'Transformative power of skills is terrific'

15th October 2010 at 01:00
In the current economic environment skills are needed more than ever to drive productivity and boost economic growth

The Scottish Government's refreshed Skills for Scotland strategy, published last week, is a timely contribution to address the challenge of delivering a skilled workforce. Skills in the current economic environment are essential to drive productivity, boost sustainable economic growth and accelerate economic recovery.

At a time of tight public finances, the strategy aims to simplify the skills system, empower individuals and employers to access training help and support more effectively, and better meet the needs of the key economic sectors and industries of the future.

The prize is worth it, as a better-skilled workforce is more employable and more productive, with a 1 per cent increase in the proportion of employees trained associated with an increase in productivity of 0.6 per cent.

While it is recognised that Scotland's skills base has improved considerably over recent decades, this has not translated into higher productivity and economic growth.

More must therefore be done to anticipate and deliver the strategic skills required to respond to future economic challenges and opportunities. More can also be done to ensure the skills requirements of employers are better known and that employers are more closely involved in shaping the skills system. The skills strategy seeks to address these issues.

As the economy recovers, the key growth sectors will be in construction, the low carbon economy, the creative industries and the services sector; a skilled workforce is vital to meet the demands of both current and future growth in these areas, especially as new industries such as renewable energy are embraced. We must also look to support sectors of high participation as this is where the bulk of jobs will come from, such as retail.

The Scottish Government has already identified "key sectors" in its economic strategy, sectors with high growth potential and the capacity to boost sustainable economic growth and productivity. These are: financial and business services; energy; tourism; life sciences; food and drink; the creative industries and universities.

The opportunities are immense, but Scotland's ability to capitalise on these must not be constrained by a lack of individuals with the right skills, and public-private sector co-operation is essential in delivering the appropriate training opportunities.

To recover from recession and thrive in the new global economy, employers also need to be more productive and innovative, making them more capable of competing globally in the high-skills, knowledge-driven economy. In addition to public sector investment to deliver a highly-skilled workforce, there is therefore an onus on businesses to invest in skills development.

Our colleges and universities also face a challenge presented by the current fast-moving environment: they need to be demand-led, aligning their provision with both the current and future skills requirements of the economy and updating courses to reflect future needs.

Joined-up thinking, aligning our industrial and economic approaches with our skills and employment approaches, is vital to delivering sustainable economic growth. This gives individuals the knowledge and skills to perform in a constantly-changing world, securing the jobs yet to be invented and harnessing the knowledge yet to be discovered.

The transformative power of skills to deliver us out of the recessionary rut and accelerate economic growth cannot be prized highly enough. We must continue to promote a skilled workforce, giving employers the opportunity to access the relevant skills at the right time and in the right place.

Jacqui Hepburn is director of the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils in Scotland.

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