Youth Employment

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th May 2013.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06492, in the name of Angela Constance, on young people: supporting Scotland’s economy today and tomorrow.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Scotland’s economy needs the energy, fresh ideas and skills of the young to remain competitive. Young people are absolutely essential to our economy, today and tomorrow.

The monthly and quarterly publication cycle of the various labour market surveys gives politicians, economists and media commentators much to consider. Although statistics are always subject to interpretation and qualification, regardless of how we choose to interpret recent figures, a number of things are true: youth unemployment in Scotland has dropped in each of the past five months, and the latest annual population survey figures show a decrease in 2012 compared with 2011; Scotland’s youth unemployment rate is lower than the United Kingdom average and the rate in each of the other home nations; and only five countries in the European Union—Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Malta and Denmark—have a lower youth unemployment rate than Scotland does.

The relentless efforts across Scotland by councils, employers, voluntary organisations and others are testimony to our call for an all-Scotland approach to tackling youth unemployment. Those efforts are making a difference and need to continue.

Although the recent downward trend in the youth unemployment rate and level is welcome, there are still 65,000 young people in Scotland who want to work but have not been able to secure employment. For young people who are in work, underemployment is a growing concern. Last week’s research paper by Professor David Bell and Professor David Blanchflower reminds us that underemployment is particularly concentrated among the young and that, last year, 30 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds who had jobs wanted longer hours. That adds to the challenges that young people face in today’s labour market. I welcome the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s report on underemployment, which was published last month, to which the Government will respond soon.

Although there has been a welcome decrease in the headline youth unemployment figures, the increase in long-term joblessness among young people is worrying. Schemes to support young people, such as the wage incentives of the youth contract and the work programme, are the responsibility of the UK Government. It is a source of deep frustration to me that I cannot be confident that the young people concerned are receiving the support that they need and that we do not have the ability to adapt those resources to better support young people who are in danger of being trapped in a cycle of long-term unemployment.

The latest youth employment report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development is called, “Employers are from Mars, young people are from Venus”. Based on research with employers, it highlights a mismatch between employers’ expectations of young people during the recruitment process and young people’s understanding of what is expected of them. On the one hand, many young people are struggling to find their first job. On the other, some employers are finding it hard to get the skills that they need. We need to address that mismatch to reduce youth unemployment and ensure that businesses are equipped with the right talent for their immediate and future needs.

Making young people our business means changing the way in which we do business. For employers, that includes acknowledging what young employees bring to the workplace and adapting their recruitment methods so that they do not act against young people. For young people, it means gaining the skills that are valuable to employers and demonstrating how they can put them into practice. Government and others who support young people and employers need to help young people and employers to understand one another. We are making good progress on each of those fronts.

Last month, Gordon MacDonald MSP hosted a parliamentary reception for third sector employers and young people who are supported by our successful community jobs programme. In the past three years, more than 3,000 young people have had high-quality work-based training opportunities through the community jobs Scotland scheme. The young people and employers at that reception were definitely on the same planet and understood how to support one another’s aims.

Last week, at Cumbernauld College, I presented a number of young people with the new certificate of work readiness. What is different about that qualification is that half of the time required to complete it—around 190 hours—needs to be spent in the workplace and assessed by the employer. It is endorsed by business organisations such as the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, as well as by employers such as Diageo, Scottish Power and Burn Stewart Distillers. Achieving the certificate will help young people to prove that they are ready for the world of work.

The reforms that are under way in the college sector will ensure that the skills that people develop at college help to grow the economy. Regional colleges and outcome agreements will make it easier for employers to influence learning provision. The commission for developing Scotland’s young workforce, led by Sir Ian Wood, will advise on what further improvements might be needed to our education and training system to make it even more responsive to the needs of the economy.

I want more employers to accept the business case for investing in young people and to look at how they can create new youth jobs, offer apprenticeships or offer high-quality work experience for young people. That is a big ask, but I know that there is a large appetite among employers to respond. In return, through modernising our careers service, preparing young people better to make the move from education into work, and making our education and skills system more responsive to industry needs, we will help to ensure that their workforce needs are better met.

In responding to the needs of key growth sectors, we are providing a wider and better mix of skills. One example of that is the energy skills action plan, which has led to significant collaboration with industry and Scotland’s colleges and universities, as well as other key delivery partners. Since 2010 the low-carbon skills fund has provided more than 2,000 training places for small businesses across Scotland. Last year, we supported a further 1,000 flexible training places in the energy and low-carbon sector by continuing that fund and introducing the new energy skills challenge fund. In addition, 500 modern apprenticeship places a year have been ring fenced for the sector.

My world of work includes a specific energy section that has attracted 5,000 internet hits in 18 months, helping to attract young people to the sector. Initiatives such as careerwise will improve collaboration between schools and businesses and encourage more girls into science and engineering careers.

As well as making our education and skills system more responsive to industry, we are supporting businesses to develop their own solutions to meet workforce needs. For example, the Nigg Skills Academy will provide general training for 3,000 by 2015. Building on all that, the Scottish energy skills academy will support our existing business base and attract further energy investment in Scotland.

Our approach to tackling youth unemployment is more in tune with the European countries that are introducing youth guarantees than with the UK Government. We agree with intervening early to prevent young people from becoming unemployed in the first place.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

I do not disagree with much of what the minister has said, but the contrast that she appears to draw between the approach of the Scottish Government and that of the UK Government strikes me as slightly odd, given the £1 billion of funding for the youth contract that is available to employers in Scotland. Indeed, that funding mirrors what is taking place in Germany, which the minister acknowledges has been very successful in tackling youth unemployment.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I hope that Mr McArthur is fully aware of the European youth guarantee, which the European Commission proposed, and that there is a political agreement between member states—although only the UK Government and the Czech Republic have exercised their right to decline to participate in that guarantee.

The European youth guarantee is about intervening early and not waiting until young people are long-term unemployed or claiming jobseekers allowance for six, 12 or 18 months. It is about giving a guarantee of work, apprenticeship, education or training to every 16 to 24-year-old, or in European cases, 15 to 25-year-old, within four months of their either leaving education or becoming unemployed. That is a very progressive, significant commitment that we should implement in this country.

I discussed the European youth guarantee with UK Government ministers and I regret that they are not convinced by it. They seem to object to Europe coming up with such proposals in the first place. We all know of the challenge of rising youth unemployment across Europe, with the exception of the countries that I mentioned earlier. I hope that Mr McArthur will look at the European youth guarantee. Liberals are often very pro-European, so I hope that he can persuade his coalition partners to think again on it.

Employment services are essential to implementing such a European youth guarantee. Although this Government does not have the necessary powers over employment services, we are doing everything that we can to make progress. For example, in education we have prioritised college places and supported more higher education places for young people. We are offering high-quality paid traineeships and work experience opportunities through, for example, community jobs Scotland and the certificate of work readiness. We continue to achieve our target of 25,000 new modern apprenticeships each year, and 77 per cent of last year’s modern apprenticeships were taken up by 16 to 24-year-olds. Very soon, we will announce a package of financial support to help businesses create 10,000 jobs for young people.

I will continue to look at how other countries in Europe and elsewhere are tackling youth unemployment and learn from that good practice, which I will be glad to share with Parliament. As well as looking at the impact of our actions, it is very important that we look at what others are doing and the impact of their actions. Next week, I will join other European youth ministers at the Education, Youth and Culture Council. While I am in Brussels, I will meet the rapporteur who is leading on the European Parliament’s Committee on Employment and Social Affairs’ youth unemployment report.

Last month, The Economist painted a bleak picture for young people across the planet. With 75 million young people unemployed and youth unemployment rates in Spain and Greece racing towards 60 per cent, it is not surprising that the article was called “Generation Jobless”. However, despite the negative headline, the article finished on a more hopeful note and acknowledged that Governments are trying to address the mismatch between education and the labour market and that companies are beginning to take more responsibility for investing in the young.

Our focus should not just be on avoiding a lost generation. Our efforts need to be on helping young Scots to be part of an aspiration generation, an ambition generation and an innovation generation, in which all our young people are encouraged and nurtured to play a full and productive role in Scotland’s economy, both today and tomorrow.

With all that in mind, I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the drop in youth unemployment by 29,000 over the last year, as outlined in the April 2013 Labour Force Survey; commends the efforts made by many employers in Scotland to offer job, training and work experience opportunities to young people, helping them to play a vital role in the current and future workforce; further welcomes the achievement of 25,000 modern apprenticeship starts for the second year in a row; agrees that the Certificate of Work Readiness, backed by business and developed by Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, helps young people demonstrate to employers that they have valuable skills for the workplace, and further agrees that efforts should continue to support employers to invest in youth jobs, including through the recruitment incentives funded by £25 million in Scottish Government and EU funds and delivered by local authorities.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

When my colleagues and I saw the terms of the motion for today’s debate, we were torn about whether to offer our support. On the one hand, as members can imagine, all of us in the Labour Party welcome the opportunity to keep employment at the top of the political agenda, not just because of unemployment’s damaging effect on individuals and their families, but because of its divisive effect on society as a whole. The flipside of that argument is that, by creating or working towards a full employment society, not only do we rebuild the self-esteem of those very individuals, but we increase the prosperity of our society and improve our national wellbeing. That is how to tackle the many problems that ail our country.

The downside to the motion is that it reads in a rather self-congratulatory style. That is a weakness that all Governments are prone to. There is a risk that the Scottish Government has latched on to one good set of quarterly employment figures and read into them perhaps more than it should. Everyone who deals with statistics is advised to look at the long-term trend; they should not overreact to one set of figures, particularly if they look anomalous and should therefore be treated with caution.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I appreciate the complexity of labour market statistics, which must be understood and studied carefully. Does Ken Macintosh acknowledge that the quarterly and monthly statistics for the past five monthly releases have shown a downward trend in youth unemployment in Scotland?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Indeed they do. The minister will be well aware of the caution with which we should treat all figures. Although there is a clear trend, I was worried about the use of the 29,000 figure in the motion. If the minister bears with me, I will expand on my comments.

What worries me is that the minister may infer—she has not done so in the motion, but she did so in answer to my question last week—that somehow the fall in unemployment is directly due to actions taken by her Government rather than the cumulative effect of a number of factors. I will return to that point. However, on balance, we agree that any fall in unemployment is welcome, even if we are not entirely sure what is behind it. Similarly, the employability measures that the Government has outlined, although by themselves not necessarily transformative, are to be welcomed.

We have had several debates on employability. Employability measures are important, but when the problem with our economy is employment and not employability, we must be careful not to put the problem back on to individuals and to blame them for their misfortune. I will return to that point, too.

I make those remarks partially to put my speech in context and partially to appease what I call the paranoid tendency on the Scottish National Party’s front and back benches, which I suspect assumes that Labour starts every debate on the basis that it wants to prove the SNP wrong no matter what it says. I assure SNP members that that is not the case. [Interruption.] I see that the paranoid tendency has just woken up. We simply want to test which policies are working and which are not.

I will put the unemployment statistics in context. We welcome the fall in the most recent employment figures. However, it is interesting to note that the fall in one set of figures in the previous month was unfortunately offset by another increase in the number of long-term unemployed, particularly in long-term youth unemployment. I am sure that I do not need to tell anyone here, let alone the minister, about the scarring effect that a prolonged period of unemployment has on people when they are young.

It is equally sobering to look at the performance of the Scottish economy in relation to employment and unemployment over the course of the recession in the past four or five years. Between 2008 and 2012, Scotland experienced a fall in unemployment significantly worse than in other regions in the UK. Similarly, Scotland’s growth in unemployment over that same period was far greater than that in any other UK region, with only Northern Ireland coming close to the problem and the levels that we are experiencing here. If we look at economic inactivity, we see that levels have increased in Scotland, whereas they have reduced across the UK.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

Ken Macintosh seems to be arguing that the Scottish Government is due no credit when the statistics look quite good and due blame when the statistics are bad. Surely he cannot have it both ways.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I am not making that point at all. I thought that I was explaining myself quite well. I am trying not to blame the Government; similarly, I am anxious that the Government does not take praise when it is not due.

