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25/06/14 09:15

Response to the Wood Commission on the Young Workforce

Cabinet Secretary for Training, Youth and Women's Employment Angela Constance
The Scottish Parliament
Tuesday June 24, 2014

I am grateful for the opportunity to set out the Government's initial response to the final report of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce which Sir Ian Wood presented to me earlier this month.

It is a report which I welcome fully, and whose ambitions for young people, employment and prosperity in Scotland I share without exception.

I know we all support the positive vision for Scotland's young people evident throughout the report. I want to put on record my thanks to Sir Ian, the Commission, and all who contributed to their work for presenting such insightful, pragmatic and clear recommendations.

When we asked Sir Ian to lead this work some 18 months ago, this Government was anticipating the need to address youth unemployment in the context of a more positive economic outlook.

We presented the Commission with an extremely challenging remit. We asked it to explore how we might develop a modern, responsive and valued vocational training system, and emulate the labour markets of the best performing European countries.

And recognising the need to make the most effective possible use of the skills of all of our young women and men, I asked the Commission to consider in particular how all young people can benefit from education and employment, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or disability.

I was delighted to receive the report and its 39 recommendations. They represent a coherent, practical and powerful set of ideas about what more needs to be done to align our education system firmly – and for the long term – with the needs of the economy.

The report’s treatise for further change and improvement is inarguable in my view. That is why today we are embarking on a campaign to develop Scotland’s young workforce, taking the report’s recommendations as our starting point.

Our ambitions for economic growth will not be realised without higher levels of employment among young people. Recognising the scale of our ambitions - and the radical reduction required if we are to reduce youth unemployment to amongst the lowest in Europe – the Scottish Government’s goal is to reduce youth unemployment in Scotland by 40% by 2020.

Today I will set out what this Government will do to take immediate action on the young workforce and work towards this goal. I will return to the role of partners later in this statement.

As Sir Ian himself has said, developing the young workforce demands a culture change from all parts of the education and training system - and from employers, young people and those who influence them - over the medium term. We have a world class HE system, and Scotland’s young people deserve a vocational education offer of the same quality and value.

The report recognises that this Government’s education, training and employment policies and programmes including Curriculum for Excellence, college reform, and employer support measures have established the right platform to create a world class vocational education system in Scotland, valued by – and valuable to – our young people.

As the Commission’s final report says: “The introduction of Curriculum for Excellence in primary schools and in S1-S3 is already making a difference as a new approach to teaching and learning is helping pupils to develop many of the skills and attributes they will need to be successful in their working lives.”

Of course there is more that we can and will do now to act on the report.

A key feature of a world leading vocational education system is one that is shaped by employers and meets the needs of industry.

I can announce today that I will make an initial £1m available for the establishment of industry-led Invest in Young People groups, which will make the crucial links between employers and education that will in turn improve opportunities for young people. We will work with local authorities and other partners to develop these groups.

Key to the successful implementation will be strong and committed employer leadership. To achieve this we will look to work with a number of established groups such as those highlighted by the Commission in Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Edinburgh.

In those parts of the country where such groups don’t already exist we will work with local employers to support the establishment of new groups in partnership with existing organisations and service providers.

I am in full agreement with the report that employers should be publicly recognised for the contribution they make to developing Scotland’s young workforce. The Government are working with Investors in People to develop an ‘invest in young people’ award and I expect this to be in place soon.

I now want to turn to how we will further develop training opportunities for Scotland’s young women and men.

Our MA programme stands out as an exemplar of an employment-based vocational training offer.

I want to see it expand, flex and focus to help us achieve even more for our economy, and for all our young men and women.

This Government has already committed to creating more MA opportunities by expanding the Programme to 30,000 starts each year by 2020.

Today I can announce further improvements to MAs, building on the recommendations from the Commission’s report.

I can announce that as we work with Skills Development Scotland to implement our expansion plans, we will deliver the recommendations the report makes around MAs. This will include offering more higher level MAs and developing pilots for Advanced Apprenticeships - including to graduate level - encouraging more MAs in the critical STEM subjects.

