Ensuring youngsters have skills to succeed

Angela Constance visiting the Skills Development Scotland Exam Results Helpline contact centre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Angela Constance visiting the Skills Development Scotland Exam Results Helpline contact centre. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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Local and national expertise is key, writes Neville Prentice

AS more than 147,000 young people across Scotland received their exam results last week, I was at Skills Development Scotland’s Exam Results Helpline.

The Helpline has been going for 23 years and listening to the calls being answered by our team of volunteer career advisers I was struck how the Helpline was a perfect example of how are our services are available throughout Scotland.

The Helpline combined our cross-country capacity as a national organisation with the expertise of advisers who had come together at Helpline HQ from centres as far apart as Stornoway and Stirling in order to provide one-to-one help to those who called. They told them about the various options open to them, from Modern Apprenticeships, to further and higher education, or a job.

Their support was bolstered at a local level by our schools-based careers advisers helping students in term time and we also arranged special drop-in sessions in our careers centres and other community locations.

Wherever these conversations happened and whatever the results, I know that same level of information was given to those who came into our centres, or who met with the careers advisers in their schools, but I also know because of the skills and expertise of those advisers that it would be tailored to suit those individuals’ circumstances – as are all of our services.

Each of the 1,056 calls we received on results day were different, while some people achieved better grades than anticipated, others didn’t quite get the results they hoped for and were looking for advice on their next steps. But the universal theme across the calls was the need for personalised help and advice. This kind of support is what is at the heart of everything we do at SDS. We offer advice on your door step when you need it, and as a national agency, we can also ensure that the people and businesses of Scotland are offered a consistent service. There is no “postcode lottery”, whether you live in Glasgow or Galashiels, everyone has an equal opportunity.

Our employer engagement experts work across Scotland, utilising their knowledge of local economies. They know the skills local businesses need and can guide young people to where the jobs are to be found in the area. This is where the benefits of a Scotland-wide organisation come into play as our advisers can point to our funding initiatives in place for employers across Scotland and aim to help local communities grow. Our advisers can help individuals and businesses make the links to the right person, for the right job, in the right place and at the right time.

This awareness of our own economy, existing and emerging markets and local labour market knowledge in villages, towns and cities across Scotland is also honed by global context, we look to other nations for examples of best practice that can be implemented and complement current provision in Scotland.

We are also aware of the need to continue to look to the future and what more we can do to support individuals and employers. By 2020, we’re planning to provide 500,000 skills and learning opportunities; create or safeguard around 200,000 jobs and invest around £1 billion in Scotland.

This can only be achieved by working with partners to support individuals to reach their potential, to help make skills work for employers and to improve the skills and learning system. And it is imperative that the latter responds to industry needs to give people the best chance of succeeding in the workplace.

Over the next five years we will be working with employers to encourage them to proactively develop their workforce and become key influencers and co-designers of education, to support development of the workforce of the future.

We will continue to make this happen by developing regional skills strategies to complement existing sectoral Skills Investment Plans – these identify the key skills needs priorities that will support each sector’s future growth ambitions – and by developing and funding work-based education, training and learning pathways.

SDS is there to make sure national, regional and local connections work for employers and individuals.

• Neville Prentice is Skills Development Scotland senior director of service development & delivery www.skillsdevelopmentscotland.co.uk