Events & News

Bridging the Scottish Skills Gap

Kelly Barbour, ScotGrad Programme Manager for Graduate Engagement, discusses the need for a coordinated approach to fill current skill shortages.

Published: 01/09/2016

With falling oil prices affecting the North East and faltering economic growth, the Scottish job market is turbulent, but overall employment is increasing. Some industries are thriving while others are struggling to attract qualified applicants, creating an imbalance and skills shortage.

In June, research firm Markit published a report on the Scottish skills gap. They found that in some sectors, namely IT and engineering, the number of people available for each job was continuing to decrease.

One industry that has traditionally struggled to attract young jobseekers is science and technology. According to previous surveys, 43% of vacancies in science, research, engineering and technology are hard to fill due to skills shortages.

ScotGrad has been operating for almost six years, and since October 2015, the programme has helped almost 200 graduates find placements. However, a small number of roles don’t get filled - and 40% of these unfilled placements were attributed to the lack of a suitable candidate; 29% were in IT/digital sectors, and a further 25% were engineering roles.

With employers struggling to recruit qualified staff, and young people turning away from the sectors in need, how can the gap be bridged?

Last year, ScotGrad placed 22% of its graduates in the tourism, IT and engineering industries. Also, thanks to Skills Development Scotland’s Life Sciences Internship Programme, paid opportunities were opened up for Scotland’s life sciences students in ambitious growing companies. This was a welcomed initiative with application numbers soaring to over 1,700 from just 71 in two years. 

The Scottish skills gap is challenging, but not unbeatable.

Research organisation High Fliers recently found that half of employers thought graduates with no previous work experience would have little to no chance of securing a job at their organisation. With more graduates every year in an already competitive jobs market, the value of work experience and long-term placements should not be underestimated.

This shows that with a coordinated approach from industry leaders, Government and education bodies, sectors currently failing to attract top talent can find the candidates they need. Only by working in partnership, in a similar way to the ScotGrad programme, can we address the imbalances in the Scottish jobs market.

There is clearly still work to be done on attracting talent to the science and technology sector, for example, but the clear improvement the sector has seen demonstrates that the Scottish skills gap is not unbridgeable.