It is difficult to see evidence of Government interventions making a difference. That is clear in the way that the Scottish Government expresses itself. Just yesterday, it put out a press release that led with new sets of statistics that showed that youth employment was down again. However, it did not highlight the figure of 33,000 16 to 19-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training—an increase of 1,000 in a year—which those statistics also contained.

Stephen Boyd from the Scottish Trades Union Congress has provided an excellent analysis of the Government’s claims that youth unemployment has fallen by a third. He highlights that, within those figures, there is a very worrying increase in unemployment among 16 to 17-year-olds, which is much higher than in the rest of the UK. Stephen Boyd’s point, which I repeat here, is that, if the Scottish Government wishes to take the credit when things are going well, it must also take responsibility when the figures do not reflect so well on it and tell a different story.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The strength of our policies lies in our offer to 16 to 19-year-olds. I always read the blog posts by Stephen Boyd and the STUC, and they are usually very well informed. On this occasion, I take issue with them because the cohort of 16 to 17-year-olds in the labour force survey is so small, whereas in the annual population survey, in which the cohort is larger, unemployment among 16 to 17-year-olds has actually fallen.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

That would be a good point, but I did not want to go into the difference between the annual population survey and the labour force survey because the minister’s motion is based on the labour force survey. I was not going to raise that point, but the minister has now raised it by giving an example that is against the labour force survey. For information, those figures have to have the word “experimental” added to them when they are quoted. I am not trying to do down that trend, but we should be wary. The whole picture is not a rosy one.

The difficulty is that we are not in a period when we can relax—or, for that matter, take credit—and assume that everything that the Government is doing is working. There is very little evidence to show that it is working, and it is difficult to know what is making the difference.

I assure every Scottish National Party back bencher that I want Scotland to outperform the UK on every measure. I have no wish to see the Scottish Government fail on those measures, and I want Scotland to do better. We simply need to know the facts so that we can work out which interventions work and which do not, what more we can do, and what pays dividends for the Government, the private sector and the third sector.

It is clear that the world is suffering from an economic downturn, and Europe still has its own difficulties. On the UK economy, I may find some common ground with the SNP back benchers, although perhaps not with the Conservatives and Liberals in the chamber. I hope that we can agree that we are suffering from the wrong-headed austerity approach of George Osborne and the Tories.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I hope to find common ground, too. With regard to the wrong-headed austerity measures that are being implemented by the Conservative-Liberal coalition at Westminster, does Mr Macintosh think—as I do—that it would be better if we had all the levers of power in order to come up with different policies that would help our young people and others in our population back to work?

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I was offering consensus, but I am not sure that my offer was responded to.

It is clear that I do not agree, and interestingly the yes campaign does not seem to agree either. Half of the members of the yes campaign want control of some of the levers of power, and half of them want to give the power back to Westminster and have no control over it whatsoever. I have never quite understood that—they want control of the levers of power, but they want to give that control to the Westminster Government and the Bank of England. That is a bizarre policy, if I may put it that way.

However, there are some points on which we can agree, such as the backdrop against which we are asking the Government to intervene. In some ways, I am asking the Scottish Government to be more realistic about the difference that it can make, and to focus its attention on the measures that are making a difference.

I welcome the certificate of work readiness, which is a focus of today’s debate and which could, by all accounts, provide some young people with useful work experience. It is good that we provide employability at its best, and those programmes can give confidence and boost young people’s preparedness and esteem.

However, as I mentioned earlier, there is a downside. The focus on employability can give too many young people the impression that their lack of employment is their own fault and that their employability, rather than the lack of available jobs, is the problem. Such programmes should never be viewed as an alternative to real and substantial investment in youth unemployment, and more concrete action is needed if we are to address that problem in the short and the long term.

The First Minister was keen to bring up Wales today. I mention in passing that just last week the Labour Administration in Wales announced a £75 million investment package to support jobs and growth in the economy. That is the sort of measure that I would welcome from the Scottish Government.

We need to be mindful of some of the decisions that the Scottish Government has taken that are contrary to the focus on employability and will be detrimental to young people’s chances of getting the training that they require to enter work. To refer to the most obvious example of those decisions, the minister may think that further education is an easy target for cuts, but £25 million of cuts this year and the same next year will have a real impact on colleges’ ability to deliver training and education, and a lasting effect on the young people who will miss out on a college place as a result.

I look forward to discussing what further measures we can take to tackle the very real problems facing young people in Scotland today.

I move amendment S4M-06493.2, to insert at end:

“and, while welcoming any support that can be given to those finding themselves unemployed, recognises that youth joblessness remains too high; cautions against any complacency at the difficulties faced by young people seeking work in Scotland; notes in particular the extremely worrying continued rise in the number of long-term unemployed, and is concerned that a further £25 million cut to colleges will restrict opportunities for many to gain skills or retrain”.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I put it on record that we are happy to agree with the Scottish Government’s motion and the Labour amendment.

I think that there is universal acceptance on all sides of the political divide that the economic problems, both domestic and international, of recent years have had a profound effect on the whole country, but perhaps the greatest impact has been felt by our young people. Although the youth unemployment rates in Scotland and in the UK as a whole have not reached the exceptionally high levels reached in some parts of Europe, they remain too high. Notwithstanding what I think we should see as encouraging signs in the most recent statistics, the unemployment level for young people aged 16 to 25 is twice as high as that for the rest of the working population.

If we are to ensure that Scotland’s economy is stronger in the future, there is an onus on us all not only to help boost the jobs market, but to better equip our young people with the skills and training that they and their employers need. We need to ensure that those skills are more flexible, and to tackle the problem of large numbers of our young people not being in any form of employment or training because they became disengaged from education. Mr Macintosh gave us a sharp reminder of the fact that we have the highest proportion of disengaged groups of any of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries—the figure has increased significantly in the past decade.

Figures from the Scottish Government’s own youth unemployment strategy show that failing to move our young people into stable employment can cost the economy up to £2 billion, so we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to creating 25,000 apprenticeship places. We also welcome the discussions with the UK Government and the European initiative. I think that we must complement such work rather than work against it, and in that respect we need to bring together all Governments, whether in Scotland, Westminster or Brussels.

If our young people are to gain employment, they must first be employable. That still presents significant challenges, not least because the skills that the workforce of tomorrow will need are hard to predict with any certainty. We need to accept that the job market is much more fluid these days and that applicants require a host of transferable skills if they are to be wholly successful. We know that employers too often express considerable concern about the significant numbers of our school leavers and, indeed, graduates who do not possess the right skills to adapt to the workplace. Therefore, last week it was encouraging to see that problem being confronted by Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, which will soon offer a work-ready qualification. Although I am sure that some will argue, with some justification, that that should not be necessary, anything that can help to place more focus on the problem is to be warmly welcomed. We need only listen to the policy executive of the Confederation of British Industry or to the Scottish Chambers of Commerce to understand how prevalent the problem is.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I appreciate that some people with significant needs are very far away from the labour market, but evidence from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills shows that employers who recruit young people are satisfied, by and large, with their work readiness. What young people lack is experience, which is just down to their youth.

Photo of Elizabeth Smith Elizabeth Smith Conservative

I thank the minister for making that point because I am just about to come to it. Members in the chamber who attended the meeting today of the parliamentary cross-party group on colleges and universities will know that that exact point was made at the meeting.

The cross-party group considered work that is being done at Robert Gordon University, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University, and college representatives made the point that there is improvement on the whole, although there remains a very significant number of employers who do not feel that young people or graduates have the right skills for the workplace. We have to treat that issue very seriously.

Also raised at today’s cross-party group meeting was the issue that the onus of finding a work placement very much falls on the individual, rather than provision being made by schools, colleges and universities. Some wonderful initiatives were discussed at the cross-party group. If there are models that breed success, with youngsters not only finding a suitable placement but being able to find a regular job after it, we must consider them seriously.

Unquestionably, schools are the institutions that lay the foundations for work experience. Foremost is the need for good standards of literacy and numeracy, which are too often absent in too many youngsters. By no means does that apply to all—far from it—but, for too many, there is a problem. Scotland is not performing nearly well enough, and I make the case again that the curriculum for excellence—for which there is firm support—can only be part of the process.

We need to ensure that curriculum for excellence is complemented by greater rigour in the basic skills, particularly in primary school. Those two things do not work against each other—they are complementary. There is a strong message for us all, which has increasingly been coming through from colleges and universities: in too many cases, the basic skills are lacking, and we need to do something about that. It is incumbent on us all to ensure that we put forward positive policy suggestions as to how we make things work. The Scottish Conservatives put that point firmly on record.

Colleges and universities are playing their role, but they will be constrained if we cannot send them more articulate pupils. Those institutions clearly recognise the need to collaborate effectively. According to a CBI report, those with the strongest links are delivering the best opportunities.

We have seen a lot about modern languages in the press recently. Modern languages are crucial to our youngsters’ success. The trading statistics make it very clear why our youngsters need modern languages. At the moment, we have a problem, which we rehearsed last week and which comes down to what is on offer in our core subjects and the support that we can give through colleges and universities.

I repeat that we are happy to support the Government’s motion and the Labour amendment.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

We now come to the open debate. Speeches should be six minutes—with a bit of leeway for interventions at this stage.

Photo of Mark McDonald Mark McDonald Scottish National Party

It was interesting that Liz Smith finished on the subject of modern languages. I recently visited Danestone primary school in Aberdeen, which is in my former council ward, and I learned about the positive work that is being done there around the teaching of Mandarin Chinese to primary school pupils. Visa restrictions are a difficulty for the scheme to introduce Mandarin, as the system does not allow Chinese teachers to come and teach in Scotland on two to three-year secondments. They are only being awarded 12-month visas, with the potential—but no guarantee—of a 12-month extension. I hope that the work that I know the Scottish Government is doing will help to persuade the UK Government to consider that scheme sympathetically for a possible relaxation of the visa restrictions. I hope that we can count on Liz Smith’s support—perhaps she can use her influence over the UK Government.

It was my great privilege to be invited to speak at the launch of the Prince’s Trust get into energy event at the Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen on 22 April. At the event, we heard moving testimony from a Prince’s Trust ambassador, Marie Cope, a young Aberdeen mum whose life turned around through work with the Prince’s Trust programme.

Marie began skipping school at a very young age, and quickly fell into bad company, finding herself involved in abusive relationships and substance misuse. She became a single mother saddled with significant financial debts and in constant fear of visits to her home from debt collectors, which led to her developing a severe fear of opening the door when someone knocked at it. Thanks to the Prince’s Trust’s get into retail programme, Marie was able to remove herself from some of the negative influences that she was surrounded by. She was able to turn her life around and is now a youth ambassador for the Prince’s Trust and a strong testimony to the success of the Prince’s Trust programmes in helping vulnerable young people to turn their lives around and get into work.

That is what the focus of the get into energy programme was about. The event was held during north-east business week and served as a good example of how large local employers—particularly in the oil and gas sector, which, as we know, is extremely prominent in the north-east of Scotland—can use their influence and expertise to make a difference to disadvantaged young people and use their corporate social responsibility budgets and departments to best effect by investing in young people, who may become their staff in the future.

There is a clear correlation between youth unemployment and mental health issues, and between youth unemployment and growing up in some of the more deprived communities under the Scottish index of multiple deprivation. By investing in schemes such as get into energy and other Prince’s Trust schemes, companies can make a targeted difference and try to mitigate the effect of austerity—and we know that austerity hits hardest those who were vulnerable before a recession. Through promoting those programmes and companies’ involvement in them, we can make a targeted difference to those people, who probably most need targeted support and assistance to gain access to the workforce.

