Skillseekers has proved a hit in Scotland with the number of vocational qualifications doubling, reports Neil Munro
The first national study of the Skillseekers programme, the voucher-based training system for 16 and 17-year-old school-leavers, shows a major advance on the "schemes" of the past, which are regarded as having done considerable damage to the image of training.
A consultants' report, prepared for Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, reveals that since 1992 the number of young people on Skillseekers who have a job while training doubled last year to 61 per cent in lowland Scotland and to 50 per cent in the Highlands (Highlands and Islands Enterprise says the figure has now reached 70 per cent).
The number of vocational qualifications (VQs) gained last year was also twice that of six years ago, standing at more than 13,000 in the Scottish Enterprise area and 610 in the HIE network.
This represents a significant change from previous regimes which led to the emergence of a thriving industry of managing agents who acted as middle-men, organising programmes and then trying to find jobs or work-experience placements for young people. Employers were not centrally involved and the number of trainees taken on as full-time employees was very low, as was VQ achievement.
Under Skillseekers, however, trainees are given training credits which can be "cashed" with an employer or training provider, paid when specific training milestones are achieved. Employers can carry out the training in-house or contract it to a college or elsewhere.
The new report, by independent economists Public and Corporate Economic Consultants, suggests the pound;90 million Skillseekers programme may at last be proving its worth both for young people and businesses - but there needs to be further progress before it can be pronounced an unqualified success particularly in persuading more school-leavers and employers to participate.
There are almost 35,000 young people taking part in the programme this year, which represents around 60 per cent of "economically active" 16 and 17-year-olds (compared with 39 per cent in 1990) and 23 per cent of all 16 and 17-year-olds.
The number of employers involved stands at 12,000. Although that represents only 10 per cent of employers, 70 per cent of their 16 to 24-year-old recruits during the past two years have been Skillseeker trainees.
The spin-off from Skillseekers could be even more significant, however, as the consultants estimate that the programme has the potential to create 9,000 net additional jobs over the next few years. This is because businesses are acquiring better trained and qualified recruits which benefits their competitiveness and productivity.
Evelyn McCann, director of skills development at Scottish Enterprise, commented: "Five years ago government training schemes were often dismissed as a way of keeping young people off the dole.
"But this valuable research shows that Skillseekers is changing public perception because it is delivering results for young people and employers. Skillseekers is increasingly about training while in a job and the statistics show the programme is making a dramatic impact on the labour market in Scotland."
Donald Dewar, the Scottish Secretary, also paid his compliments and said Skillseekers had achieved its objectives of increasing the numbers in youth training, particularly with employed status, raising VQ attainment and increasing the active involvement of employers.
"Employers participating in Skillseekers take a more positive approach to structured training and, in turn, perceive benefits from increased performance," Mr Dewar said. "What we must do now is to build on the success of Skillseekers and promote the benefits of the programme to young people, their parents and employers."