Skills and Training

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:19 pm on 12th January 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative 2:19 pm, 12th January 2006

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-3806, in the name of Allan Wilson, on skills and training for a modern Scotland.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 3:01 pm, 12th January 2006

I am certainly pleased, as I hope are other members, to have this opportunity to discuss a critical issue for the prosperity and well-being of Scotland: how we develop and grow our workforce to provide more opportunities for individuals to flourish in work and for growing businesses and our economy more generally to prosper. Indeed, the Executive has embarked on an historic mission to secure full employment and to eliminate poverty within a generation.

Over the past year, we have consulted extensively. We have sought the views of many experts, practitioners and—crucially—employers with the enthusiasm and commitment to move more people into successful and rewarding work. Their input has been invaluable.

It has taken time, but we must remember that in excess of £500 million is spent in Scotland every year to help people into work. That does not include our investment in young people. We need to be sure that any changes we make are appropriate. It is right that before we publish our plans, members have the opportunity to discuss the issues and contribute their views this afternoon. The Enterprise and Culture Committee will also have the opportunity to contribute later this year.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Once the debate has taken place, will the minister be in a position to tell us when the employability strategy and the not in education, employment or training strategy will be published?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

We hope to publish both documents in the very near future. I would have thought that Scottish National Party members would welcome the opportunity to have the debate in advance of publication so that they can make useful contributions and influence the future direction of the strategies.

I emphasise that we work closely with the United Kingdom Government on this agenda, as members can imagine. We are working with the Department for Work and Pensions on its plans for welfare reform, which will be published shortly, and have shared with the DWP our work over the past year. We share its aspiration to move towards an 80 per cent employment rate in the UK over the next 20 years. It is important that we co-ordinate our workforce development activity with its operation of the benefits and welfare-to-work systems.

As my subsequent remarks will show, Scotland can be proud of its record on increasing employment and investing in skills in recent years. We have good foundations for further success, but we face significant challenges in helping more people into work.

Employers are key to the agenda. My colleague Nicol Stephen will expand on that if time allows. We need to broaden the labour pool from which employers can recruit for successful businesses and, equally, we need employers to play their part in providing the opportunities for increased employment.

The importance that we attach to growing and developing the workforce is clear in our published documents. In the partnership agreement, we set out our vision to encourage and stimulate economic growth and to tackle poverty and disadvantage. Enterprise can flourish only where the opportunity for people to contribute to enterprise and the economy exists for all and where no one is left behind. It is about providing young people with the skills for work; helping people of all ages to develop their skills while in work; and encouraging more economically inactive people to move into employment.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

What concrete methods does the minister have in place to measure outcomes, with a baseline now that will allow progress to be measured into the future?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

We measure our progress using international comparators. I hope that the debate will not turn into a sterile exchange of statistics, but we have the best youth employment figures of anywhere in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Mr Mather's amendment is wrong in what it says about young people who are not in education, employment or training, but I accept that these issues are challenging. As I have said, our objective is to reach a position where no young person is left without the opportunity for education, employment or training.

It is important to emphasise that we are living through the longest continuous period of economic growth in a generation. To keep growing, we need to build skills and qualifications levels among our workforce. We are making real progress on that. Since 1993, the proportion of the working-age population without qualifications has dropped from 26 per cent to 16 per cent. Around half of our young people undertake higher education. In the academic year up to 2004, nearly 500,000 people enrolled in our further education colleges. As everybody here will know, we currently have more than 34,000 people working towards a modern apprenticeship, with a further 9,000 on skillseekers programmes.

All that progress is reflected throughout the labour market. Youth unemployment has fallen by 30 per cent while the overall claimant-count unemployment rate has fallen by 40 per cent. Meanwhile, the employment rate has increased from 71.3 per cent to 75.2 per cent—an increase of almost 4 percentage points. That means that 159,000 more people are in work. For the first time in a generation, our employment rate is above the United Kingdom average.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

I wonder whether I may take the minister back a sentence or two, to when he was talking about measurements. What definitions does he use? Does he consider how long a person is in a job? For example, what about somebody who takes a job but leaves it a week later? Is that person counted, or is a period of time—three months or six months—required?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

For employment and unemployment, we use measurements that are recognised by the International Labour Organisation. We currently have one of the highest employment rates in Europe—75 per cent—as well as the highest employment rate since records began. We also have the lowest unemployment rate for a generation—3.2 per cent. That is how we measure and those are the results.

However, I would not want anyone to think that we were complacent. There are still some areas of concentrated high unemployment and there are many people who face multiple obstacles to entering and progressing in the labour market. We know that many of those individuals want to work, given the right opportunities and appropriate support. Between August and October 2005, the number of economically inactive people in Scotland stood at 526,000. Of those, 198,000 said that they wanted to work.

A substantial number of those people have no qualifications—

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I have already taken three interventions and I have to think of my time.

The people who are economically inactive include people with no qualifications, who represent 35 per cent of workless people; people with health problems, including people with mental health problems, who represent more than 40 per cent of claimants of incapacity benefit; and lone parents and others with caring responsibilities— although we have made great progress in that regard, with the employment rate for lone parents increasing from 41.6 per cent in 1977 to 54.9 per cent in 2004.

Ethnic minority groups are disproportionately affected by unemployment, as are people with substance abuse problems, the homeless, and ex-offenders. As I have said, we also face a particular challenge with some of Scotland's young people who are not in education, employment or training. Specifically for them, we have invested £22.4 million since the Beattie report was published in 1999. A further £86 million has been invested in the determined to succeed strategy. Educational maintenance allowances now offer financial support of up to £1,500 a year to encourage young people from low-income households to remain in post-compulsory education.

We need to support people whose health prevents them from getting employment. We recognise the links between employment, poverty and health. That was why we established the Scottish centre for healthy working lives. The UK Government pathways to work programme offers support to help those who are claiming incapacity benefit to move back into employment. The programme will be operating successfully across a third of Scotland by April in targeting the areas of very high benefit dependency.

We need to keep working in the important area of people with low or no skills to raise the skills of people who are in low-paid jobs as well as those of the unemployed.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

Will the minister comment on the role and development of the sector skills councils and on their importance for those who are in work?

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

The sector skills councils are an employer-led approach to tackling skills shortages or gaps. It is vital that there is employer buy-in to the wider employability strategy and to tackling skills gaps and shortages so that our investment is targeted at the areas and the sectors of our economy that need it most. We are investing record sums in further education: £620 million by 2007-08. ILA Scotland and the Scottish union learning fund are contributing to the raising of skills level for those in employment and those closer to the labour market.

Many of those who are out of work or who have low levels of skills or qualifications live in our most deprived areas. In addition to the investment that I have already talked about, we need to focus our community funding to ensure better outcomes in those areas. To achieve that, £318 million—in addition to other moneys—is being invested in the community regeneration fund. Nearly £50 million of that funding will go to support the national priority of helping more people into work. From 2004 to 2008, £50 million pounds will be invested in the working for families fund to remove childcare barriers to work for 15,000 families. There is no shortage of resources being directed at those areas.

I want to get the important message across that the Executive is making a considerable range of support and investment available to develop the employability of our current and future workforce in Scotland. We must recognise that there has been much progress. The message that we have taken from our consultation to date is that the considerable funding and support on offer need to be co-ordinated in the interests of individuals and employers. That is an important message, and there is scope to design and deliver new sorts of services. We have made much progress and we have much progress to look forward to. We will publish a new strategy for young people who are not in education, employment or training in the next few weeks.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that developing the current and future workforce of Scotland is key to ending poverty and sustaining economic growth; recognises the very good progress that is being made in reducing unemployment through investment in skills and training, and welcomes the Scottish Executive's intention to work with the United Kingdom Government, employers and employer organisations, universities, colleges, training organisations and other public agencies to drive forward opportunities for workforce development to strengthen the economy and improve the employability and skills of individuals across Scotland, in particular those furthest from employment and those in lower paid, low skilled jobs.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 3:13 pm, 12th January 2006

The Scottish National Party has important reservations about the Executive's management of the skills agenda and about its motion. We believe that the motion attempts to paper over the cracks in a poor track record. That is implicitly admitted in the text of the motion, the words of which glare out at us: "poverty", "growth", "unemployment", "employability" and

"lower paid, low skill jobs".

The minister mentioned growth, but the claims that he made were UK claims. Scotland has been in recession in recent memory and has had lower growth than the UK for 30 years.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Will the member not accept that since the Executive made growing the economy its top priority, the economy has grown in every quarter since the present Government was elected?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

In very recent memory—2001—that was not the case and, in essence, the gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK continues perennially. Those are facts, and facts are chiels that winna ding. The Executive also has a poor track record in the net results achieved through the skills programme, to which I will come in a moment. It is what I call the John Bradley syndrome. John Bradley gave a Fraser of Allander lecture in which he said that Scotland has wonderful task forces, consultations—although I note that there has been a very low contribution from real businesspeople to some of our consultations—advisory groups and glossy documents. Although all those are better here than they are in Ireland, when it comes to the bit, Scotland produces results that Ireland would repudiate. We will grow about 1.8 per cent this year: Ireland is growing at 5 per cent. There is a fatal flaw: we are running a branch economy. That means that much of the benefit that will accrue from the skills strategy is liable to leak away into other economies.

