By Scott Wright

SCOTTISH business leader Sandy Begbie has warned of the danger of young people drifting further from the workplace amid the continuing fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Begbie, who authored the Youth Guarantee report for the Scottish Government in the wake of the crisis, is currently leading a series of high-profile events examining inclusion in the workplace.

Monica Lewinsky has been among the high-profile speakers who have appeared at the events in recent weeks, which have been hosted by the Scottish HR Leadership Group, set up by recruitment firm FWB Park Brown.

Mr Begbie, who held senior human resources roles with Standard Life before joining Scottish Financial Enterprise as chief executive in October, fears younger and older people could be excluded from the current over-supply of labour, which has been sparked by redundancies soaring in light of the pandemic.

His comments come as official figures underline the impact of coronavirus on the prospects of the younger generation. The Office for National Statistics reported in March that an estimated 797,000 young people in the UK aged 16 to 24 were not in education, employment or training between October and December, 39,000 more than the previous quarter and 34,000 higher than the same period in 2019.

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Mr Begbie told The Herald: “When you have got an over-supply, then the demand side will recruit the most qualified candidates, but of course what that means is young people who were probably furthest from the workplace end up being even further from the workplace.

“I think that applies to older workers too; those who may have to go through retraining and re-skilling. For me, part of the inclusion agenda is based around trying to make sure we come out of this crisis in a different way to previous economic crises, where those furthest [away] in the workplace end up in two years’ time even further away.

“We need to be really quite targeted in ensuring that we give all young people, and people generally, the chance to be re-skilled and given the opportunity of training and apprenticeships. For me, inclusion is… people having similar opportunities, regardless of background.”

Under the Youth Guarantee, which was formally launched in November, every young person in Scotland aged between 16 and 24 will be offered an apprenticeship, a place at college or university, a training opportunity or work experience. It aims to effect structural change so that young people will also be protected during future crises, not just in the aftermath of the pandemic.

By the end of March, Mr Begbie said, it had funded 17,000 places for young people through existing local authority plans, more apprenticeships, extra places in further and higher education, and extra cash for third sector organisations which work specifically with young adults from challenged backgrounds.

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Further progress is hoped for in the current financial year after more funding was secured. In some cases, funding will be provided to incentivise SMEs to take on young people.

Mr Begbie said it was important that the college and university places on offer “provide young people with qualifications we know are going to be really important in the future, particularly in the digital space.”

This chimes with the long-term objective of the Youth Guarantee to align education from secondary school age with the future economic direction of the country. At the same time, it is seen as essential that career advice given to school children reflects the type of jobs that will emerge in the future.

Meanwhile, Mr Begbie has been encouraged by the response to the conferences on workplace inclusion staged by the Scottish Human Resources Group. The events aim to “further the debate on inclusion and encourage positive corporate behaviours.”

As well as Monica Lewinsky, who led a masterclass on International Women’s Day (March 8), the series has also featured UN Women’s Rights campaigner Elizabeth Nyamayaro, and Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five who was wrongfully convicted of an attack in New York.