Scotland: Developing the Young Workforce

Scotland: Developing the Young Workforce


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Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) is Scotland’s youth employment strategy and commitment to improving the skill levels of young people to adapt to market requirements. The programme’s headline target, to reduce youth unemployment by 40% by 2021, has been reached four years ahead of schedule and the Government is determined to build on this progress. Official statistics calculated in May 2017, shows that youth unemployment in Scotland, excluding those in full-time education, fell from 52,000 in 2014 down to 27,000 in 2017 . DYW is now an integral part of the Scottish education system and aligned with ambitious national goals to transform into a green economy and a fair society. Due to its impressive socio-economic impact, its strong participatory and holistic approach and its success meeting its target, as well as its full respect for the Future Justice Principles (7/7), Scotland’s Developing the Young Workforce is recognized with Future Policy Silver Award 2019 for Economic Empowerment of Youth, awarded by the World Future Council in partnership with UNDP and ILO.

At A Glance
  • Scotland’s Developing the Young Workforce was launched in 2014 with a commitment to ensuring that all children and young people are better prepared for the world of work and equipped with the skills they need to have fair access to job opportunities. The commitment ensures this by creating a framework to expand work-based learning, including a special focus on disadvantage youth.
  • Over a seven year period (2014-2021), the Scottish Government will implement the recommendations of the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce’s final report Education Working For All!.
  • The Main function of the programme is to bring together the education systems, employers, civil societies, youth organizations and local authorities in order to implement the guidelines and include employers in shaping the curriculum so that young people gain the right qualifications and experiences to prepare them for work.
  • The strategy and implementation plan include milestones across all sectors, challenging schools, colleges and employers, national and local authorities to implement the measures required to effect lasting change. Equality, inclusion and STEM subjects are highlighted as areas of crucial importance with over a third of all key milestones relating to these areas.
Policy Reference

Curriculum for Excellence 2003

Economy Strategy 2007

Scotland’s Economy Strategy 2015

Low Carbon Economic Strategy 2010

Skills for Scotland: A Lifelong Skills Strategy

National Youth Work Strategy 2014-19

Poverty, the Circular Economy Strategy, 2016

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC)”

Scottish Energy Strategy 2017.

Selection as a Future-Just Policy

Scotland’s DYW shows how a comprehensive and inclusive youth employment strategy can improve the skill levels of young people to be better adapted to meet dynamic market requirements. DYW is now an integral part of the Scottish education system and aligned with ambitious national goals to transform into a green economy and a fair society. Its strategy is driven by equality and inclusion bringing together the education systems, employers, civil societies, youth organizations and local authorities to benefit young people.

In its short 5-year existence, the programme’s headline target, to reduce youth unemployment by 40% by 2021, has been reached four years ahead of schedule. DYW has created a framework to expand work-based learning, including a special focus on disadvantage youth. Due to its impressive socio-economic impact, its strong participatory and holistic approach and its success meeting its target, as well as its full respect for the Future Justice Principles (7/7), Scotland’s Developing the Young Workforce is recognized with Future Policy Silver Award 2019 for Economic Empowerment of Youth.

  Future-Just Policy Score Card

  • Our “Best Policies” are those that meet the Future Just Lawmaking Principles and recognise the interconnected challenges we face today. The goal of principled policy work is to ensure that important universal standards of sustainability and equity, human rights and freedoms, and respect for the environment are taken into account. It also helps to increase policy coherence between different sectors.

  Sustainable use of natural resources

  • Access to qualitative and sustainable education with a strong emphasis on STEM.
  • Addresses SDGs on poverty, education, gender, decent jobs and production.
  • Strong leadership, multi-stakeholder approach, involving private and education sector.
  • Preparing youth workforce for green transition.

 Equity and poverty eradication

  • Inclusive approach, addresses all young people living in Scotland.
  • Special focus on unemployed youth or dropped out of school, youth from minorities, youth with disabilities, youth in rural communities.
  • Closing the gender gap in world of work and promoting STEM for female youth.

  Precautionary approach

  • Strong Multi-stakeholder consultation, including genuine engagement of youth.
  • Rigorous monitoring, midterm review.
  • Multi-stakeholder process ensures precautionary implementation.

  Public participation, access to information and justice

  • Strong participation at all levels including employers, civil society, youth and trade unions.
  • Targeted multimedia towards young people: websites, events, social media.
  • Scottish Parliament hearings are online.
  • Strong social media presence, digital platform, use of questionnaires, guidelines for all involved stakeholders.

