Skilling machine: Scotland wins in work know-how
Debate continues to rage about whether or not Scotland's young people are being equipped with the skills they need for the job market. But the results of a major competition to test the UK's most promising vocational students have proved that the country is doing something right.
The nation's colleges dominated the recent WorldSkills UK competition in Birmingham, prompting a chair of the event to say that other countries had "much to learn from Scotland".
New College Lanarkshire came top of the leaderboard for the second year running and City of Glasgow College reached joint fourth place, ahead of hundreds of other UK colleges.
Overall, Scottish competitors secured 21 medals - eight gold, five silver and eight bronze - in a variety of categories, from computer software programming for business to mechanical engineering, games development and hairdressing. This represented an improvement on 2013, when Scottish students took home 19 medals.
David Cragg, deputy chair of WorldSkills UK, said that the competitions "bring together all four nations - not just competitors, but a large number of practitioners from colleges and providers across the UK.
"On the evidence of this year's national competitions, one look at the league table suggests that the other three nations have much to learn from Scotland."
Mr Cragg went on to congratulate not only the students but also Scotland's colleges for their "outstanding teaching and learning, which are key to this success".
Scottish colleges' ability to equip young people with practical skills has recently been under close scrutiny, and is at the core of the recommendations made by the Wood commission for developing Scotland's young workforce earlier this year.
However, the medal-winners at the WorldSkills competition proved that they could meet industry standards.
Two students from City of Glasgow College picked up gold medals in visual merchandising, where they were judged on how well they could translate a brief and target an audience.
Former New College Lanarkshire student Blane Mulholland topped the leaderboard for a second year in the mechanical engineering competition, where candidates were judged on their ability to create 3D models, simulations and technical drawings. Having demonstrated his exceptional skills in a work placement, he has now secured a job.
Students from Edinburgh, Moray, North East Scotland, Ayrshire and Glasgow Clyde colleges also won medals.
Martin McGuire, principal of New College Lanarkshire, said: "To come top of the medal board and receive the title of `best in the UK' for the second year running is a phenomenal achievement for our students. Everyone at the college is delighted for them."
He added that the success also highlighted "the efforts of our staff to ensure that the college is offering the best possible provision for skills development and this emphasis will continue as we move forward".
Roseanna Cunningham, the Scottish government's fair work, skills and training secretary, said it came as no surprise to her that young Scots had swept the board.
"Scotland has always been famed for the quality of its education and the skill of its people," she said. "Great credit is also due to the very fine institutions which nurtured and developed such talented young people, and Scotland's performance is further evidence that our colleges are also among the best and are producing young people with the skill to take their place on the world stage."
Next year's WorldSkills international finals will take place in Sao Paolo in Brazil, with a number of Scottish competitors likely to participate. Medallists from this year's WorldSkills UK competitions may also be invited to enter the WorldSkills competition in Abu Dhabi in 2017.