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Our young people must acquire the skills to broaden their horizons

IT IS clear that if Scotland is to successfully tackle high levels of unemployment among young people then the skills they acquire, whether in schools, colleges or universities, must be driven by the needs of employers.

This may seem an obvious statement but for too long this has not been happening in a structured or consistent way. That is why this month's report by the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce, chaired by Sir Ian Wood, is so important.

The report contains 39 clear recommendations aimed at tackling some of the most entrenched difficulties that have proved to be a barrier between learning and working. For example, it provides a direct route towards addressing the need for parity of esteem between vocational and academic qualifications and recommends a clear educational path to achieve vocational qualifications within the school environment, a long overdue necessity to broaden young peoples' horizons and opportunities.

From a business perspective it is vital that the links between schools, colleges and business grow closer. In both his interim and final reports, Sir Ian highlighted the exceptional work being done by Chambers of Commerce across Scotland in this regard, including work placements, bringing business people into schools and enabling business sponsorship of schools. Scotland's businesses are the major customers for the skills provided by our education system and it is essential that skills provision becomes more demand driven in order to ensure that young people have the skills to take up the jobs that businesses are creating. The Commission's proposals have the potential to herald a fundamental change in the way in which businesses engage with young people.

The report has been widely welcomed across government, businesses and the education sector and there is now a real opportunity to make ground breaking progress. Businesses need to get involved and we are up to the challenge. We recognise that by providing young people with information about, and experience of, business in Scotland, we can help them to make informed choices about their future careers and, in turn, businesses can help ensure that the supply of skills from our educational institutions meets their needs. It really is a win-win situation for everyone.

I believe that this is the most important report to have been produced in terms of skills and employability in recent years. Its recommendations must be acted upon with urgency and Chambers of Commerce will work to ensure that its potential is fulfilled.

Liz Cameron is chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce

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