Youth unemployment is the greatest problem Scotland – and the entire UK – faces.
The Scottish Government announced today [21st January] that Aberdeen’s former leading oil industry figure, Sir Ian Wood, is to lead a commission on developing Scotland’s young workforce.
Sir Ian, with experts from business, further education, schools and trade union backgrounds, will work with the Scottish Government to improve the readiness of young people for work.
The new Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, led by Sir Ian, the former Chair of oil services company, The Wood Group, is to examine the links between Curriculum for Excellence, Post 16 education and employers.
The Commission’s members include Sir Willie Haughey, Grahame Smith from the STUC, Michael David from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills and Linda McKay from Forth Valley College and representatives from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
They will look at routes into work after school and the success of programmes such as modern apprenticeships before making recommendations to enhance the current reform programmes next year.
Sir Ian Wood says: ‘The worst experience a young person leaving school can have is to suddenly find the world out there doesn’t want them and thus it becomes a significant social as well as economic problem.
‘Through the work of the Commission, we hope to make a substantial difference to how school leavers can access training opportunities and ensure that training equips them with the skills they really need.
‘We will be examining everything from the senior phase at school, careers advice, further education and how employers are joined up with the training process.
‘We will bring forward clear recommendations next year on how to improve work-readiness, training, quality and employability of Scotland’s young workforce with a substantial increase in demand for their skills.’
Minister for Youth Employment Angela Constance says: ‘We want to emulate the labour markets of the best performing European countries and to do that we need a modern, responsive and valued system for vocational training across the country.
‘The Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce will explore how Scotland’s training system can be even better linked with Curriculum for Excellence, further education and labour market need, to truly address youth unemployment.
‘It will be important that the Commission engages with a wide range of stakeholders. In particular, the Scottish Government will consider its recommendations and their implementation in partnership with COSLA, given local authorities’ critical role in this agenda.’
Doubts and concerns
The issue of youth unemployment is profoundly serious. We are unconvinced that the appointment of yet another commission is even the right way to start addressing this problem, never mind expecting that it will achieve anything substantial.
We note that the lifespan of this commission has not yet been set. It has no reporting date.
This detail establishes most clearly how the government perceives the contribution of a commission. It is extraordinary for a government to announce a commission with no indication of its timeframe.
This looks very like a government wishing to be seen to be doing something about an issue which is beyond its conceptual reach; and is taking the traditional escape route of setting on a commission.
Moreover, the outline brief given to the commission is adrift of where it needs to be in several key respects. Sacred cows are always a mistake – and the biggest of these here is the Curriculum for Excellence which, instead of being open to interrogation by the commission as to its effectiveness, is enshrined as a fixture around which the commission will shuffle the other pieces on the board.
Sir Ian goes on to claim something that has to be beyond claiming, saying: ”We will bring forward clear recommendations next year on how to improve work-readiness, training, quality and employability of Scotland’s young workforce with a substantial increase in demand for their skills.’ [Ed: our emphasis.]
No commission on earth can effect such a change. It is the market that dictates demand for skills – and if Sir Ian is the possessor of an elixir to control the markets in this way, he would have achieved world domination already.
We are in what is agreed to be a long and slow moving recession, which, with the eurozone crisis still to come to the sticking point, may well worsen. Talking of his commission bringing about ‘a substantial increase in demand’ for the improved skills of young people is hard to defend in this economic context.
Then we note that Sir Ian says: ‘We will be examining everything from the senior phase at school…’ [Ed: our emphasis].
This is far too late.
Any serious examination of the extent to which the Scottish education regime is sufficiently focused, demanding and robust to prepare the young for work has to start from the beginning.
By the time pupils get to the senior stage of their schooling, the faults and misdirections in the foundation of their education and the shaping of their attitudes to work have had their impact – which is all but irredeemable.
A major alarm call in 2012 came from universities – including in Aberdeen – reporting this year that they have been having to run remedial classes in basic skills and abilities – for university students.
The colleges sector too is in a state of upheaval, with severe finding cuts, unsure even if it is intended in any real way to survive.
Down the decades and the governments of all political colours, education has suffered from repeated and interventionist micromanagement by politicians. It has done so arguably more than any other area overseen by departments of governments. Because everyone has been to school at least, every education minister in history has assumed that this experience has qualified them to shape the education of others.
Youth unemployment cannot be reduced by the volumes of largely failing modern apprenticeships that have been established as the latest magic bullet; nor will it be affected by the talking shop of a commission, never mind one not even initially conceived of as working to a deadline.
This is nothing more than a shuffling off of responsibility by a government whose attention is not on the job it was elected to do.