The energy leadership group is currently of particular interest in the north-east. It is a group of energy companies that come together to provide opportunities to disadvantaged young people, mostly from the north-east of Scotland. The scheme works by companies paying money to the Prince’s Trust and, in return, the young people go on to their training and mentoring programmes and potentially go on to work for them. The companies provide internships and training schemes for young people who are interested in the sector and issue development awards. It is clear that not everybody who goes into the scheme will subsequently find employment in the company with which they are involved, but the fact that they get an opportunity to develop as an individual will stand them in far better stead when they go into the jobs market than perhaps would be the case if the scheme did not exist.

I want to mention the work of the young Scotland’s got talent campaign, which is for young people with learning disabilities and young people on the autistic spectrum. The campaign helps them to access the employment support services that they need—specifically, it is for those who are able to take part in employment and want to do so. It takes the form of a roadshow at various venues across Scotland and is organised jointly by the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability, Enable Scotland and Values Into Action Scotland. It gathers together young people with learning disabilities and young people on the autistic spectrum, their families, professional bodies and public bodies, including colleges and Government agencies, to share ideas, experiences and opportunities for gaining employment and further skills. The fact that it brings together individuals who would benefit from supported employment schemes and organisations that have the capacity to provide them helps to make links and connections for people who can often find it difficult to access the jobs market.

The next event is to be held in the Grampian region, at the Aberdeen arts centre, on Wednesday, 5 June. I hope that the minister considers this an invitation to go up to Aberdeen, visit the event and see for herself the work that is being done. I know that the Glasgow event in 2010 was attended by 350 young people and that almost 400 more wanted to attend it but were not able to do so because of the size of the venue. That demonstrates the capacity and appetite out there.

In Aberdeen, my colleague Gordon Townson, who is in the Aberdeen City Council Scottish National Party group, has promoted a youth employment strategy for the council through a notice of motion to the council. Aberdeen’s youth employment rate is well above the national average, but it is quite clear from the debate and the Government’s actions that we cannot be complacent.

The schemes that I have highlighted plus the actions that the Scottish Government and other agencies are taking demonstrate that we are taking the matter very seriously.

Photo of Margaret McCulloch Margaret McCulloch Labour

The Government’s motion refers to the fall in youth unemployment over 12 months and in my Central Scotland region there has been a drop in unemployment consistent with that trend. However, we must remember that the levels of youth unemployment in places such as Falkirk and Lanarkshire have remained above the national average for some time now and that the national average itself is still too high. Many of the communities that I represent are not just trying to cope with the rise in unemployment that came after the banking crash; they are still dealing with the legacy of unemployment and industrial decline over 30 years. Too many families and communities have experienced two or three generations of worklessness and, with levels of long-term unemployment remaining stubborn, this Government must work even harder to prevent a fourth.

This afternoon I will talk not only about how we can raise employment levels but about how we can use training to help young people enter the labour market and secure continuing employment as—we hope—the economy recovers. I also want to stress the role of two different groups that, although absolutely crucial in responding to youth unemployment in Scotland, can often be overlooked: training providers and local authorities.

The challenges confronting our universities and colleges have been well documented and others have spoken about the difficulties facing further education, in particular the impact of the Scottish Government’s disproportionate cuts to college budgets. According to Government statistics, however, more than 5 per cent of all those young people who reach positive destinations when they leave publicly funded secondary schools actually go straight into training, and many of those who become unemployed or go down other routes will also participate in some kind of training programme later in their lives. Although, historically, the Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland have maintained a good relationship with Scotland’s training providers, that relationship appears to have become strained with the transition to the new employability fund, which effectively replaces get ready for work, training for work, the new college learning programme, targeted pathways to apprenticeships and the third sector challenge fund. That is a wide-ranging set of changes and my concern—and, as I understand it, the concern of many training providers—is that the change has been introduced without enough preparatory work or adequate consultation with the sector. Our young people deserve more than a rushed job.

I am also concerned that the allocation of the employability fund is creating duplication and complications that need not exist. Training providers find the procurement process difficult enough and can all too easily be swamped when contracts go out to tender. At a time when the Scottish Government is trying to simplify public procurement, I cannot understand why it appears to be replacing a single funding agency with 32 different set-ups for 32 different authorities.

Further to last week's debate on the voluntary sector, the Scottish Government agreed that there was a case for three-year funding and longer-term contracts, given that annual contracting can create uncertainty and make it difficult for charities to plan budgets. I must stress to the minister that extending the length of training contracts would remove a substantial and recurring administrative burden from training providers and help suppliers to budget for, say, property, training equipment and staffing costs. Surely we all want our training providers to be given the space to concentrate on what they do best: training.

I must also stress the importance of local authorities, which play a crucial leadership role in developing their areas’ economic potential and boosting employment and training opportunities. We can learn a lot from best practice and partnership working at a local level. Indeed, there is no shortage of good examples from the three local authorities that my region covers and their key strategic partners. My future’s in Falkirk, North Lanarkshire’s working and South Lanarkshire works 4 u are three vital economic development initiatives that assist young people and local people more generally with job seeking and training.

I emphasise the importance of wage subsidy by highlighting South Lanarkshire’s youth jobs fund, which provides a 50 per cent wage subsidy for up to 50 weeks for 16 and 17-year-olds; indeed, where it can, the council will even help employers with training costs. That great example has already been taken up by 80 different companies and we can learn from it if we are serious about intervening in the labour market and turning community jobs Scotland into what it should be—a new future jobs fund for Scotland.

The minister talked about a very welcome decline in youth unemployment but we have some way to go if we are to bring those levels down further, learn from best practice and give young people the skills that they need to take advantage of the upturn when the recovery eventually comes.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

Scotland’s young people are the key to our country’s future prosperity, which is why, from 2012 to 2015, the Scottish Government is harnessing more than £80 million of funding to support youth employment. The money will support a range of initiatives, including opportunities for all, the employer recruitment incentive, the use of European structural funds to support business growth and youth employment, a fund to support young people into opportunities that are linked to major cultural and sporting events that are hosted in Scotland, graduate recruitment schemes and loans to young entrepreneurs.

At the beginning of this month the Scottish Government announced that Scottish business is backing the certificate of work readiness. The Federation of Small Businesses, CBI Scotland and large companies such as Diageo and Scottish Power have endorsed the scheme, which Skills Development Scotland piloted. The scheme targets 16 to 19-year-olds and consists of college-based learning and 190 hours of real-life work experience. Training and educational maintenance allowances are available to young people who take part. The certificate will help to allay the concerns of employers who might otherwise have no way of knowing whether a young person is fit for work.

The modern apprenticeship scheme again passed the Government’s target of 25,000 apprenticeships, and nearly 3,000 more 16 to 24-year-olds started a modern apprenticeship than did so in the previous year. A survey of Scottish employers’ views of modern apprenticeships reported high levels of satisfaction. Some 83 per cent of employers were satisfied with the quality of training and 85 per cent were satisfied with the relevance of the training. Some 75 per cent of employers viewed modern apprenticeships as vital or important to their businesses, and 96 per cent reported that apprentices were better able to do their job after completing their training.

The skills and experience that modern apprentices gained meant that 92 per cent of apprentices were in work six months after completing their training—79 per cent of those people were in full-time employment.

In the briefing that it provided for this debate, the Construction Industry Training Board said that it continues to support the modern apprenticeship scheme, despite the downturn in industry. Last year there were 1,300 new apprentices—that is up 15 per cent on the previous year.

Difficulties still face the construction sector, which is not helped by the UK Government cutting Scotland’s capital budget by 25 per cent. There is recognition that the industry faces a retirement time bomb, because the number of construction workers who are under 24 has nearly halved in the past 20 years. Companies continue to recruit apprentices into a variety of roles, to develop skills and gain experience—if they do not do so, there will be a skills shortage when the industry returns to growth.

The Scottish Government’s employer recruitment incentive scheme will operate in partnership with local authorities to help small and medium-sized companies to develop and expand, providing jobs and experience for young people as they do so. The £25 million scheme, which is supported by EU funding, will offer an incentive to recruit young people aged between 16 and 24.

The FSB’s report, “Micros Untapped: Realising the employment potential of micro-businesses”, which was published in November 2012, noted:

“Micro-businesses (businesses with fewer than 10 employees) make up nearly 94% of Scottish businesses and provide 27% of the private sector jobs in Scotland.”

The FSB went on to say:

“Over 40% of unemployed people who find work in the private sector go to work in a micro-business or become self-employed.”

The report noted that small businesses face a range of risks and difficulties, from lack of recruitment experience to a lack of knowledge of employment law, many of which can be resolved if national agencies, small business bodies and local agencies provide support. I hope that the Scottish Government’s employer recruitment incentive scheme and the certificate of work readiness will encourage many micro-businesses to start recruiting and growing.

The Scottish Government’s make young people your business initiative highlights what young people can bring to an organisation. The development of young talent can help in relation to succession planning, unplanned retirement and skills shortages.

By employing a young person and supporting them through a modern apprenticeship, employers can gain skills tailored to their needs. Young people bring creativity, innovation and a willingness to learn and will support business growth.

Scotland continues to perform better than the UK in headline youth measures, with lower unemployment, higher employment and lower inactivity. Over the past year there has been a drop of 29,000 in youth unemployment in Scotland. The labour force survey published in April identified the youth unemployment rate at 16 per cent compared to a UK rate of nearly 21 per cent. Although we continue to improve and outperform the UK, our youth unemployment figure is still too high and we need to learn from our European neighbours such as Austria, Germany and the Netherlands how they have managed to have relatively low youth unemployment of less than 10 per cent.

The minister said that she supports the proposed European youth guarantee to offer unemployed young people a job, an apprenticeship, a place in education or a traineeship once they reach four months of unemployment.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I am nearly finished.

The difficulty is that the UK Government is responsible for schemes such as the youth contract and the work programme here in Scotland and has so far declined to take part in the European youth guarantee. We need the full powers of an independent country so that we can devise economic policies to grow our economy and reduce youth unemployment to those low European levels.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

I point out that there is plenty of time for interventions should members wish to take them. That is of course entirely a matter for them.

Photo of Jayne Baxter Jayne Baxter Labour

I had to move desks, so I will just reassemble my papers and gather my thoughts. I should declare an interest: I am a councillor on Fife Council.

I am pleased to speak in the debate and to return to the issue of youth employment—the subject of my maiden speech in the chamber some four months ago. In that speech, I highlighted some of the work that local authorities are doing to tackle youth unemployment and to provide opportunities for young people. In particular, I flagged up Fife Council’s £5 million investment in apprenticeships for unemployed young people. I will now return to the opportunities that have been created by that three-year fund, because we know that youth unemployment spans Scotland in urban and rural areas alike.

Like many regions, Mid Scotland and Fife is a diverse and mixed economy, but traditional, land-based skills and jobs in many rural areas are central to the employment opportunities in the region. A recent report by Scottish Natural Heritage estimated that nearly one in seven of all full-time jobs in Scotland—about 242,000 jobs—are supported by economic activity that is linked to a sustainable development approach.

That is why I am pleased that the latest development from the Fife youth job contract is that 85 training opportunities have been created, which will provide apprenticeships in key rural skills ranging from working on golf courses or core paths to working in timber and landscaping, woodland management and environment conservation. Businesses in rural areas need to be able to employ well trained and highly skilled staff. Equally, young people who live in rural areas need to be able to reach employment opportunities that are accessible, rewarding and of high quality.

What has been central to the successful establishment of such training opportunities is the partnership working of the local authority with a range of training providers, including Fife Golf Trust, River Leven development, Living Solutions (Scotland), the Centre for Stewardship at Falkland and the Ecology Centre. Many of those rural skills training partners are offering not just apprenticeships but other opportunities. The contribution and central importance of employers to developing opportunities for young people have been highlighted in the debate.

