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Tayside's recipe for a bigger share of tourism

Imagine the situation. A big business is being established in your town. It will offer a variety of new and interesting lifelong jobs. But everyone starts to move away from the area.

That's roughly the situation in which tourism in Perthshire finds itself.

With Scottish tourism aiming to be a pound;7.5 billion business by 2015, the challenges are great. A declining rural population, coupled with lower than average skills, means new solutions are needed.

Targeting Tourism is an initiative established by Tayside's three further education colleges. Its main thrust is to create a cultural catalyst to ensure that employability is the key driver of education and training. The project's focus is on the tourism and hospitality industries, and the key aim is to create a sustainable education and training infrastructure to ensure a stable and technically proficient workforce.

This infrastructure blends together education-employer partnerships, apprenticeship structures, relevant curriculum delivery models, new curriculum developments and specific training-employment and recruitment centres. An emphasis on the development of soft skills such as effective customer service, communications, problem-solving and teamwork is also part of the offer in order to support a high quality of service for the Tayside area.

The challenges facing the continued skills development of the tourism workforce are nationwide. Only 22 per cent of tourism and hospitality graduates enter the industry; only 1 per cent of employees are involved in vocational training; only 7 per cent of employers engage with VQ provision.

There is a severe shortage of chefs, leaver and labour turnover rates are nearly double that of other industries, and more than half of all jobs in tourism are part-time. Tourism has one of the lowest wage sectors in the Scottish labour market.

The Targeting Tourism initiative provides a comprehensive customer-focused service to support training and development. Its approach is not as an expert but as a collaborator. Partnerships are the most important part of this process, and supporting the economic development of the community is one of the key planks of the three college's strategic plans.

This innovative and creative approach to working with the industry is showing obvious results. It is an excellent example of how, when thinking becomes more joined up and there is the leadership and will to bring together in a truly collaborative way a range of different and often competing agencies, everyone is a winner.

One part of this jigsaw is reaching out to young people and this forms the basis of the "Good Food Circle". This simple scheme takes young people of school age and young unemployed into catering jobs with college support, where they receive training and experience.

The success of the scheme so far has attracted S4 and S5 students from rural secondary schools. The current intake of participants has been offered a balance of 75 per cent employer-led training and 25 per cent college-school education. We have also extended the circle to allow employers to place suitable candidates on the scheme.

For young people, the Good Food Circle provides an opportunity to experience the action and heat of a real working kitchen in award-winning restaurants. Complemented by college-based training and over 40 weeks, the young people work towards formal awards of an SVQ in food preparation, a professional chef award and a hygiene qualification. This range of opportunities is unique.

The student experience has been more robust and demanding than traditional work placement. The passionate head chef is not a figment of the imagination but can be experienced in a busy kitchen as a trainer and mentor.

For employers, facing a chronic shortage of chefs, this is a vital part of the solution. By introducing young people into the real world of the best hotels and restaurants, it allows the tourism industry to sell itself to the new generation of superchefs. We believe that this model can be widened to look at people businesses, especially care, education and health, which can have wider economic benefits that stimulate and support local employment.

In this respect, the FE sector will continue to be more proactive in supporting continuing professional development of workers and learners at all levels in a wide range of skill sectors and industries. Indeed, our next step in Tayside is to support workforce development for the health service across a wide and diverse range of services using what we have learnt from the tourism model.

Scotland's colleges have a rich history of product and curriculum development which has enabled them to respond to ever-widening learner needs. We should now give the lead and the resources to the enablers in education and in the workplace to provide a greater diversity that will meet work-based training and skills needs.

Mandy Exley is principal of Perth College. To find out more, please visit

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