Whilst out, across the constituency, conversations with businesses have made it obvious that our potential is being held back because of workforce shortages. Thanks to Brexit, they no longer have a pool of EU nationals who could use free movement to help, and until Scotland can re-join the EU, it has never been more important to encourage our own young people to stay – and others to come here.
Some good news is that a newly published annual report shows that a record 94.3% of Scotland’s 16 to 19-year-olds are in education, training, or employment. No mere statistic but a testament to the resilience, ingenuity, and adaptability of our young people, especially following the Covid-19 pandemic. Young adults in employment are also up from 17.5% last year to 21.4% and, pleasingly, the ‘attainment’ gap has narrowed for young people from the most deprived areas.
This news has implications for us here. Historically, our region has grappled with the trend of young talent leaving in search of opportunities elsewhere. This talent drain often results in our young people heading elsewhere, diminishing not just our workforce but also the vibrant cultural fabric that makes the Highlands unique.
It is essential to acknowledge the role that local communities, businesses, councils, and third-sector organisations have played in this success. Innovative programmes and partnerships have given our young people the tools they need to succeed and it’s energising to witness the effects.
And there should be lots of further opportunities for them, as another report, the brand new quarterly Local Business Pulse Index (LBPI), highlights.
KPMG’s Karl Edge, explained, “The index allows for comparisons between local areas in Scotland, determining whether goals are being achieved – and identifying crucial gaps – for example, while business creation may be driving growth in certain regions of Scotland, it may also indicate the need for more efforts to foster research and innovation.”
The report data showed that much of Scotland is attracting above-average levels of research and innovation and business investment compared with the UK, and high levels of investment are being seen across the Highlands with similarly high expectations of growth in business investment, and firms facilitating flexible working with new digital infrastructure.
We can’t, however, rest on these laurels. There are critical issues of accommodation and developing infrastructure that retains and attracts, amongst other challenges. There is hard work still to be done.