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.

Advancing Equalities

Throughout the Commission's work we have encountered a number of equalities issues in education and employment practices and outcomes for young people. There is a strong economic and social case for actively seeking to address these issues.

  • To grow our economy we need to make the most rational use of all the skills we have available. This will widen the talent pool to employers, bring a wider range of perspectives into the workforce and offer a more diverse range of cultures for internal teams within organisations and for external dealings with customers and markets.
  • For individuals, considering and accessing a wider range of educational and career options can improve long term earning prospects and reduce the likelihood of unemployment.
  • Diversity in the workplace, reflecting the diversity in our communities, will make a tangible contribution to addressing wider inequality issues in society.

We have focused on gender, race, disability and care leavers as there is strong evidence that young people in these groups encounter significant inequalities within education and employment. There is no doubt young people in other equality groups also face difficulties, and, going forward, there should be studies on these.

The Commission hopes these recommendations will both make a tangible difference to young people facing inequalities today, but also stimulate progress to significantly reduce the factors leading to the inequalities faced. We would also hope our recommendations have a positive impact on other equality groups.

Our original intention was to mainstream some equalities recommendations throughout the report. However, to do justice to the significant challenges, it was felt a separate section is justified.

The main conclusions we have reached are summarised below and our recommendations seek to address these.

  • Gender stereotyping in education does exist as does gender segregation in a significant number of the occupations and careers young people pursue.
  • Young people from Scotland's black and minority ethnic communities embark on a narrower range of pathways than young people from the population as a whole and are more likely to experience unemployment.
  • Young people with disabilities are much more likely to experience difficult transitions through education and to be unemployed after they leave education.
  • And young care leavers as a group experience some of the poorest educational and employment outcomes of any group of young people in society.

Cross Cutting Equality Issues

We have identified two cross cutting equality recommendations which should contribute to reducing the impact of equalities issues we have observed.

Recommendation 26: Scotland should embed equality education across Curriculum for Excellence.

By the time children enter education many of the beliefs and attitudes which lead to unequal employment outcomes are already established.

Placing career aspiration at the centre of a Scottish approach to equality education will make a meaningful long term difference in how young people see themselves and each other from a very early age, while impacting positively on their choices as they move toward and into work.

  • In pre-school education there should be a focus through play on challenging gender and other stereotypes in relation to job roles.
  • In primary education, exploration by pupils into the world of work should be based on a range of educational materials which promote a diverse representation of the workforce.
  • In primary and secondary education, visits to schools by employees should be managed to bring in young people and other employees who are representative of a diverse workforce.
  • Schools, local authorities, employers, SDS and equality groups should develop materials to deliver career management skills which demonstrate and emphasise diversity in the workplace.
  • To support this, equality training must form part of the initial training of nursery staff, school teachers and career guidance staff and there should be opportunities to enhance this in CPD programmes for existing staff.

Recommendation 27: Promotion and communication of career options should actively target equalities groups to promote diverse participation across gender, Black & Minority Ethnic groups, young people with disabilities and care leavers. The promotion of Modern Apprenticeship opportunities should be to the fore of this activity.

As senior phase and post-school vocational pathways develop, sustained efforts should be made to attract diverse participation and this should be reinforced in relevant communication, marketing, promotional and careers material and underpinned by the use of role models and ambassadors from all under-represented groups.

Parents and carers of young people from low participation groups should be targeted and the benefits and value of vocational pathways and related occupations should be presented to them.

This has to be taken forward through a partnership between schools, colleges, training providers, employers, communities and equality groups. SDS is well placed to take a lead role in this area, tailoring approaches to reflect the diversity and needs of local areas.

Building on existing good practice, there should be a national campaign supported by our proposed Regional Invest in Youth Groups, local authorities and schools to raise awareness across education and industry of inequalities in specific career paths and job categories.

The online Modern Apprenticeship application system which we have recommended should be developed in a way which allows SDS to monitor both applications and starts from equalities groups.


Too many young people continue to make choices which conform to gender stereotypes which in turn limit their longer term career opportunities. We need to counter the influence of early culture and prejudice to better enable young people to make choices which are right for them in the long term. Equality programmes should inform and counter, but not try to force choice.

