National Economic Forum: June 2021

National Economic Forum 16 June 2021 Transforming Scotland's Economy: working together to secure a successful future.

Host: Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and Jamie Hepburn, MSP, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, Youth Employment and Training

Facilitator: Sandy Begbie, CEO Scottish Financial Enterprise, Author of Young Person’s Guarantee: Initial Report, Chair of Developing the Young Workforce Employer Forum

Scribe: Leona Seaton, Scottish Government

Background/ introductions

Welcome and introduction from Shirley Anne Sommerville. Thank you for coming, the purpose of the session is to review how close we are to achieving the ambition of, brining employers to heart of the employment and skills system. We need to understand how this is working but most importantly where we can improve.

Sandy Begbie provided additional opening remarks, expressing the need to focus on the recovery and economic direction we want to move in. There is a need to ensure that young people are connected to the economy and our joint future. Keeping them connected for their well-being and growth. Unemployment has deep and lasting impacts on individuals, society and our economy.

Sandy noted a number of industries calling out skills shortages, while we have people looking for work. The focus of the Young Person’s Guarantee is to make those connections between young people and employers. Responding to COVID was a catalyst for the Guarantee but it is fundamentally about changing the system. The longer term ambition is to; simplify the landscape, further alignment of the skills and education system to support economic development and to provide young people with high quality, professional careers advice and guidance. The approach is multi year and will take time to deliver.


Participants broadly welcomed the ambition of the Young Person’s Guarantee, commenting that it has the potential to support a fair work and well-being economy. The existing system of support for employers and young people is recognised as being overly complex and limited by structures such as geographic boundaries, funding constraints and skills gaps. The participants welcomed any clarity which the Guarantee will bring to improving the system as a whole.

Topics discussed


The ambition of the Guarantee was broadly welcomed but more work was needed to make it market ready for employers. There needs to more information on employer incentives and greater flexibility in accessing them. 

Sandy spoke about local employer recruitment incentives and noted some initial challenge in roll out, which are being worked through. He noted that these incentives are important in disrupting the labour market to ensure that individuals, not at the front of the queue, are supported.

The issue of work experience was raised. It was commented that many young people struggle to secure work due to a lack of experience and this becomes a vicious cycle. Sandy asked employers to be open minded and innovative about where they find talent. Edinburgh Guarantee was cited as an example of providing experience to young people with low risk to the employer.

Business has a role in positioning themselves and their opportunities to young people as attractive and transformational. This sector attraction can be supported by Developing the Young Workforce and the Young Person’s Guarantee.

Education and skills

It was commented that there is a gap in the number of young people leaving school with the right digital skills and then progressing on to digital careers. This has been exacerbated by pandemic and the lack of funding routes for people to get the skills they and the economy need. The group questioned the growing number of young people leaving further and higher education but there is still a continued skills gap.

Sandy noted that, there is a good sense of the challenge and the need for industry and providers to work together to fill any gaps. This supports the longer term proposition to give young people an understanding of careers and the future labour market.

The delegates discussed the need for greater alignment between education and industry. That there should be more on the curriculum which relates to jobs and work, contextualised within learning. An example was introducing a topic on managing risks in financial markets. The discussion then focused on engaging directly with educators. The appointment of Developing the Young Workforce Coordinators in every school was welcomed.

There was concern about the legacy of the disruption to education on young people. The perception from young people the employers might have negative views about lost learning and results which don’t reflect ability or potential. Shirley-Anne Sommerville said there is a need to reassure young people and employers that the award system has been built properly. There needs to be some consideration about what the Guarantee and Developing the Young Workforce can do to assist in this messaging.

A request was made to clarify the future funding for Graduate Apprenticeships. There is strong industry demand for these but there needs to be a coherent and long term plan for the funding and expansion so businesses can include this in their planning.

Economic growth

The delegates discussed the importance of the Young Person’s Guarantee being viewed as a part of the economic stimulus. The word Guarantee needs to be job guarantee and not about short term fixes. 

Any approach to work should be considered in a Fair Work context and we need to ensure that wages are fair and jobs are secure. However, this needs to be considered in the current climate of economic uncertainty for some businesses.

There is a need for job creation through enterprise and this was a missing element of the Guarantee. Many young people are considering or have started their own business. It was requested that this should be viewed as an outcome of the Young Person’s Guarantee. Sandy agreed to look in to this further.

Alongside work experience and employment, it's essential to provide gender-specific support to young women in business start-up and enterprise. There was a recommendation for Women's Business Centres within universities and colleges, so that enterprise can be supported at education stage.

The question was raised whether we have mapped the landscape as fully as we could. There is a role for Housing Associations for example. While it is complex, part of the solution will be to understand how this interlinks with other policy areas such as Just Transition and City Deals. It is important that Guarantee’s place in the support system is co-ordinated with other schemes such as Developing the Young Workforce and DWP Kickstart.


There was discussion on how the Guarantee can support different priorities in different sectors and regions but, that we shouldn’t allow this to be too determined by local authority boundaries, which are less relevant to industry. 

Comments were made that the gateway to the scheme, the providers, are still thinking pre COVID. Some young people will want to continue to engage digitally to open up different learning opportunities not available locally and we should respond to this. We have the chance to create a flow between urban and rural so let’s not harness this in local authority boundaries which are artificial.

The pandemic has highlighted challenges that existed pre-pandemic as well as creating new challenges. Pre-pandemic, the challenges included skills gaps; availability of talent; equality of opportunity and progression; training and development; and migration. These issues have been exacerbated due to the pandemic as well as new challenges to manage including new modes/patterns of working; risk of rising unemployment; industry and skills transitions; skills and talent gaps to support recovery; and tailored reskilling and upskilling interventions.

Clarity for business is essential. Perhaps we can use existing structures and connections to signpost and provide clear information e.g. SCDI, Scottish Business Pledge, IOD, ICAS and other professional bodies as well those funded by Scottish Government. Connectivity and communication will be key.

We need to acknowledge the disproportionate impact on young women aged 16-24 who are overly represented into sectors which are having prolonged COVID impact - retail, hospitality, beauty and hair etc.

Closing comments

Jamie Hepburn, Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, Youth Employment and Training provided closing remarks. There is an need to respond to the current economic circumstance but the Young Person’s Guarantee is about responding to a longer term challenge. We need to address the mismatch between people looking for work and the skills gap and opportunities available. This is more than corporate social responsibility, it is an opportunity for employers. Developing the Young Workforce and the Young Person’s Guarantee are designed to work for employer and young people and bring them together.


There is to be further discussion on job creation and enterprise as part of the ongoing development of the Guarantee.

There is to be further discussion on what support can be given to industries struggling to attract young people.

The Scottish Government are to consider how the Young Person’s Guarantee and the Developing the Young Workforce can provide messaging to young people and employers that the examination award systems is fair and reflective.


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