Scotland needs to expand apprenticeships and other "learn while you earn" schemes to increase the proportion of workers with high-level skills, business organisation CBI Scotland has warned.
Upskilling the workforce is crucial to long-term economic growth and will stop the country from falling behind its competitors, according to Lauren Paterson, CBI Scotland's senior policy executive.
Her comments came after the publication of the CBI's Tomorrow's Growth report in July, which warned that relying on traditional university courses alone would not meet the growing demand for degree-level technical skills in important sectors such as manufacturing, construction, IT and engineering.
According to the industry group, not enough courses of that level with business links currently exist, and universities need to boost the number of employer-backed and part-time courses that give students practical work experience.
At the same time, businesses should expand their commitment to high- quality training schemes, such as higher and advanced apprenticeships, or work-based training, the report found.
In 2012-13, almost 25,700 people started Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland, many of which are delivered in cooperation with colleges. Some universities also work with partners to enable their students to achieve vocational qualifications. The Engineers of the Future programme is one such example. The five-year course, delivered by Forth Valley College, Heriot-Watt University and industry partner INEOS, allows students to gain a Modern Apprenticeship, master's degree and essential industry experience.
Ms Paterson told TESS that Scotland faces many of the same pressures as its neighbours. "Although just over half of young people in Scotland go to university, we need to expand apprenticeships and other `learn while you earn' schemes to equip them with the skills the economy needs," she said.
"This means all UK governments encouraging businesses and universities to expand their commitment to working together . It also means finding ways to make it easier for firms to up- and re-skill existing workforces."
Damien Yeates, chief executive of Skills Development Scotland, welcomed the focus on work-based education, "in particular, the Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects".
He added that Scotland could learn from other countries, where a much higher percentage of young people go through vocational training. According to the CBI report, around a third of young people in the UK currently choose vocational routes, compared with, for example, 71 per cent in the Netherlands.
"In successful OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) economies, at least 40 per cent of young people go through vocational training, including apprenticeships," Mr Yeates said.
"This report highlights a number of fundamental areas that we are and should be looking at, such as age of entry to the world of work, better connection with employers, the mix of academic and vocational training, and the specific demands of key sectors."
In 2012-13, Modern Apprenticeship starts numbered 25,691.
Of these, 12,719 were people between 16 and 19 years old.
A total of 35,906 were training that year as Modern Apprentices.
According to a survey of former apprentices published by Skills Development Scotland earlier this year, 92 per cent of those who had completed their apprenticeships were in work six months later, about 70 per cent of them with the same employer.
Another Skills Development Scotland survey showed that 53 per cent of employers viewed Modern Apprenticeships as vital to their business; a further 22 per cent saw them as important.
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