Let us examine the effect of the Executive's management of the economic and skills agenda. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation's report "Monitoring poverty and social exclusion in Scotland 2005", which was published last month punctures the Executive's complacency about employment. It tells us that one third of working people in Scotland earn less than £6.50 an hour. That means that, in total, 41.47 per cent of the working-age population—let me spell that out: 1.162 million people—in Scotland earn less than £6.50 an hour, receive social security benefits, are in receipt of an early pension or are unwaged. That is more than two out of five working-age Scots.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Will Jim Mather tell me the Scottish National Party's policy for increasing the minimum wage and what it would increase to?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Our aspirations for income in Scotland are without ceiling. We want living standards in Scotland to converge on those of other countries, not to be marooned in the bottom, where the Labour Party has put us.

The record is one of 30 years of stalling and failing progress. The true extent of maladministration is disguised because many of the talented people who have moved out of Scotland have improved the figures. Meanwhile, we have had consultations that do not address the users' needs and, always, the dead hand of Government and Scottish Enterprise falling short on delivering what employers and individuals genuinely value. What is my evidence? It is the lack of any quality assurance programme to test fitness for purpose and produce an evidence-led feedback loop. It is the fact that vocational qualifications are obviously of dubious market value, given that they are rarely asked for in job adverts. I also point to Investors in People, the head counting of those in skillseekers programmes and the tendency to force young businesses into business plan production.

All that demeans and devalues Government agencies and their ability to contribute. Not only are the processes not valued, but employers and individuals increasingly regard VQs and Investors in People as internal, institutional measurement units. They are not valued in the real world. The Government must face the fact that they look to hard-nosed businesspeople and hard-pressed employees like the production of counterfeit currency and the practice of false accounting—making up numbers that do not contribute to the real world.

We welcome any move to improve, given the Executive's track record, but we are honour bound to remain sceptical about its effectiveness. History and others' experience tell us that the Executive's worthy objectives self-evidently cannot be met until Scotland couples relevant, valued and constantly improving training with the full range of economic powers. That is the only way that anybody on the planet has ever gained a competitive edge. It is the only way that we will create levels of employment opportunity and sustainable income improvement that will attract talented people to, and retain them in, Scotland. Let us face it: nothing else works.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Will Mr Mather tell us which of the interesting economic policies that he espouses on the SNP's behalf have been signed off by his party's new friends in the Scottish Green Party?

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I advise Mr Fraser to read a wonderful book called "The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth", by Benjamin Friedman, which makes the case—which my friends in the Greens will understand—that a strong economy creates a better ecology and a better custodianship of the environment. I believe that the Greens will sign up to that and move on with us.

However, I am in confident mood. I am confident that we will get a better solution because, after all, Scotland is one year closer to full powers, the Executive is one year less credible and the people of Scotland are one year more indignant. That is especially the case for a goodly proportion of the 41.47 per cent whom I mentioned. One third of our working people on less than £6.50 an hour represents 820,000 people, which is a large number of people. The unemployed are a further 144,000 and the economically inactive who would like to work are, as the minister mentioned, 198,000. The total is 1.162 million people—and they have families. They are a major constituency that the Government continually fails to address.

I agree that the skills gap is a concern. I also record my concern about the Bank of Scotland's labour market report that shows skills shortages in certain sectors, as that is not reflective of what is really happening in Scotland. The bank would probably claim that that is a sign that things are successful, but it is a sign to me that people are moving out and leaving. However, the bank is now in a state of grace after its chief executive, Jim Crosby, turned Queen's evidence yesterday. Talking about the bank's entry into Ireland, he said:

"We like Ireland because it's got great economic prospects, substantially better and sustainably better than the UK".

We want that same growth here in Scotland, but we will not get that by sticking to half-baked policies that treat only the symptoms and do not go the full road.

Eventually, the minister will share our conclusion that, after another day at the office, he now has more stuff on the record with which history will condemn him. Well done.

I move amendment S2M-3806.1, to leave out from "; recognises" to end and insert:

"but regrets the continuing delay in the publication of the Scottish Executive's employability strategy and the lack of any new measures to tackle the unacceptably high number of 16 to 19-year-olds who are neither in employment, education or training in Scotland and recognises that the Executive's worthy objectives self-evidently can only be met comprehensively when Scotland couples relevant, valued and constantly improving training with the full range of economic powers that can credibly and tangibly improve competitiveness and create the levels of employment opportunity and sustainable income improvement for all which, in turn, will retain and attract talented people to Scotland."

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 3:20 pm, 12th January 2006

We welcome the opportunity to discuss the important subject of workforce development. We agree with the part of the Executive's motion that says:

"developing the current and future workforce of Scotland is key to ending poverty and sustaining economic growth".

I accept that there has been some good news on the development of skills and training. The modern apprenticeship scheme, which was introduced by the previous Conservative Government in 1994, has been a tremendous success, as it has enabled thousands of young people to access work-based training.

We welcome the proposal that services that are currently provided by the new futures fund will be devolved from Scottish Enterprise to local community planning partnerships. It makes sense for projects to be delivered at a local level with local input. Perhaps that approach could be mirrored elsewhere within Scottish Enterprise, which is currently pursuing a centralising agenda by seeking to scrap the existing local enterprise company boards.

Notwithstanding that good news, we still face serious challenges. Scotland has a particular problem with its rate of young people who are not in education, employment or training, which is higher than the rate in any other country in Europe or in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. It is estimated that, between March 2004 and February 2005, the number of Scottish 16 to 19-year-olds who were classified as NEET was around 35,000. That accounts for 13.1 per cent of females and 13.9 per cent of males—approximately one in seven—in that age group. For Glasgow, the rate was as high as 23 per cent. Despite the substantial Executive investment that has been aimed at supporting young people, the sad fact is that that proportion has remained relatively static.

The impact of being NEET can be devastating. An investigation by the NEET working group showed that, for a young man, the effect of being NEET is that, by the time he is 21, he is four times more likely to be unemployed, three times more likely to have depression or mental health problems, five times more likely to have a criminal record and six times less likely to have any qualifications.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I had not wanted to get into a situation in which we simply bandy statistics, but does the member accept that, in the international comparisons to which he referred, the proportion of young people between the ages of 15 to 19 who are in employment is higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK and Europe and that our rate is also higher than that of the rest of the OECD put together?

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

How quickly the minister changes his tune, given that he said a few minutes ago that he did not want to bandy statistics. The figures that I quoted are recognised OECD statistics. We could have a battle of statistics if he wants, but let me move on.

A more important issue is what can be done. The working group found evidence to suggest that the two principal factors that determine whether a young person becomes NEET are disadvantage—the person comes from a disadvantaged family or deprived community—and educational disaffection. Often, NEETs have been persistent truants or have had low attainment levels. Clearly, Scotland has a particular problem, which is having both a long-term effect on our economic opportunities and a dismal impact on the life prospects and opportunities of tens of thousands of young Scots.

The problem is not getting much better, so what is the Executive doing? To be fair, the Executive is developing an employability framework for Scotland to examine ways of helping people into work. In June last year, we were told that the recommendations from the working groups were being fed into a draft framework that would be completed by the autumn. Last month, we were told that the framework was still under development, but it has still not seen the light of day. Surely it is about time that such an important document was produced so that we might see how the Executive proposes to tackle those serious issues. In his opening remarks, the minister said that he wanted to have today's debate first, to allow input. I will take him at his word by giving him some positive ideas that I believe should be incorporated into his framework, which I look forward to seeing in due course.

We think that policy should be developed in two areas. The first relates directly to education. We know that many youngsters are disengaged from academic study in schools throughout Scotland. If they had access to vocationally focused training in further education colleges, they might leave school with qualifications and skills that would equip them for the workforce. That would be good not only for the wider economy but for themselves as individuals.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

Is the member aware of the Education Committee's inquiry into the matter? The school-college review showed that the most advantage from vocational training at age 14 could be gained not through focusing such training on the disaffected or on those who lack motivation but through making it available generally. Perhaps the member's point is misplaced.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I am aware of the work that has been done. As ever, it is those who are most motivated who benefit most from programmes. That goes to show that more needs to be done to help those who are currently disengaged from education to access vocational training.

Secondly, we must look to expand the role of community-based charitable institutions. Many such bodies throughout Scotland help NEETs. I recently visited the Fairbridge project in Dundee, which is targeted at youngsters who are not in employment, education or training. It was clear from the youngsters to whom I spoke that they are benefiting hugely from the support that is on offer from that voluntary organisation. That is one example of the many different groups throughout the country that provide targeted, hands-on, one-to-one support for youngsters from some of our most disadvantaged communities and from difficult backgrounds.

As it develops the strategy, the Executive should consider policies to increase the voluntary sector's independence and to end the excessive bureaucracy that stifles such organisations. Of course, all bodies that are in receipt of public money should have to account properly for it, but all too often those groups find that an undue proportion of their time is taken up with form filling and ticking boxes when they need to get on with much more important tasks. It is time for a new partnership between the public sector and the voluntary sector that recognises the voluntary sector's strengths and frees up those involved to get on with the important tasks in hand. I trust that the minister will, if he is genuine in saying that he wants to hear our views on drawing up the framework, take on board what I have said this afternoon.

I move amendment S2M-3806.2, to leave out from "recognises" to end and insert:

"notes the outstanding success of modern apprenticeships in helping thousands of young people into work and training since 1994; welcomes the devolution of workforce services currently provided by the New Futures Fund from Scottish Enterprise to local community partnerships; notes with concern that Scotland has more young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) than any other OECD country or UK region; is disappointed at the delay in the Scottish Executive publishing its long-awaited Employability Framework; notes the findings of the NEET working group set up by the Executive that young people who are NEET are generally characterised by low educational attainment, truancy and/or disadvantaged backgrounds, and calls on the Executive to extend the vocational opportunities available at further education colleges from the age of 14 and to expand the role of community-based voluntary programmes which play a crucial role in combating deprivation."

