Young People’s Pathways: a progress report on Developing the Young Workforce An Education & Skills Committee quick read

In Spring 2018, the Scottish Parliament’s Education & Skills Committee conducted a survey with young people between the ages of 15 & 24 looking at why young people follow certain routes, what helps or hinders them and whether they get to where they want to be. The Committee would like to thank YoungScot, YouthLink Scotland and the Scottish Youth Parliament for their support in producing the survey as well as all 895 young people who took the time to complete it.

Age range of survey respondents

On the basis of the survey the Committee undertook a short inquiry into progress towards implementation of two recommendations relating to school from Developing the Young Workforce

Senior Phase Vocational Pathways

Recommendation 1:

Pathways should start in the Senior Phase which leads to delivery of industry recognised vocational qualifications alongside academic qualifications. Those pathways should be developed and delivered in partnerships with colleges and, where necessary, other training providers. Their delivery should be explicitly measured and published alongside other school performance indicators.

Preparing Young People for the World of Work

Recommendation 2:

A focus on preparing all young people for employment should form a core element of the implementation of Curriculum for Excellence with appropriate resource dedicated to achieve this. In particular, local authorities, Skills Development Scotland and employer representative organisations should work together to develop a more comprehensive standard of careers guidance which would reflect the involvement of employers and their role and input.

How did the Committee gather views and opinions?

The Committee issued a targeted call for views to representatives of young people, parents, schools, delivery bodies such as Skills Development Scotland and Education Scotland.

The Committee also heard from various organisations over 4 committee meetings between June and October 2018 as well as conducting a focus group with 15 young women from the “young women lead” project and visiting various school and businesses on Shetland.

The Committee would like to send a huge thank you to everyone who shared their views and experiences to help inform this Inquiry

Developing the young workforce

The Scottish Government established the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Work Force (DYW) in January 2013, chaired by Sir Ian Wood. Building better relationships between industry, schools and colleges was a key priority for the commission. DYW is now 4 years through a 7 year programme

The Committee’s role has been to find out where barriers to progress remain or where the pace of change needs to be increased. This is to ensure that the significant structural and cultural shift required to embed DYW recommendations is achieved.

Parity of Esteem

Parity of esteem, in the context of young people's pathways, is to value post-school options equally

“Young people are aware of biases surrounding different post-school routes. University is positioned as the ‘gold standard’ for those who achieve well academically, with alternative options and routes rarely considered or discussed with this cohort. Vocational pathways, including apprenticeships and other types of training, were perceived as being a lesser option. Young people said that they would like to be given impartial information on all available pathways in order to make informed choices.”

Scottish Government Learner Journey Review

“I would absolutely concede that I have heard the same point made. Young people often feel that they are not given the fullest information that they need to make subject choice decisions that will allow them to proceed through school and get the qualifications that they require for their choice of career, or they are not made aware of the different career options available to them”

Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills

The Committee recommends that the Government undertakes a large-scale quantitative survey of young people to seek to establish whether DYW has sufficiently progressed the culture shift towards achieving parity of information on options. The survey should take place by the end of 2021

Careers Information, Advice & Guidance

One to One Advice

In its written submission, Education Scotland notes that it and Skills Development Scotland (SDS) have worked closely with partners and stakeholders to design and develop the Career Education Standard (CES) to address DYW recommendation 2 that focusses on preparing young people for the world of work

At the school level, SDS offers direct engagement from professional careers staff in schools. This includes group sessions in S2 or S3 and again in S4. There is also an entitlement to a 1 to 1 session in S2 or S3 that is focussed on subject choices.

The Committee looked in to what the ‘universal offer’ for all pupils from SDS constituted and also what people who are identified as needing more targeted support received.

“School pupils require better information, advice and guidance about the pathways available to them, and at an earlier stage than they currently receive it.”

National Parent Forum Scotland (NPFS)

Quality one-to-one advice is often the form of support that has real impact for young people reaching difficult decisions on what path to take. The evidence received by the committee reflects the value young people place on advice and the influence it can have on their decision making

The Committee recommends that the Government makes clear that a key priority for Skills Development Scotland in schools is increasing the provision of high quality and sustained advice.

Online Resources

My World of Work is the main digital mechanism for online delivery or careers advice both at school and beyond

The 15-24 Learner journey review recommended that every learner in Scotland has an online learner account to link their skills and attributes to better course choices by the start of 2019. This was described as “a greatly improved digital experience, building on and extending My World of Work”.

The Committee considers that the value of one-to-one advice exceeds that of online resources particularly for some target groups such as disadvantaged young people who often require the most support. Progressing personal online accounts for young people, however sophisticated, will not have the same impact on certain target groups as one-to-one advice.

