Scotland's three main workforce skills programmes are doing well in meeting employers' needs but, with a possible shift in investment, there is no room for complacency. Neil Munro reports
The flagship training programmes for the Scottish workforce are doing a good job for employees' skills and productivity, but warning bells about future funding could change all that.
These were among the conclusions of a research study on Skillseekers, modern apprenticeships for 16- to 24-year-olds and adult modern apprenticeships, with which 14,000 employers in Scotland are involved.
The study, by Cambridge Policy Consultants, drew on a telephone survey of 1,004 trainees and 3,000 employers and reached the general view that "the programmes are working well". Inevitably, however, not all trainees and employers experienced the best and this unevenness should be tackled, the report recommended.
In addition, it said, modern apprenticeship and Skillseekers schemes, which employers value because they provide "motivated and good quality trainees", could suffer from a growing funding emphasis on those who are in Get Ready for Work schemes and who are at risk of ending up not in education, employment or training. The challenge, therefore, was how to move forward with static budgets and increasing demands.
The good news is that 78 per cent of employers in the study said staff on Skillseekers and modern apprenticeship programmes had become more productive; 86 per cent said they were more skilled and 80 per cent said staff understood their jobs better.
All this points to a considerable return on investment. For every pound;1 spent by Scottish Enterprise on direct contributions to trainee costs, the programmes deliver 24-27p with the additional impact of improved productivity and skills.
Charlene O'Connor, the senior director of skills and learning with Scottish Enterprise, said: "This is a positive report with many encouraging findings from a set of improving programmes. It is powerful evidence in support of our approach to skills and learning."
Completion rates are improving and are at 63 per cent for Skillseekers, 56 per cent for modern apprenticeships for 16-24s and 67 per cent for adult modern apprenticeships. This is a "significantly superior" performance compared with the UK.
Achievement rates had risen because of close links between Scottish Enterprise, training providers, employers, sector skills councils and others, said Ms O'Connor.
Although the schemes had a "solid track record of success in terms of economic impact and value from investment of public money," she added pointedly that her agency ploughs pound;65 million into the three programmes "and we must make a bigger impact with this investment".
One problem was that achievement rates varied across the country. Steps were being taken to tackle this inconsistency, she said. "There is no room for complacency and we have set ourselves challenging targets for the future."
The researchers found a perception that the schemes had "drifted from a focus on the individual trainee towards an emphasis on business development". Staff working with the enterprise companies believed the goals should be clearer.
* Read the report at www.tes.co.ukscotland