Diversity and talent are your future

Guest blog by David Coyne, Senior Policy Adviser, Skills Development Scotland

No-one can deny these are interesting times. We are bombarded by news stories and reports from think tanks which paint a picture of a world in chaos. Whether it is political uncertainty, automation, environmental collapse or some other "megatrend", rule books and assumptions are being thrown out of the window across our businesses and workplaces.

Online media is awash with case studies about businesses – the Polaroids, Kodaks, HMVs, Compaqs - which did not adapt and did not survive. So, what can we do if in today’s world of exponential, impossible-to-predict change when we can’t anticipate and prepare for the next AirBnB, Monzo or whatever else will appear out of the apparent nowhere?

Firstly, and obviously, any organisation with any sense will be plugged into the developments in AI, cloud technology, robotics, genomics, renewables, Ultra Low Emission Vehicles and Internet of Things (IoT) and will be adapting their business and people processes around them.

Even considering the impact of these emerging and disruptive technologies in our world of work, fundamentally, it’s not just about technical skills. It’s important to realise the softer, human, ‘meta skills’ that will future-proof our industries – and our individual skillsets. The ability to adapt, collaborate, communicate in difficult social interactions, have integrity, be creative and show resilience are the components that AI can’t easily replicate.

One prevailing theme that I see recurring again and again, particularly in the world of future skills, is the powerful notion of resilience and its links to diversity. There is mounting evidence that bringing in diverse talents and nurturing them leads to better corporate decisions. This means diversity not just in our skillset, but in our workforce.

It’s unsurprising then that this year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2020 – the week where we celebrate emerging new talent and all things apprentice - focuses on the importance of diversity.

#ScotAppWeek20 celebrates an inclusive approach to skills and work-based learning through apprenticeships which encourages a wider, more diverse talent pool, with diversity of thought and built-in resilience. All of which helps to challenge outdated and limiting views of apprenticeships - particularly who they are for and the types available. Apprenticeships have moved way beyond the traditional trades and are available in a variety of different subjects: financial services, project management, digital marketing, even cyber security.

We are seeing businesses who have embraced these principles of diversity and resilience organically, as they have grown and adapted. A good example is Crieff Hydro and its subsidiaries. They trade in a globally competitive sector, are disrupted by technology, suffer the impacts of migration changes, currency fluctuation and terrorism-induced changes in global travel. Yet they are growing and thriving. They embrace the principles of adaptive resilience with a highly engaged and communicative management team, hiring, nurturing and developing diverse talent across the business.

Some studies suggest that diversity within the workplace can support the development of collective capabilities that underlie an organisation’s resilience – an interesting concept and one which underpins the benefits of why businesses should look first to their people (as opposed to its processes) to safeguard their ability to adapt and cope with change.

An example of where it ‘went wrong’ can be seen in the 2007 financial crash. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) tried to answer the question of why the organisation failed to anticipate the crisis, citing “a high degree of groupthink, intellectual capture, [and] a general mindset that a major financial crisis in large advanced economies was unlikely”. Factors leading to that failure found a main cause in the leadership team, comprised mostly of men with strong sociodemographic backgrounds and similar life experiences and, therefore, lacking heterogeneity.


Closer to home, the ambition for a fair and prosperous Scotland requires a high performing economy, driven by high performing individuals and businesses who can proactively develop and exploit new technologies. Scotland’s citizens need the skills not only to cope with the change but to thrive in it, and more so to be able to exploit novelty and create change for themselves. A diverse and successful talent pipeline puts all Scottish apprenticeships at the centre of this.

This Scottish Apprenticeship Week, we’re celebrating the diversity that makes work- based learning good for individuals, employers and the economy. The strapline is ‘talent without limits’. The aim of this year’s campaign is to recognise the business benefits of diversity and to provide a platform to encourage an inclusive workforce and show that there is no limit to where Scottish Apprenticeships can take their talent.

As I said at the outset, these are interesting times. Let's use the uncertainty to our advantage by becoming more adaptive and resilient, focusing on the benefits that diverse skills and a diverse workforce can bring.

So join us as we show our of apprenticeships and who they are for. The aim is to showcase Scottish Apprenticeships and work-based learning in creating opportunities for everyone, no matter their background, and for every business, no matter its size or sector.


Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2020 takes place from 2 – 6 March. This year’s #ScotAppWeek20 is a celebration of the diversity that makes work-based learning good for individuals, employers and the economy. Co- ordinated by Skills Development Scotland, the campaign theme is #TalentWithoutLimits. Help to celebrate all things apprentice – get the online toolkit and more information from www.apprenticeships.scot/scottish- apprenticeship-week

Skills Development Scotland are sponsoring the Skilled Work work stream at the CIPD Scotland Annual Conference on 5 March.

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