Access and Progression Routes: Supporting Youth Employment for the Rural and Social Economy

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 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 is a barrier to Further and Higher education for many families, and/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 – Continues to be a major issue for many rural and island communities on the West of Scotland.


Education has been a catalyst for ongoing clearance from rural areas. Some of the main reasons that young people leave rural communities in the context of education include; promise of more opportunities with a University Degree, encouragement to leave to seek your future, lack of contextualisation of education to local economic opportunities and/or feelings of failure for not going away or returning.  Some areas are doing much better than others, such as ie Na h-Eileanan (Western Isles) who have taken a proactive role in contextualising and supporting 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 Social Enterprise Census). Additionally, there are serveral examples of community-led and social enterprises providing progression opportunities such as interns and graduate opportunities from across the Sector and particularly from a rural context (e.g. HIE Graduate Employment Programme, Kickstart Scheme and Young Person’s Guarantee delivery).


Inspiralba have undertaken some 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 work included a presentation at the Scottish Rural Parliament, Rural Economy Session which highlighted that:


‘Whilst we are beginning to see a more joined-up approach and increasing focus on the provision of on-the-job training and apprenticeships, there are still gaps in terms of the rural economy. The frameworks developed work-based 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 much-needed capacity and succession planning.  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 needs of the community-led sector across Scotland (including community land owners and development trusts) in terms of capacity building and succession planning. At the same time, our sector can provide quality work-based learning opportunities to attract and retain young people.  There are certainly other apprenticeships which would be of value to the Sector such as accountancy, but the business management option is most transferrable. There is scope for some improvement which would look to include relevant content which focusses on the social enterprise and rural economy (e.g., collective leadership, social impact, renewables and land ownership). In addition to this, there is an opportunity 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:

Inspiralba has secured funding for a very small pilot project, which can support 4 Graduate Apprenticeships from 2023 to 2025.

The project is funded through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund with support from Argyll and Bute Council. This will cover the 1st year salary costs as well as oncosts and a small IT budget.  Currently, 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 providing scope for learning key skills for the social economy.  This approach fits well with the Scottish Government’s Community Wealth Building and Wellbeing Economy frameworks as well as rural sustainability objectives. This project can assist in addressing key challenges such as depopulation and skills shortages for our communities.  We would be very keen to hear from community-led 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.


For more information please contact