Photo of Jamie Stone Jamie Stone Liberal Democrat 3:27 pm, 12th January 2006

The debate is an excellent opportunity to evaluate our progress on helping Scottish people to reach their potential and deliver our primary goal for Scotland of economic growth.

Scotland has made progress under this Government. More people of working age are becoming better qualified and fewer people are completely unqualified. We have increased the number of graduates in our workforce by abolishing fees and employers are spending more on training and developing their staff. Those results indicate how our workforce is developing to meet the challenges of being a modern growing economy.

I welcome that progress, but today I will speak about opportunities that could give Scotland's young people—particularly young people from the Highlands—a further edge. We must equip our young people with the tools to work in the emerging global marketplace that is being created by an enlarging Europe and emerging countries such as India and China. A key to the success of Scots and Scottish businesses in the new environment is their ability to speak and work in languages other than English. Equipping young people with another language might open many doors for their future. Not having that skill is a barrier—economically, socially and culturally—while having another language could provide an opportunity for our young people.

France, Germany and Italy make up three of Scotland's top five export markets. French and German are the languages that are most required by Scottish business. Those countries teach foreign languages to their children from the age of five. In Scotland, our young people can now learn a language, but not until they are 11. I hope that the Executive's review of the school curriculum will propose more opportunities for younger children to learn languages—including the languages of the emerging economies that I mentioned. That could give our young people a tangible advantage in the global marketplace.

I will now turn from the global to the local. In my area, the Highlands, young people are—as we know—keen to stay and work there. That is to be applauded and supported. The modern apprenticeship scheme helps to encourage and promote that. The scheme has much potential to develop people and grow businesses in Scotland. The fact that any business of any size can access the scheme is an important part of its appeal in rural areas. However, I have concerns about how modern apprenticeships work in practice. I hope that when the minister sums up, he will address the problems that businesses in my constituency have found with the scheme, notwithstanding the good work that is being done.

I put on record that Highlands and Islands Enterprise has made welcome advances in modern apprenticeships by removing the local and age-related discrepancies in its funding to create a simple funding package to help businesses to recruit apprentices. However—this a big however—a significant problem appears to remain. The Highlands and Islands face a disadvantage in getting businesses to recruit apprentices. The funding for an apprentice working in the HIE area is significantly less than that for an apprentice in the Scottish Enterprise area. Indeed, in sectors such as engineering, the gap is as much as £3,000 and it appears set to rise. Local businesses tell me that they feel that there is a postcode lottery in support for training. Sadly, a Caithness apprentice appears to be of less worth than a Clydebank one. Businesses tell me clearly that they want a level playing field in that respect.

Surely the worth of an apprentice should not be determined by geography. I appreciate that the issue is not straightforward, but we must acknowledge that businesses that work and seek apprentices in the Highlands must not lose out against businesses in different local enterprise areas across Scotland. Apprentices may also lose out by having less support coming to them and so be discouraged from living and working in and developing the economy of the Highlands. I hope that the minister will be willing to look at this important issue, which is extremely important in my part of Scotland. The skills of Scotland's people are Scotland's strength and they provide the only way to lift people out of poverty and deliver opportunity. They are also a source of excellence.

I was most pleased to hear that the UK has put itself forward to host the WorldSkills competition for 2007, which is known by some as the skills Olympics. I hope that the minister will contribute to the bid and ensure that young Scots have the opportunity to be part of the UK team, wherever the event is hosted, to show that Scotland has talented young people with exceptional skills in many vocations, from traditional craft engineering to modern engineering and design.

We have made progress, which I welcome and am proud of. I believe that that would not have been possible had it not been for my own party's contribution to the government of this country. I would welcome the minister's comments on the points that I have made and I will have great pleasure in supporting the motion in his name.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

We now move to the open debate. I call Fiona Hyslop, who will be followed by Duncan McNeil. Speeches will be six minutes.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 3:33 pm, 12th January 2006

Much of the skills debate tends to concentrate on enterprise, the economy and employer-led initiatives. The Government often claims that its role and responsibility is to co-ordinate employer-led activity. I think that the hard-nosed businessmen to whom Jim Mather referred are capable of adding the skills and training themselves and look to the Government to take care of its own back yard by developing the workforce for which it is responsible. Indeed, this debate was first called workforce development.

I look forward to the Government confessing to the problems it has faced in developing the public service workforce for which it is responsible. For example, with regard to teachers, we know that there are great challenges and constraints in reducing class sizes. We also know that many young people are vulnerable because of the need for more social workers. And that we need more doctors and nurses. The Government has in the past been unable to anticipate and plan for changes such as the coming European working time directive for doctors and for issues to do with nursing and the changing age profile of the workforce. Employers expect the Government to look to the development of its own workforce.

There are huge challenges. The NEET figures are very stark indeed and we must address them. Taking the minister at his word—that he will listen to what members have to say—I point out that 50 per cent of Scottish Enterprise's budget is addressed to Careers Scotland. I raised that issue with Nicol Stephen when we did the budget scrutiny. Is it appropriate that most of the attention is concentrated on remedial action in the post-school environment? If we want to tackle the issue seriously, perhaps the intervention should be earlier, before youngsters get into the NEET category.

I want to pursue the theme of early intervention. I also want to reflect concerns that businesses have about the Government's initiatives, particularly in teaching and education. We know that the Government faces big challenges in meeting its targets for class-size reductions. To meet the target for the number of teachers it requires, it would have had to double, if not treble, the number of English and mathematics teachers in initial teacher training—the places in initial teacher training would have had to be taken primarily by English and maths teachers.

Because the Executive has started work on reaching its target too late, it will have problems. It is increasing the number of teachers in English and maths, but what about language and science teachers? The immediate priority has started to exclude the recruitment of teachers of other subjects. As Jamie Stone said, if we want to meet the challenges of the future, we must have language teachers to teach pupils, particularly in early years and particularly if we want to have the secondary-into-primary use of McCrone time to allow such intervention.

When employers talk about the skills gap, they are often talking about soft skills. Yesterday evening, I read an interesting and telling report by John McLaren—not somebody whom I would ordinarily quote—entitled "Soft Skills & Early Years", which was produced for Scottish Enterprise. He comments:

"The best evaluations relate to Early Years Intervention and indicate, for some programmes, very high rates of return. This suggests that 'soft' skills might be best encouraged at an early age, when habits are less set and minds more plastic."

Members who attended the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration presentation at lunch time will know about its appeal for a joined-up approach. We know that criminality and offending often occur among people who have suffered from being in care or under protection at an early age. In the United States, people such as James Heckman are considering at which point in the journey interventions should be made if we want to invest in soft skills and human capital.

Our country must sign up to a national mission in relation to children in their early years, by which I mean those who are zero to three, never mind those who are three to five and at nursery school. We must reach those children if we want to make a huge shift, break the cycle of dependency and provide energetic, creative people for our future workforce. That mission is the Government's job. Given our aging population, the figure that Jim Mather mentioned—that one in seven young people are not in education or training—is acutely sensitive for the employment market.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I follow the logic of the member's argument and I agree entirely with the point about early intervention, but does the member accept that there is another priority? If circa 75 per cent of the workforce of 2020 is currently in employment, surely that demands attention and investment now to ensure that workforce development takes place.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

I agree, but the big challenge for the Parliament and the Executive is whether we micromanage year to year or engage in a strategic debate about where we want to be in 2020. Do we have only the one role that the minister mentioned? My concern is that lifelong learning tends to be about continuing education for adults and not about what happens in the early years. The Executive is going backwards in relation to early intervention. In 1999, we started work on social justice and early intervention, but, unfortunately, all the signals are that the work is slowing down. For example, Glasgow City Council is taking away nursery teachers and schools.

A strong economic case can be made for early intervention. The minister is right that we must consider the size and age profile of the population in 2020, but we must do so strategically. The people of Scotland look to the Parliament to give a strategic vision, rather than to examine statistics and micromanage activities day to day or year to year. We can have a national mission that addresses the needs of the economy and that provides firm foundations for the young people who will carry us into the future.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 3:38 pm, 12th January 2006

The motion states:

"the Parliament agrees that developing the current and future workforce of Scotland is key to ending poverty and sustaining economic growth".

Who could disagree with that? It is skills that pay the bills.

I cannot take part in the debate without mentioning the recent lay-offs in the electronics manufacturing industry, one of the casualties being Sanmina-SCI's personal computer division in Greenock, which is to close with the loss of 370 core jobs, which will move to Hungary. One difference between the closures now and the past closures of shipyards is that we now recognise the need to invest not just in attracting companies to come and stay here, but in people, so that they are better equipped to move from one company to another.

Life is more complicated now than it was many years ago, when people did their apprenticeship and then got a watch after 30 years. We all now recognise that we need to equip people for the changed environment. I have been in talks in the past couple of weeks, and this morning with the Deputy First Minister, to see how we can move the people at Sanmina-SCI from their difficult situation to continuing employment. There is an array of help that we can give: not rhetoric, not headlines, not taking on companies and globalisation, but real, practical initiatives.

