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February 7, 2023

Reversing the brain-drain

The gradual depopulation of our rural communities is in many respects a trend mirrored around the world. The lure of better employment and educational opportunities is often too strong to resist and combined with the perennial lack of affordable housing many of our young people don’t even feel they have a choice. Inspiralba, a community-led economic development organisation based in Campbeltown, are aiming to reverse the brain-drain of local talent with a scheme that gives young people the chance to continue to live locally, to work for their community and to gain qualifications all at the same time.


Access and progression routes, supporting youth employment for the rural and social economy 

Context setting: 

  • Skills shortages – businesses struggling to recruit and retain staff post Brexit
  • Aging Workforce and board members –  many community led and social enterprises have older senior staff and older board members, with succession planning a priority for many.
  • Post pandemic – recognition of value of community and natural assets.
  • Cost of living crisis – additional financial burden a barrier to Further and Higher education for many families, or young people starting their working career with significant debt (meaning access to housing in rural areas even more of a challenge)
  • Depopulation and Demographic change continue to be a major issue for many rural and island communities on the West of Scotland.  

Education has been a catalyst for ongoing clearance; promise of more opportunities with a University Degree, encouragement to leave to seek your future, lack of contextualisation of education to local economic opportunities, feelings of failure for not going away or returning sited by many young people.  (Some areas doing much better, ie Na h-Eileanan (Western Iles) having taken a proactive role to contextualise and support the local economy and young people to maximise local opportunities).

Community led and social enterprises have a proven track record and commitment to supporting employability and access opportunities, (as evidenced within SE census) as well as examples of progression opportunities eg interns and graduate opportunities, from across the sector.  Particularly from rural context (eg HIE Graduate employment programme, Kickstart and Young Persons Gaurantee delivery). 

Inspiralba have undertaken research and development work in relation to tackling depopulation working with a number of partners on the theme of access and progression routes for young people in the rural and social economy.  This included a main session at the Scottish Rural Parliament, Rural Economy Session which highlighted that: 

‘Whilst we are beginning to see a more joined-up and increasing focus on provision of on-the-job training and apprenticeships, there are still gaps in terms of the rural economy. The frameworks developed for in work learning (particularly at Graduate Apprenticeship level) still focus predominantly on the needs of larger employers’.

There is an opportunity to explore the potential for partners to collaborate to ensure social, community led, micro and SME businesses which make up the majority of the rural economy have support for developing capacity and succession planning which is much needed.  Within our own work we support and promote access and progression routes for young people, with some of these opportunities outlined here:  

Graduate Apprenticeships

The Business Management Graduate Apprenticeship offers the opportunity to support the capacity building and succession planning needs of the community led sector across Scotland, including community land owners and development trusts.  At the same time our sector can provide quality work based learning opportunities to attract and retain young people.  There are other apprenticeships which would be of value in the sector such as accountancy, but the business management option is most transferrable.  With scope for some improvement to include relevant content which focusses on the social enterprise and rural economy, (eg, collective leadership, social impact, renewables and land ownership), with scope for our sector to inform ongoing development of the Apprenticeship frameworks.  

Further information on Graduate apprenticeship in Business Management:  From September 2021, all new apprentices are funded by Scottish Funding Council with applicants being required to submit a SAAS funding application for each year of study.

Examples of social enterprises employing young people via the Graduate Apprenticeship programme include;

Funding has been secured for a very small pilot, to support ar 4 Graduate Apprenticeships 2023-2025 with UK Shared Prosperity Fund with support via Argyll and Bute Council, covering first year salary costs.  There has been positive buy in from Development Trusts and Community Land organisations offering to support these posts for the full 4 years.  

There is an opportunity to further develop this model and maximise impact more widely, delivering quality employment and training opportunities for young people and in doing so providing scope for learning key skills for the social economy.  This approach fits well with the Scottish Governments Community Wealth building and Wellbeing Economy frameworks as well as with rural sustainability objectives and can assist in addressing key challenges such as depopulation and skills shortages for our communities.  We would be very keen to hear from community and social enterprises on whether you have engaged in supporting Graduate Apprenticeships or if this is something that would be of value for your organisation

Ailsa Clark, Inspiralba, Feb 2023