I will also look to SDS to begin pilots for foundation apprenticeships. These will see SDS work closely with schools and colleges to develop more structured pathways from the senior phase of schools where young people will be able to combine their general education with elements of work-based learning.

These will provide a more practical grounding, which will help prepare young people for future MAs, employment or further study.

I am pleased to announce today that the first pilot of a foundation apprenticeship will begin in partnership with Fife College in August this year for school pupils taking engineering. This is an exciting development and one which will see the principles of this report made real for a number of young people in the coming months.

The campaign to develop Scotland’s young workforce is also a hearts and minds campaign to transform the view of what vocational education offers in terms of engaging learning and desirable employment prospects.

Young people and those who guide them should have access to high quality and current advice about the labour market and routes into that.

Better careers guidance tools will be developed to inform young people and their parents about future labour market opportunities and the skills they need, in line with the report’s recommendations.

SDS working with Education Scotland, Local Authorities, the unions and importantly employers, will develop services designed to inspire and challenge young people’s career aspirations, informed by labour market intelligence.

The final area I wish to address is that of equality. I was keen that the Commission’s work should explore, in depth, the issues around access to vocational opportunities. I believe that the report delivers this, with an ambitious set of recommendations which have been widely welcomed by a number of equality groups.

Everyone in this Chamber should acknowledge the disappointing figures on equality contained in the Commission’s Report. Despite making significant progress on increasing the proportion of women benefiting from the MA programme from 27% in 2008/9 to 41% in 2013/14. Tackling occupational segregation is clearly a priority.

The report recognises the difficulty in changing the perceptions and culture that can drive the behaviours of young people and employers. To make progress we must develop coherent approaches which look at all stages of the pathways to work.

Across these approaches, I have asked to see renewed focus on the needs of different young people, particularly those that face the greatest disadvantage and barriers to good training and work.

We will work quickly with SDS and these expert groups to develop action plans which build on the good work that is already happening.

I can also confirm today that I expect SDS to lead work to improve opportunities for those groups currently under represented on the MA programme. This will include encouraging young women and men to consider career options in ‘non-traditional’ sectors and supporting careers coaches, parents, carers and teachers to help challenge and break down gender and cultural stereotypes.

It is important that SDS develop specific plans to address the gender balance on certain frameworks and to help increase participation by minority ethnic young people, young people with disabilities and also by care leavers. These action plans will help to ensure that all young people can secure real and lasting equality of opportunity.

In very large part, achieving our ambitions for young people is about focusing our existing resources in the most effective way. However, to help kick start this important new activity, I am allocating an additional £3m to Skills Development Scotland to take this work on MAs, careers and equality forward with immediate effect. And Education Scotland will receive an additional £0.5m to support action on developing the young workforce.

From the basis of these early actions this Government will lead a concerted effort, jointly with local government, to develop Scotland's young workforce.

As ever, early intervention is crucial. This means action that is very often focused on young people who are still in the school system. For this reason, the development of Scotland's young workforce will be a joint endeavour between us and partners in local government.

There are many partners involved in acting on the report’s recommendations, in particular local government, and Government will work in partnership with COSLA over the coming weeks to plan for implementation.

Together we will develop detailed plans over the summer, which we will publish in the autumn as our 2015-16 budget plans are set out. The Government has already made clear that the resource implications of this effort will be taken into consideration in the development of that budget. I look forward to sharing these developments with Parliament over the coming months.

We asked the Commission to consider how our education and training system should evolve further; shaped and supported by employers, to create a work ready cohort of young people. And we asked them in particular consider the barriers to work and training faced by different groups of young people.

The early actions I have set out today are just the first steps in this Government’s plan of action in response to that that report and make radical reductions in youth unemployment.

Detailed implementation plans will be developed in the context of a refresh of the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy and our budget plans for 15-16.

They will also, of course, evolve against the opportunities presented by constitutional change. The Scottish Government intends to be radical in transforming young people’s prospects, and with the full powers of independence we would have all the levers required to achieve this ambition.

While there will of course be different views across the chamber on the constitutional context, and on other aspects of how we take this important campaign to develop Scotland’s young workforce forward, I would ask Parliament to channel its energies into supporting this critical effort and this Government’s positive vision for our young people.