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Liz Cameron: Skills shortages a key issue for Scottish and UK Governments

One of the good news stories about the Scottish economy has been the recent trend of falling unemployment. Since March this year, Scotland’s rate of unemployment has fallen from 6.2% to 4.6%, dipping below the UK average unemployment rate for the first time since June 2015. Meanwhile our Scottish Chambers of Commerce Quarterly Economic Indicator has pointed to continuing positive recruitment intentions for the remainder of the year. It is little wonder then that employers are continuing to flag up difficulties in being able to recruit candidates with the particular skills that their business needs.

In these circumstances and given the relatively low levels of unemployment, it is vital that our governments in Edinburgh and in London are working to enable skills provision to match skills requirements. In a tight labour market, businesses are especially keen to see resources invested in reskilling in order to enable the workforce to be as flexible and responsive to variations in the demand for skills as possible. That means that businesses are not just looking for young people from schools, colleges and universities, but are also looking to retrain existing staff for new roles and are actively looking for opportunities to recruit and train older workers.

This creates a number of challenges that government must meet. We need a skills system that actively targets the over 25s with a view to enabling them to acquire new skills to meet the needs of the future Scottish economy, and we need integrated support for workplace training and learning to enable the effective upskilling of existing staff to rise to new challenges. In addition to this, the UK Government must put politics of Brexit to one side and recognise the vital role that EU nationals play in our workforce. We cannot afford to lose talented and productive staff from our workforce in Scotland at a time when businesses are already having to work very hard to fill existing vacancies. Our clear message to the UK Government is that allowing EU nationals to remain and work in Scotland is not a bargaining chip, it is an economic necessity for our country.

Good things are happening in Scotland through the Developing the Young Workforce initiative and through Skills Development Scotland’s apprenticeship programmes but they are only part of the solution. Scotland needs a national strategy to satisfy the demand from our businesses for talent and the recently published Scottish Government Labour Market Strategy just won’t cut it. It is time for the Scottish Government to act to eliminate skills shortages once and for all.

Liz Cameron is chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce

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