Speech: Employability Debate, 8th January 2013

My first opportunity to speak in the Chamber in 2013 was in a Finance Committee debate on employability. I’ve placed the speech below for those interested.

Although I am a member of the Finance
Committee now, I was not a member when it
heard evidence on employability. However, as
other members have attested to, employability ties
in with many other issues across our
constituencies—not the least of which is multiple
Some people may think that areas of multiple
deprivation are located only in urban areas and
that regions such as the Highlands and Islands are
somewhat immune from its worst effects. That
could not be further from the truth. As the
Government’s Scottish index of multiple
deprivation shows, Caithness, Ross-shire,
Inverness, the Western Isles, Argyll and Bute and
Orkney—to name but a few—all contain data
zones that have been identified as being among
the most deprived parts of Scotland. That
becomes more alarming when we consider that
the data zones in rural Scotland often cover very
large areas that perhaps mask even more acute
problems in certain towns and villages. Although
the Government has produced its own SIMD data
map, which is useful for examining the issue,
Holyrood magazine recently highlighted a Google
map that had been overlaid with the SIMD data
and which provides an easier snapshot of
deprivation. I cannot recommend it highly enough
to colleagues.
A key message that came out of the evidence
sessions, and for which I have much sympathy, is
that it is important to place employability in the
wider context. As others have emphasised in
today’s debate, employability is not about getting
people into just any job, but is about finding the
right job for the right person and helping to make it
as easy as possible for long-term benefits to be
accrued by, and confidence to be instilled in,
people who may have been looking for a job for
some time. In my opinion, that must mean a strong
focus on the small and medium-sized enterprise
sector. In my experience—both as an employee of
small businesses and as an employer—the trust,
responsibility and camaraderie that are gained
through working for a small business can be worth
their weight in gold to employees.
I believe that Highlands and Islands Enterprise
was right to point to its work with Nigg Skills
Academy and the Social Enterprise Academy in
helping to establish learning and employment
opportunities in the Highlands and Islands, as well
as to its work on supporting the region’s small
businesses that hope to grow. Employment can
take on many different guises—it is not always the
direct Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 route—and it is
vital that we support those from every possible
However, I acknowledge the issues that have
been raised by the Federation of Small
Businesses, whose evidence pointed out that
small businesses often recruit on an informal or
personal basis rather than as part of any national
scheme. In addition, many employers in my region
employ seasonally, which adds another layer of
complexity to the debate. The FSB has also
recently provided further evidence on the barriers
that small businesses in the Highlands and Islands
face. It is an extraordinarily good read that
highlights some of the problems that we face in
overcoming such barriers.
In conclusion, I thank every organisation that
gave evidence on employability to the committee
last year, and I thank the then members of the
committee for their work. It is vital that Parliament
continue to examine issues that affect
communities across the country where, through
our actions and attention, we can bring about the
necessary change.
I will add a final comment on Hanzala Malik’s
criticism of the Government for challenging the
colleges. We cannot have change without change.
From evidence that I have received, I can say that
young people have been let down by those selfsame colleges, so we have to investigate that and
make change happen. That is part of what we need to achieve here; I hope that we do it.