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Douglas Ross, pictured left, said: “Our education system is still built around the outdated notion that a university degree is the universal golden ticket to success in the modern Scottish economy.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


  1. Education, skills, and training sits across a spectrum and it is important that all parts of the spectrum are filled.

    Not everyone has the ability or the desire to be the proverbial rocket scientist. Each to their own. However, better skills across the board are the absolute recipe for a successful, productive and settled society. Maybe if Douglas Ross had said that instead of saying University no good, apprenticeships better then folks could agree with him.

    Douglas Ross’s Tory government however has been at the forefront of destroying not just Scotland, but the UK’s industrial and manufacturing base. The world still builds ships, trains, engineering machinery, televisions, computers, consumer goods like fridges, freezers, cookers and the like, but just not in the UK.

    Instead repeated Tory governments oriented the economy to a financial sector focus with big retail to sell all the goods that we don’t make ourselves. And so, the engineering and manufacturing sector was decimated, and with it went the training, the apprenticeships and all of the other absolutely worthwhile skill bases now no non existent.

    If we build ships then we train engineers across the spectrum from artisan to academic. And that is why the plan to support Fergusson Marine was a a good one. Local jobs, local investment in training and skills across the board, developed and supported here. Just an absolute pity that the roll out was so poor. And now, rater than redoubling our effort, we get our ships built in Turkey, which is good, great in fact, for the Turks. But hey, that’s Tory doctrine and with the shambles of the ferry fiasco, it’s not just the Tories who are cheering on the concept of building abroad.

    But the point is this, If you don’t have the manufacturing industry you don’t have the skill base. Chicken and egg. Failure to support, to encourage, and a policy to outsource, and we are where we are.

    Low skill, low wages, or does the world owe us a living. Indeed, as Huw Pill the chief economist of the bank of England recently said, Britons are just going to have to get used to the fact that they will be getting poorer. The world does not owe us a living it seems albeit that we might think so.

  2. Lot of good points there Billie. Readers are encouraged to tell us what they think. We are trying to build a good Comment column here at The Democrat. So, as Delia Smith nearly said: “Let’s be hearing from you.”

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