Essential skills hold key to growth

21st March 2008 at 00:00
The Leitch report, which was published at the end of 2006, highlighted the fact that Scotland is the only part of the UK where the percentage of those with higher education qualifications is greater than those with school-leaver qualifications. Our skills profile is also growing faster than the UK average.

On the surface, that would seem to be good news for Scotland - in theory, we can claim to be the most educated and skilled part of the country. Despite that, our economic growth is lagging behind the rest of the UK.

To address this issue, we need to ask two pertinent questions of our education providers. Do the courses offered in Scotland's colleges and universities meet the demand evidenced through skills gaps and shortages? And are we focusing sufficiently on "essential" rather than vocational skills?

At Ayr College, we have an open, two-way dialogue between local businesses and industry; we consider their needs, as well as labour market information, when designing our curriculum. We also work closely with the enterprise agencies to support local SMEs and growth sectors.

An example of how the college is filling the skills gaps in the Ayrshire economy is our close ties with the aeronautical industry, which is growing rapidly, thanks to increasing traffic through Glasgow Prestwick International Airport. Hundreds of new jobs are being created locally and, through our links, we have been able to respond to employers' training needs.

In writing the new Higher National curriculum, for example, we worked closely with British Aerospace to ensure its content delivered their requirements. Recently, we have been working with Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance Limited (who maintain Ryanair aircraft) to ensure the Civil Aviation Authority's formal qualification certified the air-worthiness of an aeroplane. To do so, we have become an approved EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) centre.

So, if we are successfully matching students' skills with employers' needs to support local industry and plug the skills gap, how are we addressing my second point on essential skills? To this end, Ayr College is redesigning all of its non-advanced programmes to emphasise the development of employability skills.

We intend to build on the work done by schools through A Curriculum for Excellence, ensuring that our graduates are not just technically skilled but also able to solve problems creatively, work in teams, be enterprising, and demonstrate good timekeeping abilities and reliability.

Some of our courses, aimed at the "more choice, more chances" group are supported by a youth worker whose role is to develop this important set of soft skills with students - even if it means knocking on a student's door when they haven't turned up for class. So far, the success rate of this strategy has been 100 per cent.

There is always more we can do to make Scotland more competitive and support our young people into meaningful training that leads to employment opportunities. However, I am confident that at Ayr College we have made a good start and that, by continuing to respond to the needs of our local economy and community, we will make a real difference in the long term.

Diane Rawlinson is principal of Ayr College.

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