Scotland's Economy

Empower the young to empower the economy

What next for scotland young people?

What next for Scotland’s young people?

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that when my generation is drawing their pensions that those pensions will have to be paid for by the economic activity of today’s young people. That means the best way to secure our economic future is to build a future for the young of today.

We need economic succession planning or we face a future where the next generation can’t carry the weight held back by a cycle of under achievement that is already blighting the economy. Young people who enter the workforce with qualifications, who build skills though real apprenticeships and who are positively engaged with the economy after education are more productive, earn more, pay more tax and cost the state less in benefits and healthcare. The flip side is that the negative impact of early age unemployment and under employment damages self esteem, confidence and personal ambition. In some communities young people are being born into families locked in to their second and third generation of underachievement.

A European problem

This isn’t just a Scottish problem; across Europe youth unemployment is a problem with 22.9% of under 25s out of work. The youth unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than in the UK -15.9% for Scotland vs 17.6% for the UK. Having traditionally been higher in Scotland, the youth unemployment rate has decreased over the last year by 5.1% in Scotland versus a UK decrease of 3.9 %. It is clear from the figures above that a slowly recovering UK economy is helping and that the extra focus in Scotland given by the creation of the role of Youth Employment Minster is delivering faster results, but it is not the whole solution.

Young people who don’t believe they have a future don’t look forward to the future, and so are open to negative influences in the present. Most young people will rebel at some point, they will drink, sometimes fight, lose the ability to talk to their parents, get in trouble of some sort and many will try drugs, realistically isn’t that all part of growing up? The big question is: does our society provide a credible positive alternative, does it create Teflon kids where negative influences can’t stick or are we creating sponges that soak up the easy, lazy, dead-end choices that fill the gap when society fails a generation? The poverty, health and mental health, alcohol and crime figures in some communities are well documented and just add to the dead end culture that pervades less well off communities in particular.

If self confidence, personal and skills development, ambition and determination are the road less travelled in a community, then only the exceptional young people will be able to follow that road. That is a failure of the system, not the young people. Some politicians blame the young for not trying hard enough, for not conforming, but they are conforming to the role they are given by society.

Slave labour isn’t the answer

If you want to win an election then raise pensions, if you want to win the future then raise the ambitions of the young. The Conservative’s idea of making young people do community work if they don’t have a job after six months to get their benefit sounds more like a community order than a plan to build self esteem.

Some of the best work is being done in the business and charity sectors. A few years ago I helped Rathbone with its social media marketing and it opened my eyes. Rathbone helps young people with employability skills and aims to help them onto positive outcomes after leaving school. Last year they supported 1,886 young people on a range of skills development programmes in 12 centres across Scotland. Meeting those youngsters, I realised that they all wanted a better future but that they had all grown up thinking they hadn’t many choices in life. It struck me that Rathbone’s intervention can be “life changing”.

The Bad Idea final - how many adults could pitch like this?

The Bad Idea final – how many adults could pitch like this?

Bad Idea is a new Scottish social enterprise company set up to inspire young people to transform their futures through entrepreneurship, a path many are told is a bad idea!  Following a massively successful pilot, Bad Idea is running a flagship competition funded by the Scotland Can Do / Scottish Government initiative, encouraging secondary school children to come up with imaginative ideas; over a four-day workshop children work up business plans, use social media, seek funding and present to a judging panel which decides the winner. The feedback from teachers and young people from the pilot was that it was “life changing”.

Business is getting in on the act too. 29steps is a community interest company, a social enterprise born out of 29studios, a Glaswegian creative digital agency. 29steps provides training and development for young people with a passion for media and technology, by developing professional skills, entrepreneurial spirit, and ultimately providing a platform for youngsters to forge a career in the creative industries.

Young people learning the ropes with OYT Scotland - literally

Young people learning the ropes with OYT Scotland – literally

29steps teamed up with Ocean Youth Trust Scotland to produce a film documenting the charity’s Young Leader Development Programme where youngsters sail from Norway to Scotland and gain leadership skills and qualifications along the way. I attended the premier and you can’t get a better case study in what young people are capable of than this television quality video shot by a 16 year old trainee filmmaker (Ellis Beaton) who had never stepped on a yacht before in his life. How did Ellis and the others on the voyage describe it? You guessed it – “life changing”.  29steps aim to support 29 young trainees through an educational programme that pays trainee creatives 20% above the living wage, to empower each #29er gain a foothold in the workplace. That’s great news, as 63.5% of all working 18 to 21-year-olds are paid under the living wage of £7.85 an hour, calculated to provide a minimum acceptable standard of living.


We need to provide young people with greater opportunity, engage them, challenge them and support them. If there is a mood for a radical policy to eradicate youth unemployment then the Scottish Government should team up with these youth champions and guarantee every young person a paid job, one that takes skills development, leads to qualifications and offers a positive destination after education that bridges the gap between education and employment which, for too many, seems unbridgeable.

