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A fairer economy is the goal of the Scottish government

Via apprenticeships and the ‘Fair Start Scotland’ scheme the SNP is enabling skills for the future, argues JAMIE HEPBURN

DELIVERING a fairer, prosperous economy which delivers for all of society is a priority for the Scottish government. And I know it is a priority for trade unions too. To achieve this, we want a fairer labour market and to continue to enhance the skills of our workforce.

This year will see us bringing forward a range of measures designed to further up-skill our workers and to help Scotland be the best performing nation possible.

Fair work is central to this, and by that I mean employment that offers more security, decent pay and a greater voice for workers in the companies whose wealth they help to create. Fair work is not only good in itself — it also helps drive innovation and productivity.

Our employment support service, Fair Start Scotland, launched in April last year is already helping over 7,000 people who want to find a job and to stay in work.

Fair Start Scotland is aimed at providing support to individuals who are furthest removed from the labour market. Between now and 2023, this service aims to support a minimum of 38,000 people across Scotland with personalised support as well as helping businesses find the skilled and committed employees they need to thrive.

The fact it is voluntary means people can choose to participate, rather than being driven by the fear of sanctions — and this, combined with a clear emphasis on treating people with fairness, dignity and respect, is something I know people value from the conversations I have with participants up and down the country.

We know some individuals need a bit more support to help them into employment. Fair Start Scotland is designed to provide that support so once people are in work, crucially, we help them to stay in work. This positive start means we are developing a sound basis for learning and continuous improvement to Scotland’s new employment support service.

It is especially important for me that our service has been designed nationally and delivered locally, ensuring it is tailored to the needs of individuals and local communities. Not only does this mean the standard of service provision is consistent across the country but it helps ensure that the service reflects the needs of the local economy and employers.

We are now working to deliver closer alignment and integration of the wider range of Scottish government employability support services, and those of our delivery partners — creating the conditions for better integration and alignment of how services are funded and delivered. This includes joining up with health, housing, justice and other areas to provide clearer pathways to sustainable employment.

And during extreme weather like we seen last winter, we need more protection for people who travel to work. Most employers made sensible and responsible decisions regarding their workers last year. While many businesses faced challenges, we were encouraged by the flexibility provided to staff.

However, not all employers acted as responsibly and sensitively as they should have, which is why we have developed the Severe Weather Charter which offers a sensible and responsible approach to balancing the safety of workers with service delivery when severe weather strikes.

This year our efforts are being further supported by a new partnership working agreement with Scotland’s local authorities, cementing our shared ambition to work towards an employability system which is better aligned and integrated and which works for everyone.

We have also set out ambitious plans to halve the disability employment gap. And this year will also see us continuing to work to close the gender pay gap, publishing a Future Skills Action Plan and developing Scotland as a world-leading Fair Work Nation.

Just over a decade ago Scotland only had 16,000 people undertaking Modern Apprenticeships. In 2020 we will have raised that number to 30,000 Modern Apprenticeship opportunities. We have also widened the types and levels of apprenticeships, from Foundation Apprenticeships right up to the newly introduced Graduate Apprenticeships. All of these provide young people with a great start to their working life.

Delivering on these ambitions will help ensure Scotland’s employment rate remains amongst the highest on record and our unemployment rate remains low — but we want to go even further, to help create better paying jobs and make sure all workers are properly rewarded.

That is the cornerstone of the fairer Scotland we are striving to create, and is an ambition which I’m proud to be part of.

Jamie Hepburn is a Scottish National Party politician serving as Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills.

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