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.


Scotland needs and has the potential to secure a highly educated, skilled and well- motivated young workforce able to compete with any in Europe and ensure Scottish business and industry continues to grow in stature at home and internationally.

Our future success will require us to compete successfully in a rapidly evolving, globalised economy. Achieving this will require an increasing reliance on a skilled workforce equipped to respond flexibly to the technical and global challenges in the years ahead.

Economic and Labour Market Context

Increasing skill and education levels within Scotland are an important driver of productivity, and improving our skills base is vital in enabling companies to grow and attract investment. The focus on young people within this is critical as we face demographic change which will result in an older population more reliant on the economic success of the working age population.

It is important that all young people in Scotland are provided with the opportunities to develop and use the skills and abilities necessary to become an active participant in the labour force and maximise their contribution to economic growth.

The economic outlook in 2014 is looking more positive. However even as we see overall unemployment fall, youth unemployment remains high. Put simply young people aren't sharing the benefits of improvements to the labour market. Looking ahead we're moving much more into a world of modern skills and technology with lower growth in the lower skilled work [7] .

This means raising skills levels across the board and taking advantage of the growth sectors identified in the Scottish Government Economic Strategy - Energy, Financial and Business Services, Food and Drink, Life Sciences, Creative Industries, Sustainable Tourism and Universities. There are also significant opportunities from our science, technology and advanced engineering assets across the key sectors and also in sectors such as Chemical Sciences, Construction, Forestry and Textiles.

The current unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds is 18.8% against 6.4% [8] in the working age population. We must all share the responsibility for creating a successful education system aligned to the modern skills requirements of today and tomorrow. Our young people are a critical resource and only by investing in them will we reap the benefits of successful economic growth.

There are a small number of countries in Europe where this situation is significantly better and these countries have two things in common:

  • A well-developed, highly valued vocational education and training system which starts in the secondary school, offers clear progression routes beyond school and plays a central part in the overall education system; and
  • Significant and widespread employer commitment to vocational education and youth employment as part of the development of quality jobs across the economy.

The Commission has had a unique opportunity to look across senior phase education in schools, colleges and Modern Apprenticeships and to engage with a wide range of businesses and industry to develop recommendations, which will serve young people and our economy for years to come.

Education & Training

Our early investigation found almost unanimous agreement that we must raise the standard and status of vocational and further education to enable Scotland to achieve an important education and cultural change.

Scotland has deservedly an acclaimed higher education sector but frankly an ill-informed culture sees vocational education as a significantly inferior option. So we start with the background that we must find ways to enhance the parity of esteem between academic and vocational education and at the same time establish much clearer pathways starting in the senior phase for those young people not aspiring to go to university.

In seeking solutions our deliberations were facilitated by a number of important changes already under way:

  • The Curriculum for Excellence in Schools seeks to embed the development of broader skills across schools, colleges and other providers and provides more flexibility in the senior phase (S4-S6) school curriculum.
  • The formation of regional colleges with more focus on regional labour markets and a greater emphasis on employment outcomes.
  • Much greater focus on the value of employed Modern Apprenticeships in meeting the industrial challenges of the 21st century with more and more employers seeing it as a way to respond to the skills demands of the modern economy.
  • The Opportunities for All commitment to offer a place in learning for all 16-19 year olds not in employment, education or training.


The background here is that although many employers in Scotland do engage with education and employ young people, an estimated 70 per cent of Scottish businesses have no contact with education. Only 29 per cent employ young people directly from education and only 13 per cent of employers take on apprentices. Scottish employers have lost the habit of employing young people. Youth unemployment is significantly more than double that of the adult population and double that of the best of the European countries. And only just over a quarter of employers offer work experience for young people.

Our early investigation indicated many employers recognised the importance of the challenge but wanted prescribed procedures and programmes to follow and an easy open door with schools and colleges. A large number, particularly SMEs [9] , would need support and guidance in taking up the challenge. Many of them recognise there is real benefit in investing time and effort in the education of their main business resource i.e. the people they employ.

So the challenge was to find new ways to engage employers with schools and colleges, and vice versa.

Advancing Equalities

Although many of the challenges faced here are based on deep rooted perceptions and prejudices across our society which will take time and significant effort to reverse, we have tried to respond to the request that we look at a number of equality issues in the education and employment of young people.

We have particularly focused on the impact of inequalities relating to gender, black and minority ethnic groups, young disabled people and care leavers in education and in trying to enter employment, and what might be done to improve this.

Those we consulted expressed the belief that addressing the generally inferior perception of vocational education and enhancing employability and work experience for all would help reduce some of the inequalities. The Commission accepted that this would make a contribution but there are deep rooted mindsets which need to be changed, and additional financial resources need to be made available in areas like disability and care leavers.


Email: Fraser Young,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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