For example, there is the partnership action for continuing employment—or PACE—framework, which could put people in that factory in Greenock today to analyse the existing skills of the employees there. There are the job-match schemes that can match those people and their existing skills with jobs. There is the transport fund, which can make the wider labour market more available for them. There is training for work. All those initiatives are in place. They are all practical responses to help people get on.

In addition, there is the massive public expenditure that will create jobs and infrastructure: in the classroom, classroom assistants; on building sites, the construction of new schools. All that goes beyond rhetoric and makes the right to work more a reality than a slogan.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I applaud the fact that those seemly moves are being made, but will the member tell me why he thinks that level of micromanagement does not happen in countries such as Ireland, Norway or even the Czech Republic?

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

Ireland, a country that has benefited greatly from inward investment and low-cost manufacturing, will face the same problems as us. That is inevitable. Jim Mather knows that. Everyone else knows that.

The Sanmina-SCI situation sums up the problem with the labour market in parts of Scotland. It reminds us that Scotland cannot—and indeed should not—compete with low-wage economies on the basis of cost. We cannot sustain those jobs. The only way to build the economies of areas with higher than average unemployment—on which I am pleased the framework will concentrate—is on a sound foundation of high-skilled, high-paid jobs that cannot be shipped overseas because someone else can do it more cheaply.

However, that means attracting the right sort of companies to an area and it will require a concentrated effort from all sides to ensure that communities such as Inverclyde offer, for example, prime development opportunities and a highly skilled workforce. To succeed, the employability framework must map out how that is to be achieved.

It is easy to go on about the need for people to hone their skills and continuously learn new ones throughout their working lives, but we cannot ignore the practicalities. How can we help, say, the working parents whose daily routine comprises getting up, dropping the kids off at school, going to work, picking the kids up from their granny's, making the tea and then ferrying various family members to and from the brownies, football training and so on? How can we help such hard-working parents to fit in the time to get to the local college or to study distance learning materials?

Solutions to those practical barriers need serious consideration. For example, can we give employers responsibility for building training into the working day? Can we increase the rights of individuals to training and education throughout their lives? If we remove the barriers, should we also consider the responsibility of the workforce to use those rights? Should they take responsibility for ensuring that they have today's skills and will be able to learn tomorrow's? After all, why should only certain professionals, such as lawyers, accountants and doctors, be required to undertake continuous professional development?

Enhancing the employability of the whole work force will, as has been acknowledged in the debate, require a concerted effort throughout the Government, including the United Kingdom. If the heart of the framework is rights and responsibilities, opportunities to use and exercise them must be its four corners. Whether that can be achieved will determine whether those plans—and communities such as the ones I represent—rise or fall.

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat 3:45 pm, 12th January 2006

In his opening speech, the minister suggested that this afternoon's debate is an opportunity for members to contribute to the development of the workforce development strategy. Sadly, given the contributions of the two opening speakers from the main Opposition parties, that seems to be a forlorn hope. They had the opportunity to raise some major points, but their contributions were somewhat disappointing.

In Scotland, we have an economy that has moved significantly during the past 30 years. During my adult life, we have seen—

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

It is a little early, but I will take the intervention.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

The member made a comment about the past 30 years. During that time, Scotland has grown at an average of 1.6 per cent per annum while the United Kingdom has grown at 2.1 per cent, Europe has grown at 2.5 per cent and Ireland has grown at 5 per cent. Will he repeat his comment?

Photo of Iain Smith Iain Smith Liberal Democrat

The member should have waited to hear what I was going to say.

When I came out of school 30 years ago, we had traditional industries such as mining and shipbuilding and a fishing industry that employed significantly more people than it employs now. Those industries have declined, and so have newer industries such as computing and even the call centre industry. We have had to compete, to change, to modernise and to move on to new industries, many of which are in the service sector.

More than 70 per cent of employment is now in the service sector, rather than in manufacturing. There has been a significant change in our economy and that is the primary reason why Scotland has not grown at the same rate as Ireland, which did not have traditional industries to go into decline. Scotland has had to compete with decline to make growth. Jim Mather is shaking his head, but that is the reality of the situation. The traditional industries that employed so many people have gone and many communities have still not recovered from their decline. That is one of the issues that we have to address.

I agree with a number of the points that Fiona Hyslop made. It is important to address the matter from the roots by engaging not just with adults but with everyone, from the age of zero up. The problem of the 13 per cent who are not in education, employment or training goes back to that core fact. Murdo Fraser's amendment identifies the problems of that group, but we will not address them overnight. We cannot wave a magic wand and suddenly stop deprivation in those communities. We have to work from the grass roots, from early-years education and throughout the school process.

One of the big things the Government is doing is examining how schools operate and developing the enterprise agenda. "Determined to Succeed: Enterprise in Education" is an important initiative that will bring significant benefits. Futureskills Scotland has done a number of case studies of people who are going into their first job. I think that it studied about 26 employers and it studied people's awareness of work. It found that some people were well prepared for work—they were usually the people who had taken part-time work when they were at school, so they knew about the work environment—but it found that many were unprepared. Although people's information technology skills were usually good, some of their core skills, such as literacy and numeracy, were still a problem. Jamie Stone was right to raise the issue of modern languages. We need to address those things and ensure that "Determined to Succeed: Enterprise in Education" gets into schools so that children learn about the skills that they will need in the adult workplace.

The big failure of Murdo Fraser's amendment is that he seems to have forgotten about the publication last May of "Lifelong Partners", which is the Executive's strategy for partnership between schools and colleges. It seeks to ensure that every pupil in S3 and above has the opportunity to participate in programmes in the further education sector and the vocational sector. That is an important step in ensuring that we develop our young people and prepare them for the work environment.

There are other things that we need to do. We need to look at the parts of our training industry that are still slightly luddite. I have had discussions with colleges about the problems that were caused by the restrictions the Construction Industry Training Board imposed. For example, if a double-glazing company wants people who can fit windows, they cannot find a college training programme for such people and have to get fully apprenticed joiners. It makes no sense for those companies—or for the economy—that they cannot get people with the necessary skills quickly.

Our education system takes a modular approach that can build on existing qualifications. Someone could start by learning to fit windows and take other modules to become a fully qualified joiner later. We need to address how we approach training and education.

Employers also have an important role to play. We sometimes think that the Government has to do everything. It does not; there should be a partnership between the Government, employers, local government, schools and those who wish to be trained. Perhaps, over many generations, employers in this country have not invested enough in skills training or in equipment.

We in this country are doing well in many areas. The Scottish Liberal Democrat and Labour coalition has addressed the issue. We are delivering opportunities by investing in and increasing the skills of Scotland's workforce. For example, we have abolished student fees and delivered genuine lifelong learning, and community schools have benefited not just their pupils but all local people. We have also created an all-age career service and supported business creation and entrepreneurship. I support the motion.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative 3:51 pm, 12th January 2006

Everyone in the chamber has shown by their amendments and opening comments that they agree on developing the workforce. That has always been the case: development is the key to individual and national economic well-being.

When one looks at some of the evidence, particularly the NEET working group's report, one has to have concerns. I identify with Fiona Hyslop's comments about the problems that affect young people who go into the workplace. She referred to the soft skills of oral communication, problem solving and teamwork, and personal relations skills.

My experience as an employer and comments from today's employers tell me that we must be concerned about young people's attitudes to timekeeping and commitment. Perhaps they are sometimes reluctant to acknowledge structural authority. As Fiona Hyslop suggested, those issues go back to the time people spend in schools, before they go to work.

Professor MacRae of Lloyds TSB suggested that

"employers' priorities were not computer literacy, numeracy and literacy but the social skills, group working and human-type skills".—[Official Report, Enterprise and Culture Committee, 12 April 2005; c 1726.]

I do not entirely agree with him about numeracy and literacy, but we must recognise modern technology and the use of word processing and electronic calculators, which have, perhaps, overtaken what my age group used to help us understand the importance of literacy and numeracy.

We must look at the performance of primary and secondary schools. Primary schools do a good job: they instil discipline and respect in children but, somewhere along the line, when children reach secondary level, that psychology is somehow removed. Perhaps it is part of the growing-up process; I am not sure. At the end of the day, that puts a heck of a burden on teachers.

Secondary level teachers must give a good example to their pupils. They must show discipline and have a reasonable dress sense that will be an example for children when they move into the business sector once they leave school. However, teachers must also be protected, because we all acknowledge that there is a discipline and abuse problem in secondary schools.

Perhaps the Government should be addressing those problems. The Tory amendment positively addresses some of the problems, particularly with respect to further education. I am delighted about modern apprenticeships. I have long supported them and I feel that they have a major part to play in our economic development.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I agree with Phil Gallie about the concept of modern apprenticeships, but does he agree that there is now a need to develop them and make them more flexible so that older people in particular can benefit from them much more than was the case in the past?

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

I agree. There are also issues around traditional apprenticeships. Not only should we be looking to extend modern apprenticeships to older people; perhaps we should bring the age band back to cover 14-year-olds at school level and involve those who might have the interest but who do not have the potential for academic development that others might have.

I will pick up on a point that Duncan McNeil made about traditional apprenticeships and the individuals who pursued the skills they chose. Those who took up traditional apprenticeships were originally known as journeymen. Duncan will not like this, but his speech perhaps smacked a little bit of Lord Tebbit's remarks about getting on your bike. However, I will not advance that particular argument.

