Debate: Skills Strategy (Refresh)

Linda spoke in the debate on 7 October:

“The skills strategy refresh is welcome and necessary in the current economic climate. On my initial reading of the document, the part that I found most welcome was the intended further simplification of the skills system, to which other members have referred. As with so much within our society’s constructs, I hear time and again about duplication of function and regulation and about the bureaucratic brick wall that well-intentioned employers and potential employees often slam into. I take on board the minister’s point that one reason for that is the difficulty of working across agencies and indeed across borders. The strategy mentions promoting leadership development in Scottish businesses. Of course, we should all be doing whatever we can to help and promote Scottish businesses, thus allowing further training and employment and a contribution to Scotland’s economic future…

“As well as supporting our businesses to allow them to support potential employees, the Government has given much to support Scotland’s colleges, and they, in turn, pass on that support. For example, South Lanarkshire College in East Kilbride hosted skillbuild last year and its students won medals in that competition. This year, again, students at the college won construction medals when the competition was held in Wales. Students in our colleges are trained to a high standard and both South Lanarkshire College and the students should be applauded for their efforts and congratulated.

“South Lanarkshire College recently retrained 400 former Freescale Semiconductor employees in East Kilbride through the partnership action for continuing employment programme, renewing a current workforce with new skills to take advantage of new opportunities. When we talk about skills and training, we sometimes focus on young people and fall into the trap of forgetting about retraining. Lifelong learning is important. It is only a few months ago, too, that I held a members’ business debate about the Aurora house, which has been developed by Dawn Homes and South Lanarkshire College. The need for homes and skills for the future is recognised by the Government’s refreshed skills strategy.

“The briefing paper from Scotland’s Colleges states that colleges are at the heart of their local communities and play a major role in social inclusion. That is true. Folks from all walks of life attend our colleges, which have an innate understanding of the needs and requirements of their local areas. The building of community builds towards economic and social success, and the colleges in Lanarkshire collectively work towards that. We should encourage our colleges, but we should never be complacent when it comes to good practice. We should always look at what others do, contrasting and comparing, and we should never be shy of investigating what works elsewhere.

“I have a particular interest in our built heritage and therefore design and construction skills. One element of that is our traditional building trades. There has been a fairly recent resurgence of interest in such trades because of the recognition, for example, that sensitive rehabilitation of older housing stock is both cost effective and sustainable. Research demonstrates that older buildings can perform well in energy terms—for example, because they have natural insulation—and rehabilitation can be a natural way of recycling building materials. Whether it is our castles, our tenement housing or our dry-stane dykes, specialised traditional skills are required to preserve our heritage, so we must preserve those skills.

“Some other European nations hold their traditional skills, and therefore their traditional skills practitioners, in great esteem. That does not apply only to construction trades, of course. I am grateful to Mr James Simpson, heritage architect, for pointing out to me the compagnons du devoir system in France, under which young apprentices and journeyfolk train in French traditional skills. It is a rigorous system that takes a minimum of seven years. It involves a lot of off-the-job training, mentoring, the systematic use of older and retired workers, and the management of movement and change through a network of colleges. Perhaps we can learn something from that. Scotland still has lots of active trades guilds, for example, with a massive reservoir of skills and experience in those workers who are slightly more developed in years. Those skills and that experience are ready to be tapped for the benefit of young apprentices and trainees and the on-going benefit of Scotland. Can we look towards making that link and using that talent and experience?

“We have opportunities in the short, medium and long term to tool up our country for the coming years. We should take full advantage of those opportunities and, as so many others have said today, ensure that Scotland is indeed ready to face the future.”

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