Improving Employability Debate

Monday, January 14th, 2013 @ 2:13PM

I also spoke last week in a debate in response to the Parliament Finance Committee report into ‘Improving Employability’. I spoke about the problems I’ve witnessed at various organisations across Scotland who were finding the different government schemes very complex. I also noted the success stories at these organisations, highlighting the good work being done. You can read the full debate here

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): I wish the Presiding Officer and all members in the chamber a happy and healthy new year.

I congratulate the Finance Committee on its report. It is not an obvious piece of work for the committee to do, but—as Kenneth Gibson said—it flows from the committee’s other work on socioeconomics, deprivation and inequalities, which is of great interest to all members.

As the report comes from the Finance Committee, there is of course a significant focus on the money involved, including whether it is spent in a valuable way and whether the results evidence the amount of cash that is spent. In that sense, the report has already made a valuable contribution to the debate.

My colleagues Michael McMahon and Elaine Murray served on the committee for the duration of its work, and they will contribute to the debate. Like me, Michael McMahon has serious concerns about Skills Development Scotland’s approach, and he will speak about those today.

Elaine Murray will focus on the particular challenges that young people in rural areas face. Minerva People gave evidence to the committee that features heavily in the report. I went to Dumfries and met Minerva People and a number of young people who are looking for work in the area. It was perhaps the best reminder of the need for a whole-family approach to youth employment. The issues relate not simply to job creation, skills and employability, but to much wider factors, as Kenneth Gibson mentioned, such as transport costs and a heavy reliance on the need for small and medium-sized enterprises to create jobs for young people in those areas.

Minerva People consistently highlighted the complexity of the employability landscape and the need for a one-stop shop, which is an issue to which I will return. My colleague Malcolm Chisholm will highlight the work of organisations such as Barnardo’s works, which I have met recently and which does fantastic work throughout the country.

I visited the Barnardo’s works project in Edinburgh, and learned that it has no fewer than 14 different one-year funding streams to manage. In fact, it has to employ one dedicated finance officer just to manage the money. We should consider the potential work that the organisation could do in developing and expanding its offer if it were able to spend less time looking at spreadsheets and getting the abacus out.

Hanzala Malik will speak about college cuts and their impact on the employability landscape. Time and time again, I hear complaints and concerns from employers about the complexity of the employability landscape. Employers are clueless about what support is available and how to access it, and, crucially, they are unwilling to spend a huge amount of time navigating the landscape themselves. We need to make it as easy and attractive as possible for businesses to take on young people.

I know that the Government understands the potential that young people have to offer businesses; its own make young people your business initiative demonstrates that. However, it is no use saying to employers, “We have a youth unemployment crisis and it’s your moral duty to do your bit.” That will tug at the heartstrings of some employers, but it does a huge disservice to young people, who have the amazing potential to help those businesses to diversify.

I will take those two points together and show how making it easy for businesses to take on young people is a completely different ball game.

The Minister for Youth Employment (Angela Constance): Does Kezia Dugdale accept that whole purpose of the make young people your business campaign is proactively to sell the business and economic case for employing young people? Does she accept that the Government has put in place the forthcoming employer recruitment incentive for small businesses, which—if I recall rightly—she welcomed, along with initiatives such as our skillsforce?

Kezia Dugdale: I very much welcome the employment recruitment incentive, and I hope that we will hear more about the details when we return to the subject of youth unemployment on Thursday.

However, the issue that I am about to raise and the story that I am about to tell relate specifically to the process involved in getting that young person into employment. There is a good story to tell about the minister’s work in that regard, if she will let me get to it.

There is a company in Edinburgh called Adcentiv Media, which specialises in signage. It is doing really well despite the adverse economic circumstances, and it has already expanded once. Last year, the company took on a young guy called Calum, who was doing a get ready for work placement in Edinburgh. He thrived in the new environment and got on really well. He demonstrated a real talent for car wrapping. In case members are not familiar with it, car wrapping involves literally wrapping a car in adverts. It is a growing trend: not many businesses in Scotland are doing it, but there is an increasing demand for it.

Calum had a real skill for car wrapping, and towards the end of his get ready for work placement the employer wanted to take him on because he had such a talent and ability to help the business grow. Several calls were made to different agencies, all of which led to dead ends. The employer phoned Skills Development Scotland and got nowhere—and got really frustrated. I was visiting the company with the local MP Sheila Gilmore for other reasons and it was only because I recognised Calum—I had met him at the Rathbone centre while he was doing the get ready for work programme—that I asked how he was getting on. I was told the whole story: the company could not get his employment programme continued and he would have to join the dole queue again in a month’s time. I wrote to the minister and, to her credit, she intervened to fix Calum’s situation. She made the right parts of Skills Development Scotland talk to each other, so Calum now has his modern apprenticeship and is thriving. It should not, however, have taken a Government minister’s intervention to get him to that point.

It is crucial that people are able to navigate the system and get from one programme into another and then into a job. The Scottish Government has not shown me that there is a pathway for people from the minute that they leave school until the minute they get into employment.

Falkirk Council does incredible work in that regard. It does not take its eyes off a young person from the minute they leave school until they are in a sustainable job. Too many young people are falling through the net and dropping out of the system. From the visit that we made to the City of Edinburgh Council in December, the minister knows that Edinburgh is doing fantastic work and has great plans to do more. We need such strategies from the Scottish Government’s own programmes and it needs to drive the policy across 32 local authorities.

I had a lot more to say, Presiding Officer, but I have run out of time. Perhaps we will come back to the issue on Thursday when we talk about youth employment in more detail.

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