School leaving age should be scrapped in ‘lifelong learning revolution’
Ministers are being urged to scrap the current school leaving age of 16 and instead bring in a requirement that young people stay in learning, in either the classroom or the workplace, until they are 18.
The IPPR Scotland think tank made the call as it published a new report on the impact automation and ageing could have on the country.
Director Russell Gunson said: “Aside from Brexit, preparing for automation and ageing should be the top priority for Scotland.”
The additional investment in skills and training needed to prepare for automation could reach £250 million a year by 2025 – which it said should be split between the public and private sectors.
Almost half (46%) of all jobs in Scotland have the potential to be changed in the coming years as a result of automation – which has been dubbed the fourth industrial revolution.
At the same time, the increasing number of elderly people means there will need to be “significant increases in productivity” from the working population, the think tank added.
As part of what it termed a “revolution in lifelong learning”, IPPR Scotland called for the existing school leaving age to be replaced with “a new skills participation age of 18”.
In addition, it recommended everyone under the age of 21 should be involved in learning new skills in some way by 2025, and the Scottish Government introduce a new target of having 100,000 workers over the age of 25 involved in the skills system by then.
Meanwhile, it suggested up to 30,000 workers a year could benefit from an “enhanced individual training account”, providing them with £1,000 a year for training and skills.
IPPR Scotland said: “These recommendations would ensure Scotland was among the most-prepared countries in the world in getting ready to take the opportunities brought by automation, ageing and the economic change we face over the coming years.”
These changes could bring “significant reform to the skills system in Scotland, aiding Scotland’s ability to prepare for automation and ageing,” the report added.
In turn, this would help the country “transition from the economy of now to what we will need in the future”.
The IPPR Scotland report said currently “too many young people leave the skills system too soon, never to return”, going on to enter “low-paid and insecure work that for too many become low-paid and insecure careers”.
In Scotland, 14.9% of workers aged 16 to 24 are in “insecure employment” – which includes temporary jobs and zero hours contracts – as are 9% of those aged over 25.
The report called for those working to boost workers’ skills to do more to help employees in the middle of their careers.
The think tank also wants a committee on the future economy to be set up in Scotland, based on the one established in Singapore in 2016.
Mr Gunson said: “If the last 30 years have been, rightly, about expanding higher education to help Scotland to transition to a knowledge-led economy, then the next 30 years need to be about expanding lifelong learning to take the opportunities of automation and ageing.
“From our research, we believe that investment in education and training, and lifelong learning in particular, will be the single most important way to get Scotland ready to take the advantages coming our way through technological change.
“Scotland’s education and training system has some great strengths but it has a long way to go before it’s ready.
“There is no doubt that preparing for this scale of change will be expensive and won’t come cheap. However, the costs of not investing could be far more significant than doing so.”
The Scottish Government said it will consider the recommendations fully.
A spokesman said: “Ensuring Scotland has a skilled and productive workforce, both now and in future, is central to our ambitions for our labour market and economy.
“The IPPR’s report underlines the importance of Scotland’s skills system meeting our future skills needs, given the importance of issues such as changing workforce demographics, the potential impact of technological change and the great uncertainty brought about by Brexit.
“The report recognises that Scotland’s skills system is both on the right track and has strong foundations to build on.”