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Time to hone the skills for life and work

Soft skills for hard times" sums up the issues at the heart of this week's special edition on enterprise, careers and skills for young people. In the face of rising youth unemployment, something needs to be done - and fast.

A fortnight ago, we criticised the lack of articulation between senior school and university courses, as Curriculum for Excellence advanced in schools while universities were slow to prepare for the new generation that will soon reach them. This week, in contrast, it's impressive to see the Scottish government, Scottish Qualifications Authority, CBI, Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, local authorities, local employers, colleges and schools pulling together to help youngsters into employment.

With one in four 16 to 24-year-olds already out of work, the urgency cannot be stressed enough. Employability has to be at the heart of Scottish education, as Anne Jardine of Education Scotland says in this week's news focus (pages 12-15). And the key skills now being honed to that end are the softer skills for life and work: stickability, commitment, teamworking, time-keeping, good communication, confidence.

Whether it's voluntary services like the Duke of Edinburgh's Award and the Prince's Trust, or business leaders like Sir Tom Hunter and Peter Hughes of Scottish Engineering working with schools, the goals are the same: to prepare youngsters of all abilities to face the jobs market with a "can do" attitude and that "extra dimension" to help them compete.

Be they joiners, lawyers, hairdressers or future Richard Bransons, the core skills are the same. So comprehensives are no longer just about offering everyone academic opportunities; they are educating the whole person. Intermediates can now be taken in volunteering and Highers in personal development.

What we see in this week's pages are national and local initiatives coming together. SQA Skills for Work courses are being developed jointly by schools, colleges and employers seeking local solutions for their communities, from the Western Isles to Dumfries and Galloway, from the tweed industry (p24) to rural skills and hairdressing (p25). East Ayrshire is showing how much a local authority can do, and the work experience that can be offered with pound;1 million invested in enterprise academies for all its secondaries (pages 18-21).

These, of course, are the trailblazers; not all authorities are responding so well. But if the CBI has its way, everyone will be encouraged to do so through an "Employability Schools" standard on the Eco-Schools model.

Job opportunities are there - in regeneration, renewables and creative industries, says Jacqui Hepburn, on behalf of the skills councils (p16). She welcomes modern apprenticeships and the appointment of a minister for youth employment. Let's hope it's not too late.

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