SCOTLAND’S business, fair work and skills minister was in Shetland on Thursday and Friday to see local enterprises aimed at getting young folk into the workplace.
Jamie Hepburn’s visit came months after the launch of the Fair Start Scotland programme intended to give 38,000 youngsters, who are “quite far removed” from the labour market, support over three years prior to and during employment.
The minister commended social enterprise COPE for “the fantastic work they do with people with learning disabilities getting the skills to get into the world of work”, during a visit to its headquarters at Gremista in Lerwick on Thursday. The company, he said, could possibly prove a role model for other areas.
He also visited the Bridges Project and the Lerwick job centre which refers youngsters with difficulties to the Fair Start Scotland programme delivered locally for PeoplePlus by LifeSKILLS, which he was due to visit on Friday along with Ocean Kinetics.
Hepburn said that Fair Start Scotland was set up under newly devolved responsibilities and that £96 million had been set aside for the programme, far more than had been previously made available by Westminster for such work under the previous work programme.
“We recognised we needed to put additional investment into it. It is designed to support 38,000 people with a range of barriers to employment, primarily health related barriers to getting into work,” he added.
The MSP said that Fair Start Scotland in Shetland was fully financed under the Highlands and Islands contract package, but could not disclose the exact numbers in the programme as yet.
“I am very pleased with the number of people being referred into the programme. It’s a significant number of people here in Shetland being supported through Fair Start Scotland,” the minister added.
COPE employability manager Alison Moar described it as a “very positive visit”.
She added: “It’s given us the opportunity to show the minister exactly what COPE is about. Everyone who works at COPE is passionate about giving people with learning disabilities and autism the opportunity to participate in a supportive and inclusive environment which is free from stigma and discrimination.
“Our vision is to employ more people with learning disabilities and its been a great chance to discuss this with the minister and look at ways to support us to achieve this.”
Moar added that Shetland was a small community and COPE needed to work together with other agencies to achieve this.