Scotland Policy Conferences

Since lockdown, we have been organising our full programme of conferences online. We will continue online until further notice, to ensure we play our part in helping our employees and delegates to remain safe during this time. We are pleased that so many key stakeholders, policymakers and other interested parties - both old friends and new delegates - are taking up the opportunity to discuss public policy issues and network at our impartial seminars. New events are coming on to our conference programme all the time. So there are plenty of opportunities for you to join us if you haven’t already, from wherever you are. For booking-related queries, or information on speaking, please email us at or contact us using one of the following numbers: +44 (0)7538736244 / +44 (0)7503591880 / +44 (0)7951044809.
For delegates already booked on, we will send you the online joining instructions (including links, event numbers and passwords) five working days before your conference. If you cannot find these in your inbox please email

Policy priorities for meeting Scotland’s skills needs and next steps for apprenticeships

Morning, Thursday, 26th August 2021

***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will discuss priorities for meeting Scotland’s skills needs, and the next steps for delivering apprenticeships.

The conference is taking place in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the UK’s exit from the EU, which have both had an impact on the Scottish labour market and the attraction of overseas talent to the country.

It also follows several relevant developments, including the report from the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board on measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the labour market, as well as the report from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery on the impact of learning loss during the pandemic.

This conference will include discussion on:

  • the role of skills in driving post-pandemic recovery in Scotland
  • supporting the transition to net zero and preparing for the jobs of the future
  • priorities for education and apprenticeships in driving up skills
  • skilled overseas labour and the impact of new migration system on the labour market

The agenda:

  • Key priorities for skills development to support Scottish businesses and industry
  • Harnessing skills development for driving post-pandemic recovery
  • Preparing Scotland’s workforce for the future - skills shortages, investing in key sectors, dovetailing with the transition to net zero, and supporting sustainable growth
  • The role of education and apprenticeships in driving up skills in Scotland - lifelong learning, work placements, online courses and accreditation, and ensuring students learn skills relevant for the workplace
  • Overseas labour and skilled migrants in Scotland post-Brexit - experience with adjusting to the new migration system, impact on labour market, and policy priorities moving forward
  • Next steps for skills in Scotland

Areas for discussion:

Key priorities for skills development - in order to support Scottish businesses, industry and post-pandemic recovery:

  • sectors hit hardest:
    • targeting support for upskilling in sectors such as creative industries, tourism and hospitality
    • supporting preparation to meet possible future threats to public health in Scotland through skills development and driving recruitment for healthcare staff
  • improving productivity:
    • driving up key skills in leadership, team management and other areas that support productivity
    • ensuring skills are properly matched to roles that can bring the most benefit to businesses
    • digital skills and the role of smart use of technology and data in speeding up business operations
    • priorities for Scottish infrastructure and connectivity

Preparing Scotland’s labour market for the future:

  • skills shortages and key sectors:
    • strategies for improving the labour market skills pool to support the growth of sectors such as construction, data, and AI
    • ways to incorporate digital learning into curriculums, encouraging a diverse workforce in tech occupations
    • driving up the domestic pipeline of talent for construction and healthcare
  • the net-zero transition:
    • assessing the skills needed for supporting a green infrastructure in Scotland
    • the role of education on climate change and renewable energies in school curriculums in attracting skilled young people to train for sustainable occupations
    • driving up support, re-skilling resources and opportunities for those in industries facing challenges due to the transition

Next steps for education, apprenticeships and work placements:

  • lifelong learning:
    • priorities for encouraging and supporting adult learning in Scotland, improving opportunities to learn about new training opportunities
    • how best to target support to those under threat of redundancy or working in sectors facing changing working practices, automation and struggling with the net-zero transition
  • online courses and accreditation:
    • priorities for driving the recognition of bite-sized learning by employers
    • driving up support for businesses to upskill staff
    • evaluating the effectiveness of the Flexible Workplace Development Fund
    • next steps for partnerships between learning providers, Scottish government and businesses

Overseas labour and skilled migrants:

  • new migration system:
    • experience so far with navigating the post-Brexit immigration rules
    • impact on labour market skills shortages
    • policy priorities for ensuring the migration system supports Scotland’s skills needs
  • visa exemptions:
    • the impact of the recent exemption for the fishing industry
    • outlook for further opportunities for supporting sectors reliant on overseas talent, such as social care and construction
  • areas and regions of concern:
    • assessing the proposals of place-based immigration policy for tackling depopulation and skills shortages in Scotland’s rural areas
    • discussing logistics for matching skilled migrants with opportunities in struggling regions
    • other support needed for migrants making the transition, such as the role of integration and social networks in supporting retention

Key policy developments:

