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Two-way tug for labour market

Scotland's lifelong learning strategy faces major challenges, including how to improve job opportunities for the "bottom half" of school-leavers who will not enter higher education, Ewart Keep, one of the UK's top economists, has warned the Scottish Executive's Lifelong Learning Forum.

Professor Keep told the second meeting of the forum, which was set up last year, that labour market polarisation may be "tugging the Scottish workforce in two very different directions", and simply supplying more skills would not make low-skilled, low-paid employment vanish.

The meeting, which was focusing on workforce development, heard from Professor Keep that the transition to a mass system of higher education was now irreversible but that some of the effects were not automatically benign.

Contrary to the perceived wisdom of a "win, win, win situation", there was evidence that the expansion of the education system had disproportionately benefited the higher social classes and might disadvantage the "bottom half" of young people who did not and could not participate.

Allan Wilson, Deputy Minister for Lifelong Learning, told the forum that the Executive had achieved its target of 30,000 modern apprenticeships two years ahead of target. But while employers spend pound;1.5 billion each year on training, barriers remained, particularly in small businesses.

Members of the forum reached agreement that the Executive's lifelong learning strategy has been strengthened because it is broad-based, looking at further and higher education, and personal experience, as well as simply skills and employability.

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