DRINKS giant Diageo has set its sights on tackling youth unemployment by launching a £5 million training programme for young people in Scotland.

The Bell's and Johnnie Walker distiller has initially targeted the hospitality industry with the Learning for Life programme, aiming to put 200 job candidates through the scheme this year.

But it later plans to extend it retail, manufacturing and to help foster entrepreneurship.

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The programme, which is coming to Scotland after starting life in South America and the Caribbean in 2008, prepares trainees for work by equipping them with a broad base of skills.

Diageo said it would work with specialists such as Springboard UK, the charity that helps young people build careers in hospitality, to find candidates.

The first trainees for the hospitality industry graduated in Glasgow yesterday, having undertaken a six-week course covering bartending, customer service, teamwork, communication and CV preparation.

Each trainee was assigned a mentor, who remained on hand throughout the training and job search process and was available for ongoing advice.

The initial graduates qualified in time to capitalise on the opportunities expected to be brought by the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer and at the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, the Perthshire resort owned by Diageo, in September.

Diageo director and Gleneagles chairman Peter Lederer said Scotland was the "natural place" to launch the programme in Europe because of the size of its whisky manufacturing base here, which employs 4000 staff across its distilling, bottling and packaging operations.

Highlighting the opportunities available to young people in the hospitality sector, Mr Lederer said: "One thing I'd say from the hospitality industry side is that we are crying out for good people, and we always are. So the opportunities are out there for them, as long as they've got those skills.

"This is hopefully filling that gap between the desire to do something - they want the job, they want to do something - but just can't get the connection. It's making that connection with work. The opportunities are enormous. Once young people come into the industry they realise how big those opportunities are."

Diageo is one of 1000 companies that have signed up to an industry certificate of job readiness that Skills Development Scotland (SDS) has developed with the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA). About 2000 young people ae currently working towards it. SDS chief executive Damien Yeates said: "We can't underestimate the need for industry to take a real interest in the education of young people. Often the criticism has been that industry is a passive consumer of an education system. I think this proves that a big company like Diageo is taking really seriously the need to consider the work readiness of young people and to invest in that.

"They couldn't do anything more important than that."

Meanwhile, Mr Lederer expressed his satisfaction of seeing the Ryder Cup come to Gleneagles, noting that it was 25 years since he first held talks in the US over the possibility of bringing it to the resort.

However he was more circumspect on the independence referendum. He said: "It's not an issue for Diageo in the sense it is the people of Scotland who vote. We will watch what happens, we will ask questions around [how it will] affect our business of both governments. It's not just the Scottish Government - we have questions for the UK Government as well."