Would that not be “life changing”? Why do policy makers aim for anything less? Picking up litter to get your benefit may also be life changing, but not in the same way.

Oh, and they need to be able to vote as soon as they are adults, you know, as if they were valued members of society.

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Rathbone in Scotland

Ocean Youth Trust Scotland

Bad Idea Org

Ocean Youth Trust Video 

About the author

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp

Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp is the Founder and Chief Executive of Business for Scotland. Before becoming CEO of Business for Scotland Gordon ran a business strategy and social media, sales & marketing consultancy.

With a degree in business, marketing and economics, Gordon has worked as an economic development planning professional, and in marketing roles specialising in pricing modelling and promotional evaluation for global companies (including P&G).

Gordon benefits (not suffers) from dyslexia, and is a proponent of the emerging New Economics School. Gordon contributes articles to Business for Scotland, The National and Believe in Scotland.

1 Comment

  • Yes, the youth of tomorrow do need our help but too often we get students that just do not meet the needs of businesses. Yes there is a skills gap but who is doing anything about it? We have been complaining about this problem for over twenty years and so far all we get is another programme and more qualifications that are set to meet the needs of large international companies. What we need is training and relevant qualifications that meet the needs of small and micro businesses.

    In Scotland 99.8% of all business employ less than 20 people and turn over less than £2million. These businesses need employees that are flexible in how they work and they need skills to perform tasks that are not defined by a specific job but by the tasks that need to be done in that business.

    In today’s fast changing and competitive world of work the constant development of new technology and new working practices are driving all businesses to do more, more efficiently and at lower prices. The days of employees having ‘a job’ that only changes once every 5 years is finished.

    Unfortunately our educationalists and educators that develop our training and qualification systems do not recognise this situation and instead they continue to base their view of business and industry upon an assumption that everyone has one job and that job has a specific amount of tasks associated with the job. Teach people to do that job and the problem is solved. Whereas reality shows that most micro and small businesses are run by teams that collectively perform all the tasks that need to be done for that business to operate.

    Today’s qualifications do not reflect this reality and because our academic and educational qualifications for businesses are stuck with this out dated view of the world of work, our employees and potential employees do not get the training or the qualifications that we all need.

    This is a huge issue for Scotland, the UK and Europe. If Scotland’s academics and small businesses could only work together Scotland’s educational training and qualifications could be an example for the rest of the world but until we recognise that our present training and qualifications are not fit for purpose then we will never progress.

    With no disrespect to the academics and educationalists that work in this area, they really need to start looking at what businesses actually do (the tasks) rather than trying to guess what skills are needed by businesses.

    In 2006 the Leitch report was published and it identified most of the problems that we still face today. In that report it states that by 2020 the UK should be a world leader in skills development. In 2011 we then had the Leitch report mark 2 ‘Leitch 7 years on’ where the authors state that they will ‘take a look at whether the original goals are still relevant and achievable.’

    The conclusions of the second report are banal with all the usual excuses and recommendations on why things have not improved. Unfortunately both reports fail to identify the major problem that is causing the skills gap. Academics and educationalists still think that business and industry runs on the same regulated jobs and occupations that existed in the year 2000.

    This debate about the Skills Gap has dragged on for over twenty years and many large companies have given up on the state educations systems and have developed their own in house training systems and industry qualifications. According to politicians this is the ideal solution because vocational education and training (VET); continual vocational education and training (CVET) and academic training (university and college) should be led by business and industry and the role of academics and educationalists is to make sure that the training and qualifications reflect the needs of the businesses.

    This ‘idealistic’ view of VET, CVET and University education has however a major flaw in that businesses that are now defining the training are mostly large multi-national companies that operate on an entirely different set of criteria in comparison to the 99.8% of businesses which employ less than 20 people, turn over less than £2million and employ over 45% of the population. The evidence clearly points to the fact that similar businesses of different sizes (250 employee’s vs 10 employees) may have the same outcomes but the process in producing these outcomes are hugely different. It is therefore not surprising that the training and subsequent qualifications will also have to reflect these differences.

    Okay, I know that academics and educationalists prefer to talk to large and important companies that add prestige to their educational institutions but the problem that Scotland’s businesses and Scotland’s youth are facing are hopefully much more important than the egos of senior academic figures.

    A small business is not a smaller version of a big business and small businesses are difficult to organise and to understand, but that does not mean that they should be ignored.

    Over thirty years ago I was attending a business conference when we were told:

    “The only thing that can be said about tomorrow is that it will be different. Everything now being done is going to be done differently: it is going to be done better and if you don’t do it, then your competitors will”

    How disruptive these changes would be, was impossible to predict and tomorrow is going to be no better. The pace of change has only occurred because businesses and industry changed the way they traditionally operated. Unfortunately, our academics, politicians and educational ‘experts’ still do not appear to understand what happened and they show little entrepreneurial flair in how they are preparing for future changes.

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