There have been some improvements in gender balance over the years in a number of areas such as the legal and accountancy professions, but for example we still have only 3% females into engineering Modern Apprenticeships and only 3% males into Modern Apprenticeships in children's care. These are among the more extreme examples. However we see this effect across vocational education and training. Three quarters of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks have a gender balance of 75%/25% or worse, while half of college superclasses [27] are in the same situation.

Very disappointingly, this trend continues in terms of female participation in some of the newer industries including life sciences, renewables and IT. These are sectors where the environment and range of skills required would lead us to expect females to be as successful as males. A significant factor in this is subject choice at school. There were numerous anecdotal comments that girls in S2/S3 school don't see science and maths as cool! The challenge is how to change that mind-set.

We found the gender inequality challenge particularly difficult, and are recommending a number of steps to proactively encourage young people of both genders to consider vocational pathways and ultimately occupations that would not traditionally be considered.

Recommendation 28: Senior phase vocational pathways should be designed to encourage more gender balance across occupations.

  • Schools should actively monitor the gender balance of subject choices, and influence those choices through working with employers to help shape the curriculum and provide 'real life' context for learning which appeals to both genders. This is particularly important in STEM subjects.
  • Schools and colleges should work with employers to design and deliver a gender-balanced range of work experience opportunities for young people.
  • Vocational pathways and Foundation Apprenticeships starting in the school senior phase should actively target males or female depending on any occupational gender imbalance.
  • Realistic but stretching gender targets should be established for senior phase vocational pathways and Foundation Apprenticeships with the aim of increasing participation from the under-represented gender group.
  • Schools should come up with specific measures to counter gender stereotyping in subject choice.

The Regional Invest in Youth groups will play an important role in raising awareness of gender inequalities and encouraging employers to think differently about gender balance in the workplace, while local authorities should encourage schools to do the same.

Recommendation 29: The Scottish Funding Council and colleges should develop an action plan to address gender disparities within college education. This should be underpinned by realistic but stretching improvement targets. The Scottish Funding Council should report on this annually.

Gender segregation in college education is significant in a number of areas. For example, only 4 per cent of enrolments in electrical engineering courses are by female students and similarly, male students account for 5 per cent of enrolments for courses in childcare services. Colleges should aim to influence subject choice earlier in the education pipeline through their engagement with schools in the delivery of vocational options in the senior phase.

  • Colleges should maximise engagement with schools to ensure emerging senior phase pathways help address gender disparities.
  • Support networks should be developed for young people in college courses which are currently heavily gender segregated. This might involve mentoring or other activity to support sustained progression into employment and beyond.

The Funding Council has a key role to work in partnership with colleges to monitor progress through the college Regional Outcome Agreements.

Recommendation 30: Skills Development Scotland should develop an action plan to address gender disparities within Modern Apprenticeships. This should be underpinned by realistic but stretching improvement targets. SDS should report on this annually.

While the overall gender balance within Modern Apprenticeships has improved in recent years, gender segregation within many frameworks remains very significant. The introduction and delivery of gender targets for the Foundation Apprenticeships in the school senior phase should help create a cohort of young people much more likely to break through the gender imbalance by going into employed Modern Apprenticeships. This must be allied with efforts by employers to reflect an improved gender balance in their recruitment from schools and colleges. This should produce more role models to subsequently encourage young people from both genders to progress into careers where gender imbalance has long been the norm.

Specific targeted efforts must be made to address gender segregation among the most affected Modern Apprenticeship frameworks. SDS have a key role here and will need to work in partnership with schools, training providers, colleges, employers, parents and carers and with Scotland's equalities bodies to develop and implement action plans. This work should draw on successful examples and experience. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Scotland could bring their expertise and play a role in sharing good practice here.

  • Initial priority for improvement should be given to those Modern Apprenticeship frameworks where there are significant numbers and the gender balance is 75% to 25% or worse. Specific actions should be identified to support the uptake and progression among young people and where necessary the recruitment practices of employers.
  • Support networks should be developed for young people entering Modern Apprenticeships in occupations which are currently heavily gender segregated. This might involve additional training, mentoring and other activity to support sustained employment and progression.

Young People From Black And Minority Ethnic Groups

As a single group, young people from BME groups are less likely to participate in certain vocational pathways, more likely to experience prejudice and stereotyping and more likely to be unemployed than the general population. However it is important to recognise that education and employment outcomes do vary significantly between different BME groups.

A complex range of factors influence the choices young people make including the cultural attitudes of parents and teachers toward certain choices and in some cases the attitudes of employers.

