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17/12/14 16:31

Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills & Training - Developing Scotland's Young Workforce

Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills & Training, Roseanna Cunningham MSP
Chamber, Scottish Parliament
17 December 2014


Today is an opportunity to set out the government's new youth employment strategy and full response to the report from the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.

In June, Sir Ian Wood and his Commission presented a coherent, practical and powerful set of ideas about what more needs to be done to align our education system firmly, and more fully, with the needs of the economy.

Angela Constance presented our initial response to Parliament in June. We said then that we shared without exception its ambitions for young people, employment and prosperity in Scotland.

Progress so far

On its publication, Sir Ian and his Commission were clear about their recommendations.

Yet, they were equally certain that we already had many of the building blocks in place - the strong, regional college system; the undeniable success of Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship Programme; and, with Curriculum for Excellence, a long-term national plan for success in our schools.

As Sir Ian recognised, we are already going in the right direction.

Against the background of recession and continued Westminster austerity, our strategy for developing Scotland’s young workforce is delivering.

Recent employment statistics for Scotland have been encouraging – and, we have record numbers of people in work.

Youth unemployment in Scotland is at a five year low and Scotland is outperforming the UK on the youth employment and youth inactivity rates.

Indeed, yesterday’s figures from SDS confirm that there are now record numbers of Scottish school leavers entering positive destinations.

The target

So, we start from an already strong foundation.

Yet, we must do more.

We want to tackle long term issues in the labour market and barriers to young women and men getting into jobs.

Earlier this year, we said that we would be able to increase the annual number of new Modern Apprenticeship starts – taking this to 30,000 a year by 2020.

The First Minister has already said that within our schools it is also our priority to raise attainment for all – and in the weeks and months ahead, the education secretary will take forward a programme to do just that.

The equation is simple. If we drive up attainment for all in our schools then we will improve the prospects of all our young people as they enter the workplace.

We have set ambitious targets for our young workforce.

Our long-term youth employment strategy is designed to ultimately reduce youth unemployment by 40% by 2021.

And, in each of the next 7 years, we will provide a report on progress toward that target.

By any measure, it represents a radical reduction on the current position.

It will put us where we belong - among the best performing countries in Europe.

We know that this is within our grasp.

We need to focus as never before in aligning our education system more firmly, and for the longer term, with the needs of the economy.

We need a renewed focus on employability within education.

Indeed, Sir Ian’s report demanded no less than a culture change from all parts of the education system, from employers and from young people themselves, as well as from those who influence them.

Our programme

Above all, our 7 year programme is a collaborative effort.

Government can’t do this on its own.

That’s why our programme has been developed in conjunction with our partners in local government, with Scotland’s employers and trades unions as well as with our schools, and colleges.

i. Resources

In June, we said that we would be providing the resources to kick-start the programme.

We made an initial £12 million available for the implementation of the programme in 2014-15 – and have committed a further £16.6 million in the 2015-16 draft budget.

Clearly, we also need to think about funding across the education and training system over this period.

In the Commission’s report, there was a call for greater collaboration in the use of resources.

That is why we will continue to look to all our partners to test new approaches, and work together to build capacity across the system and improve outcomes for Scotland’s young people.

That, again, is what Sir Ian’s report recommended.

Today, I’m pleased to set out not only our strategy but how local government intends to use the funds we are allocating to them.

We have agreed with local government a package of £6.5m in 2014/15 to support their contribution to implementation.

Since local authorities are at different stages of developing their specific proposals, the deployment of funding from this package will necessarily vary from area to area.

Broadly speaking, this funding will support:

  • the development of vocational and career pathways for young people;
  • the enhancement of STEM opportunities and training;
  • support for schools as they engage with parents and carers about the new opportunities on offer;
  • a review of work experience to make it relevant to the needs of young people and local labour markets;
  • the further development of modern apprenticeships; and
  • tackling inequality by ensuring that opportunities are open to all and that vulnerable groups are supported into positive destinations.

ii. Schools

Sir Ian and his commission noted the progress we are making with Curriculum for Excellence in our schools.