  Good governance and human security

  • Government committed to annual reporting; rigorous reporting procedures for money spent/actions performed.
  • All 21 DYW Regional Groups are initiated on local level to enhance dialogue between employers, local authorities and schools.
  • Midterm evaluation and Parliament discussions published on website.
  • Although goal of policy has been reached four years before 2021, the aim is to increase qualitative delivery especially to most vulnerable groups and to increase Modern Apprenticeships.
  • Stable budget. Invests now more in partners, including the private sector.

  Integration and interrelationship

  • Inclusion in broader plans and policies
  • Very good cross-sectoral and cross organizational cooperation.
  • National government, local government (COSLA), Education Scotland, colleges and university youth organizations.
  • Enhancing, offering and scaling up apprenticeship models.

  Common but differentiated responsibilities

  • The strategy builds on efforts to overcome the 2008 financial crises.
  • It is a ‘Scottish’ answer taking into account the country’s level of technology, scientific knowledge, human/financial resources, cultural values.
  • Strong focus on empowering vulnerable groups.

Scotland is in a political union with the rest of the United Kingdom . In 1999, the new Scottish Parliament was established with the power to legislate on a range of important ‘devolved matters’ including education, health, the environment and agriculture . Local government in Scotland is organized into 32 unitary authorities . Scottish councils co-operate through, and are represented collectively by, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA).

One of the main goals of the new Scottish Executive in 1999 was set out in a strategy paper that outlined a vision of cooperative policy making to address social justice and poverty. Some policies were introduced reflecting the desire to create a non-stigmatizing, non-residual welfare state, such as ’The Curriculum for Excellence’  aimed at promoting principles of equality and ‘Opportunities for All’  that supports all young people to participate in post-16 learning, training or work. The Economic Strategy 2007 and the Economic Recovery Plans 2009 played a key role in improving the country’s economic performance, especially after 2008 banking crash and financial crises. Output returned and unemployment fell over that period from 8% to 4%. Still, the youth unemployment rate remained high.

After the financial crises, Single Outcome Agreements (SOA)  were developed to achieve anti-poverty strategies. In 2015, Scotland’s Economic Strategy replaced the previous one and set out an overarching framework to achieve a more productive, cohesive and fairer Scotland by increasing sustainable economic growth. It now forms the strategic plan for current and future Scottish Government policy. The approach is based on two key pillars: increasing competitiveness and tackling inequality. Integral to the Government’s Economic Strategy are the Low Carbon Economic Strategy 2010, the Circular Economy Strategy 2016, and the Energy

Strategy 2017. Together, these strategies aim to secure sustainable economic growth, meet Scotland’s climate change targets and transition to a low carbon economy . The Economic Strategy predicts that an estimated 60,000 new ‘green jobs’ could be created by 2020 . To realize the transition to a low carbon economy and just society the Learning for Sustainability (LfS)  approach to life and learning was introduced in 2013.  The United Nations SDGs are central to Scotland’s national vision  and are at the heart of the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework.


Equipping young people for employment is a critical element of ’One Scotland, our Programme for Government 2014/15’ – the Government’s vision and plan of Scotland’s long-term economic success and wellbeing . It builds on successful reforms across the education and skills system after the global economic recession in 2008 and subsequent recession and aims to improve youth employment levels beyond pre-2008 levels, tackle youth unemployment and its barriers with a special focus on vulnerable groups. To achieve this goal, building up the private sector as well as boosting national and international competitiveness is a key focus of the Government, alongside the need to make much better use of the total young workforce and ensure they have the work and employability skills they need to succeed.

The overarching target of the policy is reducing the level of youth unemployment by 40% by 2021 from the 2014 baseline, and becoming one of the top five performing countries in the EU for youth unemployment. It aims to create an enhanced curriculum for young people in school and colleges in order to increase employment opportunities and to ensure that every child, no matter his/her background, has an equal chance to realize their full potential. The DYW aims to address problems facing different groups of young people, in particular gender inequality, minority ethnic communities, those with disabilities, and young people in the care system.

The strategy focuses on employability and the skills required to meet market demand, building on A Curriculum for Excellence and Learning for Sustainability. Furthermore, it stresses the importance of greatly enhancing the esteem of vocational education and skills and the need for significantly enhanced quality work experience while at school and college.

