Dear Fiona and Maureen

1st June 2007 at 01:00
Ray Harris is principal and chief executive of Edinburgh's Telford College

Congratulations on the success of your party at the recent election and on the government restructure that is already in the works.

Your well articulated ambitions of health, wealth, safety, fairness, sustainability and smartness make clear that those of us in receipt of public funding will be scrutinised, assessed and called to task as you strive to reach your goals.

Here, at Telford College, we can point out many initiatives that allow us to justify our existence in your brave new world. Our new building is allowing everyone at Telford to work smarter and with abundant green credentials.

However, if I look closely at your ambitions, I see there is the matter of "skills" at the heart of it, and I was pleased to see this set out in your post, Maureen. Skills suffer from a perception issue, and that will need to be addressed if your ambitions are to be achieved. Scotland's colleges are keen to play a role in achieving the skills "agenda", but we need to work closely with you to ensure we deliver on this shared responsibility.

So what will you, as leaders, need to address? Foremost, everyone will need to know exactly what skills are required for A More Successful Scotland and the policies you embrace. How will you make these skills attractive to young people and achievable to those who are economically excluded?

Considering these challenges, how will you address the "chicken and egg"

situation of whether financial resources should be used to support areas and industries that are successful, or put directly to work in areas of deprivation? How will we capitalise on the strengths of existing schools-college partnership work to focus on skills, and will the notion of "skills academies" add new value?

Education partners and employers will need to engage more successfully if we are going to reach your ambitions. How will the Sector Skills Councils serve the needs of Scotland, given that they are driven through a UK-focused agenda?

I could go on and offer you my solutions, but I must mention the challenge of excellence. This is a plea for you to throw your weight behind WorldSkills 2011 in London and reap the benefits for Scotland. A student from Edinburgh's Telford College is going to WorldSkills 2007 in Japan to represent the UK, but we need to plan to have as many Scots as possible at WorldSkills 2011, which needs your support to help us create Team Scotland.

In my view, reaching for excellence is the key to Scotland's economic success.

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