This is now firmly embedded as the way we do education in Scotland.

It moves away from a narrow focus – and, is about preparing young people to be adaptable, flexible and resilient lifelong learners.

Curriculum for Excellence is our long-term programme.

And, as Sir Ian noted, it provides us with the best possible foundation from which to close the attainment gap and better prepare our young people for the world of work.

iii. Colleges

Along with our schools, Scotland’s college sector is already responding positively to Sir Ian’s recommendations.

The Scottish Funding Council is already supporting 7 college regions, together with local authorities, schools and others, to develop senior phase vocational pathways – so that young people, in the senior phase of school, are better supported into the world of work.

Of course, colleges and schools have been working collaboratively for several years, and these pilots are building on the success of what’s gone before.

The pilots are now in place in Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway, Edinburgh, Fife, Central, Glasgow, & West Lothian – and, they are reaching out to more young people and are helping them to make positive choices about their careers.

The pilots are strengthening links between school, college, university and employment for 15-18 year old secondary school students and those links will be absolutely vital.

Crucially, from the academic year 15-16, all college regional outcome agreements will contain clear statements outlining the college’s contribution to senior phase vocational pathways in their region.

iv. Employers

Employers are vital too. I warmly welcome the support we have had from the business community for Sir Ian’s recommendations about how we can improve employer engagement.

Because Scotland’s businesses have already come forward, we have been able to establish the National Invest in Young People Group.

This is chaired by Rob Woodward (CE of STV) and initial funding has also been made available to see the regional groups established. These regional groups will be important in delivering fair access and engaging people at local level in the future.

Work is also underway on the development of a new standard for work experience.

Sir Ian’s report identified this as an early area for improvement - and, young people themselves have identified it as a priority. Developing young people’s understanding of the world of work is also central to foundation apprenticeships.

In Fife, 50 pupils from 5 secondary schools are already working towards an engineering foundation apprenticeship.

A similar pathfinder scheme is already in place in West Lothian.

Drawing lessons from these, we aim to roll out such apprenticeships and drive a change in provision across Scotland.

iv. Pay

The Commission’s report set out a challenge to us about the scale of inequality.

We want to see more jobs and better jobs for our young people. But, because of the discriminatory regulations of the UK government, some of our young workers could receive less than £3 an hour.

No one, no matter their age, should be working for less than £3 an hour.

That’s why I am today calling upon Westminster to align the rates for apprentices with the other - higher - bands of the National Minimum Wage. We would, of course, like to go further with the living wage but as a bare minimum, we must end a shockingly low minimum wage apprentices can currently face.

v. Equalities

We will tackle all barriers our young people face in getting a fair deal in the workplace.

And, occupational segregation must be a priority.

We cannot see it as acceptable that so many young women choose not to follow up the study of maths, science, technology or engineering simply because they consider it training for a “boy’s job”.

The proportion of women who have benefitted from the MA programme may have increased from 27 to 41 per cent – but, we are still falling short.

There are cultural factors that we will need to address if we are to harness the talents of all our young people, regardless of their background.

That’s why our implementation plans contain specific measures to address these and to reduce workforce inequalities among all of our young people

I take the point Jayne Baxter made last week about the particular difficulties young disabled people can face. Whatever difficulties or barriers are standing in front of our young people, we have a duty to ensure that there is a way ahead and that they are all able to benefit from these opportunities.

That’s why we are funding a number of local pilot projects across Scotland.

And, where there is evidence of good work locally, we will expect that to be inspire and inform practice across Scotland.


Presiding Officer.

Last month, when she set out this government’s programme, the First Minister said that we will focus on working in the interests of all those we serve. Above all, it will be our mission to create a fairer and more prosperous nation. Under this government, wealth and inclusion must always go hand in hand.

With our implementation plans and refreshed strategy we will support our young people better for employment.

Each of us in this Chamber – in common with our constituents and citizens all over Scotland – has a stake in supporting our young people into the workforce. Our approach is one of engaging as many partners and stakeholders as want to participate in this endeavour.

I take great pride in leading this agenda on behalf of the Scottish Government, and I move the motion.