Methods of Implementation

The seven-year strategy (2014-2021) started in December 2014 with strong leadership and firm commitments in partnership with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Scotland’s education and employer communities. An initial budget of GBP 12 million for implementation in 2014-15, and a further GBP 16.6 million in 2015-16, was drafted . Local government (responsible for schools and local economic development), and the national government jointly own the implementation plan but local authorities have a lead role in the implementation of DYW. A joint implementation plan allows for effective work through partnerships working across schools, colleges, training providers, employers and relevant partners. The detailed implementation plan specifies how Curriculum for Excellence, a regionalized college system, an expanded Modern Apprenticeship programme  and purposeful employer engagement all work together. The programme has eleven Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and includes milestones  for the next seven years across all sectors to embrace the recommendations and implement the measures required for lasting change. One key feature is the establishment of employer led ’Developing the Young Workforce DYW Regional Groups’  across Scotland, in cooperation with the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB), to facilitate better engagement between employers and the education system in shaping the curriculum for the future. The Skills Development Scotland Marketplaces  aim to improve engagement between employers and education. It’s been developed in partnership with DYW regional groups who have identified the need to raise awareness of the career options available to young people. The Scottish Government and Education Scotland published guidance on School/Employer Partnerships, the Work Placements Standard and a new Career Education Standard (3-18). For the guidance on school/employers partnerships, three parts are available: Guidance for schools, Guidance for employers, and Guidance for DYW Regional Groups and Local Authorities . Science, engineering, technology and mathematics (STEM) is now one of the focus areas within the educational system. Similarly, the Circular Economy Strategy 2016, identifies the need to embed the development of new circular economy skills and thinking in the next generation of designers, business leaders and innovators.

The Scottish Government is committed to annual reporting on the progress of the DYW Programme.


The DYW strategy met its national target to reduce youth unemployment by 40% four years early and Scotland is now ranked in the top five countries in Europe. Meeting their youth unemployment targets required the numbers of youth neither in work or full-time education to be 31,000 or below. Official statistics calculated in May 2017, shows that youth unemployment has dropped from 52,000 in 2014 down to 27,000 in 2017. Figures from May 2018 show youth unemployment at 28,000 . The Government has committed to increase the number of Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland from around 10,500 in 2008 to 30,000 new apprenticeships starting by 2020. In 2081/2019, 28,000 were reached. New features are being developed, like the expansion of Foundation Apprenticeships, which are work-based learning opportunities for senior-phase secondary school pupils,  and the Apprenticeship Levy . In 2018, 94.4% of pupils had a ’positive destination’ including work, training or further study within three months of leaving school, official statistics show. The figures also reveal that the gap between those from the most and least deprived communities achieving a positive destination has halved since 2009/10, with an increase in positive destinations for school-leavers from both backgrounds. All 21 DYW Regional Groups (regional industry-led groups) are now established across Scotland to facilitate better engagement between employers and education. There has been a year on year increase in the number of school leavers attaining vocational qualifications at SCQF  5 and above, nearly doubling from 7.3% in 2013/14 to 14.8% in 2017/18.

In 2017/2018, 5,216 senior phase pupils were enrolled in college courses, compared with 2,101 in 2013/14 – a rise of nearly 60% since 2013. There has been an increase in the number of young people starting Foundation Apprenticeships. In 2018, over 1,500 young people were enrolled compared with just 63 in 2014, the baseline figure. Female participation in STEM Foundation Apprenticeships has also increased to 20.6% in 2018 – up from 8.1% in 2016. The proportion of ‘looked after/care experienced’ children in positive destinations nine months after leaving school (and entering further and higher education) is 76.0% in 2016/17. This is an increase of 6.7 percentage points since the baseline figures were recorded in 2012/13. The employment rate for young disabled people increased by 8.0 percentage points from 35.2% (Jan-Dec 2014) to 43.2% for the same period in 2017. A midterm review by the Education and Skills Committee in 2018 submitted further recommendations to enhance the performance of some indicators.

Potential as a Transferable Model

Developing Young Workforce could very well serve as a model to nations that are interested to align their educational systems with the market requirements to build a skilled young workforce and tackle youth unemployment. As this policy is embedded in strategies for the transition into a green, sustainable and low carbon economy and building a fair society, it could be an inspiration to all jurisdictions that are committed to move towards this goal with the help of a well-skilled youth workforce and committed employers.

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