  • recent developments on ways to harness skills development to support post-COVID-19 recovery in Scotland:
    • a report from the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board, recommending:
      • improvements of the flexibility of colleges and universities to offer short courses on the skills needed by employers in areas such as artificial intelligence, automation skills supporting the transition to net-zero
      • expansion of opportunities for young people to find information on jobs and training online
      • broadening apprentice provision by harnessing virtual education and providing more off-the-job training opportunities in circumstances where employers are not able to accommodate learning in the workplace
    • a report from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery, recommending:
      • urgently addressing the learning loss created by the pandemic to ensure it does not lead to long-term exacerbation of skills shortages in Scotland
      • guarding colleges and universities from the financial impact of the pandemic and supporting their ability to continue to upskill the population
      • prioritising apprenticeship training by deepening collaboration between universities, colleges and businesses and investing in online learning
  • Raising Scotland’s Economic Growth Rate - a recent report from Oxford Economics consultancy, commissioned by the Hunter Foundation:
    • analysing changes to be made to the Scottish economy to enable it to meet the challenges of the future
    • finding around a fifth of graduates to be working in non-graduate roles and over a third of employers employing graduates to be over-qualified for their roles
    • recommending:
      • Scottish education policy to be aligned with the needs of employers and businesses
      • greater encouragement of lifelong learning and upskilling
      • a focus on management skills and preparing the workforce for the technologies of the future
  • developments around overseas talent in Scotland following the end of the Brexit transition period and the UK’s transition to a point-based immigration system:
    • proposals for a Scottish Visa - to mitigate against the impact of the end of freedom of movement in the UK by giving Scotland more powers to tailor immigration policies to meet the needs of the Scottish economy
    • the recent report from the Expert Advisory Group on Migration and Population - proposing models for a rural migration pilot in Scotland that would relax the conditions for the Skilled Worker Route for overseas skilled workers in areas hardest hit by depopulation, such as rural and remote regions in Scotland, and help these areas meet their skills needs in occupations of strategic importance
    • the announcement of new immigration rules which will make it easier to recruit staff for the Scottish fish industry - with deckhands on large fishing vessels with three or more years of experience to be eligible for skilled worker visas
  • A Changing Nation: how Scotland will thrive in a digital world - a recent Digital Strategy from The Scottish Government for driving up Scotland’s capacity in the digital landscape, including through boosting digital skills by:
    • ensuring that digital skills are well embedded in education and aligned with the development of a new National Digital Learning Strategy for Scotland
    • establishing a Data Science Competencies Centre for boosting the adoption of new technologies in the public sector
  • developments around ensuring Scotland has the skills for making the transition to net zero, including:
    • the recently updated Climate Change Plan from The Scottish Government - committing Scotland to a green recovery from COVID-19, for instance through creating more green jobs and improving access to them through training and re-skilling
    • Skills Development Scotland’s first ever Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan (2020-2025) - outlining key actions for ensuring Scotland has the skills needed for effecting a just transition to net-zero, including measures such as:
      • the launch of a Green Jobs Workforce Academy for supporting individuals to upskill and reskill to ensure they are able to gain employment in emerging green jobs
      • improving understandings of the range and types of green jobs needed in Scotland over the next 25 years through the establishment of a Green Jobs Skills Hub
    • the recent Vision and Action plan for developing green datacentres and improving Scotland’s terrestrial fibre connectivity, coupled with ambitions to drive up engineering and datacentre management skills to support this
  • the Flexible Workforce Development Fund 2020/21 - with Phase Two recently rolled out, providing Scottish SMEs access to training up to the value of £5,000 from the Open University to help upskill employees and support staff development

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

Overall, we expect speakers and attendees to be a senior and informed group including Members of both Houses of Parliament, senior government and regulatory officials involved in this area of policy, as well as from business and industry leaders, human resources personnel, higher education institutes, skills platforms and training providers, local government, charities and youth outreach programs, science and technical centres, lawyers, school programme coordinators, researchers from academia and higher education, together with reporters from the national and specialist media.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording and transcript to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Senior speaker confirmed from Skills Development Scotland


Wendy Chamberlain MP

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip and Spokesperson for Scotland, Wales and Work and Pensions

Douglas Chapman MP

Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Small Business, Enterprise and Innovation)


Dr Matthew Barr

Lecturer in Information Studies, and Programme Director, Graduate Apprenticeship in Software Engineering, University of Glasgow

Dr Ken Thomson OBE

Principal, Forth Valley College of Further and Higher Education

Jon Buglass

Head of Creative Industries, Edinburgh College

John Stewart

Director of HR, SSE

Jamie Kerr

Partner, Burness Paull

Paul Campbell

Head of Learning and Organisational Development, Scottish Water

Marie Hendry

Depute Director for External Engagement and Partnerships, The Open University in Scotland

Alison Muckersie

Programme Lead, DDI Skills Gateway, City Region Deal, Data Driven Innovation Initiative, University of Edinburgh

Ian Hughes

Strategic Partnerships Director, Construction Industry Training Board

Dr Liz Cameron

Director, Scottish Chamber of Commerce

Councillor Altany Craik

Convener for Economy and Tourism, Member of the Strategic Planning and Transport Committee, Fife Council

Mike Park

Chief Executive, Scottish Whitefish Producers Association