By Dr Liz Cameron OBE, Chief Executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce
One lesson that has emerged from the difficulties of the pandemic is that adaptability means survivability.
As the economy begins to open up we are not quite getting to normal yet, but this is the environment in which we must work. Now is the time to identify and implement the right ideas for ensuring the health of the economy and getting people back into jobs.
The Scottish Chambers of Commerce has consulted widely on how the business landscape should look in the future. We have called for the development of a clear Scottish economic strategy that brings together the many disparate threads of business support so we are all clearly pulling in the same – and right – direction.
Preventing unemployment must be a priority for all. Our recent quarterly economic indicator – one of the longest-running research series of its kind in the UK – highlighted the challenge, particularly in relation to the jobs market. Every sector of the economy reported negative employment expectation levels, laying bare the urgent challenge for businesses to retain employees and protect jobs.
The UK Government’s flagship Kickstart scheme, which subsidises six-month work placements for people on Universal Credit aged between 16 and 24, is a practical step that will protect existing employment while creating new opportunities. The jobs retention bonus scheme is an attractive incentive for employers to maintain thousands of jobs currently being protected by the furlough scheme.
But these must be integrated with Scotland-specific initiatives. First and foremost, as support mechanisms proliferate, we must ensure they are clearly marked and easy to access to avoid confusion so the path for job-seekers is clear. Government needs to work closely with business to achieve this.
The question, “what are businesses telling us they need?’, should be primary when designing interventions. It is also imperative the focus remains on practical ideas that have been proven to work.
Looking at skills needed for the future and recovery, young people in particular face missing out key years at the start of their career, and must be supported. But nor must we lose sight of the wider workforce, including those adults with few or no qualifications, or minority groups that will be disproportionately affected by their reliance on hospitality and other industries currently in a fragile state.
Projects such as an employer recruitment incentive targeted towards small and medium-sized enterprises to encourage them to hire from specific groups of the workforce – for example, school-leavers or recently unemployed young people – is one potential approach. This could be based on the graduate recruitment incentive model which we operated in partnership with the Scottish Government in 2014, which created 400 new graduate-level jobs within six months. More than 90 per cent of graduates were retained in jobs with small businesses.
If this could be adopted in this environment, training would be essential with the employee undertaking short modular courses that meet the needs of the business or sector. Fast and immediate training, defined as being within three months, on digital skills, marketing, selling and remodelling our businesses through e-commerce, logistical distribution, business development, identification of and working in international markets, are just a few examples that would support business recovery.
We need to transform the economy by redesigning and embracing the new dynamic post-Covid and post-Brexit. By working together and accepting this, every one of us has a responsibility to one another to rebuild in a safe environment.