Scotland the Blog: Let's exploit those “hard to reach” talent fields

>Aberdeen is also host to a thriving engineering sector and to many tourism and leisure businesses as well as food and drink manufacturing and local government

Aberdeen, centre of the Oil and gas industry and of our vibrant North of Scotland and Islands branch is where I spent the tail end of last week. I was presenting on CIPD Scotland progress and strategy and witnessing the crew change in branch leadership from Kate Findlay to Bev Pirie. Both as it happens are experienced Oil and gas HR specialists and dedicated volunteers.

The "crew change" When the oil and gas shifts swap over is not just a bad time to board a train from the Granite city but it a metaphor for the talent challenge the oil and gas industry faces. However the vibrant Grampian area has much more to it than oil and gas.  Aberdeen is also host to a thriving engineering sector and to many tourism and leisure businesses as well as food and drink manufacturing and local government .It's the home to two excellent universities and a network of FE colleges. However like all areas of Scotland it faces a mismatch between the skills required and the skills available.

So on the Friday after a great dinner with North of Scotland I attended the Future Talent summit in Aberdeen run by the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. SCDI involves organisations, unions and government in the joint enterprise of building a more competitive and sustainable Scotland. One of SCDI's oil industry grandees spoke of the acute skills challenge the industry faced and the director of skills body OPITO talked of the complexity and reach of the industry. It was effectively three industries; exploration, drilling and decommissioning all with different skills challenges.

Angela Constance newly promoted in the SNP government, highlighted the challenge for Scotland in using the talents of our young people.  She advocated Modern Apprenticeships as  the way forward and urged employers to sign up. This week marks national apprentice week and like Sir Ian Wood, Jim Mather and others she highlighted the value of apprenticeship to Scotland's economy.

Damien Yeates CEO of Skills Development Scotland challenged Scotland to develop a Swiss style system where apprenticeship is part of the fabric of employment. CIPD's dynamic   skills policy lead Katerina Rudiger also  cites the Swiss system as a gold standard. However Scotland (and rest of the UK) is a long way off the Swiss standard. Apprenticeship is not even widespread in the public sector where government can pull the levers. As for SME's who are responsible for a massive share of Scottish employment apprenticeships are even less widespread.

STEM skills were a big focus of the summit. Many employers were promoting the MA route as a path for the a starred  student. Once could argue that if we simply recruit the cream of secondary education into STEM apprenticeship we won't really improve Scotland's Skilled Future.  Research on STEM education shows that many who are qualified aren't suited to the route. Paradoxically many who might shine if their learning were to be switched on by practical work experience often do better.  The need to tap this hard to reach talent is as big a challenge as exploiting more of the fluids and fumes which are just off the coast of Scotland.

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