The Ecology Centre, which is based at Kinghorn Loch, is an excellent example of a social enterprise that is making a difference to its community. On a recent visit there I met young people who are gaining work experience through the volunteer placement opportunities that are being offered. Crucially, those opportunities, some of which are provided in partnership with Project Scotland, provide financial support to the young people taking part, with a living allowance and expenses for travel and subsistence available, so that a young person’s circumstances do not dictate their ability to participate. For many young people at the Ecology Centre, it provides a route of opportunity and a route out of long-term unemployment.

In many rural parts of Scotland, besides the challenge of finding jobs and training, there are the challenges of remoteness, connectivity and high transport costs—or no transport at all—which must be addressed before young people can even begin to access employment or skills development opportunities. It is not just politicians in the Scottish Parliament who are saying that. Recently elected Fife members of the Scottish Youth Parliament have told me that transport, which plays a key role in giving young people access to college, jobs and leisure opportunities, is one of their key concerns. It was a key part of many MSYPs’ manifestos.

I welcome the commitment to deliver 25,000 modern apprenticeships each year, but the drop of 29,000 in the youth unemployment figures in the past year leaves some questions unanswered. We need to know where those young people are. Have they gone to college, taken up a training place or got a job, or have they fallen out of the system altogether? That matters because we need to know which approaches are working and which are not. We need to do the very best that we can for all young people in Scotland.

Last summer, Perth and Kinross citizens advice bureau carried out a study into the employment issues that young people face in that part of Mid Scotland and Fife. The report of that study, which I recommend to members, highlighted that

“the greatest percentage of people claiming” jobseekers allowance

“as a proportion of the resident population of the same age are the 18-24 age group”.

The report also found that many of the young people who were in work were in temporary employment and faced greater exposure to poor working practices, the withholding of pay, enforced overtime or unfair dismissal.

We need to look beyond the statistics and at the outcomes that are being delivered. We must ensure that young people get the skills, experience and confidence that will be for them a passport to lifelong learning, satisfying employment and a secure income, which will enable them to support Scotland’s economy today and tomorrow.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Stewart Stevenson, who has a generous six minutes.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I will try to come in in under half an hour.

I listened with great interest to Ken Macintosh’s speech and I take in good heart the preparedness to make common ground on the essential core of the debate. That is very welcome.

Ken Macintosh mentioned that some of the statistics on which we rely are experimental statistics. It may be of value to look at the Office for National Statistics, which is where the statistics come from, to see what their being experimental means. It is not about their being imperfect or unreliable.

All new statistical series are initially designated as experimental until there is a long enough run of a series to see that the figures are truly reflective and reliable. Therefore, although Ken Macintosh is correct in saying that we should not bet the bank on an experimental set of statistics, it is equally important to realise that what are currently designated experimental statistics are produced by the same method and to exactly the same professional high standard, with an expectation on the part of the Office for National Statistics that we will end up adopting them.

Not all experimental statistics are published. They may be developed and used internally for 12 or 24 months before they escape into the light of day. However, it is recognised that this is such a fundamentally important area of public discourse that the statistics should be published while they bear the formal, but not commonly used, designation of being experimental. I thought that it might be useful to underpin the debate with that explanation from the Office for National Statistics.

The context of youth unemployment is very different from that which I and others of my age experienced when we were youngsters. I studied at university and graduated with an extremely modest degree—my degree is spectacular for its modesty rather than anything else—yet I had three good job offers. Furthermore, when I was a student and looked for a job in the summer, at Christmas or at Easter, I never failed to get one. The economic environment was very different then. Today, students from the university sector who have a second degree may not even get a second look from employers, so we are in a very different position in the round.

In the north-east of Scotland, as Mark McDonald delineated in his excellent speech, we perhaps face different issues that relate more to a lack of appropriately trained staff than a lack of jobs for people to go into. In comparison with other constituencies in Scotland, my constituency has one of the lowest proportions of school leavers who go into tertiary education. The reason for that is a good reason, in that school leavers can go into employment without having to do further training. Nonetheless, it is important that we provide support to people through modern apprenticeships, given that the comparatively easy transition into work that is experienced in the north-east of Scotland does not necessarily equip people for a lifetime of employment.

Therefore, I very much support Banff and Buchan College and Aberdeen College, which have focused their efforts on providing training that is appropriate to local needs. Largely, that means engineering training. We have had excellent support from local employers, such as Macduff Shipyards and Score in Peterhead, which employ huge numbers of apprentices and, indeed, advertise for apprentices. Like all apprenticeships, those are linked to employment. It is particularly good that a huge proportion of those who complete an apprenticeship remain in employment six months later. Training and employment are closely linked and are very important.

Photo of John Mason John Mason Scottish National Party

The member paints an encouraging picture of the north-east. Does he think that schools in other parts of Scotland should do more to point young people towards engineering and such jobs?

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

John Mason makes a very valid point, which I might extend by saying that we should encourage not just young men but young women to go into engineering. It is quite interesting how many of the high-performing apprentices in the north-east turn out to be young women who have acquired mathematical skills in school that they have gone on to apply in college and in employment.

The North Sea oil industry, for example, will provide many decades of employment, which could mean a lifetime’s employment for those who so choose. Renewable energy will provide similar opportunities. Therefore, as in the rest of Scotland, the north-east’s college sector is very important in supporting increased employment for our youngsters.

Of course, it is more expensive to train someone in engineering skills than it is to train people in certain other disciplines. For example, for health and safety reasons—quite properly—there need to be two people in the room to supervise any activity involving lathes, so the costs are higher. Historically, until this Government engaged with the college sector in a different way, it was difficult to get adequate funding for courses that cost significantly more.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government is almost invariably finding space to support youngsters in apprenticeships through the mechanism of the contracts that it lets. When I was a minister, I was delighted to meet apprentices whose jobs had been created directly as a result of the Scottish Government placing contracts. The Government is doing at its own hand the kinds of things that it should be doing, and it is creating the educational environment for people to acquire the skills that they will need.

I conclude by noting that, although we have quite properly heard a lot about people in areas of much greater stress that are not as lucky as the north-east, we have pockets of deprivation in the north-east, too. Even in my constituency, which is one of the best-performing constituencies in terms of employment and where the unemployment rate is one third of the Scottish average, we have an area that was included in the top 10 per cent of areas of multiple deprivation. I am delighted to say that some of the initiatives that the Government has taken are starting to make a difference there.

In youth employment, as in so many things, the Government is doing a terrific job with the powers that it has. Would that we had the powers to do more.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Liam McArthur, who has a generous six minutes.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Thank you, Presiding Officer, although, like Stewart Stevenson, I had hoped to further burnish my reputation for pith.

I welcome the debate, which has generally been constructive, and I am happy to confirm that we will support Angela Constance’s motion and the amendment in the name of Mr Macintosh. Earlier in the debate, I was struck that some of the issues that we discussed in yesterday’s debate on early learning and childcare are relevant to what we are discussing today. That is not because such measures offer quick fixes but because the decisions that we take on that now will have an impact in due course on the contribution that young people can and will make in supporting Scotland’s economy in the longer term.

On the substance of today’s debate, it is right for the Government to highlight the drop in the youth unemployment figures in the most recent labour force study. Likewise, Mr Macintosh is right to enter a few caveats and health warnings, although I do not detect a great deal of complacency about the figures. There is also a need to acknowledge that the long-term unemployed figure is stubbornly going in the wrong direction. As Liz Smith said, all of us agree that the youth unemployment figures are still too high.

The reasons why progress is being made are many and various. Many of them relate to the targeted interventions that have been mentioned and which are in the motion but, as Ken Macintosh said, there are other wider factors. The approach absolutely must involve employers offering job training and work experience opportunities. The Scottish Government can take satisfaction from the way in which the modern apprenticeships programme is working, although it would be interesting to know the breakdown for modern apprenticeships in the private, public and third sectors.

The certificate of work readiness looks like a positive initiative and seems to offer the opportunity for individuals to demonstrate their potential while gaining experience. That chimes with something that the cross-party group on colleges and universities heard at lunch time about practice-based learning. Professor Stonehouse, the dean of Edinburgh Napier University business school, illustrated the point by asking us to imagine what it would be like if we went to college or university without being able to swim and were learning to swim through a class-based course that set out the key components that are necessary to swim. The experience of immersion in the place of work is critical and helps individuals to develop the skills that they need.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

On that point, does the member accept that, traditionally and for as long as anybody can remember, employers have had to accept some responsibility, too, so that the young people whom they take into their employment learn what is required of them by doing the job? Does he agree that employers should still have that responsibility today?

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

That is a fair point. Whatever initiatives we put in place, we cannot shift the onus too far away from that. However, in the current economic circumstances, we need to recognise that it is in nobody’s interests for employers to shed workers or not take on people in apprenticeship and training roles simply because finances are tight.

I take exception to the Government’s slightly churlish attempt in the motion to ignore the UK Government’s role. The motion rightly draws attention to the contribution of the Scottish Government, EU funding and local councils, but it makes no reference whatever to the UK Government’s youth contract. That is unfortunate, because there is £1 billion of investment to help young unemployed people in the 18 to 24-year-old category to get a foot on the ladder.

That scheme, which is targeted at the longer-term unemployed, provides wage incentives to allow employers to claim up to £2,275 to help to cover costs such as national insurance and to fund extra training and supervision. That dovetails well with many initiatives by the Scottish Government and others. As I said in an intervention earlier, the scheme has similarities to the approach in Germany, which, as various members have acknowledged, has a particularly good track record in the area.

I have touched on those who are furthest from the job market in previous debates. I appreciate that they include a wide number of different groups—Mark McDonald reflected on that well in his thoughtful speech—but the figures that we have are not encouraging.

I note that Barnardo’s, for example, says that 36 per cent of looked-after children are still looking for employment six months after leaving school. That is almost four times the average for school leavers as a whole. The figures for further education are similarly poor.

Barnardo’s argues strongly for third sector involvement at a local level in initiatives such as opportunities for all and youth action plans. It also points to

“a serious gap in long term, nurturing and supportive provision for care leavers”.

Clearly, work is under way and there are programmes that are working well, but we should not lose sight of the specific needs of care leavers and the more intensive engagement that they require.

In preparing for the debate, I was also struck by the briefing from the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, which said:

“Young people are expected to work in new environments and sectors for new and changing organisations, and to do so with greater flexibility. The younger generation needs the skills relevant to a changing economy, and the Scottish Government can help to address this need by continuing to invest in youth enterprise and entrepreneurship as part of its skills strategy.”

Like Iain Gray, I was involved in earlier initiatives such as determined to succeed. They are now far better embedded in education, but the Carnegie UK Trust seemed to indicate that, although that effect is reflected well at primary and secondary levels, it is perhaps more dilute in colleges. That is surprising, given that much of the collaborative approach in energy and hospitality, about which we heard at the cross-party group at lunch time, seems to contradict the trust’s findings.

I will touch on the college cuts that Mr Macintosh’s amendment mentions. I and my party have taken a strong interest in that issue over the past couple of years. In its briefing for the debate, Colleges Scotland talks of

“a growing disparity of esteem” that is leading to a reduction in funding. That chimes with something that Professor Stonehouse from Edinburgh Napier University talked about: the false divide between more vocational and academic streams of education. We must also recognise the impact that the cuts are having on outcomes for older learners.

The minister drew attention to the recent Economist article on the phenomenon of youth unemployment worldwide. She was right to point out that it concluded with some encouragement. The news of the recent downward trajectory of youth unemployment is part of the pattern and gives some cause for optimism, but there can be no let-up in targeted interventions, particularly practice-based learning and opportunities to develop skills in the workplace, which are delivering results.

