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Scotland urged to focus on vocational training

A leading Scottish businessman is calling for more vocational training in Scottish schools and a focus on apprenticeships.

Sir Ian Wood, a North Sea oil entrepreneur who transformed the size and fortunes of the Wood Group, believes the education system needs a shift in culture away from academic and towards vocational qualifications in order to provide suitably-trained people for the workforce.

His comments came in a report for the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Workforce, which he heads. In the report, Sir Ian stressed that businesses must become more active in creating apprenticeships and providing more work experience for school pupils.

He attacked what he called an “ingrained and ill-informed” view that training for vocational qualifications was an inferior option to going to university to study for a degree.

Sir Ian said: “We’ve got this horrible cultural thing that somehow everyone’s trying to see the ultimate success as being higher education and a degree, when our society and modern industry is changing – it’s a different world.

“The kind of skills required go right across the board and there’s clearly a lot more room to significantly enhance the vocational output from schools.”

This academic snobbery is not apparent in Europe and vocational qualifications are highly-prized in the Scandinavian countries, Germany and Austria, in particular. The Commission is keen to see a similar attitude in Scotland, and is calling for National Certificates to be taught in schools rather than confined to college courses as they are at present. Colleges, the Commission said, should also offer courses more focused towards the needs of industry.

The lack of support from some business leaders in training and employing school leavers was also highlighted by the Commission. A second report which will be published next year will concentrate on this.

Lauren Paterson, from CBI Scotland, told The Scotsman: “Although just over half of all young people in Scotland go to university already, we still need to expand and promote apprenticeships to equip young people with skills the economy needs.”