THE LATEST attempt to boost lifelong learning and training was launched last week by Scottish Enterprise in a pound;160 million investment package.
The cash, to be spent in the year up to next March, represents 41 per cent of the total Scottish Enterprise operational budget, although only 4 per cent of overall spending on learning in Scotland.
Sir Ian Wood, the agency's chairman, said continuous learning must involve individuals, companies and public sector organisations as well as education and training interests. The plan assumes Scottish Enterprise funding will be topped up from businesses and other sources.
"The way ahead is not short-term support for short-term jobs," Sir Ian said. "We must place learning at the heart of economic progress."
Evelyn McCann, director of skills development at Scottish Enterprise, said the aim was to have 60 per cent of Scotland's workforce actively engaged with ongoing training or skills improvement by 2010.
Despite the hype that attended the launch at Glasgow's Royal Concert Hall, Scottish Enterprise admits that its blueprint, Know-how - achieving prosperity through learning, is ambitious. For example, the proportion of the workforce gaining vocational qualifications at level III (the equivalent of Highers) has been stuck at just below 50 per cent for four years. But, for the first time, there are now to be specific targets for detailed changes (see panel).
The agency says its strategy has been drawn up following consultations with more than 100 public and private sector organisations, involving both education and employers. But many of its plans - such as setting up the Scottish University for Industry, expanding modern apprenticeships and providing better information on the labour market - are simply putting flesh on the bones of existing Government policy.
The leading Scottish Enterprise figures are in little doubt as to the magnitude of their task. Crawford Beveridge, the organisation's chief executive, whose formative years were spent in the US computer industry, said no country had more potential for success than Scotland in terms of the skills in its universities, the flexibility of the workforce and a strong work ethic. "But sometimes the lack of self-belief is scary."
Mrs McCann warned that only 55 per cent of those surveyed in a Scottish Enterprise study said they would undertake new learning if there were no jobs available to match their skills. In another survey, 31 per cent of organisations taking part were training fewer than 10 per cent of their staff.
Improvements were noted however, such as the inclusion of core skills as standard features of school courses, improved attitudes to learning among young people and recognition by employers of the commercial and personal benefits of a skilled workforce.
Shelagh Rae, past president of the Association of Directors of Education, one of the many Scottish Enterprise "partners" at the launch, felt there was not enough recognition of recent strides made by schools and colleges.
Others suggested the Scottish Enterprise plans could be derailed by some deep-seated problems. Morag Alexander, director of the Equal Opportunities Commission in Scotland, pointed to the low take-up of computing by girls and the stereotyping of "girls' subjects" and "boys' subjects".
Mrs McCann acknowledged the "mindset which links particular subjects to particular jobs, often encouraged by parents". Scottish Enterprise hopes to counter this with a website listing opportunities in the labour market.
Richard Shaw, principal of Paisley University, cautioned against "fine words" that lose sight of the small, practical steps which ought to come first. "If this doesn't work it will discredit the whole initiative," Mr Shaw said. Mr Beveridge agreed it would be "a long haul".
The most pointed critique came from Helen Munro, head of community services with Stirling Council, who said people were learning all the time in their private lives, in voluntary work and in community activities. "They might not call it learning but that is what it is," she told the Scottish Enterprise leaders. "You have got to change your definition."
TARGET FOR CHANGE
The new Scottish Enterprise plans include:
* pound;5 million to kick-start the Scottish University for Industry (SUFI), which will be launched next year.
* More than 100 online community learning centres (by December next year) to support the University for Industry with another 500 online centres in smaller companies to help workers upgrade their skills, backed by 1,000 online tutors.
* 35,000 school-leavers to be involved in Skillseekers, of whom 11,500 will be following a high-quality modern apprenticeship as a first step towards meeting the Government's target of 20,000 modern apprentices by 2002.
* A major drive to raise awareness of modern apprenticeships among parents, teachers and young people.
* More than 3,000 people to have an individual learning account which will help buy training with contributions from employers.
* The number of companies achieving Investors in People status to be increased from 1,300 to 2,000.
* 8,000 people involved in learning programmes for disadvantaged groups.
* 2,000 redundant workers retrained.
* 2,000 visitors to attend the first "personal development show" promoting the benefits of learning.
* 500 people to have taken part in the EASE programme- "encouraging access in Scotland to entrepreneurship".
* A new Scottish Labour Market Intelligence Unit with its own website.