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Ahead of this year’s Scottish Parliament election, we’ve been talking about the importance of putting the economy at the heart of the political debate. That means talking to all parties about the need to build a ‘Partnership for Prosperity’ that puts post-pandemic recovery at the top of the in-tray for the next Scottish Government.

Supporting skills for automation

There are lots of things we can do to boost recovery. Government spending alone can’t deliver the long-term sustainable recovery all Scots need, that’s why we need to get those businesses who can invest to invest. Top of that list of investment is people.

Investment in people isn’t just important for the here and now; it will set us on the path towards the kind of economy we want for Scotland’s future. High skilled, high tech and, in turn, high growth. We need to be ready for the influence technology will have, and already is having, on the way we work and the jobs of the future. Get that process right and automation becomes an enabler of better work, lessening our reliance on labour intensive and repetitive jobs. Get it wrong and it undoubtedly poses challenges to the workforce.

So where to start? The answer is to create an education and skills system that better reflects demand, embedding a culture of lifelong learning across the public and private sectors, and really focusing on the world of opportunities provided by Scotland’s apprenticeship system.

Developing practical and personal skills 

In my role as CBI Scotland Director, I get to meet lots of apprentices doing amazing things in some of Scotland’s most innovative companies. Within our membership we have CEO’s who started their careers as apprentices and have worked their way to the very top of the business.

Too often, people who have little experience of vocational pathways view apprenticeships as somehow less valuable than traditional, academic learning. They are wrong. Employers really value the opportunity to work with young people directly, to help shape their careers and give them opportunities through on-the-job training.

Formal qualifications can certainly help young people, but nothing beats attitude and aptitude when it comes to making a good hire. The apprentices I’ve met have those qualities by the bucket-load.  

Five point plan for Scotland's skills

So on this important week, when we’re celebrating the role that apprenticeships play in professional life across Scotland, I want to share with you our quick five-point plan for supporting the Scottish skills system and giving economic recovery a people-powered boost:

  1. Expand the apprenticeships system, make it demand-led and create more opportunities in a wider range of subject areas and sectors.
  2. Ensure skills funding is more closely aligned to industry needs and strike a better balance between undergraduate learning, work-based learning and short, sharp provision to support continual upskilling and rapid retraining.
  3. Introduce a ‘skills wallet’ for everyone over the age of 25 to incentivise lifelong learning by supporting people to invest in their own skills at key points throughout their career.
  4. Embed digital and meta skills across all learning and a target set for equipping all workers with basic digital skills by the end of the next parliament.
  5. Support our universities and colleges with the funding and flexibility needed to increase short, sharp, industry-led courses to help people rapidly upskill and retrain.

The city of Glasgow made great play of the slogan “People Make Glasgow.” I want to go one further and say that People Make Scotland. Government and business have worked hard to protect our people during the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, with light finally at the end of the tunnel, it’s time to look at how we offer everyone, regardless of age, new and exciting opportunities that will last throughout their working life. Apprenticeships are absolutely central to that.

More information

To find out more about CBI Scotland visit the website.

Employers can find out about the support to take on an apprentice at

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