Thinking about my own trade as an electrical fitter in the 1960s, it is perhaps not so necessary now to have apprenticeships in the traditional form for all trades, but it is necessary in the construction trades. By that I include bricklaying, welding—to a degree—and plastering. We are losing skills in those trades. They do not come from academic achievement; they come from practice, grinding away at the work year after year and perfecting the traditions of old.

The minister mentioned deprived areas. Over recent years, many of us have spoken about areas of deprivation. Much has been done for them, such as the creation of priority treatment areas by the previous Government. Many millions of pounds have been put into them, but I wonder what benefits we have got. I suggest to the minister that he might wish to take up Jim Mather's advice on the quality assurance aspects and analyse the results that we have got for the money that we have spent in deprived areas. How many of them have advanced from having a need for priority treatment to being self-sustaining? Only a few. The minister would do well to consider that.

Photo of Susan Deacon Susan Deacon Labour 3:58 pm, 12th January 2006

We really have come a long way: if we were holding this debate 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago, the discussion would be very different. It is worth reminding ourselves how different the world now is from the backdrop of mass unemployment and the damage it did to our people, communities and families. For many of us, that time is etched on our memories.

It is great, in some respects, that we are currently debating the problem of finding people for jobs rather than jobs for people. I welcome it, but I do not for a moment underestimate the challenge to enterprise bodies and so on—and at a societal level—of dealing with some of the conditions that result in a small but significant proportion of the population finding it difficult, or impossible, for various reasons, to enter the labour market.

I will make a few comments about the oft-referred-to employability framework. It is not a term that warms the cockles of my heart, but there we go.

Various references have been made to how long it has taken to produce the framework. To be honest, I think ministers should put their hands up and say that it has taken too long. It often takes far too long for not only the Executive, but the Parliament, to produce policies. Day in, day out and week in, week out, individuals live in situations that we all consider to be intolerable and that employers need them to get out of to do jobs. We need to get on with the task of matching those needs much more quickly.

We can be too preoccupied with waiting for a strategy before we get on with discussing and doing what needs to be done. We should recognise that a hell of a lot of work is being done throughout the country to address such situations. We probably all have good examples and experiences of that on our doorsteps. Schools have been mentioned. In Craigmillar in my community, I have seen fantastic work done by Castlebrae Community High School, including work with youngsters from chaotic backgrounds for whom it is difficult to achieve the structure and discipline to hold down a job. The school is doing huge amounts of work with youngsters to ensure that they can work and be active citizens. That is just one example. Similarly, national organisations such as Scottish Business in the Community are doing great work.

It is important to get on with supporting, encouraging and expanding the work that is being done and not to be preoccupied with the framework, although we also need a policy document that sets the direction of travel.

I make a plea to ministers to get away from the sanitised and sterile technospeak that some of the debate has been in and much of the documentation is in. In preparation for the debate last night, I spent some time looking at the Executive's website and the reports on work leading up to the employability framework. Frankly, some of those documents are impenetrable.

There is no such thing as a NEET and we should stop talking about people being NEETs. The term is convenient and provides a way to recognise and deal with a category of individuals statistically, but Murdo Fraser talked about an organisation that works with NEETs. No: that organisation works with people—with individuals who have needs. We should talk about people and in terms that people understand. We should talk about the human and social situations that we know create the conditions that cause the difficulty. I have no problem with the direction of travel of policy, but I want it to be decoded, debated and implemented in ways that real people—particularly those in such a situation—can understand.

I will touch on a couple of wider aspects of the agenda. One issue is flexibility in the workplace. If we are serious about ensuring that individuals can play as full a part as possible in the labour market—and in so doing also be fulfilled as human beings—and about ensuring that we have a healthy society and healthy communities, we must have much more flexibility in the workplace throughout the UK. Some countries have made much more progress on that. We must have flexibility to enable people to combine the different needs and demands in their lives.

I did not quite like some of Duncan McNeil's stereotypes, but he has a real point about the lives that many of us lead. Some face greater challenges than others in combining work and a family life. And it is not just about looking after children; caring for elderly relatives while working will increasingly be involved. If individuals are to participate fully in the workplace, flexible working options at different ages and stages of life are vital. I want us to do much more to achieve that. In the chamber, in the Enterprise and Culture Committee and elsewhere, I would like us to debate more that wider, vibrant and real debate in the 21st century about how people balance work and life.

Finally, I will discuss a point that is given insufficient attention. If we are to have workplaces that can do all that we have talked about, we need good leadership and good management in them. Much good activity goes on in management development in Scotland. I have worked in the area, I have seen much of the work at close quarters and I am still in contact with much of it. We could do much better in developing the managers and leaders of the future. I would like greater attention to be paid to that matter.

I welcome the Executive's commitment and the direction in which it is going, but I would like it to accelerate the rate of progress and the pace of change. I would like there to be a greater focus on action and I would certainly like us to dispense with some of the processes and technospeak so that the focus is on people, who are and always will be our greatest asset.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 4:05 pm, 12th January 2006

The motion proposes that the Parliament should welcome the Executive's

"intention to work with the United Kingdom Government".

We must welcome that intention at the moment because Westminster holds the macroeconomic and benefits system purse-strings and is the greater force in getting people back into work. I hope that in any meeting, the minister will mention the benefit trap in which many people find themselves and its debilitating effect on people who are trying to get into work. That is important and must be raised time and again. One way of getting people back into work is through an overhaul of the benefits system.

In his opening remarks, the minister said that opportunities should exist for all and that no one should be left behind. We must ensure that that happens. I endorse everything that the minister said. There was a tiny mention of ethnic minorities in his speech, but he did not mention disabled people or people with impairments, although I am sure that that was not deliberate. He may shake his hands, but disabled people and people with impairments are important. The minister did not mention refugees either. If he is serious about not leaving anyone behind, he should agree that such people should be actively targeted in order to get them back into work; they provide a great pool of talent. Such people want to work, although they cannot do so at certain times. That is not only the result of the benefits system, but because they are least likely to get good training and a good education. Access to employment is difficult for them and when they get back into work, they are sometimes actively discriminated against.

What prevents disabled people and people with impairments getting into work? People want to work, and there is a huge amount of untapped talent out there. As a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee I participated in its disability inquiry. During that inquiry, the issue of the benefits system was constantly raised. The second issue that was raised is the lack of information. If there is information, people do not know how to access it. There is a lack of training for people and an inability to get into work. In that context, I wondered whether the minister would consider a one-stop shop or a national strategy.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I will clarify the position for the member. I did not mention every disadvantaged group, but I did not mean to exclude anyone. Obviously, there are multiple obstacles to employment for many people. The strategy that we seek to develop will indeed address the matter of individually tailored solutions for tackling all the obstacles that individuals face, including those who are physically disabled.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I am sure that the minister did not mean not to mention certain people, but I wanted to mention disability because I and other people continually raise it. The big problem is that there may be good access to work and education in certain parts of the country, but no such access in others. I wonder whether the minister will take on board the idea that there should be a national strategy throughout Scotland that would take into account such matters.

As I said, the minister touched on ethnic minorities. There is a 21 per cent gap between the employment of white women and women from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. I wonder how the Government in Scotland will measure and tackle such inequalities. The Government set itself a target date of 2013 to eradicate such inequalities, but how will it do so? I certainly have not received any answers to the questions that I have sent Malcolm Chisholm.

In June 2005, the Government committed itself to setting up a strategy group, which was to meet in October and to report back to the Parliament in March 2006. However, as far as I know, that group has not even been set up yet and so has not met. Malcolm Chisholm said in answer to a parliamentary question of mine:

"the main task of the strategic group will be to produce an action plan to address the current inequalities that exist".—[Official Report, Written Answers, 3 October 2005; S2W-19177.]

I could continue, but I want to know whether the minister can give me an answer today. I have heard that the group has not been set up to consider inequalities, but research. I would like the minister to clarify matters. Perhaps that is unfair, as the minister is not the Minister for Communities—Malcolm Chisholm is—but I would like clarification. Is the group just for research? Obviously ethnic minority groups are fed up with being constantly researched—they want some action.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

We are establishing a task force—I cannot announce the chairmanship in advance—and it will not look just at research into why ethnic minorities seem to be more disadvantaged in the labour market than others, it will consider solutions.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I thank the minister for that answer because I was worried that the group would look only at research and that it would not come up with a strategy. I did not want another group to be set up and us not to know what is happening with it. I welcome the information from the minister and I look forward to finding out who is on the task force and who will be the chairperson.

In conclusion, I want to mention refugees. We must congratulate the refugees into teaching project at the University of Strathclyde and the University of Paisley, among others, which has won a prestigious award from the Home Office. It has achieved the highest status. We should mention that to show what can happen with refugees and asylum seekers. I ask every minister why the fresh talent initiative cannot be broadened out to include some of those projects that have received such a high rating from the Home Office. Why can we not act in conjunction with the fresh talent initiative and some of those projects and give opportunities to the refugees and asylum seekers who bring so many skills to this country? Why can we not open out this area?

That brings me back to the SNP's amendment. Unless this Parliament has the powers I am afraid that we cannot fully access the benefits of the fresh talent initiative and other projects. I know that the UK Government is considering having a fresh talent initiative—I would not like to use the word "nick"—so perhaps the minister could ask the UK ministers why we cannot expand the fresh talent initiative to include refugees and asylum seekers. After all, this is a multicultural country and it would give those people the opportunity to show that they can and want to work.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:12 pm, 12th January 2006

The minister began by saying that he was open to suggestions. I teased him by suggesting that he might be willing to consider a rewrite. We have heard some speeches about statistics as well as a large number of speeches offering common sense and experience that can be modified, reused or recycled. The debate has been positive and I am heartened by the contributions from many in all parties. No one knows everything, and we in this Parliament have to learn that.

