By Cynthia Guthrie
In 2007 the Scottish Government set out its ambitious Skills for Scotland – A Lifelong Skills Strategy, an all-en-compassing paper, covering individual skills development from school to the workplace, including colleges and universities. Its aspirational goals and objectives were laudable and certainly ambitious. However in practice, as an employer, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees.
Since 2007 there has been a plethora of initiatives and sub strategies, some of which appear to have had a negative impact on other areas of education and the economy. A couple of examples include the drive to get 16-24 year olds into the workforce through ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ et al and widening access initiatives in further and higher education.
EMPLOYING YOUNG PEOPLE
I was told that at the last count there were 136 providers in Scotland, all trying to deliver the Government’s targets on youth employment. Some have been set up as charities, some private sector businesses and some are delivered through councils and other public sector bodies. All receive Government funding. In spite of this, as an employer looking to take on a Modern Apprentice in the last year, I was faced with a maze of acronyms and gobbledygook when trying to find a suitable provider.
Through this, and also recently trying to recruit via the Job Centre for a vacancy in our company, I have come to the conclusion that the Government needs to stop – take a deep breath – and take stock of the current situation. Much of the funding that is being spent in this area could be saved by consolidation of services and resources.
WIDER ACCESS INITIATIVES
The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) targets have been laid down for colleges and universities which allocate a percentage of their entire intake to be reserved for young people from deprived areas. This is commendable, however in practice presents a major challenge to those colleges and universities whose geographical locations do not meet the SIMD postcode criteria. It also restricts places for both young and mature people throughout Scotland who may have a burning desire to attend College or University.
According to the latest report from Audit Scotland it has become increasingly difficult in recent years for Scottish and EU undergraduate students to gain a place at a Scottish university. Applications have increased by 23% since 2010, yet the number of offers made by universities, in line with their funding allocations, has increased by only 9%. If we do not provide funding for access to university places for our young people where can they go? South of the Border? Overseas? Can we really afford to lose them?
Historically traditional apprenticeships were a combination of work based learning and day release at further education colleges. In my experience this mix produced top quality, skilled workers who had the advantage of college attendance widening their attitudes and enhancing learning. In the current economic environment it is challenging for companies to release apprentices during working hours. There are ways round this by further education colleges and universities working with employers to provide blended learning solutions in- house.
I am of the view that further education colleges and universities provide the very best learning and skills development and they should be properly funded and employers directed to use their facilities to gain the best outcomes for their staff. The Government is on the right track with the apprenticeship levy, however in my view, they should divert some of the funding currently given to third party providers to colleges and universities.
Cynthia Guthrie is joint managing director of the Guthrie Group.