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Programme Director for the Centre for Work-based Learning, David Coyne, highlights the importance of work-based learning for our future workforce and economy.

Securing the balance between educating future generations and the development of their skills is of critical importance to the success of Scotland’s economy, with £3.2billion on the line annually.

There are many who believe we have the most educated generation in Scotland’s history and yet many are struggling to find employment.

Earlier this month, Douglas Weir, emeritus professor of education at Strathclyde University, wrote about the causes and effects of the rise in the number of young people choosing to stay at school for sixth year.

It’s a complex subject, and depending on your perspective, whether as a parent, an educator or a taxpayer, it can be a vital stage in the development of young talent, or a costly distraction from getting on with life.

It is almost always a necessity for those wishing to pursue the most demanding academic routes to achieve the exam scores required for entrance to the most demanding subjects. For others, it can be a vital second chance to achieve the grades commensurate with ability, following a less than glittering performance in Fifth Year. But for others, it is simply a delay in entering the adult world.

Young humans learn how to interact with adults by being with adults. The workplace is the most valuable experience a young person can have in order to learn the vital skills of self-management, social intelligence and innovation.

With the demise of Saturday jobs and other adult-led activities young people participate in, there are alarmingly few opportunities to set an appropriate frame of reference for young people’s relationships with the world as an adult themselves.

The Centre for Work-based Learning is a strong advocate for getting into the workplace from an early age to start to developing good habits of mind and of behaviour.

Foundation Apprenticeships, for those still at school, Modern Apprenticeships for those who want to work, learn and earn, and now Graduate Apprenticeships for those who want to pursue a degree whilst in work all offer young people the opportunity to take their place as young adults in the workplace.

Recent work by PWC on young workers indicates that if Scotland had the same number of young people in work as Germany, we would see economic output (GVA) around £3.2 billion higher than it is, bringing into sharp focus just how vital it is we get the right balance.

Last week the British Chamber of Commerce showed 71 per cent of businesses in the service sector are finding it difficult to hire the right workers – the highest figure on record. There has also been a steep rise in all vacancy levels in recent years, with one-third of those vacancies remaining hard to fill due to skills shortages.

The distinction between the classroom and the workplace served us well in the past, but the future of work looks radically different.

Research into the future of work, and the fourth industrial revolution, tells us that we will need a combination of three things: up-to-date technical skills, the ability to re-learn technical skills throughout one’s working life, and highly developed human skills. The human skills are what will differentiate us from machines in the future; situational judgment, emotional intelligence, constructing narratives, will all become the critical added value in the workplaces of our children.

These three attributes are best learned in work, and there is a growing realisation that work-based learning can start to bridge our productivity gap, prepare for the future and ensure we don’t lose out.

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