After many years of employing many people and running many training schemes in my organisation, I became the chairman of a public training company where I came up against people who had been disadvantaged for a range of reasons. It might have been because of their behavioural patterns or because they kept bad company or had chaotic lifestyles, or because their families were disadvantaged. Perhaps they had not had leadership at primary school, or they refused to take it. Some of those people came via the courts, some of their own volition, and some came through youth groups. I was fascinated by how the professionals who were working in that organisation listened to the public and private sector people who sat on the board, took their ideas, and modelled them into something understandable that people could work with. As Susan Deacon said, we need to make things simpler for people to understand.

I have always believed that all young people deserve a training or education that is appropriate to their ability. I whole-heartedly support the Conservative policy, which has been around for some years, of linking further education colleges with schools and the advantages that that brings. There are people who would benefit from that. Twenty-odd years ago, a friend of mine was head of science at Wythenshawe high school, which was the largest comprehensive school in Britain. He had academic students—he was a chemist—but along with a physics teacher, he had pupils who worked with hydraulics and pumped air. It was practical stuff—posh Meccano with machines. People left and went into apprenticeships in car production. They became plumbers and learned skills that they could take with them—they became employable. I do not think that all the lessons from that experience have been learned.

I turn to the skills shortages that we seem to have in some sectors. In the oil industry in my area, there is a desperate shortage of skills in the younger age groups. The age of people in the industry, especially offshore, is going up. There will be a real skills shortage. How do we get people involved? What is the Government's view on that?

Other members have spoken about soft skills. It is not all about youngsters learning soft skills and how to deal with people—it is about people of all ages who interface with the public. That is particularly true in the health service. There are still doctors who need to learn how to deal with individuals. We should start in schools to teach people how to do that.

There are good signs in the FE sector, which is linking up with higher education. However, that must be done on the basis of universities and further education colleges agreeing that there should be a smooth transition from higher national diplomas to subsequent qualifications, if that is possible. It is not always possible. Equally, we must ensure that there are smooth links between training colleges and schools and between senior schools and primary schools. Even from late primary school, children should have to learn all about employment and training opportunities. They should grow up in that culture, which must be reinforced by parents.

I turn to the issue of rural FE colleges. Over the past few weeks, I have lodged several questions, which have not been reached in the chamber, about funding for further education colleges. I did that on the basis of an approach from the association of rural FE colleges, which feel that they are disadvantaged. They do not have the critical mass of other bodies, but they still have to deal with the high costs of provision. They also have multisited facilities, to make them accessible, because often students cannot reach colleges by public transport.

I hope that the first division minister will wind up at the end of the debate, as he will direct what happens. That is no reflection on the Deputy Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, who opened the debate, but the ultimate decision maker and leader must be the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, who is sitting nearer to me. Is he prepared to have a proper discussion with the rural colleges group about whether they have a real case to be answered, because they feel that they are disadvantaged? If they are, everyone who lives in a rural area is disadvantaged. It costs more to provide a skill base in rural areas. We need to take education to the student or the apprentice.

In the workplace, people are not given enough time for continuous professional development. The health service is a prime example of that. Why are nurses not allowed more time in which to improve their skills than they settled for in a recent deal? If they improve their skills, they can progress. Equally, that enables us to meet some of our public service staffing needs.

Competition is coming from Europe. Many people from eastern Europe are coming here with a lot of skills and are taking jobs. We must ensure that our young people are not disadvantaged in comparison with people from other parts of Europe when they try to access the workplace here.

Businesses are no longer chasing more support for modern apprenticeships, but there is a real issue of how well the Government, colleges, trainers and so on are working together. No one who has spoken today has said that co-ordination does not need to be improved.

As other members have said, we need to slim down the bureaucracy. As other members have also said, we must make schemes understandable. We need to engage with employers and trainers. We really need to start in primary schools, because that is the beginning of everyone's chance in life.

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green 4:19 pm, 12th January 2006

The Executive's debate today centres on developing our current and future workforce. It certainly seems that much work is to be done. We only have to look at the disproportionate numbers of women, disabled people and black and ethnic minority groups who are in low-paid jobs and living in income poverty to realise that.

Although the minister highlighted many good initiatives, far too many people still face significant barriers to accessing work, particularly disabled people. I endorse everything that Sandra White said in her speech.

As a member of the Equal Opportunities Committee, it was a real eye opener for me when we looked at barriers to work. We saw the sheer frustration of the many disabled people who wanted to contribute and get into work, but who were being prevented by barriers created not by their disability, but by employers. We need to address that genuine problem.

Getting people into work might be part of the picture in tackling poverty, but it is certainly not the holy grail of anti-poverty measures. Work might reduce the risk of being in poverty, but it does not eliminate it. Two fifths of people in working-age households in Scotland who are in income poverty now have someone in their household who is in paid work. Workforce development is not just about providing jobs; it is about providing quality jobs that give people a decent and fair wage.

Women in particular are often locked into living in poverty even if they are in employment because of the scandalous gender pay gap that still exists. A third of all employees in Scotland earn less than £6.50 an hour; half of all part-time workers earn less than £6.50 an hour and most of them are women.

Taking full-time and part-time jobs together, two thirds of all low-paid workers are women. I briefly refer members to the Equal Opportunities Commission payslip campaign, which highlights the difference between men and women who work full time. The average wage difference per month is £559. That is quite unacceptable.

The Executive is not developing Scotland's workforce evenly and fairly and seems to be doing too little to help the considerable numbers of women who live on a low income in poverty and in employment. Simply moving people off the unemployment register is no guarantee that they will move out of poverty. Issues about pay levels, job quality and sustainability are crucial to using work as a route out of poverty.

The smart, successful Scotland sought by the Executive cannot be achieved without tackling gender inequalities. The Executive acknowledges the importance of education, skills and learning opportunities, but makes no specific reference to the importance of taking action to achieve gender equality in access to education, learning, training and work.

We need only to look at the modern apprenticeship scheme to see that gender segregation remains in today's labour market. In that scheme, total female participation stands at 35 per cent, and some might say that that represents modest progress. However, participation is severely segregated by gender. For example, of all the people who participate in the scheme, only 1 per cent in plumbing are women; fewer than 3 per cent in engineering are women; and fewer than 2 per cent of participants in child care are men.

Recent studies have shown that women who participate in the modern apprenticeship scheme are also concentrated in low-paid occupations. On the one hand, the Executive promotes the scheme as a means of achieving a highly skilled workforce, but on the other, it fails to recognise the dramatic under-representation of women and men in particular sectors in the scheme.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

Does the member concede that there is no integral discrimination in the scheme that would preclude women from participating in greater numbers, but that there are wider cultural and social problems in the labour market more generally that militate against progress?

Photo of Shiona Baird Shiona Baird Green

There needs to be more focus on removing that gender inequality from the modern apprenticeship scheme. Unless action is taken to address that under-representation in particular sectors, the Executive will contribute to continued gender inequality in the wider labour market. That is not the kind of workforce that I envisage for a modern Scotland. I will quote Rowena Arshad, the Equal Opportunities Commission Scotland commissioner:

"Both men and women should be represented equally at senior levels in politics, business and public sector, not only because it is fairer, but also because it makes good political and commercial sense. Scotland is losing out on valuable talent, and it is in everyone's interests for politicians and employers to do their part to remove age-old barriers, transform the workplace and politics and deliver real and lasting change. A new approach is needed."

Achieving economic growth that is based on inequity and injustice is not sustainable. Scotland will not realise its economic or social potential if it fails to tackle the barriers that face men and women, as well as other groups, in pursuing the employment of their choice. If the minister wants to promote skills and training for all in a modern Scotland, he must consider how to tackle such issues. I hope that he will take these points on board as he develops the employability framework.

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour 4:26 pm, 12th January 2006

This has been an interesting debate and, by and large, consensual. I hope that, in listening to the points that have been made and in later studying the Official Report , the minister and his officials—who I am sure are sitting at the back of the chamber—will take on board some of the ideas and thoughts that have been shared this afternoon.

There is a great deal of consensus on the nature of the problems that we face and on the issues that require to be tackled. I welcome the fact that most speakers accepted that a considerable amount of work has been done. The minister highlighted the investment that has gone in, what it has achieved and the very good results that we have had. I am pleased that he did not shy away from the issues that face us and those who are not in education, employment or training. In all our constituencies there are individuals, perhaps third-generation unemployed, for whom life holds no ambition and too often, unfortunately, no hope. Now that those who can be employed have, by and large, been taken off the unemployment register and into jobs, we need to find out what can be done for those in this much more difficult sector. We must now concentrate on those people. The minister highlighted the numerous schemes in this area, from those that support employers in developing existing workforces to schemes—which Duncan McNeil also highlighted—that help people whose jobs are moved to other parts of the European Union and other places, such as the partnership action for continuing employment initiative.

Work is also being done with the United Kingdom Government. For those who do not know it, I will describe the example of Thomson House in Methil in my constituency, which does training for work programmes and offers individual mentoring programmes. The work is done in collaboration between Lauder College, the employment services, the local enterprise company and local businesses, all of whom have bought into the centre. Its record of getting people into work and helping to sustain them in the important first few months, which is the time when many people who have been long-term unemployed experience real difficulties, is extremely good.

