EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

ScottishPower, UK: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – early school-leavers


United Kingdom
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integrating people at risk of exclusion into the labour market

The energy company ScottishPower runs a number of schemes aimed at improving the employment opportunities of young people in the areas in which it operates. In particular, the Skillseeker programme helps 16 and 17 year olds with limited academic qualifications to move from school or unemployment to sustainable employment or further education. Over the 10 years of the initiative, ScottishPower and a number of its business partners have taken on many of those passing through the Skillseekers training.

Organisational background

ScottishPower is a utility company operating mainly in the United Kingdom but with operations also in the US, Canada and Ireland. The company is involved in the generation, distribution and sale of electricity as well as gas retail distribution. In 2005–2006, the company recorded revenues of £5.4 billion (€7.92 billion as at 7 May 2007) and made pre-tax profits of £675 million (about €990 million). ScottishPower has around 8,900 employees in the UK.

The company recognises all the main trade unions representing the energy industry: the technical and professional union Amicus, the public services’ union Unison, the managers’ and specialists’ union Prospect, the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G) and the GMB general union. According to the company’s latest annual report, 57% of UK employees are trade union members while 82% of the workforce are covered by collective bargaining.

The government’s main policy initiative in the field of getting young people at risk of exclusion into the labour market has been the ‘New Deal for young people’. This targets young people aged 18–24 years old who have been out of work and claiming jobseekers’ allowance for at least six months. The policy initiative has also tried to link in vocational educational provision more closely with employers’ needs through the Employer Training Pilot schemes and the Sector Skills Agreements. Moreover, the government has focused its learning and training initiatives through the national Learning and Skills Councils and its regional bodies.

Description of the initiative

ScottishPower set up ScottishPower Learning (SPL) in 1996 to run a range of learning, training and employability initiatives aimed at young people in areas of deprivation and high unemployment. These initiatives were also intended to benefit the company’s existing staff. Over 10,000 young people have so far benefited from the various schemes run by SPL. Since its inception, SPL has worked in partnership with a range of organisations that were used to dealing with young unemployed people and young school-leavers with low levels of qualifications.

ScottishPower’s top management endorses and monitors SPL programmes. The company’s chief executive sets targets and approves the budget. SPL is part of the company’s human resources (HR) department while having its own management structure; the latter comprises a director and two regional managers based in Cumbernauld in Lanarkshire in central Scotland and Hoylake in Merseyside in northwest England. SPL also has its own board of advisers which includes three senior managers and three senior trade union officials.

Skillseeker was the first main programme to be run by SPL and is now one of several initiatives aimed at young people in the communities where ScottishPower operates. The programme targets 16 and 17 year olds, who have limited or no academic qualifications and who come from socially and/or economically deprived areas. The aim is to help young people make the transition from school or unemployment into sustainable employment or further training.

In line with ScottishPower’s other community initiatives, the Skillseeker programme was established to provide extra help for young workers and not just to replace another initiative that was already available. This fits in with ScottishPower’s broader corporate social responsibility (CSR) objectives of making a positive contribution to the local communities where it operates.

The Skillseeker scheme also means that, faced with a generally ageing workforce, ScottishPower and other companies can benefit from being able to recruit personnel from an increased pool of employable and skilled young workers.

Underpinning the scheme is a focus on personal development, interpersonal and general life skills’ training which help prepare young people for the work environment. With this as a foundation, the scheme’s participants can then take advantage of a wide range of training and educational courses in areas such as mechanical and electrical engineering, business administration, customer services and warehousing. All of these courses can lead to recognised Scottish or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

Some of the training, for example mechanical and electrical engineering skills, is provided by ScottishPower itself while other courses are delivered by local colleges or specialised training companies. Excluding management time, the company provides around £500,000 (€733,310) towards the Skillseeker programme but has also tapped into government and European sources to help fund the initiative. This includes EU financial support for a training centre in Wirral in northwest England and funding from the Greater Merseyside Learning and Skills Council.

The company also offers Skillseeker trainees and their families access to over 600 online learning programmes provided by its ‘Home Learning’ facility.

Each year, more than 30 ScottishPower employees are involved in the scheme as Skillseeker supervisors; on a day-to-day basis, they act as mentors to the young people participating in the programme.

The Skillseeker initiative is monitored on a monthly basis so that the company’s senior management team receives regular updates on the number of placements, in which sectors participants are working, how many of these have achieved qualifications and how the latest figures match company targets. The programme is also subject to official auditing by external bodies as well as to an assessment through feedback from individual trainees and focus groups. Both of these processes contribute to what the company describes as a continuous improvement action plan.


Since 1996, some 1,167 young people have participated in the Skillseeker programme, of whom 742 have secured some form of sustainable employment with 200 individuals having joined ScottishPower. The overall success rate of the scheme, including those moving into further education, currently stands at about 75%, although this figure rises to 84% when taking into account the last three years only.

The scheme has also made a difference to the 400 employees who have acted as Skillseeker supervisors. They have been able to develop coaching, counselling and communication skills and to gain a broader understanding of the needs of young people.

ScottishPower has integrated the scheme into its HR operations and ensured through a process of external audit, and internal review and assessment, that the scheme delivers relevant training for young people with few or no qualifications. The initiative is evaluated on a number of levels, including: quality and appropriateness of training; relevance of vocational skills in light of local and national developments; achievement of qualifications; rate of successful outcomes; progress of individual participants; and benefits to the company and to company employees who act as supervisors.

Skillseeker enjoys a high profile within the company, as it is monitored at senior director level and by senior trade union officials. The company’s communications department also ensures that information about the scheme is widely disseminated through the company’s intranet site and internal communication channels, as well as externally through press releases highlighting the programme’s successes and awards. The scheme’s success has been recognised externally: in 2002 and 2005, the Business in the Community (BITC) charity awarded the scheme with the ‘Example of excellence’ award; in 2006, Skillseeker won the BITC ‘Investing in young people big tick’ award.

Exemplary and contextual factors

ScottishPower’s Skillseeker programme is exemplary in terms of both its success in getting young people with no or poor academic qualifications into work and in the way it is run. The programme strongly focuses on monitoring and improvement. Moreover, it benefits from top-level endorsement by senior directors and the input from a joint management and trade union advisory board. It is also directly integrated into the company’s HR structure and is thus not just a stand-alone community initiative.

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