The Committee recommends that where there are funding or other resource allocation decisions to be made between progressing online work and increasing one-to-one advice, there should be a significant weighting towards one-to-one provision

The Role of Parents and Carers

Parents, carers and guardians have a major influence on young people’s perceptions and understanding of the relative merits of different career paths. Sir Ian wood highlighted Parents as the most influential group in influencing a young person’s perspective on which route they are able to take or should take from the senior phase

"On parity of esteem, one member of the group suggested that schools were measured on their successes and on that basis they prioritised university, including to parents… Another attendee agreed and also suggested that it was hard for parents as routes other than university can seem complicated. It was highlighted that some parents visiting the college are so pleased when they realise their son/daughter can do a year in college then on to university in the second year. College staff considered that apprenticeships should have a bigger appeal, not least because of the financial pressure of university compared to an apprenticeship, but parents, it was suggested, do not necessarily know this.”

Focus group with staff at Shetland College

The level of awareness raising work targeted at parents should reflect the level of importance and influence of parents when young people are deciding which path to take. The Committee recommends the Scottish Government explores the extent to which implementation of the National Action Plan on parental involvement in their children’s learning could usefully include further work to assist parental involvement in careers advice.

The Role of Schools

The priority a school as a whole places on DYW and the resources dedicated by school staff is central to the effective delivery of DYW in schools. Colleges Scotland was of the view that the current offer to school pupils is “variable and inconsistent”

The focus group held by the committee with Young Women Lead captured a range of different experiences and comments reflecting this variation in approach in schools. In relation to careers advice one woman suggested:

“we talk about schools speaking to pupils but in reality it is individuals speaking to individuals so there is a big inconsistency”.
“Young Women Lead" Participants


A clear theme in evidence focussed on schools is the impact of resource limitations on delivery, as well as the need to also deliver other policy priorities.

The Committee recognises the considerable amount of positive work being undertaken at school level towards DYW implementation and considers that realistic expectations for this work should be placed on schools at the present time given the resource constraints highlighted in evidence to the committee.

The Committee recognises the considerable amount of positive work being undertaken at school level towards DYW implementation. The Committee considers that realistic expectations for this work should be placed on schools at the present time given the resource constraints highlighted in evidence to the Committee, and the multiple policy initiatives schools are implementing at the present time.

The Committee reiterates its view from its previous inquiry reports that a continued emphasis on reducing teacher workload is vital

The Committee recommends that the expectation that resourcing for DYW will be met from school core funding should be revisited to assess:

Whether it is realistic that DYW can be fully implemented in schools by 2021; and

Whether the expectation DYW will be met from core funding diminishes the likelihood of a focus on implementing DYW in the longer term.

Performance Indicators

A theme of contributions from young people to one question in the Committee’s survey was the suggestion that schools still prioritise the promotion of university as an option because the school’s performance is assessed on how many of its students go to university.

DYW recommendations acknowledged that setting performance indicators on vocational pathways alongside other performance indicators would aid the status given to these pathways by schools. Recommendation 1 stated that senior phase vocational pathways should be:

“explicitly measured and published alongside other school performance indicators”.

The production of performance indicators on vocational pathways was central to a DYW recommendation aimed at ensuring vocational pathways from schools are established in a meaningful way. 4 years into the DYW programme, the Committee is frustrated at the distinct lack of progress. In the absence of information collated against performance indicators there is no way of knowing, at secondary school level, the number and form of vocational pathways being provided. There is no way of assessing how individual schools, or different education authorities, are progressing with establishing and promoting different vocational pathways.

Personal and Social Education

Personal and social education (PSE) or ‘life skills’ lessons are often the setting for informing young people about future career and study options. The Committee’s inquiry in to PSE found that the time spent on PSE and the quality of information provided in schools was ‘patchy’ across Scotland.

The Committee has agreed that PSE, including the variability in the time it receives in schools, and the importance placed upon it in schools, is a priority for further scrutiny. Once the Scottish Government’s PSE review is complete the Committee will undertake further work on this important issue.

Time for support with applications

One barrier identified to considering options on an equal footing can be the difference in ease of applying for different routes. Evidence suggested that there is one clear process in place for applying to university (UCAS) which is easier to understand than the processes for applying to different colleges or applying for different roles in employment

“In terms of parity of esteem, it was widely felt that schools could appreciate more that apprenticeships are as valued as degrees. For example, it was suggested engineering apprenticeships give as good a qualification as university but the pressure is to apply to university”

Shetland focus group

The Committee considers that there should be equal support provided in schools for making applications regardless of the route a young person plans to take. The Committee recommends that, where resources allow, schools are seeking to ensure that students who do not want to apply to university are also being supported in progressing their career pathways during the lesson time used for the completion of UCAS forms.


Evidence received by the Committee suggested that timetabling vocational pathways in an effective way can be challenging. This includes ensuring sufficient time is available for school based subjects such as highers whilst ensuring equal importance is given to allocating a meaningful amount of time to a vocational pathway based at a college.

