Disruption and rapid change in the labour market, including automation, will alter the future of work.

To ensure Scotland’s businesses and people thrive in this future, the enterprise and skills agencies need to constantly understand the context we operate in, so our priorities can be reshaped in response.

To facilitate this, we are collaborating with our agency partners to chart out a vision we are calling ‘Skills 2035: A Human Future’.

Understanding the Changing Context

We are investing in a process of open innovation to collectively understand the dimensions of change over the next 15–20 years. This joint understanding will create the foundation of a shared vision for skills in 2035, so we can invest now in leveraging the innate human characteristics, or ‘meta-skills’ which will drive Scotland’s future success.

Shared vision

A shared vision will enable more effective collaboration and allow us to jointly determine how best we can support businesses and people to thrive in a changing world, towards achieving increased productivity and inclusive growth.

Achieving this will not be easy and will take time. However, it is essential to unlocking the potential of all of Scotland’s people and businesses, and to ensuring the future prosperity of our economy.

The Learning and Skills Ecosystem

The skills of our people are a national asset and the foundation for inclusive growth, wealth creation, equality and sustainability.

In close collaboration with the Scottish Funding Council, we are already exploring how we best maximise Scotland’s human capital, in the form of our population’s skills.

To inform the changes, action and investments we need to make now, we have started to envisage the characteristics of the learning and skills system in Scotland in 2035. 


  • An adaptive and resilient workforce
  • Engaged employers at the heart of shaping skills
  • A dynamic and responsive learning ecosystem

Towards 2035: Better Customer Experience

The nature of customer service has changed dramatically in recent years, and expectations of service delivery with it. Customers now expect 24/7 access to services, increasingly through digital interactions.

While the unique benefits of face-to-face engagements with customers for high value-adding activities are not in question, many of us are now content to have self-service access to every-day functionality and will happily converse with artificial intelligence (AI) to meet our basic needs.

Customers also expect the organisations they interact with regularly to understand and anticipate their needs in order to attract and retain their custom.

To develop the smart public services required in 2035 we can learn from the pioneers who already exploit digital capability such as AI and predictive analytics to improve customer experience.

We will make clear progress in this area over the next three years, particularly exploring the potential for developing careers avatars and using more sophisticated data analysis to inform our service.

These will allow us to increase our reach and be better able to proactively offer the tailored products and services that meet the needs of our customers.

Towards 2035: Meta-skills

Scotland’s employers and individuals must focus on developing, utilising and rewarding the uniquely human ‘meta-skills’. Meta-skills include problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, creativity, and leadership.

They are the skills we will all need to drive innovation, create adaptive resilience, encourage entrepreneurial behaviour and ensure our future success, regardless of context.

Learning and skills provision in Scotland in 2035 will need to develop, measure and reward meta-skills, acknowledging that these can only be developed experientially.

Towards 2035: Agency-fluid ways of working

The enterprise and skills agencies are ambitious for Scotland. To achieve our shared ambition will require our collective efforts and resources.

SDS values state that we make use of our combined strengths and expertise to deliver the best outcomes. At its core, agency-fluid working is the next articulation of this approach.

Being more fluid in our approach will help to integrate our collective offer. While each agency will retain its own unique character, priorities and contribution to achieving Scotland’s ambitions, increasingly our stakeholders should be less aware of these divisions.

This approach will see us working with the people who are best placed to achieve our shared outcomes. For our customers, it will mean consistent, impartial advice and access to support regardless of their first point of contact.

We are already committed to cross-agency methods of working to achieve skills alignment, and to support business adoption of innovative workplace practices and inward investment. We are also piloting an agency-fluid approach with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to deliver complementary public services more holistically and with a clear common purpose.

We will look to identify and employ further cross-agency solutions over the coming years.

Towards 2035: The future of work

Looking forward, mega trends (globalisation, technological progress and demographic change) will alter our understanding of what ‘work’ looks like and how our labour market operates.

The OECD predicts that around 14% of jobs in the UK will be at high risk from automation, mostly in middle skill occupations. In future, jobs that remain completely untouched by automation and artificial intelligence will be the exception rather than the norm.

Industries will be forced to deploy their human resource more efficiently to remain competitive. Labour-intensive businesses will need to review and, in some cases, reinvent their business models, making better use of smart technologies and using their human workforce more effectively.

The notion of lifelong learning must shift from rhetoric to reality, as individuals will need to continue learning throughout their lives, to keep up with rapidly changing working environments.

Workers who are not ‘employees’ tend to do significantly less learning, and trends towards non-traditional ways of working will potentially exacerbate this.

In the future, workforce development will need to focus more on funding, engaging and attracting individuals directly as they become more mobile and less attached to employment as we understand it today.

Although less conventional working models demonstrate advantages for businesses and for individuals, particularly in terms of flexibility, there are concerns about their perceived disadvantages, including their impact on equality, productivity and growth.

Societal values are also changing. Boundaries between work and personal life are blurring as work-life balance is increasingly moving towards work-life integration. This has reinvigorated thinking around concepts such as the four-day week and a universal income and will continue to change our perceptions as work, as we currently know it, becomes less commonplace.

Towards 2035: Focus on efficacy in the skills system

The Skills Planning model explains our ambition to make the skills system more effective. Through increased understanding of demand in the economy, and responsive skills planning and provision, we aim to ensure that the broader skills and learning system effectively meets the current and future demand of Scotland’s economy, employers and people.

The ecosystem that delivers skills and learning in Scotland must operate efficiently, supporting learners to smoothly transition into productive employment as effectively as possible.

We must be prepared to challenge and adjust methods of skills acquisition to ensure they remain fit-for purpose in the future.

Similarly, the architecture for apprenticeship frameworks and standards needs to be flexible and responsive to changes in employer demand, tailored to individual need, acknowledge prior learning and expedite learner journeys.

Skills and learning provision must also understand the goals of individual learners, and provide high levels of customer satisfaction, to motivate people to take responsibility for their life-long skills development.