Scotland’s economy is now fully focused on a ‘#human future’, says Frank Mitchell, Chair of Skills Development Scotland 


NOW more than ever, Scotland’s businesses are working in a rapidly shifting economic environment.
From technological disruption causing profound shifts in the economy to the climate emergency placing a sharper focus on sustainability, the effects of change are compounded by demographic changes reducing the size of the working age population.

Employers in STEM sectors in particular are increasingly in a war for talent, unable to rely solely on a stream of new entrants to the labour market as they once did, and must develop greater resilience if they are to gain a competitive advantage.

The effect of automation is that more emphasis is placed on those qualities which make us uniquely human, such as the ability to learn and re-learn as our working environment changes, and to select and critically analyse what’s important.

That includes social and emotional abilities like empathy, collaboration, leadership, creativity and curiosity. These are the meta-skills which can help us develop flexible growth mindsets that promote well-being, whilst also helping us find solutions to complex global challenges.

It means we must shift from a skills system based around knowledge to one with increased focus around competence, valuing learning and coping with change at all stages of people’s working lives.

This involves all parts of our economy, from public sector agencies, universities and colleges to employers and their employees, but it’s something which is within our grasp if the will exists to get there.

A virtuous cycle of upskilling and reskilling in which people have the chance to learn throughout their careers will not only ensure our workforce can cope with a shifting economic environment, but that our businesses are able to thrive in the global marketplace.

It’s a cycle which will breed confidence and encourage growth. Employers will be more able to retain the talent they need, and employees will be reassured and more optimistic about facing up to future challenges. 

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is committed to providing a leadership role as we move towards this human future, and there are already examples of this new model bringing economic benefits, particularly in STEM sectors.

In partnership with industry body ScotlandIS, SDS has been instrumental in the launch of CodeClan, Scotland’s first digital skills academy, responding to an immediate for a new pathway towards tech sector careers.

Based around the offer of immersive courses lasting 12-16 weeks, CodeClan has earned a reputation for producing quality graduates and aims to deliver 1000 graduates into the tech industry in 2020, supporting 500 employers in the process.

Scotland’s financial services sector offers a further example, with projected growth over the next decade resulting in employers needing to fill both existing and emerging roles, such as those in cyber security and data analytics.

Barclays have cited the talent pool as a major reason for building a new campus in Glasgow, JPMorgan has started work on its new tech base in the city, while both TSB and Tesco Bank have just announced plans for tech hubs in Edinburgh.

SDS has helped create regional hubs bringing together employers such as BNP Paribas, Lloyds, Barclays, HSBC, Tesco Bank and Morgan Stanley alongside learning providers and the public sector to shape the curriculum for those seeking a career in the industry.

We are already seeing the impact of this collaboration through the introduction of the ‘Fast Track’ work-readiness course, developed for those keen to launch a career in financial services.

Employers welcome this approach and can see the immediate benefits of short, sharp interventions providing employees with the competencies to transition into new roles. 

It’s a clear indicator of the future direction of travel. Glasgow Regional Colleges Board has agreed their curriculum will be openly owned by all regional colleges and endorsed by the whole financial services sector, while Edinburgh Regional College will adopt and offer the curriculum in the wider Edinburgh and Lothians region.

The question now is whether partners across our learning and skills system have the appetite to drive forward this necessary change.

As Scotland attempts to both rise to the economic challenges facing the global economy and to grasp the opportunities contained therein, I’m convinced these interventions provide a model for action which can be adopted across our learning and skills system.


BARCLAYS is one of the employers to benefit from the Fast Track work readiness course.
Scott Stewart, Head of Barclays Scotland and chair of the Glasgow Financial Services Hub, said:

“Financial Services is a major employer in Glasgow in which Barclays is a major part. ‘Fast Track’ provides a great opportunity for students to learn the skills that Financial Services companies in Glasgow need to support their long-term growth plans.  

“The course is practical in its delivery with valuable content which is co-designed and delivered by industry experts, to enhance the opportunities and progression of people looking to start their career.”


CONNECTED CITY: Barclays’ new tech hub is being built at Buchanan Wharf.



Fifth year pupil Ahmed’s future set by Microsoft apprenticeship place

EMPLOYERS across STEM sectors are being encouraged to attract their future workforce through Foundation Apprenticeships.

This year, there are up to 5000 opportunities for school pupils across Scotland to take a Foundation Apprenticeship as a subject in their senior phase. 


CODE READ: Boroughmuir High School pupil Ahmed Abdou chose a Foundation Apprenticeship through Edinburgh College.

Developed by Skills Development Scotland in partnership with industry and supported by the European Social Fund, Foundation Apprenticeships give young people the chance to gain experience, skills and qualifications in some of Scotland’s most exciting industries. 

Taken over one or two academic years, a Foundation Apprenticeship involves spending time out of school with a learning providerto gain valuable workplace experience with an employer, putting into practice the skills learned at school and college. 

Completion of a Foundation Apprenticeship leads to a qualification at the same level as a Higher and supports a young person to progress on to a job, such as a Modern or Graduate Apprenticeship, or move on to study at college or university.

Any employer in Scotland can take on a Foundation Apprentice to get early access to future talent, by providing school pupils with real experience of the world of work that goes towards achieving an industry recognised qualification.  

Seven of the 12 Foundation Apprenticeships are STEM-related including IT Systems Hardware, Scientific Technologies, Civil Engineering and Accountancy.

These will be co-ordinated by a local learning provider, who’ll also provide training to support the work experience. Currently, senior phase pupils across the country are making decisions about Foundation Apprenticeships in their subject choices.

When Boroughmuir High School pupil Ahmed Abdou was entering fifth year he chose a Foundation Apprenticeship through Edinburgh College alongside his Highers in Maths, Physics, Design and Manufacturing and Art & Design.

Having spent two afternoons at college in his first year of the apprenticeship, Ahmed is now gaining work experience at Microsoft. 

According to the sixth year pupil, taking a Foundation Apprenticeship has changed his perceptions about the world of work and changed his mind about the career he wants to pursue. 
He explained: “Working at Microsoft has helped my people skills and it’s changed the way I approach my work in class. 

“My time management is better because I have learned to work more effectively to meet deadlines. Before taking the Foundation Apprenticeship I was planning to go into architecture but working in Microsoft made me realise that I want to pursue a career in that industry.”

Aeronautical engineering firm in Ayrshire, GE Caledonian is growing its talent pool through Foundation Apprenticeships. Eleven percent of GE Caledonian’s current workforce are female.  Apprentice Leader at GE Caledonian’s aircraft engine maintenance, repair and overhaul centre, Stephen McNab is keen to encourage more women into the industry through Foundation Apprenticeships. 

Stephen said: “Foundation Apprenticeships are our main talent pipeline. I think more women are becoming interested in this type of career – especially through Foundation Apprenticeships.”