Recommendation 31 : A targeted campaign to promote the full range of Modern Apprenticeships to young people and parents from the BME community should be developed and launched to present the benefits of work based learning as a respected career option and alternative to university .

We believe the key action is around communication and promotion. While this is captured in the cross cutting recommendations, there should be a specific focus on young people from BME communities and their parents. This should be tailored to specific communities in different parts of the country and should emphasise the full range and different levels of Modern Apprenticeships.

This should be underpinned with direct engagement on the issue with schools with significant numbers of pupils from BME groups. The development of the senior phase pathways, which we have recommended, should also provide an opportunity for schools to support young people from BME groups to consider a wider range of post school opportunities .

The young people from BME groups we have spoken to have also suggested that role models drawn from young people on the full range of vocational pathways and related occupations would also encourage them to consider a wider range of options.

Recommendation 32 : SDS should set a realistic but stretching improvement target to increase the number of young people from BME groups starting Modern Apprenticeships. Progress against this should be reported on annually.

It is estimated that young people from non-white BME backgrounds represent less than 2% of Modern Apprenticeship starts [28] while representing 6% of all young people. [29]

The activities outlined in recommendation 31 should increase awareness of the range of Modern Apprenticeships available, while the online application process recommended in recommendation 8 will make accessing Modern Apprenticeship opportunities easier for those young people not aware of vacancies through family or social networks.

The Commission believes that to focus action on increasing the number of BME young people taking up Modern Apprenticeships, a target needs to be in place. Engagement by training providers and employers with BME communities will be an important aspect of achieving this target.

  • Training providers and colleges should focus on working with employers to help them engage with BME communities to increase the number of Modern Apprenticeships taken up by young people from BME groups.

Young Disabled People

Young disabled people are more likely to be offered a limited range of education and training opportunities and ultimately to experience significant periods of unemployment.

This issue is illustrated very clearly within Modern Apprenticeship statistics. Out of 25,691 Modern Apprenticeship starts in 2012/13, only 63 were taken up by people with a declared disability. [30] This represents a 0.2% share of all starts against the youth population share of 8%. [31] The focus needs to shift from what young disabled people can't do to what they can do, to take advantage of their talents and skills.

Evidence demonstrates that young disabled people have a similar level of career aspiration at the age of 16 to their wider peer group. By the time they are 26, they are nearly 4 times more likely to be unemployed. We need to foster that early aspiration and reinforce it with support which enables the young person to take control of their own journey toward and into employment.

Recommendation 33: Career advice and work experience for young disabled people who are still at school should be prioritised and tailored to help them realise their potential and focus positively on what they can do to achieve their career aspirations.

  • Employer-led career activity involving young disabled people should focus on promoting positive potential employment options. Young disabled people should be made aware of the package of support available to them and potential employers.
  • Public sector and other large employers should lead best practice and offer a proportion of work experience opportunities to young disabled people in line with the proportion of the youth population which has a disability. This should be a mandatory element of the achievement of our proposed gold standard Investors in Youth Accolade.
  • Employers offering work experience to young disabled people should receive support from specialist organisations to ensure that the work experience is beneficial to the young person's longer term career prospects. Relevant regional and national organisations should be identified to co-ordinate this.
  • The Scottish Government, working with the third sector should consider developing a model to widen the range of work experience opportunities available to young disabled people .

ENABLE Scotland - Stepping Up

Funded by Inspiring Scotland, ENABLE Scotland's Stepping Up service delivers an innovative employment programme to young people aged 14-19 who have learning disabilities. It is a comprehensive support service which takes participants from an initial investigation of the world of work, through a process of discovery and planning for the future, to engagement with employers in real workplace settings, support to start employment and aftercare to ensure that jobs are sustained and incomes are maximised.

Young people undertake a range of activities that are carried out both one to one and in group settings. They are designed to allow the young person to fully explore the options available to them, to plan their next steps with the support of teachers, parents and carers and gain the skills they need to succeed.

Activities are carried out in schools by Transitions Coordinators, on a one to one basis and in group settings. Major programme elements such as on-site work experience are delivered at employers' premises. Where possible, each young person is matched with a Workplace Champion who will act as their mentor, supporting them to learn new skills and to develop natural workplace supports. Work placements are monitored regularly by Transitions Coordinators with input from the young person, their line manager and champion and these reviews are recorded and feedback is provided to schools.