David Davidson gave us the welcome benefit of his experience. What he said on the translation of ideas into programmes that are tailored to individual needs—which is work that I have seen in my constituency—struck a chord with me, as I am sure it did with other members.

Many members spoke about the need to start this work when children are at a very young age—nought to five years—and of the need to work with parents. Although the evaluation of the sure start programme pointed out some flaws, nevertheless the results bear out what members have said in the debate, which is that nought to five is the time to start this work. Unfortunately, I suspect that I will be gone from active politics by the time the real results of the intensive work for nought-to-five-year olds comes to fruition. If evidence from New Zealand and other countries is to be believed, we are on the right track, but we are in it for the long haul and we need to stick with it.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Will the member tell me what the defining difference is between Scotland and New Zealand? New Zealand is redefining its competitive advantage. What is the difference?

Photo of Christine May Christine May Labour

I am not sure that I would say that there is a defining difference between Scotland and New Zealand. Since the Labour Government came to power in Westminster and since the coalition Government came to power in the Scottish Parliament, we have looked at what needed to be done. It is a matter of great regret to me and to others that opportunities that other countries pursued through the 1980s and 1990s could not, for various reasons, be pursued here to what would have been the much earlier benefit of the Scottish economy.

Among the issues that were raised was the importance of anticipating needs when recruiting trainee teachers and I am sure that the minister will take that on board. Susan Deacon made the point that we must not just wait for a strategy. To be fair, most folk have recognised that we have not just waited for a strategy, but that, in developing the employability framework, we have initiated quite a number of programmes, some of which, certainly judging by the early results, appear to be doing very well.

I have to highlight Jim Mather's unfortunate accusation that the minister was making up numbers. However, when Duncan McNeil asked him what the SNP's minimum wage might be, Jim Mather could not even make up a number. I may be wrong—if I am I will check—but I think that he said that the SNP's aspiration was for a minimum wage without ceiling. I hope that Scotland's employers are listening to that exposition of SNP policy and that they are worrying about it: I would be worried about the potential impact of such a minimum wage.

It is important that we have the framework and that it takes account, as many members said, of the issues that the Equal Opportunities Committee has been looking at and of those who are significantly disadvantaged. The framework must also take account of the needs of areas of significant deprivation. Those areas are not just to be found in the inner cities; there is evidence of deprivation from the coalfields, for example. I hope that the minister, in considering the future of the enterprise network, will look at that aspect of economic development and ensure that it is taken into account and adequately resourced when a final structure is agreed.

Sandra White and Shiona Baird spoke about refugees, but nobody mentioned migrant workers and the needs of the families that they often bring with them. I ask the minister to deal with that in his response. I support the Executive's motion.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 4:33 pm, 12th January 2006

The debate has been interesting and constructive. There is an appreciation in the chamber that skills and training is a fairly urgent matter, for a number of reasons. The first is that, with European Union enlargement and the general mobility of labour, which some members mentioned, it is apparent that if Scotland is to retain its competitiveness it must ensure that it has a properly skilled and trained workforce.

I do not accuse the minister of complacency; he realises that there are difficulties. For our part, the Conservatives appreciate that it is not entirely a bad news story. We frankly and freely acknowledge that. Although statistics were not bandied about during the debate to any great extent, some of them are of concern.

I draw attention to the soft skills study, to which Fiona Hyslop referred. When people were asked to report on the difficulty of recruiting suitable staff, 27 per cent of those in the manufacturing industries reported increasing difficulties in recruiting skilled manual labour. In the construction industry, which is an important part of our economy, 39 per cent reported similar difficulties.

There is clearly cause for concern. Much reference has been made to the fairly high proportion of people—particularly young people— who are not in full-time education, training or employment. Although the figure might not be all that bad compared with figures in other countries, within the UK, it is highly unsatisfactory, as Scotland has a much higher percentage of NEETs than any similar region in the United Kingdom—something like 14.6 per cent as opposed to a UK average of 9.7 per cent. It is clear that some action is necessary.

In the course of the debate, there were quite a number of interesting speeches. Jim Mather identified the problem correctly but, unfortunately, the solutions that he came up with are not terribly workable. "Full economic powers" is the SNP mantra at the moment, as it is with their new best friends in the Scottish Green Party.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

If it is merely a flirtation, it will be interesting to see where it takes us in the months ahead, during which I suspect that it will, like most relationships, wither on the vine.

Full economic powers for the Scottish Parliament with a Scottish Parliament run by the SNP is an interesting concept. A number of SNP members surround Jim Mather: Alex Neil, Sandra White, Christine Grahame and Fiona Hyslop. That is a typical cross-section of those members of the SNP whose Pavlovian response to any difficulty is to throw more public money at it and spend up to the hilt. If the SNP spends up to the hilt, we will get an economically uncompetitive Scotland that is unable to sustain any skills, training or education, and economic chaos will ensue.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

I ask Bill Aitken to concede that all SNP members are committed to growth. The reason for that commitment is that we have 30 years' experience of closures of firms such as Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Digital and now Sanmina-SCI UK and Inventec. Does he concede that the strategy of foreign direct inward investment with limited research and development was always doomed to failure and is no substitute for economic powers?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

No, I do not accept that concept at all. I accept that there are problems—of course there are problems—and Jim Mather is correct to point them out. However, they would not be eased by the package of policies that any future SNP Administration—heaven forfend—would impose on the people of Scotland. It simply would not work.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

Struan Stevenson is a man of considerable intellect and erudition but, on that occasion, showed perhaps a scintilla of a lack of judgment. Mr Neil can rest assured that I totally disagree with Struan Stevenson on that point.

Photo of Phil Gallie Phil Gallie Conservative

In an earlier intervention, Jim Mather mentioned that we have had 30 years of companies such as Hewlett-Packard and Compaq. Is it not the case that, in those 30 years, the brilliance of Conservative Governments in looking after Scotland induced those companies to set up in Scotland?

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative

I am obliged to Mr Gallie for reminding me of that fact. It is an inalienable fact and cannot be denied.

Other interesting points were made in the debate. Jamie Stone made a valid point about the teaching of modern languages. I think that we all agree that that issue needs to be examined, as the current position puts us at a competitive disadvantage. I hope that the Executive will consider how children might be taught modern language skills at a younger age.

Of course it is all very well to ask for more modern language teaching, but we have a difficulty, given that the soft skills study revealed that 52 per cent of those in the NEET category—I see that Susan Deacon has returned—cannot communicate orally to the extent that is necessary if they are to make themselves viable in the employment market.

This has been an interesting debate, in which a number of aspects have been discussed in a constructive way. We will no doubt return to the debate in future, so I look forward to crossing swords once again with the gentlemen on the SNP benches.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party 4:41 pm, 12th January 2006

That speech from Bill Aitken was perhaps the most amusing speech on skills that I have heard in the chamber or anywhere else.

The minister began by asking for input and ideas, so I draw to his attention the discussion paper that I produced in October last year. My paper is a serious contribution that makes a number of recommendations for the employability strategy, and I hope that they are given serious consideration. I believe that we face six major skills challenges, so let me dwell on two or three of them in this closing speech.

The first key issue that the employability and NEET strategies will need to address is access to skills and education. The McGoldrick report that the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council published two or three months ago emphasised that, despite all the initiatives that various Governments have introduced with good intentions, the proportion of people entering higher education who come from deprived areas and lower income groups is more or less the same as it was 20 or 30 years ago. Therefore, we have not cracked the major problem of access to education and training for that group of people.

The situation was well summed up in a report by the Labour peer, Dame Helena Kennedy. Basically, the way in which parts of our education and skills system work means that

"If at first you don't succeed ... you don't succeed".

The situation was also summed up by Linda McTavish, who was the principal of Anniesland College. In her evidence to our lifelong learning inquiry three years ago, she pointed out that young people in our country can be characterised as a triangle. The bottom layer of the triangle comprises the vast bulk of people who are unlikely to succeed, do not succeed at present and will not succeed unless they are given a substantial leg up. In the middle layer are those who are being given a leg up and can succeed with small amounts of help. The top layer of the triangle consists of those who, thanks to their personal resources and background, will succeed no matter what.

However, the triangle is almost inverted in relation to the resources that are allocated to each of those three groups. In terms of resources per head, the vast bulk of resources goes to those at the tip of the triangle, who are the small number who will succeed anyway. The second-largest allocation of resources goes to the middle group, who will succeed with only a small leg up but who nonetheless receive a fair amount of the resources. However, relatively speaking, very few resources go to the large numbers of people who need the most help.

One of the biggest challenges that we as politicians face is the need to ensure that, over the piece, we skew investment and resources—it is easier to do this if investment is growing—much more in favour of those who need a more substantial leg up to succeed. We can do that in a number of ways, but let us consider the categories of people—I will mention just two or three—who need help the most.

We have heard about the 16 to 19-year-olds who are commonly referred to as NEETs—young people who are not in education, employment or training. Clearly, they must be a priority group, for all the reasons that have been highlighted during the debate.

The second priority group is part-time students. Duncan McNeil referred to the practical problems and financial barriers that face many people who want to return to training as a prerequisite to returning at some point to the labour market. People face major barriers to returning to training and education, which means in turn that they face a major barrier to returning to the labour market. I hope that the employability strategy will address the particular needs of that group of people.

