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Sharpening up on skills;FE Focus

Neil Munro reports on the latest strategy to boost Scotland's job prospects

THE Scottish Office launched its skills policy last week, hard on the heels of Opportunity Scotland, the lifelong learning strategy, and Opportunities for Everyone, the further education framework.

The latest addition to the family is more modestly entitled Skills for Scotland, launched symbolically in Glasgow by the Education and Industry Ministers, Helen Liddell and Lord Macdonald.

Mrs Liddell said: "The skills strategy is at the crossroads of schools and lifelong learning, a fundamental necessity for a prosperous Scotland in the 21st century."

Lord Macdonald acknowledged: "No single strategy can offer quick fixes to the ever-evolving challenges of the labour market, but we recognise the value of well-targeted measures such as establishing the Scottish University for Industry and boosting Modern Apprenticeships."

The paper is redolent with many of the mantras familiar to training policies: a global economy needs a skilled workforce, technological change puts a premium on the "knowledge industries", no jobs for life.

The Government recognises, however, that "market failure" can lead to individuals and employers being unwilling to invest in improving their skills. There may be an incentive only to opt for training that provides an immediate payback, and employers often doubt the investment is worth it if their competitors move in to poach their staff.

The result of an exclusively market-driven approach has been an under-investment in skills in the past, the paper says.

Part of the Government's solution is to provide more information. A Scottish labour market unit is to be set up by Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise to co-ordinate jobs information, pass on findings to colleges and other providers, and advise on trends.

There is also to be a skills website, set up by Scottish Enterprise. The new Scottish University for Industry will collaborate with adult guidance and careers organisations to improve information and guidance. The university will then commission courses or materials that are required to fill gaps.

Previously announced measures, including individual learning accounts, embedding core skills in school and college courses, improving access to FE, expanding the enterprise ethic in schools and relaunching Investors in People, are part of the armoury.

Particular emphasis will be given to boosting skills at craft, technician and trainee management levels, where there have been long-standing complaints that Britain compares badly with other countries but does well when it comes to the output of graduates.

The Government believes the modern apprenticeship scheme is crucial, although uptake is low in a number of employment sectors. The skills strategy confirms the target of expanding the number of modern apprentices from 10,040 to 15,000 by 2002.

The paper promises action to rectify weaknesses in the Skillseekers programme, the main route for young people into training. A study published last year found many were not staying the full course and the Government wants those at risk of dropping out to be identified at an early stage.

It also wants schools, the careers service and local enterprise companies to ensure a better flow of information so young people can make an informed choice of training. Ministers will hold consultations on post-school education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds, although this will inevitably be added to the Scottish parliament's ever-lengthening agenda.

A report this week from Glasgow shows the uphill task awaiting reformers - 27 per cent of the Glasgow workforce have no qualifications, greater than the Scottish average of 19 per cent, and only 57 per cent of the city's pupils leave school with five or more Standard grades, against 84 per cent in East Renfrewshire.

INITIATIVES TO WATCH OUT FOR * Fife foresight programme, developed by a consortium to provide labour market information.

* Graduates into software, a project led by Lothian and Edinburgh Enterprise which has recruited 200 graduates for 80 computer companies over the past two years.

* The Worx, a guide to work in Glasgow issued to all third-year pupils in the city.

* Seasonal hospitality employment programme, a tourism training initiative offered to Highland pupils during holidays.

* Glasgow new deal employer coalition, to prepare young people for jobs in the growth sectors of the local economy.

* Firth and Mossbank community house, Shetland, a local training centre set up to cope with the reduction in oil jobs.

* Abertay University's computer games technology courses aims to increase Scotland's share of a pound;10 billion worldwide industry.

* Kwik-Fit training academy, Uddingston.

* Glasgow Telecolleges Network, an IT-based consortium including city colleges and universities which supports more than 85,000 students.

* Learning and training at Scottish Widows, Standard Life and Scottish Power.

* Individual learning accounts introduced by Fife Enterprise.

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