Some three years ago, I chaired a Commission on Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.
Our report got unanimous Scottish Parliament backing and is now being implemented. The key recommendation was the requirement for more focus and investment on the young people who weren’t likely to go to university.
In our field research I was shocked at how schools told us about their academic achievements and then followed the somewhat embarrassing conversation when we asked about the pupils who could not consider university as the right or only option.
Generally, there was no focus on the pupils who did not choose to follow a purely academic route – they were just putting in time at school and mostly leaving with no qualifications or real preparation for employment.
This reflected deeply held cultural thinking that university education was the ‘be all and end all’. This view is held by many parents and teachers, and generally ingrained from an early age. I certainly had it when I was young.
To be fair, there are now some signs of this changing and I’d like to think that our report and the Scottish Government’s programme to implement its recommendations are increasing recognition of college education, apprenticeships, technician training and other vocational skills training.
We do need doctors, lawyers and teachers, but we also need the people who can build and maintain our communities, keep our energy supplies going, and operate our leisure and healthcare facilities.
Our report particularly highlighted the benefit of apprenticeships where apprentices are employed and earning while developing the skills that will secure their long-term employment prospects.
In the oil and gas industry, tradespeople and technicians who have come through apprenticeships are the backbone of the Industry, highly skilled and deservedly well rewarded.
It’s now possible to do the first year of an apprenticeship while at school but studying at college. Also, apprenticeships are now being recognised by the professions.
This is why I’ve been so pleased to see the boost given to apprenticeships by Developing the Young Workforce and Skills Development Scotland through this campaign in the Press and Journal.
In this world of digital technology, it is important that these factors are being built into our vocational training to ensure that we are equipping the workforce of the future with the appropriate skills.
So, I would say to parents that you should consider your child going to university in terms of whether it provides the kind of study they want to undertake with job prospects.
We should also be discussing whether their talents and prospects would be better served by going to college, doing an apprenticeship or other training opportunities.
To the teachers in schools, please don’t continue to brainwash youngsters that five Highers and a university education is the only successful way ahead.
Be aware of the different career options that are out there and try and understand what the youngster would really like to do.
Encourage them to spend some time in College in fourth year school, experiencing and understanding the vocational opportunities, and let them make the choice.
One of our report’s recommendations not yet implemented is the proposal that small businesses should be given a modest financial incentive to take on apprentices.
This could increase the number of apprentice opportunities and greatly increase Scotland’s skill base. Hopefully, this will be implemented in due course.