South of Scotland Enterprise: Attracting and retaining young talent

Carly Walker, Equalities Intern, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE). 

South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE) has recently employed five Modern Apprentices on a two-year programme in five areas of the organisation: HR, Health and Safety, IT, Strategy, and Economic Infrastructure. Each apprentice will be assigned both a mentor and a line manager and will have weekly team meetings in order to begin networking and building relationships across the organisation. Over the two years, each MA will gain exposure to general business activities as well as more subject-specific exercises, culminating in a Business Admin SVQ at either Level 5 or 6. Due to the changing situation of the pandemic, learning will include a combination of self-study, on-the-job learning, e-learning, shadowing, projects, in-house and external seminars and training courses. This will be assessed via formal academic assessment as part of the SVQ as well as personal development plans, peer/manager feedback, and a week-by-week journal to help them focus on their achievements and goals.

SOSE has also employed 10 summer interns who are currently working on individual projects in each of the following areas of the organisation: 

  • Communications & Marketing 
  • Community Development 
  • Fair Work 
  • Equalities 
  • Business Impact 
  • HR 
  • Risk & Compliance 
  • Sustainability 
  • Strategy & Planning (Green Ports) 

Like the MA programme, the interns are gaining exposure to general day-to-day business activities as well as undertaking a specific, goal-orientated project which they will be responsible for leading and presenting at the end of their internships in September.  

Both programmes will offer young people new business skills and the opportunity to influence business decisions which they can then utilise in their future careers. However, we do realise that more needs to be done to retain younger members of staff as many of these roles are on a temporary basis.  

SOSE has a particular interest in attracting and retaining young talent due to the unique socio-economic challenges facing the South of Scotland region. Rural areas like the South of Scotland experience a net loss of their young people and have seen dramatic ageing of their population when compared to the Scottish national average.1 This combination creates a skills shortage, greater levels of economic inactivity, and an increased strain on public services.  

Furthermore, according to the Vulnerability Index created by Skills Development Scotland and Oxford Economics in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway are the 3rd and 5th most vulnerable regions in Scotland respectively.2 COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on young people with higher rates of unemployment, job losses and furlough. This has been heightened due to the unique issues facing our region including digital connectivity, public transport provision, and a rural, sparse population. There is a recognition, therefore, that more must be done to ensure the South of Scotland is an attractive, viable place to live and work for young people. Consequently, this idea of inclusive growth is at the heart of all strategic decisions in SOSE.  

Having a diverse workforce with a large youthful component not only brings a competitive advantage in terms of increased creativity, a more diverse skill set and unique perspectives, but it also exemplifies the kind of business we aspire to be: one that is inclusive, responsible, bold, and striving.  

An expansion of the COVID Kickstart Scheme beyond the end of 2021 would be incredibly helpful for those young people living in Scotland who may be struggling to access employment opportunities. As many young people live in remote rural areas, it could also be beneficial to offer more remote working opportunities beyond the confines of the pandemic. This would allow more young people to take part in training schemes and work placements without the added hassle or financial burden of navigating public transport and/or fuel costs.  

Of course, digital connectivity is a huge barrier to inclusive growth in Scotland and has hindered some remote working practices due to limited and often disruptive internet connection. Therefore, making superfast broadband rollout a priority throughout the country, especially in rural areas, could potentially help to tackle these inequalities in accessibility and ensure that those young people living in the remotest locations are not left out. 

Transport provision is also a particularly important enabler for youth employment in the region. Providing free public transport for all young people (including those aged up to 24 years old) alongside an expansion of bus and rail services could help to connect young people to larger communities and greater opportunities. However, intersectional inequalities do exist and more must be done to help those who are most disadvantaged, including disabled, BAME, and LGBTQIA+ young people. Disabled young people, in particular, may need more support and government funding in order to ensure they are able to participate fully in economic activity as life in rural areas can be incredibly isolating and the barriers to employment even more difficult to overcome. 

Finally, more awareness and reiteration of the benefits of having young people in the workplace, including greater creativity, productivity, and unique perspectives, could help to encourage employers to prioritise hiring younger people.  

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