Of the 270 students who progressed from school up to the end of April 2013, 105 Young people were supported to employment.

Recommendation 34: Funding levels to colleges and MA training providers should be reviewed and adjusted to reflect the cost of providing additional support to young disabled people, and age restrictions should be relaxed for those whose transition may take longer.

The learner journeys of young disabled people are often disjointed and can take longer to complete. Funding rules should be adjusted to give them the best possible chance of succeeding and moving into sustained employment.

  • Young disabled people should attract the highest level of Modern Apprenticeship or college funding for their chosen framework or subject until the age of 30 .
  • Where additional support is required, training providers and colleges should receive a higher level of funding for young people with disabilities on the Modern Apprenticeship programme and on mainstream college courses .

Recommendation 35: Within Modern Apprenticeships, SDS should set a realistic but stretching improvement target to increase the number of young disabled people. Progress against this should be reported on annually.

We have been advised that equality legislation permits more favourable treatment for disabled people in terms of employment. This legal asymmetry recognises the barriers that disabled people have to face.

This very much points to an approach which provides a realistic but clear and stretching target on Modern Apprenticeships for young disabled people and drives activity to meet that target. Access to Modern Apprenticeships for young disabled people should be focused at least in part by an assessment of the young person's competencies.

Recommendation 36: Employers who want to employ a young disabled person should be encouraged and supported to do so.

More effort should be made to support employers to personalise and design jobs for young disabled people and to provide appropriate training. Learning from those employer support programmes which have proved successful should be used to develop specialist support for training providers in assisting employers who would like to employ a young disabled person. Support should also be in place to help employers to take advantage of existing support such as DWP Access to Work funding. Organisations such as the Business Disability Forum may have an important role to play in this area.

Care Leavers

Care leavers experience some of the poorest educational and employment outcomes of any group of young people. One in three is unemployed 9 months after leaving school. [32] The recent Children and Young People's Act 2014 has a particular focus on young people in care and care leavers with a range of measures designed to provide better support which lasts longer. The Commission's recommendations are also underpinned by these principles. Where relevant we would look to see the implementation of our recommended measures relating to education, employability and employment integrated with the new wider approach laid out in the Act.

Recommendation 37: Educational and employment transition planning for young people in care should start early with sustained support from public and third sector bodies and employers available throughout their journey toward and into employment as is deemed necessary.

Young people preparing to leave care face disjointed journeys from school into post-school education and on into work. Better planning and additional support from employers would help smooth these journeys.

  • Transition planning for young people in care should start at 14 at the latest, not least so that young people who wish to do so should be able to access the senior phase vocational pathways we recommend. This should focus on the journey through to positive employment outcomes .
  • Large public and private sector employers should be encouraged and enabled to provide an ongoing package of mentoring, work experience and other employment related support to young people in care. This should be reflected and highlighted in the assessment of the Invest in Youth accolade for larger organisations . SMEs can also make a significant contribution in this area and should also be supported to achieve this.

Recommendation 38: Across vocational education and training, age restrictions should be relaxed for those care leavers whose transition takes longer.

The learner journeys of care leavers can be impeded by unhelpful funding barriers which often don't take account of the wider challenges the young person faces as they make the transition into adult life. Removing these need not be prohibitively expensive given the relatively small number of young people in question and the often significant lifetime costs of failing to do so.

  • Care leavers should receive a coherent package of support which goes from school into post-school education and training and into employment. This should include an automatic entitlement to discretionary learner support for those moving out of care and undertaking further education courses at college.
  • Care leavers should attract the highest level of Modern Apprenticeship funding for their chosen framework until the age of 30.
  • Consideration should be given to incorporating specific targets relating to care leavers within Modern Apprenticeships .

Recommendation 39: In partnership with the third sector, the Scottish Government should consider developing a programme which offers supported employment opportunities lasting up to a year for care leavers.

For many care leavers, access to the family and social networks that many young people draw on to move into employment is not available. Additionally, the challenges of moving into employment for the first time often come at a time when care leavers are facing a significant range of other challenges over and above those faced by other young people.

For young care leavers, a sustained period of paid employment in a supportive environment would be particularly beneficial as they go through the transition into adult life. As well as providing stability, income and an opportunity to develop their skills, an opportunity to work for up to a year in a supportive environment would significantly enhance some care leavers' CVs and future employment prospects.


Email: Fraser Young,

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

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