The modern Scottish Parliament has now existed for over 20 years. It was set up with considerable powers over many areas of public policy, which have twice been extended further. The Parliament now has (almost) full control over income tax, education and skills, justice or health. These are huge swathes of policy, impacting individuals’ wellbeing as well as the economy as a whole.

These powers allow Scotland to chart a different course to the rest of the UK, for better or worse. In areas of relevance to the CIPD as an organisation, and the people profession as a whole, we can find several examples of where the rest of the UK is playing catchup. The potential for two-way learning is huge and is one of the reasons why we have boosted our public policy presence in Scotland.

But two-way learning does not just apply to the two governments. It also applies to the people profession in Scotland and our policymakers – be it politicians, advisers or researchers. The people profession sits at the heart of delivering policy initiatives in the world of work and has developed an unparalleled level of expertise that policymakers are keen to draw on. That’s why one of the first things the team in Scotland wants to do is to set up a Policy Forum as a mechanism for this two-way communication. We want to be able to accurately pass your views on to the relevant stakeholders and connect you to them at the highest level.

So what are the areas that we want to focus on over the next few months? There are probably three broad categories – fair work, skills and productivity. Across these three we can find instances of Scottish policy differing – sometimes significantly – or initiatives in Scotland that can serve as examples for policymakers in the rest of the UK.

Fair work

Improving job quality is at the heart of what the CIPD does. We believe that good work is fundamental to individual well-being, a fairer society and a strong economy. Policymakers and employers should aim to improve job quality across the workforce – not only pushing for more jobs, but better jobs too. Security of contract and salary levels are important components, but we also need to look beyond that to issues like flexible working, skills development opportunities, constructive employee-employer relationships and work-life balance.

The last few years have seen an increasing focus on job quality, especially following the work of Matthew Taylor in 2017. Several standards and charters have sprung up across cities in England, which nudge businesses towards thinking about job quality a bit more. However, Scotland got there first. The Fair Work Convention, set up and supported by the Scottish Government, has conceptualised fair work in 2016. The Scottish Government adopted this agenda and is applying fair work principles across its policy portfolios, with further rollouts planned in public procurement and grant funding.

The CIPD is planning to be a close partner to the FWC in the next phase of its work. Getting governments on board is of course only half the battle – the onus lies with businesses themselves. And that’s where rigorous research showing the benefits of job quality comes in – because good and fair work is not just a positive in and of itself, it correlates with higher job satisfaction, enthusiasm and effort. Having good data is important and that’s why 2020 will be the first year that the CIPD will publish a Working Lives Scotland report based on a survey with a boosted Scotland sample. This will offer a unique snapshot of job quality in Scotland and will be used to tease out recommendations for both practitioners and policymakers.


This is an area that is fully devolved which means the CIPD has a significant level of policy interest here. We know that Scotland has a highly skilled workforce, but many graduates end up in non-graduate jobs, with high rates of graduate over-qualification. This suggests that there is a need to provide a better balance between vocational and technical skills and academic qualifications. The introduction of foundation and graduate apprenticeships in Scotland was certainly welcome, as is our focus on quality rather than quantity of apprenticeship frameworks – something of increasing concern in England.

There is also a growing recognition that the development of so-called ‘essential skills’ is crucial in preparing young people for the workplace, with unique human skills being especially critical in the age of automation. We have linked up with Skills Development Scotland to discuss how we can contribute to their work on this.

One particular area of interest is lifelong learning. We know that much of the policy focus of recent years has centred on young people’s skills development. The speed of changes in the economy, combined with Scotland’s demographic challenges, makes it pivotal that policy – and more funding – is directed at developing models that allow for flexible lifelong skills development. Here again Scotland has differed to the rest of the UK as it still provides Individual Training Accounts for some workers’ continuous skills development. We plan to examine this and other initiatives closely and release a Future of Lifelong Learning in Scotland report later this year.


Productivity growth is critical if Scotland is to benefit from sustainable increases in living standards and pay. However, since the financial crash the UK and Scottish economies have experienced a productivity slow-down, compared to some of our key competitors. This has been attributed to a range of factors from innovation diffusion to infrastructure investment, but the so-called ‘productivity puzzle’ continues to attract the interest of academics and policymakers.

In this area too we can find initiatives that are unique to Scotland. The University of Strathclyde, for example, will over the next three years serve as a Productivity Hub to bring together institutions from all over the UK under a research project that links academics and practitioners to examine practical solutions that can shift the productivity dial. The CIPD will serve as a close partner to this work.

In addition, Glasgow was of course one of the pilot areas for the CIPD’s People Skills project, which provided advice to small businesses to improve their management capability – a lack of which has more recently been highlighted across productivity studies. We intend to use what we have learnt from this project and work with our members - particularly those in independent consultancy roles supporting SMEs – to help build people and development capability in smaller business.

There is certainly plenty to do. Fair work, skills and productivity are just a few broad areas where Scotland can lead the way and serve as an example to other parts of the UK. We now need to make sure the people profession and the CIPD are leading the way in the policy world of work in Scotland – and with your help we will.

About the author

Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser for Scotland

Marek joined the CIPD in October 2019. He leads the CIPD’s public policy work in Scotland, focusing primarily on fair work, skills and productivity. Prior to joining the CIPD, Marek spent nearly a decade working at the Scottish Parliament as a political adviser responsible for policy-making across devolved areas of public policy.

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