Martin Davidson: Time to skill – the youngsters of today are facing different work challenges

Scottish Apprenticeship Week takes place from 2-6 March. The theme of the week is Talent Without Limits andthe message is that there are no limits to where work-based learning can take you. But why do we need a week to ­celebrate the options available to young people today?

Young People on Outward Bound course at Loch Eil
Young People on Outward Bound course at Loch Eil

On the surface, generation Z (born 1997-2010) already seem to have a lot going for them. Life is good. Health care and education have been transformed, they’ve never known a world without instant connectivity and technology, and on the whole, our society is more accepting of diversity, alternative lifestyles and points of view. Today’s young people arguably have more choice and opportunity than any generation that came before them. Or do they?

They’re also growing up in a ­society that is going through huge social and economic change, and young people are at the frontline of some of the major impacts of this. One aspect of their lives which has changed most dramatically is getting a job.

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Sixty years ago, people would be able to leave school at 16 and step straight into a job. Now automation has changed the nature of work – and the traditional youth labour ­market doesn’t exist anymore. Nobody is guaranteed a job for life. Change will be a constant in the lives of young people and they’re going to need to do more than just adapt to it – they’ll need to actively seek out and create new opportunities to thrive.

Martin Davidson, Director of Scotland and Innovation at The Outward Bound Trust

For many, higher education is still seen as the norm that young people should aspire to. But having a degree isn’t enough to make you stand out from the crowd. Graduate employment is highly competitive.

Did you know employers receive an ­average of 75 applications per ­graduate vacancy? In order to come out on top, young graduates are expected to have work experience as well as be able to demonstrate a range of soft skills. Added to this, young people are understandably worried about leaving university burdened by debt. But are apprenticeships the answer for the future?

Apprenticeships aren’t new. In their heyday in the 1960s, roughly 35 per cent of male school leavers went on to complete an apprenticeship. ­Numbers dwindled until the 1990s, but with the establishment of the Scottish Parliament came a renewed drive to increase participation, ­seeing apprenticeships as a ­viable ­work-based education route.

The Scottish Government is now delivering more apprenticeships than ever before with more places available in Foundation, Modern, and Graduate Apprenticeships in 2020. Current data from Skills ­Development Scotland shows that 92 per cent of Modern Apprenticeships stay in work once they’re qualified.

This is great news – however, let’s not forget that we need to prepare young people for a changing world. In their paper Skills 4.0 – a skills model to drive Scotland’s future, Skills Development Scotland and the Centre for Work-based Learning in Scotland position our current era as a period of change as disruptive as the original industrial revolution. They argue that Scotland’s workforce needs constantly developing skills, knowledge and capabilities to thrive in this complex, ever-changing ­environment.

You might know Outward Bound as that charity that works with schools and youth groups. But did you know that our mission is to help all young people – whether in education or at the start of their journey in employment – to defy their limitations and realise that they’re capable of more than they ever thought possible? An intent not (you might say) a million miles away from Scottish Apprenticeship Week’s aim to show us that apprentices are capable of ‘talent without limits’.

From talking to employers across Scotland, we know that regardless of the paths school leavers take, many of their newest recruits don’t have the skills and behaviours they’re going to need in their future, despite these being vitally important to securing that first job and embarking on a ­successful work life.

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All evidence points to them being more in demand than ever before. Skills 4.0 define these as ‘meta-skills’, timeless higher order skills that ­create adaptive learners. They group these skills into categories of self-management, social intelligence and innovation. In our day to day work with early careers talent, we focus on the specific skills that employers are looking for – self management, a good attitude to work, resilience and perhaps crucially, communication.

At Outward Bound we appreciate that young people today face a world full of uncertainties and challenges. And this is not all bad – it has shaped Generation Z to be entrepreneurial, innovative and hard-working.

Your up-and-coming apprentices, school leavers and graduates are a real asset. But we know that many young ­people need some help to develop these ‘meta-skills’.

That’s why we were delighted when the ­Government announced in ­February that education and skills funding will rise to £3.57 billion – increasing it by more than £122 million, to give ­every young person across Scotland the same chance to reach their full potential, whatever their background or ­circumstances. Of this, Skills Development Scotland will receive a 4.7 per cent rise in budget to £224.8 million to ensure apprenticeship opportunities are open to all.

So, back to our original question. Should we be celebrating Scottish Apprenticeship Week? It’s a resounding yes from us!

#TalentWithoutLimits is something we’re right behind. We hope you’ll join with us in celebrating the diverse opportunities available to young people, embracing the different paths open to them in Scotland today and giving them all the support they need to thrive.

Martin Davidson, director of ­Scotland and Innovation at The ­Outward Bound Trust.