Collaboration by both of Scotland’s Governments, our whole education sector, councils and the business community is an essential part of what the minister referred to as an all-Scotland approach. There are areas—such as college funding, support for those who are furthest from the labour market and even early learning—where more attention is needed, but I am happy to support the Government’s motion and Labour’s amendment.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I welcome the debate and thank the Scottish Government for securing it, because it is vital to ensure that Scotland’s youngsters have the opportunity to make their way in the world of work.

We are all acutely aware of the economic circumstances—the economic difficulties that we have experienced in Scotland and elsewhere over the past few years. Young people in many countries are bearing the brunt of that downturn. In Spain and Greece, for example, there are dramatic levels of youth unemployment.

Therefore, it is good that the figures in Scotland are moving in the right direction. The claimant count figures for March 2013 for young people aged 18 to 24 show a decrease of 5,500—some 12.6 per cent—over the year. The labour force survey for the period from December 2012 to February 2013 shows that youth employment in Scotland was at 56.7 per cent as opposed to the UK position of 49.7 per cent.

Youth unemployment in Scotland is 16.1 per cent. That is still too high, but it compares favourably with the UK rate of 20.6 per cent. It is clear that far too many young people in Scotland are still not in employment, and we must do what we can to assist them into work. However, it is important to record the good news—the figures are going the right way. The context is that youth employment is higher in Scotland than it is across the UK and youth unemployment is lower. As the minister pointed out, our youth employment rate is bettered by only five other European countries.

However, it is important to do what we can to help those who still need assistance, and I want to take a look at what the Scottish Government is doing in that regard. I turn first to the modern apprenticeship scheme, which comes in for criticism from some quarters. We need to acknowledge that the target of providing 25,000 modern apprenticeships has been met for the second year in a row. In 2012-13, there were 2,126 modern apprenticeships in North Lanarkshire—of which my constituency is part—alone.

Looking beyond the headline figures, we can see that the scheme is being targeted at the young. It is, of course, available to older people, but it is being focused on the young. In 2011-12, 16,791 modern apprenticeships were for 16 to 24-year-olds; in 2012-13, the figure was 19,681, which represents an increase of nearly 3,000 in a year. Some 77 per cent of modern apprenticeships were for the 16-to-24 cohort in 2012-13. Therefore, it is clear that the scheme is being more effectively focused on the people whom we are talking about today—the young people of Scotland.

It is important to look at the quality of the scheme. In a survey that was carried out in 2013 of Scottish employers’ views of modern apprenticeships, 96 per cent of employers reported that MA completers were better able to do their jobs. Employers reported high levels of satisfaction with the relevance and the quality—the figures were 85 and 83 per cent respectively—of the training that is provided, and 75 per cent of employers viewed modern apprenticeships as being important or vital to their business. Of those employers who currently offer MAs, 83 per cent plan to do so in future. Research by Skills Development Scotland shows that, of those people who complete modern apprenticeships, 92 per cent are in work six months later and 79 per cent are in full-time employment.

That is not to say that there are not issues with modern apprenticeships. Colleges Scotland suggested that one of the principal barriers to increasing interest in them is

“the lack of knowledge of young people, parents/carers and school teaching staff and a historical view that apprenticeship should not be a young person’s first choice.”

It would be interesting to hear the minister’s perspective on that but, by any assessment, it is clear that modern apprenticeships are being focused on the right people and that their quality is held in high regard by those employers who take part in the scheme.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Mr Hepburn will have heard my remarks about modern apprenticeships. Does he accept that there are some concerns about the age profile for them in particular sectors and in particular parts of the country, where the age profile might not sit as well with the focus on the under-24 age group?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I reiterate that, in 2011-12, 16 to 24-year-olds comprised 63.5 per cent of young apprentices, whereas in 2012-13 they comprised 77 per cent of them, so it is clear that the figures are moving in the right direction.

I want to focus on the college sector, which Mr Macintosh mentioned and which has been prone to be the subject of much comment of late—although not so much, I noticed, by the Labour candidate for the forthcoming Aberdeen Donside by-election. We should celebrate the good record of the college sector. In 2011-12, colleges delivered nearly 120,000 full-time equivalent places, which was 3 per cent above the level of the Scottish Government’s commitment. There has been a 36 per cent increase in the average hours of learning per student and a 1 per cent increase in funded FTE places between 2006-07 and 2011-12.

This issue was raised with me when I was engaged with a college in my area. There was always concern about certainty of budgets for colleges, although we know that there is certainty for colleges for the next two years. There is stability in funding from this year to the next. The closest comparable budget in England is down by 15.7 per cent, so once again we can see that much good work is being done in the college sector.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Although I am anxious that the debate does not descend into an exchange of statistics, I cannot let Jamie Hepburn’s picture of the Scottish college scene go unchallenged. Does he recognise that there has been a huge drop, measured in the tens of thousands, in head count—the number of people attending college in Scotland—over the past five years? Is he aware that part-time students have lost their places, a third of people with learning difficulties have lost their courses, and people are queueing up to get into Scotland’s colleges? Mr Hepburn makes a virtue out of stability of funding, but that stability is a £25 million cut this year and another £25 million cut next year.

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

We all know about the funding situation across the UK, which has clear consequences for the funding that is available in Scotland. It is a set of circumstances that Mr Macintosh is presently engaged in a campaign to ensure remains the case. I reiterate my point that the closest comparable budget for colleges in England is down 15.7 per cent. That has clear consequences for the money that is available for colleges in Scotland. I also reiterate the point that I made about the number of places at colleges. I referred earlier to “nearly 120,000” places, but let me give you the exact figure: colleges delivered 119,448 full-time equivalent places in 2011-12, which was 3 per cent above the commitment that was given. That is a good record.

I had hoped to focus on a number of other initiatives that the Scottish Government is taking forward. However, I will conclude by saying that there are many good examples of what is happening on the ground. There is still a challenge out there, but I am confident that the minister is up to that challenge and I look forward to seeing her take her work further in the future.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to take part in the debate. These issues are some of the most paramount problems with which we have to contend. I know that the minister shares my passion for this subject, because—although I do not want to give away a lady’s age—like me, she grew up in the Thatcher years and watched as devastation happened in many parts of the country. At that time, youth unemployment rates were very high indeed in many areas, including in the north-east. Some of the initiatives that came about—and which, it could be said, were frowned on by central Government at that time—still thrive in the north-east today.

As my colleagues Mark McDonald and Stewart Stevenson have said, in the north-east we are in a slightly different position from many other parts of the country in terms of youth employment. However, Mr Stevenson and Mr McDonald rightly pointed out that there are still difficulties in areas of social deprivation and for folks with special needs. We need to counter some of the difficulties that still exist.

Recent research for north-east business week 2013 that was conducted by the Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, the FSB, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and Enterprise North East Trust, said that 71 per cent of businesses were going to expand and grow within the next three years. We need to be able to match the skills to the growth that is going to take place.

Photo of Stewart Stevenson Stewart Stevenson Scottish National Party

Is the member aware that Aberdeen Business News reports today that, in the past year, 50 per cent of all of Scotland’s new office lettings were in the north-east?

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

I did not know that. I have not read all of today’s news, but I am grateful to Stewart Stevenson for that. It shows again that the economy of the north-east is growing.

Businesses in the north-east have looked very carefully at how they are going to staff up in these years of expansion. The survey that I mentioned says that, in the north-east, on average 8 per cent of operating budgets are being spent on learning development. That is a healthy sign, although in some areas businesses could probably spend a little more. Beyond that, I know that those companies are very grateful for the support that the Government is providing.

At the outset of her speech, the minister said that we must have

“the right talent for ... immediate and future needs.”

I could not agree more. Many initiatives in my neck of the woods and elsewhere are trying to ensure that we do have the right talent. In my constituency, ITCA training, which I communicated recently with the minister about, is one of the organisations that are making sure that the right talent is in place. We have also heard from Mark McDonald about the energy leadership group and the Prince’s Trust, which are doing the same. I am very pleased that the Government has a commitment to the energy skills academy, which will also ensure that that right talent is in place.

At this moment, in the city of Aberdeen there are four applicants for every 10 jobs. Aberdeen is the best place in the whole of these islands in which to get a job at the moment. We must also be able to allow young folk the flexibility to move to those jobs. That is not a case of Norman Tebbit’s “Get on your bike”, which was nonsense. We must create opportunities for people to go and study and take up work in areas where there are those jobs.

Photo of Jenny Marra Jenny Marra Labour

Would Kevin Stewart recognise that, as rehearsed in the chamber before, a lot of barriers in the north-east that young people face are about trying to get a bus to their work? That was raised by my colleague Jayne Baxter. People across the north-east, in areas such as Aberdeen and Dundee, are finding it very difficult, because bus services and frequencies are being cut, and the Government has no regulatory system in place to help with that.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

In the great city of Aberdeen, the main problem with buses is not services being cut but services being changed and very high bus fares being charged by a company, First, which was born in Aberdeen and seems now to use our city as a cash cow. I would be quite happy to campaign with Ms Marra in Aberdeen to try to get First to change its current charging policies and other ludicrous ideas that it has come up with.

Photo of Kevin Stewart Kevin Stewart Scottish National Party

Not at the moment. Let me finish please, Mr Gray.

Frankly, First is doing a disservice not only to the young people of Aberdeen but to all Aberdonians. It would increase patronage if it listened to some the campaigners who are calling for that decrease in bus fares. While I am on my feet, I have to say that it is not as if First is not making huge profits out of Aberdeen and elsewhere.

I will move on. We have to have the right business case for investing in young people. There should be public-private partnerships to ensure that we provide the right flexible training to allow folk to get the jobs that are out there so that they succeed in the industries of today and tomorrow.

I am convinced that we are helping in all the ways that we can from this place. However, I wish that we had all the levers of power. With that power we could change the tax and benefit system to ensure that we could do even better.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

With a consistently high rate of unemployment in my constituency, it will come as no surprise to colleagues to hear that I take the issue particularly seriously. The situation facing young people is critical. If we do not prepare our young people, there will be no one to take up the jobs that will come along when the economy eventually revives. That is why training places at our colleges remain so important, and why the Scottish Government should be investing more money, not less, in Scotland’s colleges.

We must also look at other ways of getting young people into employment. We must be creative and adventurous, reward those projects that succeed and recognise good practice and learn from it. For most projects, funding is key and many struggle to maintain the momentum of schemes even when they have a proven track record.

A project that has worked and which has been recognised for its success is Royston at work. Last year, the Rosemount Development Trust, which is based in the Royston area of my constituency, told me about an idea whose aim was to encourage young people into employment. The trust had never undertaken such a project before, but its enthusiasm, its record in the community and the research that it had undertaken led me to believe that the project had the potential to be successful and was one that I was delighted to support.

The project, which became known as Royston at work, involved partners such as North Glasgow College. It took a group of 12 young people through a six-month-long intensive programme that gave them the skills, confidence and discipline to enable them to apply for further training, jobs and apprenticeships. The programme was not an easy option for the young people, many of whom had been unemployed since leaving school and who would be considered to be in the cohort described as being furthest from work. It was also a challenge for those most closely involved in delivering the project, such as Maureen Flynn of the Rosemount Development Trust and her board, who took the initiative because they recognised a distinct need in the community. Nicola Connolly, the imaginative and dedicated project co-ordinator who guided the project through to its completion, also deserves to be mentioned.

What has the project achieved and what has happened to the trainees? Of the 12 original participants, 11 have successfully completed the course. That high number of graduates was the result of the project co-ordinator never giving up on the trainees, even in situations where other less resourceful leaders might have lost heart. The 11 trainees completed the national progression award in construction and 10 achieved the PASMA—Prefabricated Access Suppliers and Manufacturers Association—tower scaffolding qualification. Four trainees have entered full-time employment, another four have secured apprenticeships and one has a full-time training place. Another trainee is hoping to be offered an apprenticeship soon, and the eleventh is in a full-time volunteering post. Two trainees have completed their Duke of Edinburgh bronze award; eight others have only one small element left to complete.

