Leader: Young Scots need real skills now more than ever

IF ANY reminders were needed about the formidable challenge ahead in creating new streams of employment for Scotland’s school and university leavers, two reports we highlight today bring these into sharp focus.

New figures from the Trades Union Congress show youth unemployment is soaring across Scotland, with the numbers of 18- to 24-year-olds claiming job seekers allowance doubling in half of local authorities. All 30 mainland Scottish local authorities saw unemployment rise among 18- to 24-year-olds.

Much has been said and written about the thousands of new jobs being created by the Scottish government’s highly ambitious push into the renewables sector. Only last week Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon declared in the Scottish parliament that £750 million of new renewable electricity projects began generating in Scotland in the past 12 months and that there was a pipeline of renewable electricity projects, amounting to “a total estimated capital investment of £46 billion, ready to create thousands of new jobs for Scotland”.

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But euphoric hopes that this would bring a bonanza in high value-added employment for Scots are doused by sobering research by recruitment consultants Taylor Hopkinson Associates. It finds that the majority of top jobs in the sector will be filled by people from overseas unless action is taken to tackle a massive skills shortage. While Scots are being employed for lower paid jobs in the green energy sector, the most highly skilled posts, attracting salaries of up to £150,000, are going to people abroad. Out of 61 jobs the firm has filled in the green energy sector in the past 18 months, almost half had gone to applicants outside the UK. And six of the seven positions attracting salaries over £100,000 went to people from abroad, due to a lack of people with the necessary qualifications in the UK.

If indeed tens of thousands of renewable energy jobs are likely to emerge in the next few years, with many of them in Scotland, and demand for skilled workers is set to rocket, this highlights the evident mismatch of a Scottish higher education system producing thousands of job-hungry graduates, but not enough with a grounding in engineering or technical skills required in the very area in which the government is encouraging so much investment. This mismatch will fuel concern that our universities have not yet adjusted to changes in the labour market.

The bigger immediate problem remains a dearth of confidence across the private sector overall at present. The reports underline two imperatives: the need for more skills training in science and engineering; and the reduction and removal where possible of tax and regulatory barriers to employment. This is a tall order in today’s conditions. But the rise in youth unemployment towards one million will make such action a political imperative.