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Putting Learners at the Centre – Delivering our Ambitions for Post-16 Education



75. This chapter considers how we better align our investment in non-advanced learners and skills with our ambitions for jobs, growth and life chances. We focus specifically on these areas as this is where the opportunity for change is greatest. Elsewhere in this paper we recognise the essential role that universities play in growing our economy, especially their international contribution. To that end, we will continue to work with the sector to encourage an even stronger focus on the contribution graduates can make to productivity. We will also work with universities, employer groups and others to extend and enhance work placement opportunities in order to improve the employability skills of graduates.

Our aim

76. To compete successfully in a rapidly changing global economy, Scotland's employers need a workforce equipped with a broad range of skills, knowledge and attributes. The post-16 system has a central role to play here: in delivering the technical and core skills, and the qualifications, at all levels necessary for a particular job and for their long-term career; in developing people's ability to think critically; and in building their wider attributes - such as enterprise, initiative, adaptability, and entrepreneurship.

77. Doing this effectively demands a clear, continued and purposeful dialogue with employers about what it is they need - looking as far ahead as possible. We know it is difficult to predict the shape of our labour market in the years ahead but our learning providers need to be as clear as possible about the skills, qualifications and wider attributes learners will need to be successful in the future. And we have a similar duty to learners, so that they focus on the knowledge and attributes we know will be important whatever direction our economy moves in.

78. Against the background of sharply reduced public resource, the Government will focus its investment where it has maximum economic and social return. We know that economies change - so do students' aspirations and circumstances - so all publicly funded courses in colleges must pass the test of developing a broad range of knowledge, skills and attributes that will enhance students' lifelong job prospects.

79. We want to be equally clear that the public funds we invest produce positive outcomes across all areas of the labour market. We shall place particular emphasis on skills development in key sectors and those offering significant job opportunities where demand is strong and where further opportunities are likely to emerge. We shall also explore models to deliver provision efficiently to meet critical skills niches within our economy.

80. Additionally, we shall focus our investment on those people who most need Government support to develop skills for sustainable. Our intention is to prioritise young people - a group we know are disproportionately affected by recession, including, specifically, those who are furthest from the labour market. Those with low or out of date skills will also be a priority for Government funding, given the important role of skills in helping people secure sustainable employment, breaking the cycle between low-paid work and benefits. These choices mean that meeting demand from others (such as adult learners) and for workforce development are likely to require a partnership funding model involving a higher proportion of co-payment from individual learners and employers.

Current system

81. In line with the Government Economic Strategy, we will focus on identifying and responding to the skills needs of those key economic sectors which offer Scotland the opportunity to significantly grow its economy. At the same time, we have maintained a focus on those sectors of the economy which continue to offer significant employment opportunities. In doing so, it is important that we work in partnership with employers and that the post-16 system offers businesses cost-effective opportunities to train their staff and improve their use of skills.

82. There are a number of mechanisms already in place to identify employer needs and to help reflect them in post-16 learning provision. In some cases, the arrangements work well. But these are neither consistently nor comprehensively applied; nor are employers equally good at defining their needs. Employers consider their needs are not sufficiently well articulated; that institutions are insufficiently responsive and flexible in terms of where, how and what is delivered; and, therefore, we are not well placed to anticipate and respond to current and future labour market demand. As a result, they are concerned about the range of skills people bring - and will bring - to the workplace.

83. The system of National Occupational Standards is designed to ensure that the relevance of the qualification system to the workplace is constantly maintained. Both OPITO (the industry led body for the oil and gas sector), and Constructionskills are outstanding examples of bodies which speak to the system on behalf of employers and ensure that the people going into their sectors are well prepared. However in other sectors the Sectors Skills Council model is not strong. We will improve this situation, where necessary looking at radically alternative models which put employers in the driving seat.

84. Colleges are expected to plan their provision taking into account the needs of their local economy and in partnership with other local agencies in particular Community Planning Partnerships. Colleges face a difficult challenge in balancing the needs of employers, with the aspirations of students and the economics of running financially viable provision. Particularly in times of financial constraint there is a risk that individual college decisions will lead to avoidable gaps in provision and a narrowing of provision away from more expensive but economically important courses. We believe this requires more coordination of decisions and regional planning, and more explicit expectations on colleges to plan for and address the needs of their area. We return to this point later in the chapter on Delivery.

85. At present, colleges provide a very wide range of opportunities for people to develop skills and obtain recognised national qualifications. In terms of aligning with jobs and growth, a recent Education Scotland report [9] highlights many strengths in this respect, whilst acknowledging the challenges around balancing employer-led and learner demand. These include: provision based on good intelligence about labour market needs; increased emphasis on core skills and work placements, and articulation arrangements with universities. But employer engagement in curriculum planning is not consistently good across all subject areas and all colleges; additionally, there is a need to improve progression and destinations data, and analysis of learner outcomes in relation to national and regional labour market intelligence.

86. Colleges also deliver courses that, whilst certificated, do not lead to recognised qualifications. They often do so for good reasons: for example, to recognise the achievement of students who cannot reach the standard of national awards; and that of students on very short courses. However, the problem is that these non-recognised qualifications can lack currency in the labour market and have had no testing against national standards for employer/vocational needs. That said, we know that some of these courses have real value as an access route, as taster courses for school-age pupils or to meet wider needs, including those of people with additional support needs.

87. Our view is that we should protect such provision which genuinely opens up access and leads to progression onto other learning or into employment. Where and by whom that provision is best delivered is another matter - but at a time of financial constraint, we need to take a more critical eye to learning which does not meet these criteria.

Our achievements

88. We have:

  • increased the number of Modern Apprenticeship opportunities to a record level of 25,000 in 2011/12;
  • introduced Flexible Training Opportunities, a needs-led model with co-investment between the Government and small employers in workforce training; and,
  • made a long term commitment to funding for trades unions to help low paid and low skilled workers.

What next

89. We will a develop a strategic approach for improving the alignment of Government investment in learning and skills with jobs and growth, consistent with the needs of employers and the wider economy. To make this real for colleges, we will ask the SFC to:

  • allocate its resources to meet the needs of regions - taking account of demographics and regional economy - rather than historical allocations based on colleges' past performance;
  • identify national provision and resource it to meet national needs ( e.g. land based, nautical etc);
  • put new expectations on colleges to plan their courses to prepare students for careers in industries where there will be a good chance of them getting a job;
  • focus funding on nationally recognised qualifications and units.

90. We are clear that the most effective bodies for representing the needs of employers to the post-16 education system - and for encouraging employer investment in skills - are those funded by employers. To that end, we will develop a range of models - including the introduction of voluntary training levies and greater engagement with trade bodies - to improve the arrangements for those sectors where we think employers needs are inadequately represented.

91. Finally, we will build on the successful blend of education, training and direct work experience delivered through the Modern Apprenticeship Programme by expanding opportunities for practical work experience in other parts of the post-16 education system.


  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of prioritising investment in learning and skills which support jobs in key and high participation sectors?
  • How do we best target our resources in support of jobs, growth and life chances? For example, should we focus on level of qualification, age groups or labour market status?
  • Do we have the right systems and structures in place for articulating employer needs (locally, regionally and nationally) and those of the wider economy?
  • Which of the existing structures are effective and could be applied more widely; which are ineffective and can be improved?
  • How can we maximise the contribution of community learning & development to improving people's job prospects? What examples of good practice can we build on?