All that was achieved in spite of there being little or no support from the Department for Work and Pensions. All but one of the trainees lost their rights to benefits and to travel and subsistence costs simply because they took up a place on the project. For year 2, there are further funding problems, as neither Jobs & Business Glasgow nor Skills Development Scotland has, as yet, confirmed funding for the year.

I very much regret that the DWP takes such a narrow view that such young people, who should be given every possible help and support, are deprived of their benefits even when they are actively taking part in such a project. Organisations such as Skills Development Scotland and Jobs & Business Glasgow should be falling over themselves to help such projects and not putting bureaucratic obstacles in their way.

A number of the young people on the project were, shall we say, known to the police. However, as members might expect, they have—in the words of the police—“fallen off the radar” and are now people with a future whose families are proud of them and who are making a positive contribution to their communities.

I know that I am, to a large extent, preaching to the converted today, as the young people whom I am speaking about were recognised by the minister when she participated in their awards ceremony a few months ago. I ask her today to use her influence to encourage Skills Development Scotland and Jobs & Business Glasgow to work with the Royston at work project and explain to them that it is well worth investing in. I would also be grateful if the minister would agree to meet me as the constituency MSP, together with the project co-ordinators, to see what other support might be available.

The next year of the programme is now open to applicants, and I want another 12 people to be given a chance to succeed. Twelve more young people who are able to realise a productive future for themselves and their families may not sound like a lot, but for a community the size of Royston it is a significant number, which can grow year on year if we allow it to.

I look forward to a positive response from the minister this afternoon.

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

It is necessary, when considering youth employment, to place the issue in the context of the deepest recession that any of us has ever known. In fact, the economist Stephen Boyle recently told a group of MSPs that it was the worst recession since 1870. Although we are now technically just scraping out of recession again, the economy has at best been flatlining for several years.

Against that background, the ONS statistics, which show a decrease in youth unemployment in Scotland of 29,000 over the year and an increase in youth employment, are a cause for optimism. They represent a heroic effort on the part of the minister and the Scottish Government.

Of course those figures do not give any cause for complacency, but they reveal an achievement that even the most grudging members on the Opposition side of the chamber should recognise. Even those most grudging members should recognise the effort that it represents on the part of all those young folk who are struggling to get a start in their careers in these most difficult times. Not to recognise their achievements is an affront not just to the young people, but to everyone in Scotland who strives to give the next generation the best start to their working lives.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I happily join Mike MacKenzie in paying tribute to young people and their efforts to secure work.

Six months ago, unemployment among young people in Scotland was higher than in the UK, and it is currently lower than the UK average. What intervention has the Government made in the past six months—which did not exist six months ago—that has made the difference?

Photo of Mike MacKenzie Mike MacKenzie Scottish National Party

I think that Mr Macintosh will agree that we do not take those interventions and then see an immediate result. Interventions of any type take time to begin to work, and we are now seeing the results of those interventions in the current statistics.

There are those who will argue—quite correctly—that unacceptably high youth unemployment predates the current recession, and that it is a UK problem and not purely a Scottish problem. It is a long-term structural problem that has a lot to do with the long-term mismanagement of the UK economy; with de-industrialisation, deregulation and overdependence on banking; and with steadily growing inequality over the past 30 years.

Inequality is important because it has a disproportionate effect on younger people. It reduces the incentives of work and fosters the belief that normal aspirations are outwith the reach of many people, thereby reinforcing the cultural belief that celebrity and perhaps the lottery offer the only realistic routes out of poverty and undermining the belief that the steady application of effort in a career is worth it. A culture that seems to suggest that some careers are glamorous and exciting and others are drab and unrewarding is not helpful. Unhappily, our education system has sometimes reinforced that view by offering educational courses that are not as well aligned to job and career opportunities as they could be.

In its recent inquiry into underemployment, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee heard from UK Oil and Gas that it currently faces significant skills shortages and that it anticipates a demand for around 100,000 young people over the coming years. The renewables industry suggests that it has similar shortages and a significant growing demand for young people. That indicates the importance of the Scottish Government’s collaboration with industry in initiatives such as the Nigg Skills Academy, which aims to train at least 3,000 younger folk in energy industry skills by 2015. Not only is it immoral that young people are consigned to unemployment when some industries are crying out for new recruits, it is economically inefficient and will stifle those same industries, which offer the greatest prospects for growth. That indicates also the importance of modern apprenticeships, which re-establish the link between training and employment in areas where real career opportunities lie. It is a cause for satisfaction but not complacency that 25,000 modern apprenticeships have been created for the second year running.

Opposition members should have a care when they talk down Scotland’s oil industry and our renewable energy potential and when they daily talk down Scotland’s future economic prospects, for in doing so they most discourage our younger folk, who deserve much better than that from Scotland’s politicians across the political spectrum.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

We are asked in this debate to consider the issue of young people supporting Scotland’s economy today and tomorrow, but I hope that members will indulge me as I turn first to the past. I recently attended an exhibition at the National Library of Scotland on 11 notable women scientists. The curator, Catherine Booth, said of the event:

“Most of these women are virtually unknown today, but their work is still influencing a new generation of scientists. They are representative of a much bigger group of female Scottish scientists whose achievements we are proud to celebrate.”

I will mention just two of the 11 women: Mary Fairfax Somerville—one of our committee rooms is named after her—who was a notable mathematician and astronomer and the first woman elected to the Royal Astronomical Society; and Williamina Fleming, an astronomer who discovered what I believe is one of the most beautiful visions in our heavens—the horse head nebula—as well as many other stars.

I refer to those women of the past to show that Scotland’s traditions and reputation in the area of science and technology belong as much to our young women as to our young men. Today, we have notable trailblazers in the same area, including Scotland’s Anne Glover, chief scientific adviser to the European Commission.

I turn now to the future of our young people, who are choosing their careers. It is important that our young women are as informed about the skills gaps—especially in our technology markets—that many of my colleagues have identified and discussed in the debate and are as able to take advantage of the opportunities as our young men are. The Royal Academy of Engineering forecasts that the UK will need 104,000 science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates between now and 2020 to meet demand. A recent article in The Daily Telegraph on the EEF report stated:

“One in five young people will need to become an engineer”.

The article quotes Terry Scuoler of the EEF saying:

“There is no getting away from the fact that women are substantially under-represented in manufacturing at a time when industry needs to be tapping into every potential talent pool to access the skills it needs”.

He went on:

“We need a huge national effort to make this happen and government, education, and industry itself all have a major role to play.”

On that note, I commend to the Parliament the work of the Scottish resource centre for women in science, engineering and technology, based at Napier University, which supports young women who are studying in those areas.

There is no doubt that we need young women to recognise the potential of the STEM subjects. However, the system has been described as a broken plumbing system, in that, although we are creating many talented women graduates, they are not staying in their professions. We cannot continue to feed that system without fixing the leaks. The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s “Tapping all our Talents” report explores in some detail the reasons why women are not staying in the science professions.

If we are going to address the barriers that exist for women, we must get very serious about the pay differential. Women are underpaid in many of these areas. There must be a fundamental change, in industry and in academia, to ensure that remuneration and career progression are fair for women, while the overwhelming evidence continues to point to persistent discrimination in that regard.

We have received a great number of briefings for this afternoon’s debate, and they are very welcome. Liam McArthur mentioned a few of them in his speech. I draw members’ attention to the Universities Scotland report, “Taking Pride in the Job: University action on graduate employability”. Mr Macintosh mentioned that he likes to see Scotland outperforming the other parts of the UK, and this is another area where we are doing so. The report says:

“93 per cent of graduates from Scotland’s universities are in the positive destinations”, which is

“the highest rate of positive destinations in the UK”.

The report is not complacent, however, and it goes on to recommend areas of good practice including work placements—which we have discussed in some detail as being so important—career services and global skills.

Opportunities in science and engineering are open to all young people, whatever stage of their education or training they are at. Modern apprenticeships offer a great opportunity, especially when it comes to the energy skills academy. That is a welcome package, which delivers new employer recruitment initiatives and which will create more than 10,000 opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises, the importance of which Gordon MacDonald highlighted earlier. Small and medium enterprises can recruit young people, and there will be 290 modern apprenticeships there alone.

There is a lot to be very thankful for in Scotland, although we cannot be complacent. Our modern apprenticeships show that we are delivering for Scotland’s young people, and I am very happy with the movement in Scotland at this time.

There has been a lot of criticism that the data in this area are not giving us all the information that we need. I highlight the “Report of the NEET Workstream”, published in 2005 by the Scottish Executive, which stated, in paragraph 11:

“Overall, a much better understanding of these NEET ‘flow’ issues is essential. Only through this is it possible to develop a truly sophisticated and targeted policy response. But the NEET work-stream has encountered significant limitations with the current information on these issues. As a result, action on improving intelligence about the group is itself one of our key recommendations.”

Despite that being a key recommendation, it has taken the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill to bring in the data sharing that will allow us to have a full understanding of what is happening in this area. I am disappointed that the Opposition parties did not support that measure when the Government introduced it.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I am always grateful to have the chance to participate in debates on youth employment, as I believe that there is no issue of greater importance confronting us. I am always happy to see the Minister for Youth Employment in her place on the front bench. I feel that I deserve a little of the credit—or blame—for her being there, given that her appointment followed our demands for such a post some 18 months ago. Although I might have some concerns about some of her policies, I know that this debate on young people and supporting Scotland’s economy today and tomorrow reflects a profound belief that we share: that this country’s economic success and its capacity to drive social justice will be defined by the degree to which we ensure that the boundless potential of our young people is both understood and harnessed.

Therefore, although we should acknowledge recent improvements in the youth unemployment position, we are obliged to examine rigorously the reality behind them. We must follow the advice of Jack Welch to

“Face reality as it is, not as it was or as you wish it to be.”

The reality is that the annual population survey, which is described in the Scottish Government’s own papers as the more reliable estimate of economic activity, shows that, for 16 to 24-year-olds, unemployment fell last year, but by less than 1 per cent, and that economic inactivity in that age group rose by 2.5 per cent. Some 33,000 16 to 19-year-olds were not in employment, education or training last year. That figure is an increase from the year before. Ken Macintosh was right to point out that the labour force survey, from which the figures in the Government motion are drawn, shows unemployment in the 16 and 17-year-old age group at 38 per cent. For young men, the figure was 46 per cent last year, which is massively high.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

Does Mr Gray accept that although the annual population survey has a larger survey base, the labour force survey figures are reliable, can be used and are the most recent figures? Does he accept that the annual population survey figures do not accommodate the more recent, up-to-date, positive figures?

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The converse of that, of course, is that the annual population surveys allow for blips in short-term figures to be evened out and therefore give more accurate figures over the longer term. However, my point was that the figures for 16 and 17-year-olds are from the labour force survey that the minister extols, and that reflects the reality in my constituency. The 2012 unemployment rate for 16 to 19-year-olds was still twice the figure in 2008. Between 2007 and 2012, long-term youth unemployment in East Lothian increased by an unbelievable fifteenfold. That is the reality.

That means that we must redouble our efforts and re-examine the measures that we take. For example, 25,000 apprenticeship starts is great, and it is absolutely right that every one of those in Scotland is attached to work—that is a good thing. However, the programme bears a rather more rigorous critique than Mr Hepburn has previously suggested, because with 10,000 of those places going to those who are already in work, the programme’s capacity to address youth unemployment is simply undermined.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I will be brief. Does Mr Gray accept that it is welcome news that 77 per cent of modern apprenticeship starts last year went to 16 to 24-year-olds? Does he also accept that, under our programme, more modern apprenticeships are going to new starts than they did under Labour? What is his position on the 10,000 places? Will Labour commit to the 25,000 target? What is being proposed?

