By Lucy Ashton
Douglas Ross called for a skills revolution that prioritises vocational courses and training – as well as higher education – in an event with the centre-right think tank Bright Blue.
The Scottish Conservative leader highlighted the importance of apprenticeships and college courses, and warn that viewing skills purely in terms of university degrees is “an increasingly redundant approach that will not deliver the workforce our economy needs”.
The address in Edinburgh focused on the need for a new “skills strategy” that meets the demands of employers in a bid to get Scotland’s sluggish economy moving.
Douglas Ross, pictured left, said: “Our education system is still built around the outdated notion that a university degree is the universal golden ticket to success in the modern Scottish economy. That is what pupils are told in schools and where public money goes.
“For every £1 the Scottish Government spends on skills and training, £10 is spent on supporting higher education institutes and the students who study there. And government funding per college student was more than a quarter lower than support for an average university student.
“Yet for all this focus on university education we do not have the skills our economy needs. A Scottish Government survey found that over a fifth of all job vacancies in Scotland were related to skills shortages.
“With an ageing Scottish population, we need to be much smarter about how and where we invest public money to get the workforce Scottish employers need.
“We need to look at the over-emphasis on university degrees that exists in our current education system and encourage more young people to take alternative approaches to what is essentially four years of study with no guarantee of good employment at the end.
“As someone who never went to university, I can confidently say that there are other routes to success.
“Delivering the skills that we need starts by establishing parity of esteem. We need to remove the stigma that surrounds colleges and apprenticeships and instead promote and celebrate the life chances they can offer.
“The more we can work with attractive employers to create exciting opportunities, the more we can encourage Scots into apprenticeships.
“So the Scottish Conservatives would reverse the current funding structure for apprenticeships from one where funded places are set by the government to one where the employers decide how many good apprenticeships they need, which the government then delivers support for.
“This would create potentially unlimited apprenticeship opportunities for Scotland’s young people.
“Yet, as I said, the biggest barrier is our national mindset. We need to create an incentive for more people to think about the need for continuous up-skilling.
“That is why we believe in offering every Scottish adult, who is not already in funded education or training, access to use-it-or-lose-it skills funding through a Right to Retrain.”
West College at Clydebank pictured from the Titan Crane. Picture by Bill Heaney