1. Having a more joined up and straightforward employability system is essential to help more people access the support they need and develop the new skills they require to find secure and sustainable work.
2. In 'A New Future for Employability Support in Scotland' (2016), we committed to build on our work delivering Fair Start Scotland by taking forward a wider programme of alignment and integration  . This plan, developed in collaboration with a range of partners, sets out the important next steps on that journey.
The Economic Context
3. Scotland's labour market is performing relatively well for many people. For example, youth unemployment has declined significantly from the peak of the recession when over a fifth of our young people were unemployed. At 9.2%, Scotland's youth unemployment rate is better than pre-recession levels. Our youth employment rate of 58.8% is higher than the UK as a whole (54.5%  ). In October 2017, in the annual progress report for our Developing the Young Workforce programme, we announced the fulfilment of our commitment to reduce youth unemployment by 40%, four years ahead of schedule. However, we know that many groups continue to face real challenges in the labour market. These groups include disabled people (employment rate of 42.8% compared to 80.2% for non-disabled people  ); people recovering from substance misuse, people experiencing homelessness, and people with convictions.
4. If we are going to deliver on the inclusive growth ambitions set out in both our Labour Market Strategy and Economic Strategy, it is clear that we have more work to do to provide more effective and joined up support. This is consistent with our wider approach of better alignment across the Enterprise and Skills landscape and it is particularly important within the context of a rapidly changing labour market and the challenges of an ageing society, both of which are placing added pressure on people and services. These demographic changes are also changing the way older people engage in the labour market as the employment rate for those aged 50-64 increased from 59.4% to 69.0% over the eight year period to January 2018, with the employment rate for those aged 65 and over also increasing from 5.2% to 6.3%  .
5. Fundamentally, Scotland cannot afford to neglect or underuse the talents of so many of our people. Increasing participation in fair and sustainable work will ensure that prosperity is shared more equally across Scottish society – tackling poverty, inequality, and exclusion.
Outlining the Plan
6. Work to address these challenges will require collective leadership across all levels of the public, private and third sectors involved in delivering employability support. This plan contains a series of actions that we will develop and implement collaboratively with our partners, with a specific focus on integrating employability support with health, justice, and housing services as these areas are critical to those facing the most severe labour market inequalities. For example, we know that people with convictions make up a sizeable proportion of the unemployed population and that joined up support is important to deal with multiple challenges such as poor physical health, mental health, and substance misuse issues that can impact on people obtaining a stable and secure job that can play a critical role in reducing re-offending.
7. We intend to use this plan to start a discussion with people and organisations on their views on the future of the employability system in Scotland, to ensure services place the person at the front and centre of both design and delivery.
8. The plan will also consider how to create clearer pathways into work, because we know how important the prospect of real work is for those struggling in the labour market and taking part in employability programmes. Our focus is on identifying specific improvements to services, or opportunities to deliver new provision such as the piloting of a new Single Health and Work Gateway that will include additional support for those who are struggling to stay in work and those who are recently unemployed due to a health issue.
9. The changing shape of the labour market, our new devolved powers and other contextual challenges such as the forthcoming changes to EU Funds mean that the time is right to seek views on how we can ensure we have an employability system in Scotland that is flexible enough to provide more effective and joined up support to people out of work, particularly those who are struggling most.
10. In setting out these actions and initiating a discussion on the future of employability support in Scotland, this plan is not intended to cover all of our work on integrating and aligning employability support. As Fair Start Scotland moves into operation we will work closely with our partners including local authorities, Department of Work and Pensions and providers to ensure we deliver our ambitions for those who participate in the service.
11. We will work closely with our partners across Government to test new and innovative approaches and explore how this fits with employability policy. For example, we will work collaboratively with the Veterans Employability Strategic Group to understand how we can better support veterans to live and work in Scotland.
12. We have awarded funding to 13 projects under the Employability Innovation and Integration Fund that will join up employability support with the three key areas covered by this plan: health and social care, justice and housing. The Fund provides an opportunity for public sector bodies responsible for delivering local priorities to work with partners, including third sector organisations, to develop and deliver innovative employability approaches. Projects include a focus on helping people with mental health issues, drawing together services for homeless residents, and testing a model for young people aged 16-21 who have been involved in offending behaviour. Learning from these projects will feed into our wider work of developing an employability system that is more flexible and responsive to the needs of Scotland's labour market. You can find more information on all of the projects at http://www.employabilityinscotland.com/devolved-employment-services/integration-and-alignment/
13. We look forward to working together with all those with an interest in supporting people into employment on this journey to build a more effective, straightforward, and person-centred employability system in Scotland. A system that truly embodies our commitment to put dignity and respect at the heart of this vital public service.