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Action plan to tackle rural skills gap launched

Increased use of remote learning and offering shared apprenticeships are some of the actions in the new plan.

Increased use of technology is part of an action plan to address skills gaps in rural areas (Openreach/PA)
Increased use of technology is part of an action plan to address skills gaps in rural areas (Openreach/PA)

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An action plan to address skills gaps in rural Scotland has been launched.

The plan, created by Skills Development Scotland and partners, found there are increased barriers to education and training in rural areas, particularly additional costs and limited opportunities to study locally.

The document also states that hard-to-fill vacancies are more prevalent in rural areas and fewer employers arrange or fund training.

Business growth in rural areas since 2010 is 13%, behind the national figure of 17%.

Among the actions listed in the plan to tackle skills issues in rural Scotland are increasing use of e-learning and digital technology to enable people to learn off campus.

Further actions include promotion and the extension of evening and weekend classes, and using shared apprenticeship models to encourage more small businesses to offer apprenticeships.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing launched the plan on a visit to Scotland’s Rural College Barony Campus in Dumfries.

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Fergus Ewing praised the new plan (Scottish Parliament/PA)

Mr Ewing said: “Faced with the fast-paced changes occurring in our workforce, it is absolutely vital that we ensure people continue to have the skills required to enable them to develop and succeed in their working life.

“The more skills an individual can develop and retain, the more opportunities that person will enjoy in life.

“With the rural economy being a major source of growth, nurturing key sectors such as food and drink, energy and the creative industries, this new approach will help individuals to develop the skills required for jobs across rural Scotland – both now and in the future.

“By better understanding the skills requirements of rural businesses, we can seek to provide more tailored, accessible education and training that will help to upskill and retain people in rural areas, which is essential for the future sustainability of our rural communities and businesses.”

Neville Prentice, senior director of service development and delivery at Skills Development Scotland, said: “This plan is co-designed by partners across agencies and industry to enhance understanding of the skills needs of rural Scotland, and to meet those needs through a broad range of complementary actions.

“That includes the provision of accessible education and training, upskilling and reskilling the current workforce, and building a secure skills pipeline for the future.”

Scottish Greens Rural Communities spokesman John Finnie said welcomed the plan and said superfast broadband would be key.

He said: “I’m pleased to see more resources being targeted toward improving opportunities for those in our rural communities.

“Digital learning will be key to ensuring that opportunities are available to everyone, it’s vital therefore that both the Scottish and UK Governments live up to their commitments and equip all our homes and businesses with access to superfast broadband so that nobody misses out on this opportunity.”

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