As the Chancellor and Scottish Secretary were launching the pilot New Deal training and employment project in Dundee on Monday, Scottish Enterprise called on companies and workers to improve skills levels.
Evelyn McCann, director of skills development, announced that as part of Scottish Enterprise's Year of Learning for Scotland a national computer network is to start later this month giving access to thousands of training and learning opportunities.
She said: "Scotland must do more to invest in skills to enable our existing companies to expand and to ensure that we remain a magnet for inward investment."
Statistics show that the equivalent of a level 3 vocational qualification is being achieved by 62 per cent of the German workforce compared with 49 per cent here.
Scottish Enterprise will launch a skills strategy to recommend a range of measures needed for Scotland to create a world-class skills base. There will also be the most comprehensive study yet on the Scottish labour market which will reveal the extent of the changes in working patterns and forecast how they will appear next century.
At the launch of Tayside Pathfinder, one of 12 UK pilots for the New Deal programme due to go nationwide in April, Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, linked job opportunities to "social exclusion". Mr Dewar said: "The New Deal initiative for 18 to 24-year-olds is the major element of our Welfare to Work policy. We are determined to tackle head on the evil of social exclusion. "
The Pounds 3 billion New Deal, funded by the one-off windfall tax on the profits of privatised utilities, is intended to help young people who have been unemployed for six months or more. Their options will be: a full-time or part-time job with at least one day a week for six months in education or training for accredited qualifications; or six months' employment with either the environment task force or in the voluntary sector, again with education and training opportunities; or full-time education and training.
Employers taking part in the programme will be offered Pounds 60 a week for full-time jobs and Pounds 40 for those part-time. Brian Wilson, Education and Industry Minister, said he expected "the vast majority of employers" to pay participants more than Pounds 60. Mr Wilson denied claims of "a cheap labour scheme of short-term convenience".
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said the Government was moving "from promise to achievement". Unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds was twice that of the rest of the population. In the Tayside Pathfinder area, 1,063 of the age-group had been unemployed for six months or more.
Mr Brown intends to extend the New Deal to single mothers, the disabled and long-term unemployed over 25 but would not be drawn on whether refusing work would be penalised. Young people who reject one of the four options face having benefits withdrawn.
Comment, page 19 FE Focus, page 30