Inspiring young people shared their views yesterday on how Scotland can equip itself with the workforce it needs as it faces one of the biggest challenges of the industrial age.

Four up and coming stars from firms around the country shared details of their workplace journeys at the Powering Futures Vision 20:30 conference held in association The Herald and s1jobs in Glasgow, where delegates heard a teacher’s perspective and the thoughts from senior business leaders as Scotland gears up for the energy transition and drive to net zero.

Aaron Miller from Morrison Construction, Callum Gaw from Spirit Aerosystems, Jocelyn Harcus from Sheila Fleet Jewellery, and Leia Pol from Ross-shire Engineering won praise from attendees for their achievements and insights in response to questions from event host Bruce Walker, senior advisor for Powering Future and co-founder of Future X, who also quizzed teacher Sarah McGowan from Drumchapel High School on how the education sector was helping young people enter the workplace.

Mr Walker later held a panel discussion with five company leaders, Fergus Mutch of True North (Scotland), Tony Elliot of Robertson Group, Gaynor Marshall of Lothian Buses, Paul Steen from Vattenfall, and Rhiannon McNiven of Diageo, who addressed the skills agenda from a business perspective.

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Introducing the event, Mr Walker said the event would examine how to “inspire and engage” the workforce for 2030 and the challenges and opportunities involved. The 2030 in the event title refers to the Paris Agreement, under which participating nations are striving to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Yesterday's conference began with a challenge from Jennifer Tempany, co-founder of Powering Futures, who set out the task facing Scotland in its bid to capitalise on the drive to net zero. Ms Tempany said by 2030 most children currently starting secondary school will have left and pupils about to leave will have gone through college, university or completed an apprenticeship and have joined the workforce.

“So, the future workforce we need to drive the economy and the opportunity for this country to positively transition to net zero is a critical stage right now,” she said.

“And hence having them and their vision for their future, and knowing it, has never been more important.”

She added: “However, consistently, when we speak to businesses from various sectors across the country about what is concerning them, one of their common issues, other than cost, is talent. We don’t have enough people with the right skills, and we think it is only going to get worse. And if you couple that with the tens of thousands of jobs that we need for the emerging energy transition as we head to 2030, then we have a problem. And I believe we are in real danger of missing out on the upside that a positive transition to net zero will bring and the economic opportunity that it will create for this country for decades to come.”

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However, she insisted while there was currently a skills gap, there is no shortage of talented people in Scotland.

"Whether you are Gen Z or Gen Alpha, a Millennial or a Boomer, we have one thing in common. We are all the 2030 generation, so let's get after this, let's get after it together," Ms Tempany said.

A recurring theme was the need to foster greater links between business and education to better highlight emerging opportunities.

But delegates were also provided strong examples of young people who have developed quickly in their careers after finding the right opportunity. Mr Gaw revealed he is now a fully-fledged aircraft fitter at Spirit Aerosystems after completing his apprenticeship on Friday. He later give a keynote speech in which emphasised the need for businesses and schools to collaborate more.

“In my experience, there needs to be more work placements for young people, because you need to actually see what you want to go into,” Mr Gaw said.

Ms Harcus offered an insight of life Sheila Fleet Jewellery on Orkney, which she joined as an apprentice through Highlands and Islands Enterprise. Responding to a question from Mr Walker about the importance of local opportunities, she said joining Sheila Fleet meant she did not have to attend university in the mainland, which “being an Orkney girl at heart” she had not wanted to. Her role at the jeweller spans everything from customer service and marketing to finance.

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Mr Miller is a graduate framework assistant at Morrison Construction, working on the development of projects developed through public frameworks. He graduated in business from the University of Strathclyde.

Asked by Mr Walker to comment on the importance of feeling valued at work, Mr Miller said: “When you are bringing young people into a business, there is no harm in listening to what they have to say. I have found in recent months my line manager has starting listening to me. The fact that he listens to what I have to say makes me feel valued at work. It really boosts your morale.”

Ms Pol is sustainability co-ordinator at Ross-shire Engineering in Inverness, and is responsible for delivering the firm’s net zero strategy. She said it was important that young people were given the space to fail. “Everybody has failed at some point. Young people I think are particularly frightened to fail in case it gets held against them. But in my line of work, sustainability, everybody is learning. Even if you do have a degree in sustainability, it is changing all the time. I am lucky my boss allows me to run with projects and if it fails you learn from it.”

Asked to comment on the balance between academic qualifications and workplace learning, Ms McGowan conceded there was a tendency for schools to focus more on grades when there are pupils who would benefit more from work-based opportunities. She said: “I am quite lucky at my school. There’s a bit of a mixed board in terms of attainment, so we do have more skills-based lessons. We have got an alternative curriculum.”

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Business leaders meanwhile offered their insight into how Scotland can develop the skills they need.

Mr Mutch expressed the most political view of the day, declaring that current immigration policy at Westminster was making it more difficult for Scotland to attract the skills it needs. He noted that while Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen would traditionally have attracted a large number of engineering masters students from West Africa, current policy means they are “now being told by the UK Government that you can’t come with your family”.

“They are also being told you have to have a very high earnings threshold if you are going to be allowed to stay and contribute to the future of this country thereafter,” he added: "That doesn’t suit the model of skills that we need just now whatsoever. That needs to be addressed.”

Mr Elliot at Robertson Group said business, educators, government and parents need to collaborate more. He observed there was more to sectors such as construction than may be perceived and also said it was important for young people to know that the skills they learn in one industry can be transferred to others.

Ms Marshall at Lothian Buses noted that university degrees were not the be all and end all for people seeking jobs, emphasising individual qualities and the importance of providing right environment. But she said the business sector as a whole needs to come together to boost its recruitment activity.

Vattenfall’s Mr Steen meanwhile said schools were not highlighting the roles industries have on offer, while firms need to connect better to the education sector.

Ms McNiven at Diageo emphasised the importance of employers listening to younger members of staff. “There’s a great saying: talent that whispers. How do we listen to our talent, how do we give an environment where our future talent can raise those ideas and bring solutions, and foster that culture where you do feel valued?”