Call to scrap technospeak

Neil Munro reports on moves to simplify the language surrounding the Executive's new employability strategy

The Scottish Executive's eagerly-anticipated "employability framework" is to be called . . . something else.

Nicol Stephen, the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Minister, told a parliamentary debate on skills and training last week: "The language we use in relation to this subject can get too complex, too technical and too confusing, not just for the young people whom we are trying to help, but for employers who need to understand and support the employability strategy".

Mr Stephen was responding to remarks by Susan Deacon, the former Labour minister, who said she found many of the Executive's publications on employability "impenetrable". She said it was time to get away from "sanitised and sterile technospeak".

The employability strategy will be published in the next few weeks, Mr Stephen promised, as will the Executive's plans for reducing the number of 16 to 19- year-olds who are not in education, employment or training - the so-called NEET group, one of the "sanitised" descriptions to which Ms Deacon objected.

MSPs were told that, at 35,000, the proportion of young people in this group was higher than in any other country in Europe, accounting for 13.1 per cent of females and 13.9 per cent of males among 16 to 19-year-olds.

For Glasgow, the overall proportion rose to 23 per cent.

But Mr Stephen denied Scotland had the poorest record, although he did not provide any figures to back up this claim. He said more targeted support for NEET youngsters was required, as was greater involvement by the voluntary sector.

The Minister was taking up a point made by Murdo Fraser, the Conservatives'

deputy leader, who praised the work of the voluntary Fairbridge project in Dundee, which targets the NEET group. Mr Fraser said young people were "benefiting hugely" from their involvement in it.

But he warned of the "devastating" consequences for those who were not so fortunate.

The NEET working group had shown that, for a young man, "the effect of being NEET is that, by the time he is 21, he is four times more likely to be unemployed, three times more likely to have depression or mental health problems, five times more likely to have a criminal record and six times less likely to have any qualifications".

The Scottish National Party's Alex Neil, convener of the Parliament's enterprise committee, said the number one challenge was access to skills and education. He echoed the findings of the recent McGoldrick report that, despite all the government initiatives and good intentions, the proportion of people entering higher education from deprived areas and low income backgrounds was more or less the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago.

Mr Neil revisited evidence given to the parliamentary inquiry into lifelong learning and pointed out that the vast majority of resources went to those who would succeed anyway. He called for more investment to go to "those who need a more substantial leg-up to succeed" - the NEET youngsters, part-time students and middle-aged people who need retraining.

Several MSPs also called for resources to be skewed towards younger children to prevent them falling into the NEET and other dead-end traps.

Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's education spokesperson, said there should be "a national mission" beginning with those aged from zero to three.

But Alan Wilson, the Deputy Lifelong Learning Minister, pointed out that around three-quarters of those destined to be in the labour market of 2020 were already in employment, so investment in workforce development was unavoidable.

Although there was considerable consensus around the challenges of the skills agenda, Ms Deacon pointed out: "It is great, in some respects, that we are debating the problem of finding people for jobs rather than jobs for people."

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