Independent review on skills delivery: ministerial statement:

Statement to Parliament by Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Skills Jamie Hepburn on 22 September 2022.

Presiding Officer, there are few areas in government that are as important as equipping people with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive in life and the world of work.  It is key to our vision for delivering a strong, resilient economy and society that has people and their wellbeing at its heart.

Today I am announcing our intention to initiate an Independent Review of the Skills Delivery Landscape.

Scotland performs well in post school education. The most recent available data show that compared to EU countries Scotland has the highest share of population aged 25 to 64 years with at least tertiary education.

The Scottish Employer Perspectives survey shows that the majority of employers are well satisfied with the skill levels of those moving to work from education.   

In 2021, of the employers surveyed, 68% found school leavers recruited to be well or very well prepared.

This figure rose to 78% for college leavers and 80% for those transitioning from university.

This speaks to the fact that the foundations of our system are strong.

It speaks to the work of our universities, colleges, training providers and Community and Learning Development Sectors. 

It speaks to the dedication of those who are in training and post school education and the educators and trainers who support them.

And it speaks to the commitment and partnership working of our skills agencies, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council.

But Presiding Officer, all of us know that the challenges ahead of us are significant. 

Demographic change, digital transformation and automation, shifts in sectors of our economy and the need to work towards net zero, speak to the need of a skills system that must meet the demands of an ever-changing world.

We need a system that is simple, people-focused and built on effective collaboration across sectors and regions, between the public sector and business, and across our public bodies.

Members will be aware of work underway to improve Scotland’s school education landscape and, following the Scottish Funding Council’s Review of Coherence and Sustainability, the development of the purpose and principles for post-school education, research and skills development.

Before I move on to the details I want to explain why it is necessary that we complete this picture with a Review of the skills delivery landscape

The National Strategy for Economic Transformation gives us a real opportunity to put in place an economic system that works for people and places across Scotland.

Priority projects will adapt the education and skills system to make it more agile and responsive to our economic needs.

They will support and incentivise people and their employers to invest in skills and training throughout their working lives.

And they will expand Scotland’s available talent pool to give employers the skills pipeline they need.

Our system needs to respond to the increasing numbers of people we expect will require upskilling and reskilling.

As I have laid out, it needs to adapt to shifts in our economy and workplaces as a result of digital transformation, the demographic change of an aging population and an aging workforce and the imperative to respond to the climate emergency and work towards net zero.

And so too must we support employers who have welcomed EU workers now struggling, post-Brexit, to fill vacancies. This is disproportionately impacting on sectors such as health and social care; tourism and hospitality; agriculture, and food and drink. 

The report by the Auditor General in January this year on “Planning for Skills” focused on progress in better aligning skills and education provision to the needs of the economy, now and in the future. This report laid out how government and our partners could do better in collaboration.

We have heard, we have reflected, and we have acted.

We have published the Shared Outcomes Framework which sets out the detail of the collaborative projects being undertaken by SDS and the SFC, and along with my regular engagements with both agencies, bilaterally and collectively, I have established a Shared Outcomes Assurance Group to oversee progress on implementing them. 

This has helped identify areas where we believe further clarification about roles and responsibilities is desirable to ensure that duplication and unnecessary complexity in the landscape are removed, to ensure that we are creating the right conditions for collaboration, and to ensure that we are creating a system that is more straightforward for people and employers to access.

I am acutely aware that Government must provide the leadership to ensure that our skills delivery public body landscape remains effective and efficient. That is a role I embrace, and I am committed to driving forward with.

I am also aware too of the importance of making decisions based on evidence. That is why I am asking for independent advice on how the landscape could be adapted to deliver maximum benefit for Scotland’s employers, places and communities but above all for Scotland’s people.

Presiding Officer, I want to be clear from the outset.  Those who work in our agencies can be assured: this is a Review about what we need in the future; it is not a review of performance to date and nor it is about seeking to remove or replace SDS or the SFC. 

Presiding Officer, SDS was established in 2008 and over the last fourteen years has delivered key government priorities in relation to Scotland’s apprenticeship programmes, national training and employability initiatives, sector and regional skills planning, and the national careers service.

I greatly value the work they do.

My recent visit to Inverness showed the strength of the partnership work they undertake at a local and national level. Taking a specific problem of skill shortages in the hospitality sector SDS has worked with industry, the local Developing the Young Workforce group and local schools to put in place training support for young people to move into jobs.

That’s exactly the type of activity we need to see more of.

I am grateful to all staff - for their work and commitment and to the leadership of the Board and Senior Management Teams at both SDS and the SFC for the work they do day in day out to support the many successes of our skills system.  They have my sincere thanks.

But we know we face significant changes in the economic, social and institutional context which have emphasised the need for our approach to skills planning, and workforce development to be more clearly embedded in, and aligned to, our wider education system.

We recognise the need to ensure our post-school skills and education provision is part of a single, holistic ecosystem which can respond effectively to the needs of industry and learners, while also delivering wider societal benefits. The purpose and principles for post-school education and skills will help to drive this vision.

This equally applies to the need to support the transitions learners make through the senior phase. Ongoing work on educational reform and the Careers review will help deliver this alignment.

To achieve this end, we must have the right structures, governance, responsibilities and balance of capacity across our public bodies.

It is with this ambition to join up resource to best effect that I am initiating this Independent Review.  Its purpose is to make recommendations on how the skills delivery public body landscape could be adapted to drive forward our ambitions in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, and our response to the SFC review.

This is a review that will not have an exclusive focus on Skills Development Scotland alone but will give particular consideration on its interface with – and role within – the wider skills system.

The Review’s Terms of Reference are being published today and will be freely available for all Members of this Parliament and anyone else interested to see.

The Review starts with no preconceived notions nor predetermined outcomes.

It will be independently led to ensure that this exercise is robust and informed by evidence that it gathers.  

Presiding Officer, I am pleased to set out to Parliament today that I have appointed James Withers to lead this Review.

James Withers will be known to many of us being as he was until recently, the Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink.

He has a wealth of experience in industry that will bring objectivity, creativity and rigour to the Review.

James’ remit will be to engage widely with stakeholders across the skills and education landscape, including of course the staff of our agencies, to inform his recommendations, and to report to Ministers by Spring 2023.  

James is not being asked to revisit work already done.

This review will take account of, and not seek to duplicate, wider reform recommendations and review work that is underway including the outcomes of the Muir Report, or those arising from the Hayward Review. Nor will it look to revisit the steps we have previously set out for taking forward the recommendations of the SFC Review of Coherence and Sustainability and the Careers Review that Grahame Smith has been leading on.

James will focus on areas such as the design and delivery of apprenticeship programmes, regional and sectoral skills planning, and employer engagement and how SDS and the SFC interface with one another to ensure we achieve a more aligned skills system.

He will look across the public body and related advisory landscape, to deliver recommendations which will ensure that the wider skills delivery public body and advisory landscape are equipped to respond to the needs of our society and economy.

Presiding officer - we start from strong foundations.

But looking ahead there is more to do if we continue to aspire to deliver world class support and interventions across the wider skills landscape.

The Skills Delivery Review will be an important step in ensuring that we have in place a public body landscape that supports an agile, people-centred system helping individuals to improve their skills to reach their potential and ensuring employers can access the skills they need to flourish.

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