We are making excellent progress with the developing the young workforce agenda. That includes creating new vocational learning options; enabling young people to learn in a range of settings, such as college, in their senior phase of school; embedding employer engagement in education; offering careers advice at an earlier point in school; and introducing new standards for careers guidance and work experience.
We have established 18 regional developing the young workforce employer groups across the country to focus on school and industry partnerships, work inspiration, work placements, recruitment and equalities, and we are opening up new apprenticeship opportunities for young people through an increase in modern apprenticeships and foundation and graduate-level apprenticeships.
Does the minster agree that really great work is going on in the Highlands and Islands to get our young people into employment, such as the science skills academy, which is part of the Inverness and Highland city region deal? Will he outline what support the Government is providing to develop young people’s skills in rural areas?
I agree that great work is taking place in the Highlands area. In Fort William earlier this week, it was my pleasure to address the developing the young workforce regional group for west Highland, along with Lochaber Chamber of Commerce. It was clear to me that a great range of work is happening there in conjunction with the local college and that a lot of remote learning takes place, which is always helpful in rural settings.
From this year forward, we will also provide a rural supplement for training providers that are based in rural communities as part of our modern apprenticeship support.
I welcome the developing the young workforce strategy and I particularly welcome the fact that it has clear milestones for every year. That really helps in looking at where we are going and where we are getting to.
I noticed that this year the Government is looking at gender imbalance and implementing the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council plan. At the moment, only one in 10 of the people who are on construction and engineering courses are young women. If the Government succeeds in tackling the gender imbalance, what will happen to courses, such as those in mechanics, that are oversubscribed in some areas and are filled by young men? Will there be more money to improve the gender balance, or will young men find that the number of available places is reduced?
That question allows me to welcome Michelle Ballantyne to the chamber. It is the first time that I have had the opportunity to interact with her in this forum. She can rest assured that the Government has a great commitment to all young people who want to take part in modern apprenticeships. That is why we are expanding the number of modern apprenticeship starts. We had a target of 26,000 such starts last year and, as we have done every year, we exceeded the target—there were 26,262 starts. This year we have set a target of 27,000, and there will be 30,000 such opportunities by the end of the parliamentary session. Michelle Ballantyne can rest assured that there will be plenty of opportunities for Scotland’s young people, regardless of the agenda.
Just today, I have had information that the Blackburn local employment scheme in West Lothian, which has operated for 30 years to get young people into work, training and self-employment, is being mothballed because the Government did not lift a finger to help the project. Is that the commitment that the Government gives to the young workforce?
We have a serious and strong commitment to Scotland’s young workforce. That is demonstrated by today’s labour market statistics, which show that the youth unemployment rate is at 8.8 per cent, which is among the lowest figures in the European Union and is down from the previous quarter.
I am aware of the local situation that Mr Findlay refers to. I reiterate the point that has been made to him that any contract with a training provider is given on the basis of specific delivery through a contractual arrangement with Skills Development Scotland—it is not core funding. He should understand that by now but, if he has continuing concerns, he can raise them with the Government. I utterly reject the characterisation that we have not responded to his concerns.