Skills Shortages

– in the Scottish Parliament on 27th October 2022.

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Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

3. To ask the Scottish Government what action is being taken to tackle skills shortages. (S6O-01462)

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

In the national strategy for economic transformation, we set out our commitment to ensuring that employers have the supply of skills they need. In 2021-22, the national transition training fund and the north east economic recovery and skills fund provided over 23,000 training interventions across a range of sectors.

To attract people to Scotland, we have committed to launching a talent attraction and migration service in 2023, which will build on our talent attraction programme aimed at attracting workers from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Gordon MacDonald Gordon MacDonald Scottish National Party

I share the concerns of the

Construction Industry Training Board about filling the skills gap across the sector—in skills from bricklaying to building safety, and from digital skills to those relating to energy efficiency—in order to enable us to address the commitment to net zero. The CITB has suggested that we need an additional 26,000 construction workers by 2025. Given the skills gap, and the fact that access to previously available European Union workers is no longer an option, can the minister advise us what action the Scottish Government will take to tackle the problem?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I certainly recognise the nature of the challenges, which I have been able to discuss directly with the sector, including the Construction Industry Training Board. I have laid out some of the activity that we are undertaking, including steps to try to attract people from other parts of the UK to Scotland.

In terms of what we are doing here and now, in 2020-21, there were more than 11,000 construction and property students in Scotland. That is about 9 per cent of full-time equivalent places in our colleges. Apprenticeships continue to be a key mechanism for promoting employment and investment in the construction sector.

In 2021-22, the Scottish Government had 6,540 people going into modern apprenticeships in the construction sector—the highest number on record and a 30 per cent increase on the previous year. In addition, construction accounts for the highest level of usage of individual training accounts. Alongside that, since 2018, almost 600 employers in the sector have accessed the flexible workforce development fund.

We have a range of initiatives under way, but of course I recognise that there is more to do. That is something that I am committed to taking forward.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

There are a couple of supplementaries.

Photo of Stephen Kerr Stephen Kerr Conservative

Given that answer and the comments of a whistleblower who has contacted us, can the minister confirm whether Skills Development Scotland has had any of its budget for this year reclaimed by the Scottish Government?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

It is no secret—the Deputy First Minister has stood on his feet in this chamber to talk about the process that we are undertaking to try to manage some of the cost pressures this year. However, if that was a reference to the question that was asked by Pam Gosal—we do not need any form of whistleblower to raise those issues given that Pam Gosal has done so—I will say again that there is no freeze on the recruitment of modern apprenticeships this year, which is the core activity of Skills Development Scotland. SDS will continue to deliver on the programmes and projects that it has in place.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

When it comes to skills shortages, can the minister comment on Derek Smeall’s evidence to the Education, Children and Young People Committee on 21 September? He said:

“the reality is that, when we did our own analysis we found that, as we go forward in the presence of ‘chronic underfunding’—there is a reason why I use that term—the impact looks at this early stage to be likely to mean a reduction in my workforce of 25 per cent by the end of year 5, which is 2027.” —[

Official Report, Education, Children and Young People Committee,

21 September 2022; c 14.]

How is that helping our skills shortage?

Photo of Jamie Hepburn Jamie Hepburn Scottish National Party

I recognise that there are obvious challenges in relation to the college sector. We will work closely with the colleges to make sure that we find a way through. The independent review that is under way will make recommendations, and we are responding to the Scottish funding council’s review into sustainability and coherence of provision. We are working our way through those matters.

In terms of the budgetary position, I would have thought that Mr Whitfield would recognise and understand that there is significant pressure on the Scottish Government’s budget as a consequence of decisions that are being taken by the UK Government. If it is Labour’s view that more should be invested in this area of activity, I look forward to it suggesting what other area of the budget should be cut.