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

The minister really needs to investigate rebuttals when her special advisers give them to her. The figures that she has from the time when Labour was in power were based on an extremely small survey. The point is that, even if what she says were the case, long-term youth unemployment did not exist in Scotland in those days and the core purpose of the apprenticeship programme was to upskill people in the workforce. We are in a different situation now. That is why the apprenticeship starts need to be used to take young people off the unemployment register.

It is true that too many of the 25,000 apprenticeships are shorter level 2 frameworks, and there is not enough of a match with long-term job opportunities. Members should consider the oil industry, which ministers say is in a boom. Mr MacKenzie said that the industry has said that it will need 100,000 young people. Last year, there were just 133 apprenticeships in the oil and gas framework. Surely that cannot be right.

That, of course, is the key, as employability is probably not the biggest problem right now; rather, the biggest problem is a lack of job opportunities—or demand, not supply. That is why the Scottish Government’s new certificate worries me, although I accept that it has been introduced with the best of intentions.

There is an old Springsteen line:

“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”

What is a certificate of work readiness for someone in a world in which there is no work ready for them if not a dream that is not going to come true? I do not accept that our young people are not fit for work or somehow from another planet. It is the economy and employers who are, for whatever reason, unavoidable or not, failing to provide opportunity for them.

I know that the First Minister understands the importance of the job supply because he talked yesterday about opportunities for young people when he welcomed the announcement of 400 call-centre jobs. On the same day, however, the construction industry revealed that it had shed 62,500 jobs. That is why youth unemployment remains stubbornly high and why the best thing that the Scottish Government could do for our young people is to stop talking about shovel-ready projects and actually get the shovels digging.

We know what works when it comes to work experience. The Government’s community jobs fund works well, with placements of reasonable length and pay, and a 40 per cent positive outcome rate. Why do we not invest more in that fund, expand it into the private sector and commit to more than one year of funding at a time? Why do we not revisit the project Scotland model, which had similar success but for which funding was abolished in 2007?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I must ask you to conclude soon.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

None of this is easy; nor is the situation unique to Scotland. Yesterday, the International Labour Organization reported on the global youth employment crisis and suggested that young people are giving up hope. That is all the more reason for us to redouble our efforts and re-examine every measure that we take. We must refocus programmes such as the apprenticeships for today’s reality; we must invest in demand as well as supply; and we must confront the long-term trends as well as celebrate any welcome short-term improvements.

Photo of Roderick Campbell Roderick Campbell Scottish National Party

When we are talking about good and bad employment statistics, it is imperative that we remind ourselves at all times that the statistics in question are not just figures, but people.

Today, as we discuss young people and their contribution to the economy, I am sure that at least most of us would agree that young people are probably the most important demographic in employment. What happens to them now will determine their lives and Scotland’s economic strength for many decades to come.

The Scottish Government has recognised the importance of young people and has placed them at the heart of its economic strategy. Scotland was the first nation in these islands to appoint a dedicated Minister for Youth Employment and the first to launch an holistic strategy for youth employment. The 25,000 modern apprenticeships—which include more than 1,600 in Fife—must be welcomed; they are a definite plus. As Iain Gray has just said, the community jobs fund is also really worth while.

We know that youth unemployment is lower and that youth employment is higher here than in the rest of the United Kingdom. Youth unemployment in Scotland has fallen by 6.8 per cent over the past year, while the UK rate fell by only 0.7 per cent. We will have to see where the rates go over the next 12 months; we will then be able to see just how true the statistics are.

I accept that the rise in the number of people who are claimants for over 12 months is a matter of concern, but as the Minister for Youth Employment said in the foreword to “Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy”,

“this is no time for complacency”.

That must be right—there remains much to do. New initiatives are always needed, such as the new links between universities and small and medium-sized enterprises, and the proposed youth guarantee. I listened with interest to what the minister said about that earlier in the debate.

It is right that we recognise the problems that long-term unemployment causes for young people. There is a problem throughout Europe, so we need to avoid creating a lost generation. The UK is the fourth most unequal country in the developed world. We also know that a key causal factor of inequality is high unemployment. There is no doubt that Scotland could—as a small, adaptable and more equal European nation—go further in the right direction and could certainly aspire to the lower rates of youth unemployment that some of our neighbours in Europe have. Even then, the rates are quite high: in Denmark youth unemployment is at 14.2 per cent and in Norway it is currently at 9.7 per cent.

Let us look at the Norwegian example more closely. The Norwegian education minister, Kristin Halvorsen, has repeatedly identified that one of the key reasons why Norway’s youth unemployment is, relatively, so low is that the Norwegian Government has managed to maintain low drop-out rates from secondary school. Scotland’s secondary, further and higher sectors clearly differ from those in Norway, as do the ages at which young people in our two nations commence the various stages of education. However, as is often the case, there is no doubt that we can learn from the country that the United Nations has described as the best country in the world to live in.

We take for granted that low youth unemployment and high employment are good things. It is certainly a good thing for a young person to have a paying job, especially one that is matched to their skills. It is also of immeasurable benefit to society as a whole; the more young people we have working, the more we develop a strong, confident, skilled and experienced workforce, which in turn helps to build and maintain a vibrant, diverse and strong economy.

We therefore need to do all that we can do to help young people to get a good start on the career ladder. That is no small task. All members will know of at least one person—a family member or a constituent—who has hit an invisible brick wall and said, “I can’t get a job because I lack experience, and I can’t gain experience because I can’t get a job.” Those words of frustration are uttered all too often by the younger generation.

I am therefore pleased that the Scottish Government has introduced the new employer-assessed certificate of work readiness, which will go some way towards helping young people to break out of the experience-versus-work cycle, by offering a meaningful record of employability, even when an employer cannot offer a more permanent position, which is a disadvantage, although a period of employment is certainly better than nothing.

The certificate of work readiness will fulfil a key aim of the Scottish Government’s skills strategy, “Skills for Scotland: Accelerating the Recovery and Increasing Sustainable Economic Growth”, and will help companies to provide work experience. I hope that there will be a structured template for the process, with tangible results. The approach will certainly make it less complicated to offer a placement, because there will be a generally accepted procedure throughout the country. Testament to the scheme’s importance is the welcome that it has received from business; CBI Scotland, the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and many others have expressed support.

As I said, and as other members have said, there is no room for complacency. Despite Scotland’s advantage over the UK, youth unemployment remains much higher than any of us would like it to be. As Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands show, wealthy countries like Scotland do not have to suffer from very high youth unemployment, even in times like these. With the right strategies, we can do better. With the powers that are currently held elsewhere, the Government and this Parliament could do better still and deliver more for the young people of Scotland.

Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

We move to closing speeches. We still have a small amount of time in hand for interventions.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I am pleased to wind up in the debate, which has been mainly constructive. I hope that the Government will respond to Margaret McCulloch’s positive call for three-year funding for training contracts.

Ken Macintosh talked about the inactivity rate. We should not lose sight of that, given that the inactivity level rose by 12,000 in the past 12 months in Scotland—the figure for the rest of the UK was 2,000. I hope that the minister will explain that when she sums up.

I suggest that Mike MacKenzie should amend his critical speech in light of the contributions from Opposition parties. I can say quite honestly that I did not hear anyone being grudging. I think that we have all been fulsome in our praise and that we have welcomed the reduction in youth unemployment. I will continue in that spirit.

I look forward to hearing the Government wind up. In previous debates I have asked ministers several questions and got no answers. In one debate I got answers to questions that I had not asked. In the previous debate, I was told that my figures were all wrong, and then I got a letter from the minister to say that they were right. I hope that we can get on to a better footing today, because the issue is important and we want to work with the Government on it.

I say again that we very much welcome the drop of 29,000 in youth unemployment over the past year, and we commend the many employers who have helped to achieve that reduction. The inactivity rate also fell by 1,000 over the same period—and by much more in the UK. Some 45 per cent of 16 to 20-year-olds were enrolled in full-time education—2 per cent more than in the UK—and if we exclude the people in full-time education, we find that the unemployment rate in Scotland is 21.4 per cent, compared with 19.3 per cent in the UK. The figures for Scotland change quarterly and annually, but they are comparable with UK figures. We welcome young people getting the opportunity to enter the routine of work and a career.

Before I speak about the certificate of work readiness, I highlight that over the past year there was no change in unemployment among 50 to 64-year-olds, and that unemployment in other age groups increased. Although we whole-heartedly, fully and fulsomely welcome the reduction of 29,000 in youth unemployment over the past year, it is disappointing that unemployment has increased among 24 to 50-year-olds and that has stood still among 50 to 64-year-olds. We would welcome debates on employment for people of all ages, particularly in respect of women who are trying to get back into work after a break to have children.

The CIPD research report last month highlighted the jobs mismatch between employers and young people. It states that employer feedback is crucial for young people—a point that Roderick Campbell made—yet employers struggle to provide it, particularly during the recruitment process. There has also been criticism from employers about the need for young people to have soft skills and the ability to work in a team. The certificate of work readiness, which has been developed in partnership with business, will help to bridge that gap. There will be college-based learning time and 190 hours of real-life work experience, and the certificate will be awarded only following employer assessment. That is essential and I have no doubt that it will be positively useful for young people who are seeking work.

The certificate, which is approved by the Scottish Qualifications Authority and is backed by industry, employer bodies and companies such as Diageo and Scottish Power, will be a positive and progressive step towards the job market. I hope that many other employers will work together with further education colleges to help to increase the number of these certificates.

In previous debates I have raised the issue of jobs in the hospitality industry. I take this opportunity to commend Apex Hotels Ltd, which regularly takes part in initiatives to promote a more positive image for the catering and hospitality industry. Apex recently held a jobs fair for third, fourth and fifth year students to highlight the wide range of different jobs and career paths in that business. That initiative was also highlighted in the CIPD research report.

We keep talking about apprenticeships as if they come from nowhere and we just want to get young people into jobs. Liz Smith made a critical point when she talked about looking at the joined-up journey. Whatever job young people go into, whatever training or education they need and whatever certificate of work readiness they get, so much depends on basic skills in literacy and numeracy in primary schools. Let us not all talk about how many highers people have; let us make sure that they have what they need in primary school before they move on to secondary school.

Modern apprenticeships and reductions in youth unemployment should also go hand in hand with training and understanding of entrepreneurship. The Carnegie UK Trust briefing paper for the debate highlights the need for the Scottish Government to work with schools, colleges and universities to eradicate interruptions and inconsistencies in their approach to enterprise in order to ensure that students’ enterprise awareness is reinforced at each level, rather than weakened—a point that Liam McArthur made.

I commend the Institution of Civil Engineers for giving free student registrations with the institution for all apprentices at college. That is another good example of a good partnership between the industry and our further education colleges.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before I move on, I say to members that, as they know, if they have participated in a debate they really should be in the chamber for closing speeches; otherwise it is discourteous to the Parliament. I am therefore disappointed to note that Mark McDonald has not returned for closing speeches. I call Ken Macintosh, who has eight minutes.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Like Mary Scanlon, I acknowledge that it has been a relatively good natured and consensual debate in which there have been some good speeches. I thought that Liz Smith and Iain Gray opened the debate in the right tone in recognising that we all view the subject as being tremendously important, and with a shared agenda to tackle youth unemployment.

There were a number of strong individual contributions. Patricia Ferguson talked about what has been happening in Royston at work. The fact that the DWP rules are still working against young people who are claiming benefits needs to be examined, so there is a chance for joint working to be put into practice.

I was intrigued by Clare Adamson’s reference to the horse head nebula. I think that most of us will be flying to our computers later to see what it looks like.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

It looks like a horse’s head. [Laughter.]

