09 May 2013

S4M-06492 Youth Employment

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Good afternoon. The first item of business is a debate on motion S4M-06492, in the name of Angela Constance, on young people: supporting Scotland’s economy today and tomorrow.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. I will try to come in in under half an hour.

I listened with great interest to Ken Macintosh’s speech and I take in good heart the preparedness to make common ground on the essential core of the debate. That is very welcome.

Ken Macintosh mentioned that some of the statistics on which we rely are experimental statistics. It may be of value to look at the Office for National Statistics, which is where the statistics come from, to see what their being experimental means. It is not about their being imperfect or unreliable.

All new statistical series are initially designated as experimental until there is a long enough run of a series to see that the figures are truly reflective and reliable. Therefore, although Ken Macintosh is correct in saying that we should not bet the bank on an experimental set of statistics, it is equally important to realise that what are currently designated experimental statistics are produced by the same method and to exactly the same professional high standard, with an expectation on the part of the Office for National Statistics that we will end up adopting them.

Not all experimental statistics are published. They may be developed and used internally for 12 or 24 months before they escape into the light of day. However, it is recognised that this is such a fundamentally important area of public discourse that the statistics should be published while they bear the formal, but not commonly used, designation of being experimental. I thought that it might be useful to underpin the debate with that explanation from the Office for National Statistics.

The context of youth unemployment is very different from that which I and others of my age experienced when we were youngsters. I studied at university and graduated with an extremely modest degree—my degree is spectacular for its modesty rather than anything else—yet I had three good job offers. Furthermore, when I was a student and looked for a job in the summer, at Christmas or at Easter, I never failed to get one. The economic environment was very different then. Today, students from the university sector who have a second degree may not even get a second look from employers, so we are in a very different position in the round.

In the north-east of Scotland, as Mark McDonald delineated in his excellent speech, we perhaps face different issues that relate more to a lack of appropriately trained staff than a lack of jobs for people to go into. In comparison with other constituencies in Scotland, my constituency has one of the lowest proportions of school leavers who go into tertiary education. The reason for that is a good reason, in that school leavers can go into employment without having to do further training. Nonetheless, it is important that we provide support to people through modern apprenticeships, given that the comparatively easy transition into work that is experienced in the north-east of Scotland does not necessarily equip people for a lifetime of employment.

Therefore, I very much support Banff and Buchan College and Aberdeen College, which have focused their efforts on providing training that is appropriate to local needs. Largely, that means engineering training. We have had excellent support from local employers, such as Macduff Shipyards and Score in Peterhead, which employ huge numbers of apprentices and, indeed, advertise for apprentices. Like all apprenticeships, those are linked to employment. It is particularly good that a huge proportion of those who complete an apprenticeship remain in employment six months later. Training and employment are closely linked and are very important.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP): The member paints an encouraging picture of the north-east. Does he think that schools in other parts of Scotland should do more to point young people towards engineering and such jobs?

Stewart Stevenson: John Mason makes a very valid point, which I might extend by saying that we should encourage not just young men but young women to go into engineering. It is quite interesting how many of the high-performing apprentices in the north-east turn out to be young women who have acquired mathematical skills in school that they have gone on to apply in college and in employment.

The North Sea oil industry, for example, will provide many decades of employment, which could mean a lifetime’s employment for those who so choose. Renewable energy will provide similar opportunities. Therefore, as in the rest of Scotland, the north-east’s college sector is very important in supporting increased employment for our youngsters.

Of course, it is more expensive to train someone in engineering skills than it is to train people in certain other disciplines. For example, for health and safety reasons—quite properly—there need to be two people in the room to supervise any activity involving lathes, so the costs are higher. Historically, until this Government engaged with the college sector in a different way, it was difficult to get adequate funding for courses that cost significantly more.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government is almost invariably finding space to support youngsters in apprenticeships through the mechanism of the contracts that it lets. When I was a minister, I was delighted to meet apprentices whose jobs had been created directly as a result of the Scottish Government placing contracts. The Government is doing at its own hand the kinds of things that it should be doing, and it is creating the educational environment for people to acquire the skills that they will need.

I conclude by noting that, although we have quite properly heard a lot about people in areas of much greater stress that are not as lucky as the north-east, we have pockets of deprivation in the north-east, too. Even in my constituency, which is one of the best-performing constituencies in terms of employment and where the unemployment rate is one third of the Scottish average, we have an area that was included in the top 10 per cent of areas of multiple deprivation. I am delighted to say that some of the initiatives that the Government has taken are starting to make a difference there.

In youth employment, as in so many things, the Government is doing a terrific job with the powers that it has. Would that we had the powers to do more.


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