engaging with SMEs, possibly restricting SMEs access to labour markets.

Concerns were raised about the impact of the economic slowdown on the labour market. Construction was worried about losing skilled workers and Food and Drink about losing migrant workers.

Detailed Notes and Overview Analysis

Detailed notes of each the workshop discussions and an overview analysis have been published on the Scottish Government's website.

Action Since the Workshops

Skills Strategy Update

In February, the Scottish Government published an update to Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy in the form of a website at www.scotland.gov.uk/skills. Significant developments have been made since the publication of the strategy to address the challenges outlined in it, including in respect of skills utilisation. The strategy update contains much of this progress. The website will be updated the skills agenda continues to be taken forward in these difficult economic times.

Giving a Lead

Following the workshops, the Leadership Group outlined its vision for effective skills utilisation. Its ambitions are of a Scotland where:

  • confident, motivated individuals are aware of the skills they possess, know how to best use them in the workplace and have the necessary opportunity and support to increase productivity, improve job satisfaction and stimulate investment, enterprise and innovation;
  • ambitious and competitive organisations have progressive and innovative leadership and management that adopt high performance working practices and afford workers a say in decision making over issues affecting the quality and organisation of the workplace;
  • a cohesive learning system centred on the individual and responsive to employer needs supports the lifelong development and use of skills; and
  • government policies for investment, enterprise, skills and innovation support the best use of skills in the workplace through social partnership.

Increasing Employer Interest in Skills Utilisation

The Leadership Group has since established a stakeholder Action Group that is to report in April on increasing the number of employers in Scotland interested in the effective utilisation of the skills of their workforce.

The Action Group is considering factors that influence organisations' demand for, and deployment of, skills, such as ambitious and competitive organisational strategies, progressive leadership and management and external pressures, e.g. procurement.

Three key issues have been identified in influencing organisational strategies:

  • business support services;
  • information, advice and guidance; and
  • communication strategies - influencing those who influence organisations.

Organisational Strategies

We know from the workshop discussions and the Skills Utilisation Literature Review that there is no one-size-fits-all model to improving skills utilisation in the workplace. There is a range of actions that employers can undertake and the evidence as to which are the most effective within specific criteria such as size, sector etc. is far from complete. The Leadership Group has therefore initiated a project to identify which organisational strategies to implement effective skills utilisation best work in particular circumstances. This will help inform the development of key messages and materials to support organisational change. The project is being led by Scottish Enterprise and Skills Development Scotland.

Skills Utilisation Projects

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

Skills Utilisation E-Bulletin

In January, the Scottish Government issued the first of regular e-bulletins reporting progress of the Skills Utilisation Leadership Group. If you wish to be add to the mailing list, please email colin.baird@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.