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Thank you very much. I suspect that, when it is done in starlight, it is a little bit more glamorous than that. The Al Capone books that my colleague has been reading probably have a different reference.

Clare Adamson acknowledged the inequality that women still face in the workforce and the difficulties that we have in tackling segregation, which are important issues.

I would not say that the debate has been a statistical battlefield, but a number of members—including Jayne Baxter, Jamie Hepburn, Liam McArthur and Rod Campbell—referred to the merits and demerits of different statistics. Iain Gray and Stewart Stevenson were helpful in explaining the difference between the labour force survey and the annual survey. Like Mary Scanlon, I thought that, with the honourable exception of Mike MacKenzie, most members came to a balanced view about the strengths and weaknesses of different statistical approaches.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

I will not. I took an intervention from Mr MacKenzie earlier, so I do not feel guilty.

The most important part of the debate was when we talked about the different programmes that have been put in place regionally and nationally. We are all looking to see which programmes have been effective, which are working, what the reasons are behind the fall in unemployment that we are seeing now and where we could invest more money and political energy.

The apprenticeship programme was mentioned by a number of members. I think that all Labour members welcome the apprenticeship programme. A bit like the way that we feel about the minister’s Cabinet position, we take credit for it and believe that the only reason why there is such a large target is that we pushed for it. We welcome the 25,000 target and the fact that the Government is achieving it, but we think that there are weaknesses. Iain Gray and other members spoke about the fact that, because 10,000 of those apprentices are already in jobs, although the programme is very helpful in upskilling and offering training it is not in itself tackling unemployment.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I will be very brief. Does Labour want to stop the modern apprenticeship programme for over-25s and for those who are already in work?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I can compensate you slightly for the intervention, Mr Macintosh.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

My answer is no to both questions. The modern apprenticeship programme is good but it could be improved; it has weaknesses. The fact that 10,000 of those people were already in work is a weakness. The fact that many people on the apprenticeship programme are now at level 2 rather than at level 3 is a weakness. The fact that the Government spends £1,000 per apprentice is a weakness. I am just pointing out that the apprenticeship programme is a very good programme that could be improved and could offer more. It is a way of improving training and education; it is not, in itself, a way of addressing unemployment.

Several members—Jayne Baxter and Margaret McCulloch, in particular—talked about the success of wage-subsidy programmes. That is not just about the previous Labour Government’s future jobs fund, but the current community jobs fund, which has been very successful and has achieved a 40 per cent permanent job retention record among its participants.

However, before I go on to that—the issue was raised by Margaret McCulloch and others, including Iain Gray—I point out that we had a consensual debate last week in which we talked about the joint agreement that was reached by the Government, local authorities and the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations about securing three-year funding for the voluntary sector. Here we have a good example of a fund that should be supported over three years; I have no doubt that the success of the community grants scheme would improve if it had that certainty. Given the difficulties that face training providers, which Margaret McCulloch highlighted, if the Government was to translate its talk in last week’s debate into action, it would certainly get our support on that.

Having repeatedly pushed for further support for wage-subsidy programmes over many years, we were delighted last September when the cabinet secretary announced the employer recruitment initiative. However, it is disappointing that we are now in May and have yet to see any details. My latest understanding is that a subsidy of £1,500 will be provided. Perhaps the minister can expand on that. More than six months on from the announcement, we still do not know how much the subsidy will be. The £1,500 that has been suggested falls a long way short of the £6,000 that was offered through Labour’s future jobs fund. At the very least, we should have some debate in Parliament about this very important matter that would make a concrete difference. We know that such programmes work.

There are many other steps that we could take, such as specific actions to improve entrepreneurial activity in Scotland. For example, Denmark encourages unemployed people to start up their own businesses. There is much that the Government could do without reinventing the wheel, given that Scotland currently underperforms on entrepreneurial activity relative to the UK, which in turns underperforms relative to adjacent European countries. The University of the Highlands and Islands has a programme called create a business, which has been very successful.

Mark McDonald also mentioned the Prince’s Trust, which operates in a different context but is a voluntary sector provider with a very good record in promoting entrepreneurial activity. Another fantastic scheme is the Entrepreneurial Spark, which has been promoted in Glasgow by businessmen such as Willie Haughey and has been very successful. However, it is notable that although that programme has three offices in Scotland, it does not have an office in Dundee, Aberdeen or Inverness. The Government could do more to build on the success of such programmes and to support them.

Several members mentioned the numbers of young people not in education, employment or training. The youth guarantee that is provided through the opportunities for all scheme is good as far as it goes, but we can see that the programme has not actually reduced the numbers in that category. Perhaps we need to re-examine whether the programme might be extended to include people who are under 25 or under 30.

Without wanting to go back over the unemployment statistics too much, I think that it is clear that, if we just improved all the regions of Scotland to the standard of employment in the best region, that would make a huge difference. Over the past year, for example, the unemployment rate has decreased in 19 local authority areas, but it has gone up in 12 local authority areas, with there being no change in only one. Mark McDonald, Kevin Stewart, Stewart Stevenson, Jayne Baxter and Jenny Marra all highlighted good performance in their regions, particularly in Aberdeen and the north-east where the oil economy is booming and unemployment is low—although I acknowledge that several members mentioned that there are pockets of deprivation. However, we know that in Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, Ayrshire and elsewhere, whole communities are debilitated by joblessness.

Surely there is more that we can do simply in the way of providing affordable transport. At one point, I actually thought that consensus might break out between Kevin Stewart and Jenny Marra on that issue. Kevin Stewart made a welcome contribution, but I was disappointed that he did not take an intervention from Iain Gray, who would have offered him the opportunity to back the proposed bus regulation (Scotland) bill. I would be happy to take an intervention from Kevin Stewart now if he wants to offer his support for that.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Actually, you need to finish your speech.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Mr Macintosh, you do not have a lot of time left.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Presiding Officer, I am conscious of the time.

This has been a consensual debate, but we need to focus on what works. We welcome any improvement in the employment statistics and some programmes are making a difference, but it would be good to know exactly what difference they make, particularly to youth unemployment, and what more we can do to tackle the intractable issue of youth unemployment, which is clearly heading in totally the wrong way. We may not be agreed on the market interventions, but I hope that we can unite today on the importance of helping our young people. We should emphasise that we are here to help rather than to blame them.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am grateful to all members who have participated in the debate. It might not always feel like it for members, but contributions from across the political spectrum always influence Government thinking and subsequent action. In the past 12 to 18 months, many members from across the Parliament have made significant and helpful contributions on issues such as long-term unemployment, additional support needs, women, ex-industrial communities and rural skills, and we are incorporating those into our strategy and day-to-day work.

I also thank members from across the political divide who undertake a lot of activity in their constituencies to support young people and employers and who do everything that they can locally to boost youth employment. Members often invite me to meet local organisations and attend youth job fairs or to meet to discuss a variety of matters. I am always more than happy to do my best, diary permitting, to accommodate members from across the political divide. I am glad that SNP and Labour MSPs take full advantage of that, although I must say that I have never yet received a request from a Tory or Liberal member to support any sectoral events or local activity—I am just saying.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

The minister might want to check with her private office, but I think that, following the debate before last in which she was involved, I was in touch about the organisation of a local event and I sought more details from her office about how that might be achieved. I simply invite her perhaps to correct the record.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I will check with my private office. Of course, I am always open to invitations to go to Orkney. Last year, I visited Skills Development Scotland in Orkney.

Patricia Ferguson made a good case about the sterling work of the Royston at work project, which I have visited with local members. To me, the issues there are an example of why we should never abandon welfare powers to Westminster but, laying that political difference aside, I am of course more than happy to meet her, Royston at work and any others to discuss the issues. I will not make any promises, but I can give an undertaking to do my best to look for a solution. In that vein, I am also happy to accept Mr McDonald’s kind invitation to the young Scotland’s got talent event in Aberdeen.

As Ken Macintosh said, we have explored the labour market statistics. We must all recognise that there is a variety of statistics and that they are complex. We must all strive to get into the guts of the figures so that we understand as best we can what is working and not working and the trends ahead. I welcome the fact that members seem to agree that the youth unemployment rate is falling and is going in the right direction. I wish to emphasise the positive. We have nearly 30,000 fewer young unemployed Scots now than we had at this time last year, and youth unemployment is at its lowest level in three years.

In making that point, I am in no way complacent. I have many faults—too many to list here—but complacency is most certainly not one of them. We must emphasise the positive movement in the figures so that we increase the resolve to do more. Now is most certainly not the time to take our foot off the gas.

That is a real opportunity for us all to grasp. We can all use the positive movement—the drop in youth unemployment—to persuade more employers that they can and do make a difference and that our young people have an invaluable contribution to make to the economy.

It is important to acknowledge that Scotland is outperforming the rest of the UK, with higher employment, lower unemployment and better activity levels. That, again, is not to be complacent in any way, but it is important to acknowledge that Scottish employers are more likely to recruit young people. That is evidenced by the UK Commission for Employability and Skills. It is also evidence that the distinctive Scottish Government policies—whether the modern apprenticeship programme, opportunities for all, reforms to the colleges or the modernisation of the careers programme—are having the right impact.

Let me also be clear that having better youth employment statistics than the UK is not the limit of my ambition. I look to other European countries large and small that, despite the global economic recession, have youth unemployment rates of less than 10 per cent. That is what our ambition needs to be.

I very much regret the fact that, as yet, the UK Government does not support the European youth guarantee. I say to Mr Macintosh that we will do everything that we can within the powers that we have. I point to community jobs Scotland and the employer recruitment incentive, which is the most ambitious employer recruitment incentive wage subsidy programme anywhere in the UK and will create up to 10,000 jobs.

One of the tasks that I hope to complete imminently is the signing off of grant letters to local authorities so that they can support small and medium-sized businesses in their areas in getting young people into work. Mr Macintosh should be reassured that the £25 million of Scottish Government and European money will be well spent in partnership with local authorities and small to medium-sized businesses with a view to making a difference for our young people.

The challenge of youth unemployment is compounded by an economic downturn and structural changes to the labour market. To address the economic downturn, we need to reinvigorate the economy. We need economic growth. In that regard, I would prefer simply to have a Parliament with a full range of powers than a Parliament with limited powers.

On the structural changes in the labour market, we know that there are fewer entry-level jobs for young people. We also know that word of mouth is still the number 1 form of recruitment, which disadvantages young people. We know that young people are held back not by their lack of qualifications or a lack of talent but by their lack of experience. Their only crime is being young.

Therefore, we need to ask companies large and small to have youth policies—policies in which they go the extra mile to recruit young people. The small and medium-sized companies are our untapped potential. That is why the employer recruitment incentive, which will be delivered very soon, is important.

However, as well as making our ask of employers, we need to change how we deliver education, skills and training. That is what the reform of colleges and the modernisation of careers services are about.

We have achieved good outcomes. We have more young people in full-time college courses, higher retention rates and higher completion rates. That will improve job prospects, but the outcome of education is not, in itself, a qualification; the outcome for any education is jobs and whether our young people are in part-time jobs, full-time jobs or well-paid work. In that regard, it is not the length of courses that matters but the content of courses and the connectivity between the world of work and the world of education.

I welcome the change in tone from Labour members. I have often been more concerned that their focus is on knocking down solutions rather than building them up.

I will end with the words of Harry Burns. He often talks about how we all have to take the responsibility to nurture very young children and treasure babies.

Similarly, we all have a responsibility to ensure that our young people are supported, guided and nurtured, and that they are enabled to spread their wings and to become independent in the workplace. Instead of giving them just one helping hand, I and the Government want to help them with both hands. That is what having the powers of independence is all about—it is about being able to use absolutely everything that we have at our disposal, from tax to welfare. I again call on those who wish to abandon powers to Westminster to think again. That is not in our young people’s interests.