Comment: Hands-on training to rebalance economy

Scott Reid. Picture: Julie Bull

Scott Reid. Picture: Julie Bull

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BY ALL accounts, Scotland’s jobs market is in rude health, with employment prospects the highest they have been for some time. Two major reports last week reinforced this feelgood factor.

PwC’s latest economic outlook painted a particularly rosy picture, suggesting that the Scottish workforce will grow more than the UK average over the next decade. Further support was provided by Friday’s snapshot of the UK oil and gas sector from Bank of Scotland. Despite a backdrop of tumbling prices and rising production costs, nine out of ten businesses anticipate growing over the next two years.

Of course, few firms will talk about planning for contraction, but the optimism seems to be borne out in the report’s jobs forecast. When the estimates for net gains and losses are crunched down, just under 8,000 roles are expected to be created over the next couple of years.

PwC’s outlook threw up some interesting findings. It indicates that more than one in 20 Scots is working in a job that has been created by the explosion in new technologies over the past quarter of a century. The definition of a digital business and who qualifies as a digital worker these days is a bit of a woolly one. How, for example, do you categorise a 21st century journalist splitting copy output between newsprint and screen?

And while opportunities in software engineering, programming and IT support are likely to bolster employment in the coming years, a fair few of the current batch of start-ups have a whiff of the emperor’s new clothes about them (we’ve got a great idea for an app that no-one really needs).

Coincidentally, both pieces of research were published during national apprenticeship week, an admittedly largely English-focused initiative to raise awareness and take-up of apprenticeships and traineeships.

Too many sectors of industry are still facing drastic skills shortages while several evolving areas increasingly demand higher-level skill sets. Britain has a record to be proud of globally in a handful of industries such as car-making and aerospace, but remains over-reliant on imported manufactured goods.

A lack of investment over the past few decades has, regrettably, seen some skills lost forever and the image still associated with apprenticeships – the young male in grubby overalls – requires dispelling.

But if there is any hope of achieving a rebalancing of the economy away from its over-reliance on consumer spending and services towards making things again, then maximum efforts must be put into promoting such training programmes.

Businesses and universities would do well to heed David Cameron’s plea for them to join forces to offer more degree-type apprenticeships, providing a useful combination of hands-on vocational and academic learning.

There can be no doubting the need to get more young people choosing this route to gainful employment. «

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