The Committee recognises the need for distinct timetabling models in distinct areas. The Committee will reflect on this in future work, including taking evidence from schools directly.

Work Placements

Education Scotland released a Work Placements Standard in September 2015. This provides support and guidance for everyone involved in the process.

The value of work placements was highlighted by lots of different young people, and their perspectives reflected the range of benefits people can gain from it. No-one sharing experiences with the Committee suggested they did not gain anything at all from work placements that reflected their interests. Numerous young people suggested they would have liked to have undertaken more work placements.

“…I do not think we can give young people too much work experience. We also have to ensure that their educational requirements in school are met, but the more work experience that we can give them, the better… if we had a good system that gave young people three work experiences in different companies and environments, that would be great. Frankly, though, even going to college is helpful because they get to handle plumbing or joinery tools there, for example”.

Sir Ian Wood

The Committee has been particularly focused on the value of work placements for those seeking to leave school in the ‘statutory leavers’ cohort. This reflects a point raised by SDS, that those who leave school on the statutory date tend to have poorer outcomes than post-statutory leavers.

The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government instructs an amendment to the Work Placement Standard to include a module on 'what to expect on work placements'.

The Committee recommends that, where it is possible to identify in advance students who are clear that their intention is to leave school at this stage, these young people should be offered an enhanced opportunity for work placements. In addition, SDS and schools should ensure that, where possible, work experience for these students should be in excess of what is provided for in the Work Placements Standard, with the assumption being they will have the chance to undertake at least two work placements.

Progress towards the aims of DYW

Vocational Pathways

The Committee recognises the considerable amount of positive work being undertaken, including by colleges, to ensure that the DYW target of 7,000 pupils taking part in senior phase vocational pathways by the 2019-2020 academic year will be achieved

Foundation apprenticeships

The Committee highlights to the Scottish Government and SDS the amount of evidence it has received on barriers to the increased provision and uptake of foundation apprenticeships. It welcomes assurances from SDS that 5,000 foundation apprenticeships will be available for the 2019/20 academic year and requests an update form SDS on the actual number available and the uptake achieved in due course

Care experienced young people and disabled young people

The Committee is concerned that KPI’s on positive destinations for care experienced young people and on the employment rate for disabled young people are not being met.

The Committee recommends that the Scottish Government commissions an independent piece of research to establish why the targeted work is not resulting in the percentage increase in positive transitions and employment rates for young people as intended in the Government’s milestones for DYW.

The Committee further recommends that the review focuses on qualitative evidence gathered from young people to gain their perspective on the support received and on what further support would have been beneficial

The role of employers in delivering DYW

Building better relationships between industry and schools was a key priority for DYW. The wood report noted that in 2014:

  • Less than 30% of Scottish Businesses have any contact with education;
  • Only 27% of employers were offering work experience placements;
  • 29% of employers were recruiting direct from education; and
  • 13% of employers hosted Modern Apprenticeships

KPI 6 for DYW seeks an increase in the percentage of employers recruiting young people directly from education to 35% by 2018. Recorded performance against this target has not changed since 2014.

The Committee commends the work to establish 21 DYW regional groups and notes the emphasis and importance placed on DYW regional groups in engaging with SME’s.

The Committee is concerned that the key performance indicator target on increasing the percentage of employers recruiting young people directly from education has not been achieved.

The Committee recommends that SDS assesses whether the progress of Marketplace (a digital meeting place for business and education to engage) is sufficient at this stage of DYW implementation.

The Committee also recommends, in addition to work by DYW regional groups, that SDS should report to the Committee on how it could enhance its own efforts to provide direct support to SME’s

Islands and rural communities

The Committee invites the Scottish Government to set out in its response to this report what work is underway at a national level to assist rural and island communities in:

  • Generating opportunities locally with an emphasis on transferable skills; and
  • Ensuring young people are aware of and able to take part in national initiatives; such as opportunities generated by the STEM strategy

The learner journey review and DYW

The Learner Journey Review is an ongoing programme of work, led by the Scottish Government, to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of progression for 15-24 year olds through the education system.

The Committee recommends that the Government takes steps to guard against any focus of resources on the Learner Journey Review leading to a dilution of efforts being made towards the successful delivery of DYW

The Committee notes the recommendation in the Strategic Plan on the Enterprise and Skills review on accelerating work on the Learner Journey review. The Committee seeks an explicit assurance that the required timeline and draft guidance will stipulate work specifically aimed at the delivery of DYW

The Committee also recommends that the Scottish Government gives early consideration to contingency planning, including producing milestones for DYW that extend beyond 2021.

The Committee once again would like to thank everyone who shared their views and experiences with them as part of this inquiry. Keep up to date with more ways that you can get involved by following the Committee on Twitter.

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