Jacqui Hepburn: Upgrading our workforce skills is a high priority

Last week saw the start of BBC One's The Apprentice, on which candidates compete to impress Lord Sugar for the coveted prize of £250,000, to be spent on a start-up business of their choice.

Away from the media glare of Sir Alan and his budding entrepreneurs, the issue of apprenticeships has never been more relevant, and as 48 new MSPs take their seats in the Scottish Parliament, the delivery of a skilled workforce is set to be one of the key issues facing the new Scottish Government.

Skills development is vital to the productivity and sustainable economic growth of Scotland. And it is interesting to note that while there are considerable challenges ahead in terms of the economic climate, we may be beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel, with a recent CBI survey of employers indicating that more employers plan to increase investment in training in the coming year (41 per cent) compared to only 14 per cent last year, with more than half already involved in apprenticeships (55 per cent), and 17 per cent saying they will become involved in the next few years.

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In its election manifesto the SNP committed to a package of measures on training and employment, including the delivery of 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships each year for the next five years, and the creation of a new Graduate Apprenticeship. These university-led apprenticeships will enable new links between businesses, students and universities, improving work-focused skills alongside flexible higher level study.

The SNP has committed to support the sectors of the economy that will drive future growth, in the likes of renewable energy, the creative industries, financial services, food and drink, sustainable tourism and life sciences. And it is close working with employers that will ensure we fill the gaps in these and other sectors, while also being able to forecast the skills gaps of the future that require to be filled. Through this approach we will be able to give Scotland an edge in a highly competitive world where no one owes our nation a living.

• Jacqui Hepburn is director of the Alliance of Sector Skills Councils, Scotland