Education working for all: developing Scotland's young workforce

Final report from the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce, with 39 recommendations for enhancing vocational education.

Chairman's Foreword

I have pleasure in presenting the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce Final Report.

The Challenges

Today, in Scotland we have 53,000 young people, not in work and not in education, waking up each morning wondering if their community has any need for them.

This unemployment rate at 18.8 per cent is almost three times the all age unemployment rate of 6.4 per cent and double that of the best performing European countries.

More than 50 per cent of school leavers don't go to university. Very few gain industry relevant vocational qualifications while still at school.

Less than 30 per cent of Scottish businesses have any contact of any kind with education.

Only 27 per cent of employers offer work experience opportunities.

Only 29 per cent of employers recruit directly from education.

Only 13 per cent of employers have Modern Apprentices.

Even as the economy continues to recover, youth unemployment continues to be a challenge and is a major social and economic issue.

Our Response

To meet these challenges, the Commission's task was to make recommendations towards Scotland producing better qualified, work ready and motivated young people with skills relevant to modern employment opportunities, both as employees and entrepreneurs of the future. In addition we need more employers to recruit more young people.

The Commission's Interim Report focused on the 50% of pupils who don't follow an academic pathway and those who leave school without Highers - how might we achieve much better understanding and recognition of the value and role of vocational education in a properly rounded and balanced education system. We also focused on the education and preparation of young people for successful employment.

This Final Report builds on this, highlighting the vital role of business and industry both to enhance the quality of the education experience and provide better knowledge of careers and the workplace, as well as offering more young people employment straight out of education. This is not part of the corporate social responsibility agenda. It is very much in business and industry's self-interest to maximise the skills and talents of an incredibly important resource - their future staff and workforce. We have also made comments on equalities in education and in the employment of young people.

Personal Reflections

I have immensely enjoyed chairing this Commission and would wish to use this Foreword to leave you with some key thoughts.

1. We live in a globally competitive world and our economic success will depend very much on our skills, productivity, innovation, work ethic and global outlook. There is nothing more important to Scotland's medium term economic future than getting the skills of its young people in tune with the very fast changing skills, technology and knowledge requirements of the modern world. This is not just about education and training nor is it just about getting youth unemployment levels back to 2008 levels. It is about Scotland's long term economic success and wellbeing. We need to significantly build up our private sector and our national and international competitiveness. We therefore need to make much better use of our total young workforce and ensure they have the work and employability skills they need to succeed. This will need strong leadership and firm commitments across the education and business sectors and in national and local government to deliver the changes.

2. The good news is a shift is clearly under way from purely the provision of learning to more focus on employability and skills required to meet market demand. This was among the original aims of A Curriculum for Excellence published in 2004 and this trend must continue. The Commission's Study has highlighted the importance of building bridges between schools, colleges, business and industry. There should be a continuum from primary school right through into employment, and so important new bridges will include the school-college vocational partnerships, the Foundation Apprenticeship (which offers the first year of a 3-4 year apprenticeship in the school senior phase), the long term school-business and college-business partnerships, and the proposed "Regional Invest in Youth Groups" which will help provide the bridges from education into employment. These new initiatives are entirely consistent with the original aspirations of Curriculum for Excellence.

3. We've highlighted the importance of greatly enhancing the esteem of vocational education and skills. Future success must be built on a healthy mix of academic and vocational studies and qualifications with the emphasis on quality and employability. The Scottish Government working with business, the local authorities and the education sector must devise and commit to a 5 year plan focused on establishing Scotland's vocational education system more on a par with higher education. There's a great opportunity for business to link into the new senior phase vocational pathways to greatly enhance both the choice and quality in vocational education and its attractiveness to young people. But we also need to persuade their parents, teachers, lecturers, employers and the media that vocational education and the resultant career opportunities have a key role to play in developing the Scottish economy in this modern high-tech world. These should all be important elements of a national Invest in Youth Campaign.

4. The key message we have had from young people on our Interim Report is their need for significantly enhanced quality work experience while at school and college. Employers clearly look for work experience and it is incredibly important in preparing young people for the transition into successful employment. We have included this as a new recommendation 3 of our Final Report.

5. There's similarly a clear requirement for better career information and advice and broader preparation for the world of work. This is emphasised in the revised recommendation 2 in our Final Report. Our new teachers need to better understand employability and modern work skills, and our existing teachers' Continuous Professional Development programmes within the new Professional Update process, must focus much more on this.

6. Colleges have come on immensely since the Commission's work started in February 2013. They are re-energised and are re-inventing themselves as larger units with regional status and greater potential to develop and influence. They have some good new leadership and are clearly recognising their opportunity to migrate up the technology skills ladder and to enhance the focus on employability of the students. This makes colleges an increasingly investible proposition. They should not aspire to be future universities, but take pride in their very clear and distinctive role in developing modern skills in line with market demand and adding to Scotland's skills and technology base, an essential role complementary to that of our universities. They should aspire to become the best technology and vocational teaching and learning institutes in Europe.

7. Training providers also play a very important role in the delivery of vocational training and should be recognised as a key player, particularly in apprenticeships.

8. Apprenticeships, particularly at Level 3 and above, should once again become one of Scotland's main training pathways into employment opportunities. Our recommended changes would allow the first year of a number of the three and four year apprenticeships to be done while young people are still at school and this will hopefully encourage a lot more young people to consider apprenticeships. Of course, we'll need to match this by ensuring the demand is there from employers.

It only remains for me to say a number of thank you's. Firstly, to all of you from schools, colleges, training providers, business, industry and elsewhere who gave so freely in sharing your experience and your help and advice.

Secondly, to many of you in the public sector - Scottish Government, opposition parties, local government and others who again have been so helpful and supportive. Particular thanks to Sir Peter Housden and Dr Andrew Scott from the Scottish Government who were both instrumental in setting up the Commission and have been very supportive of its work.

Thirdly, a huge thank you to my Commission members for participating in so many visits and meetings. It's been very helpful to have had Michael Davis, Chief Executive of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, on our Board as this has ensured a free flow of UK information on all the key issues we have examined.

Finally, a big thank you to Hugh McAloon, our Scottish Government official who has so ably steered the Commission and kept us right in so many ways. Hugh and his small team, Fraser Young and Sarah Munro, have done a huge amount of work and deserve all our thanks.

I now have pleasure, on behalf of the Commission, to pass this Final Report to our Ministers, Angela Constance and Mike Russell, and to COSLA. We are encouraged at the very positive Scottish Government and COSLA support for our Interim Report and hope that the content of our Final Report will likewise be accepted and progressed to achieve our remit and objective - to add significant value to Developing Scotland's Young Workforce, enhance young people's employment prospects and give them their rightful opportunity to contribute to our wider economic wellbeing and prosperity.

Sir Ian Wood


Email: Fraser Young,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top