Last month saw the second annual Scottish Tourism Week, a five-day celebration of tourism and the industry hosted by the Scottish Tourism Forum. It is an important week, and one that is especially relevant to Scotland's colleges.
If our focus is as it should be, on employability, then it is crucial that we form strong relationships with members of Scotland's booming tourism industry. The pound;4.5 billion business employs 8 per cent of the nation's workforce - around 215,000 people. As one of Scotland's largest industries, there is a new and revitalised focus on tourism, and colleges can be at the heart of training and preparing industry newcomers.
Perth College is a member of an award-winning, three-college partnership called Targeting Tourism, which seeks to strengthen the relationships between the three training organisations - Perth, Angus and Dundee colleges - and employers. Working together, our goal is to increase Tayside's share of the lucrative tourism industry.
As a former hotel owner, I cannot emphasise enough how important these links are, not only for our students but also for those working in tourism.
The industry is suffering from a staggering 40 per cent job vacancy rate.
At the same time, 40 per cent of employers believe their employees are under-skilled. It is this crucial gap, between training and job placement, that we are in an excellent position to fill.
One way that Perth College is filling that gap is through our "good food circle". This is an innovative way of catapulting school-aged youth into the world of tourism. We team these enthusiastic youngsters with talented chefs in local kitchens.
It is a recipe for success: the kitchens, often coping with a chronic shortage of chefs, are delighted to have the extra hands. And the young people get first-hand experience in a catering environment. Twenty-five per cent of the programme is spent in the classroom so our students get all the right skills, and the rest of the time is spent in employer-led training.
By the end of the programme, students are often offered work placements.
This is just one of many partnerships Perth College has developed with industry. Students achieve the skills they need and employers feel confident of their abilities. Employability cannot be achieved without strong partnerships like these.