Increasing the number of businesses in Scotland over the next decade will require more investment in education, MSPs say.
Last week's report from the parliamentary enterprise and culture committee's inquiry into business growth says that a key challenge will be "to ensure that the economically inactive are equipped with the skills that they need to match up with the expected vacancies in the job market".
Evidence to the committee suggests that there are 300,000 economically inactive people of working age in Scotland, including the significant number of 16-24s who are not in education, employment or training (the NEET group). Estimates from Learndirect Scotland are that there will be 500,000 job openings over the next three years, 36,000 of them new.
While modern apprenticeships are one route to plug the skills gap, the committee found the scheme presented a mixed picture. The Scottish Executive's target of 30,000 modern apprentices has been exceeded and stands at 31,392, extending beyond the traditional construction, engineering and motor industries into the service sector and involving healthcare, hospitality and retail - but 60 per cent of apprentices drop out before their training is complete.
The report warns: "It was felt by many that the 50 per cent target for university enrolment was too large and that having such a target implies that going to university is better than other forms of qualifications, whereas more vocational skills such as plumbing and car mechanics might be better suited to the needs of the economy.
"Some submissions also argued that issues relating to skills should be addressed at school and in further education colleges, with the school curriculum to include technological studies alongside applied business and entrepreneurship studies and further education colleges to be encouraged to provide more continuing professional development courses for employees."
The report calls on Careers Scotland to promote other routes to tackle "the perceived mismatch between the number of people going to university and the type of workforce the economy needs".