The third group is middle-aged people who have perhaps been made redundant or for some reason have been out of the labour force for some time and require training or retraining to gain opportunities in the labour market.

I hope that the employability strategy will address those three priority groups as well as some of the groups that Sandra White mentioned.

Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour

I do not dispute anything that the member says, but I wonder whether he agrees that many other groups in society are priorities. Does he agree that, in addition to those who are furthest from the labour market and those who are closer to it, one of the important groups consists of those who are in employment but who may be in low-paid jobs or jobs with low prospects? It is important that we develop the workforce in a way that gives those people greater opportunity.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

Absolutely, although I point out that, of the OECD's top 13 performance indicators, the one area in which we have been consistently in the upper quartile in the past 10 years has been the number of people who are in employment and also receive training. We are doing well in that field, but a great deal more must be done.

Access is the number 1 challenge. The second challenge is what I call the knowledge life-cycle revolution. Previously, when someone went to university or was given training, the knowledge and training that they received did them for a lifetime of work. That is no longer the case. For example, people who trained to be shipbuilders trained in an industry that is still with us, but whose peak lasted for 150 years. The peak in the electronics industry in Scotland, which also started up in Duncan McNeil's constituency, has lasted for 50 years. The next generation of new industries will probably have a life-cycle of only 20 or 25 years. It has been estimated that during a typical lifetime of work in the 21st century, people may need to be trained and retrained up to 10 times. That means that a tremendous challenge is in front of us, in both the private sector and the public sector. When the strategy is published, it must take that into account.

The third issue that I will emphasise relates to the productivity and skills challenge. All the research done by the Department of Trade and Industry, the EU, the World Bank and the OECD points out that the major problem in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom is the level of intermediate skills. We must skew investment towards the expansion of intermediate skills and use the latent workforce of NEETs and others to whom we have referred to match the supply to the demand.

I will mention the final three challenges without saying anything about them: the population changes that are taking place; the benefits trap, to which Sandra White referred and which I hope will be dealt with in the white paper that is due later this month or next month; and the resources issue. As Lord Sandy Leitch pointed out in his interim report at the pre-budget stage in November, if we are to tackle the problem we must recognise that a very substantial investment will have to be made so that we really develop the skills that are required for a modern Scotland.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat 4:49 pm, 12th January 2006

I emphasise the importance of the issue that we are debating this afternoon and the work that the Executive is doing to develop both the employability framework and the strategy on young people who are not in employment, education or training.

I will come on to the issues that Susan Deacon raised, but Allan Wilson and I agree with the point that she and others made, in that the title of our employability framework will be changed. The language that we use in relation to this subject can get too complex, too technical and too confusing, not necessarily just for the young people whom we are trying to help, but for employers, who need to understand and support the employability strategy.

The strategy, which is important, will be here in the next few weeks. It will be influenced by members' remarks in this debate, but employers will have a central and crucial role to play. We must ensure that employers support the strategy, and we have done a lot to ensure that that happens. We must also do a lot to ensure that they are with us in the strategy's implementation.

We are dealing with a wide range of problems and challenges. It is not just one simple area that needs to be addressed or one public sector body that needs to be involved—a range of skills and bodies needs to be involved. We are dealing with people who often face multiple challenges, such as invalidity, disability, drug and alcohol abuse and complex and difficult family backgrounds, as well as a lack of qualifications, skills and, often, confidence and experience.

It is also important to emphasise that there are skills shortages in Scotland. People sometimes challenge that view, but I believe that it is a fact and that we must do more to support young people in Scotland to gain those skills.

Jim Mather made an interesting speech. His aspirations may be limitless, but his policies are clueless, including the idea that all that is needed is independence and then every day will be the first day of spring. Compulsory, Government-set high wages for all was what we seemed to be told about this afternoon, with limitless public expenditure to match them.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Is the minister telling me that he is happy that 41.47 per cent of working-age people in Scotland who are in work earn less than £6.50 an hour, receive benefits, are on an early pension or are unwaged? Is the minister happy with that? I am not.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

The route to tackling that is to give not only young people but everyone in Scotland more skills and opportunity. [ Interruption. ] The route is not through a contribution from Jim Mather that, in my view, becomes increasingly agitated, tetchy and aggressive. He is in grave danger of making Alex Neil look statesmanlike in the chamber.

Murdo Fraser, strangely, gave us a new consensus spirit. I wonder where that comes from.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

It is the new, moderate, more liberal Murdo Fraser. I agreed with much in his speech, including his concern about young people who are not in education, employment or training. I inform him that we are not the worst in the OECD in that respect. However, there is a real problem and that is why the debate is so important. I agree with him on the importance of the voluntary sector's contribution and I welcome his comments on the Fairbridge project in Dundee. We need more targeted support and we must involve the voluntary sector better. His comments will be taken on board.

Jamie Stone emphasised many of the positives, but he also highlighted the new skills that will be necessary if we are to compete in the new global markets. Some of those new skills are in areas such as computing, engineering and science. We face challenges to ensure that the skills that are delivered in our schools, colleges and universities are relevant, up-to-date skills in computing and engineering and that they are fun, interesting and engaging to learn. I would be greatly alarmed if young people in Scotland were to drift away from those subjects. I also agree with his point about the learning of foreign languages such as French, German and Italian. However, why not also include Mandarin and other languages that are emerging as important in the global economy?

I will take up with Highlands and Islands Enterprise and others the problem in modern apprenticeships that Jamie Stone raised. A similar point about the lack of a level playing field between Scotland and England has been made to me. It is important to me that employers are treated fairly.

Fiona Hyslop mentioned the big role that the public sector can play. We should address that, because all parts of the public sector, including the health service, can make a contribution by taking on new staff and ensuring that they have the appropriate skills. That is also important at the higher end. The introduction of continuing professional development in the teaching profession through the McCrone deal was an important change that will reap rewards as the years pass and as the initiative develops.

I agree with Fiona Hyslop and Christine May about the need for early intervention. I will come to the point that Alex Neil made about that, but it is exactly right that early support is vital. If a problem is emerging, it should be tackled and something should be done about it.

Duncan McNeil mentioned the recent redundancies in his constituency, with jobs at Sanmina-SCI moving to Hungary. These are concerning times for the workforce there and our sympathy goes to them. He is absolutely right that we need to fight back and invest in those people. We must do everything possible through the PACE initiative, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Development International to assist the people and families that are affected. Our future is about investing in such people and their skills, passion and determination. Increasingly, the future is not about the might of machinery, but about the intellect and skills of individuals. [Interruption.]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Minister, I am reluctant to break in, but the background noise is now reaching an intolerable level. I ask members to allow the minister to complete the debate.

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

Iain Smith highlighted the dramatic changes that have taken place in Scotland over the past few decades. He talked about the low base from which Ireland started, which is an issue that must be highlighted, as Ireland received a lot of European Union and other aid because of it. As Ireland has strengthened in the past few decades, we have at times seen a significant decline in our traditional industries. I remember those Conservative years—few members cannot remember them—of high unemployment, constant closures and the collapse of many of our industries.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

Does the minister agree with Jean-Philippe Cotis of the OECD, who has said that a failure to converge on the likes of Ireland is a failure to learn?

Photo of Nicol Stephen Nicol Stephen Liberal Democrat

It is important that Scotland learns every lesson that it possibly can. Scotland learns from Ireland, but it also often competes with Ireland. I am determined that, in the same way as, during the Conservative years, we won many inward investments that Ireland also wished to achieve, we should be able to strengthen our economy and deliver new jobs in Scotland over the coming decade, as Ireland has done.

That is important to me, but it must be done through a strategy that does not focus solely on inward investment or multinational companies. That is why, as Iain Smith mentioned, the determined to succeed initiative is of absolutely central importance. I was involved as the chairman of the group that worked on that initiative—getting that project right is one of the most important issues with which I have been involved in my political career. We must ensure that, in every school in Scotland, we make the determined to succeed programme work. The links between colleges and schools are also vital and we are making significant progress in that area. I agree with Iain Smith's point about the construction industry training boards. We must encourage change in them, which will be in the best interests of the employers that they represent.

Phil Gallie started to mention people getting on their bikes. That is the fundamental difference between our approach and the Conservative approach. The issue is not simply about people getting on their bikes; it is about skilling people for new jobs and preparing them for the future.

Susan Deacon gave what was possibly the best speech of the afternoon, until Bill Aitken got on his feet. She was absolutely right to highlight how dramatically the situation has improved in recent years. I have mentioned already that we will respond to her challenge to us to change the name and language of the employability framework. I thank her for those comments.

I agree with perhaps the most important thing that Susan Deacon mentioned: the need to develop the managers, leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow. If there is one big difference between the whole of Europe—I was going to say the United Kingdom—and the United States, it is not at the worker or employee level; it is at the level of business leaders. New entrepreneurs create new services and new products, drive new markets and deliver new wealth, new profits and new jobs. We need to see more of that in the future.

I am out of time. I have responded previously to David Davidson's point about colleges in rural areas. Unfortunately, I do not have time to do so again; however, I will write to him on that issue.

Alex Neil quoted Helena Kennedy, and I have considerable sympathy with that quote. However, the response to it is that we should try, try and try again to get the issue right. We should do more in this area. Our skills must remain the best, as that is what will give Scotland its edge in the future. That must be the case at every level of the pyramid or triangle. To remain world class, we must also invest more at the top end because the world is not standing still; it is developing fast. In Scotland, we must improve at every level. If members support that idea, I urge them to support the Executive's motion.