Skills Development Scotland has developed the Skills action plan for rural Scotland with the Scottish Government and other partners. The 2019-21 plan is part of the Scottish Government’s aim of providing education, training, and re-skilling to ensure a highly skilled workforce for the rural economy. Scotland’s Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board is tasked with coordinating all efforts in Scotland to improve skills and enterprise, with a view to increasing Scotland’s productivity and economic growth.

Focusing mainly on the rural areas, as well as the islands and more remote areas of Scotland, the Skills action plan has adopted a broad and holistic definition of rural skills. This includes the skills required within the traditional rural sectors (farming, fishing, and forestry), as well as in other industries such as energy, manufacturing, creative industries and tourism.  The plan seeks to focus on developing the skills required for jobs in rural areas – both now and in the future.

Rural Scotland faces challenges which could affect employers’ ability to recruit people they need to sustain and grow their business, and could also affect individuals’ opportunities to take up, sustain and progress in, quality work. Challenges may have both a direct impact on skills, such as the supply of people and qualifications, the nature of employment and the structure of the business base, and an indirect impact, such as the supply of housing, digital connectivity, access to transport and childcare, and wider issues of talent attraction and retention.

The Skills action plan for rural Scotland is seeking to determine and develop the skills required in rural Scotland, analysing all evidence available and working with stakeholders to implement the plan. Colleges have a key role to play in rural areas, in developing a highly educated and skilled workforce by providing a broad base of education, and vocational and work-based learning opportunities.

Five priority areas have been identified, which will facilitate the development of the skills base in rural Scotland:

  • better understanding the skills rural employers need and adjusting provision accordingly;
  • providing individuals with accessible education and skills to secure, sustain and progress in, their careers in rural areas;
  • developing the current workforce in rural areas through upskilling and reskilling;
  • building a secure pipeline for the future;
  • taking a coordinated, strategic approach to tackling skills in rural areas.

Each of these priority areas is accompanied by a number of complementary actions. All priority areas have actions specifically related to VET, particularly area (b), where actions include ‘pilot, monitor and evaluate new models of modern apprenticeship delivery’, with a shared apprenticeship pilot in agriculture already underway in the north-east, and further plans to pilot a forestry apprenticeship model to meet demand for forest machine operators. Other key actions include provision of a new pre-apprenticeship programme for young people, as well as a commitment by Scottish education bodies to work together to improve collaboration and joint design, as well as joint investment in the curriculum and programmes for rural skills. There is keen focus on the use of digital skills and flexible learning modes to achieve the aims of the action plan. For example, Dumfries & Galloway and Borders Colleges will be involved in the development of the South of Scotland Skills and Learning Network. This action is underway, and scheduled for infrastructure completion by 2020.

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Skills action plan for rural Scotland: 2019 – 2021, key issues and priority actions, June 2019