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On the crisis of claimants

The challenges facing young people in Scotland and the wider UK were discussed in Julia Belgutay's article highlighting the rise in the number of young claimants on unemployment benefits ("Benefits claimants on the rise", 24 August).

The recent report by training provider Ambitious Minds found that six of the 10 areas with the largest increases in claimant count since 2007 were in Scotland.

The employment prospects of our young people are one of the most crucial issues facing society. Not only does our future prosperity rely on us having a highly skilled workforce to compete abroad, but long periods of unemployment have a damaging impact on youngsters and their ambitions. We cannot risk another "lost generation".

The Scottish government's Opportunities for All scheme, launched in April, committed to providing each 16- to 19-year-old with a place in education or training. This ambitious and crucial scheme will rely heavily on colleges' involvement and delivery.

There are currently 120,000 young people aged 16-24 studying at a college in Scotland, with another 55,000 under-16s doing so via partnerships with schools. The college sector, which delivers higher and further education and modern apprenticeships, is increasingly the supplier of key skills to the industries that will drive Scotland's economy into the future.

As colleges across Scotland continue to regionalise, merge and form new institutions, our partnerships with employers and industries will continue to strengthen, ensuring that young people are offered every opportunity in training and employment.

The process of regionalisation will be extremely challenging for colleges, but will also present opportunities for the learners we serve, including young people. Regional structures will have even greater links with employers and serve as a central point for a region's economic growth.

Young people in Scotland must be encouraged to take advantage of Opportunities for All, and colleges must be supported so that we can continue to deliver training and education for them. To invest in young people's futures we must invest confidence and funding into colleges, which have been delivering opportunities and skills for decades.

John Henderson, chief executive, Scotland's Colleges.

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