• Chris King

Focus on the High Street : Part 3

Updated: Aug 2, 2019

Attracting & Retaining: How Scotland’s highly-skilled workforce can support the turnaround of the high street.

Part 3 of a series analysing the Scottish High Street.

At a glance

- Approximately 161,000 people are currently employed in the Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) sector in Scotland.

- Approximately 119,000 students studying KIBS subjects at Universities across Scotland.

- Scotland has one of the highest qualified workforces in the United Kingdom and in Europe. (Centre for Cities, 2019) (National Office for Statistics, 2014).


In Part 1 of the Focus on the High Street series we examined the underlying cause of high street decline in Scotland and the UK. The underlying cause, contributing to high street decline, is the lack of a proper high street business mix. For a high street to flourish it needs the majority of its properties to be zoned for offices, attracting financial and business services companies to the high street. The more companies that are located in the city centre, the more people that will be in the city centre throughout the workweek, resulting in increased footfall for high street businesses.

In Part 2 we examined the types of companies that cities should attract to their city centres. Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) are business services like accounting, law, and consultancy which generate large amounts of revenue to the Scottish and UK economies and employ large numbers of people, mainly in city centres. We identified a correlation between the percentage of high street properties which were vacant, the amount of high-quality office space, and the number of KIBS in a city centre. The more high-quality office space that a city has, the more KIBS it attracts to its city centre. The more KIBS there are in a city centre, the less vacant high street properties there are.


If developing more high-quality office space attracts KIBS companies back to the city centre and, in-turn, results in a positive impact on the high street, then the next piece of the high street puzzle is the people themselves. Workers are one of the most important components of any business. For businesses to thrive, simply having enough workers is not sufficient, they also need the right type of workers. Companies need highly-skilled individuals that specialise in the services offered by that particular organisation.

Having both highly-skilled workers and the KIBS companies to support them are equally important. Just as high-quality office space is attractive for KIBS companies, so too is having a pool of highly-skilled and educated workers to recruit from. Highly-skilled workers, students, and recent university graduates are attracted towards places where there are professional opportunities and career prospects. For cities to improve the fortunes of their high street, it will take a dual approach to attract companies and the highly-skilled workforce to support them.

How does Scotland’s workforce measure up?

Scotland’s educational prowess is widely known; in 2014 the National Office for Statistics showed Scotland had the “most highly educated country in Europe”. In 2019, the Centre for Cities published research on the percentage of the working age population with a qualification at NVQ4 or above, to assess the skills and ability of a city’s workforce (NVQ4 encompasses qualifications such as HNC, HND, Graduate Certificates & Diplomas, and Bachelor’s Degrees).

Table 1: Highly-Skilled Working Age Population

As seen in Table 1, the results showed that Scotland’s workforce is more than adequately skilled when compared to other major cities across the UK. Notable mentions within this list are Edinburgh and Aberdeen, coming behind only Oxford and Cambridge, and outperforming London. Glasgow and Dundee also performed very well, coming in above the national average, and outperforming major UK cities like Belfast, Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, and Birmingham. Scotland’s capacity to provide an educated and skilled workforce is a desirable trait, that many domestic and global companies would be interested in.

With over 161,000 workers currently employed in the Knowledge Intensive Business Services (KIBS) sector in Scotland, it is important for the other cities to leverage this highly-skilled Scottish workforce to attract, sustain, and grow a KIBS industry, like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Dundee.

Linkages with Universities

Scottish cities and towns looking to attract talented KIBS employees should examine their existing and potential links to Scottish Universities. With 4 Scottish Universities in the Top 200 of the 2019 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, there are many students as well as alumni to satisfy even the world’s largest companies. As can be seen from Table 2 below, the Scottish cities with a strong presence from established university institutions provide a significant resource for KIBS companies located in those cities. This is not that surprising, as there are currently over 119,000 students in Scotland enrolled in degrees within KIBS fields, providing a steady stream of qualified potential employees entering the workforce. However, this shouldn’t be limited to cities with the larger, well-known universities – all cities with universities and even those located nearby to cities with universities should be able to benefit from this resource.

Table 2: Highly-Skilled Working Age Population & THE World University Ranking

By developing a rapport with local Universities and engaging with various student placement programs that Universities administer, businesses throughout Scotland can encourage recent graduates to remain locally in smaller towns and cities to take advantage of employment opportunities. This will assist companies in filling graduate programs and promote fast-tracking of graduates towards sustained careers, help retain knowledge and skills to benefit local communities, and support other businesses in the area. Student placements and graduate schemes can also provide additional benefits for cities and towns outside the major Scottish cities, helping to lower the average age of the local population and encouraging new generations to stay.

Modern Apprenticeships and Skills Development Scotland

As a large proportion of Scotland’s population lives, works, and is educated, in the central belt (Edinburgh and Glasgow), many young people living throughout Scotland feel the “pull” to relocate there. For the cities and towns that don’t have a major university or education centre on their doorstep, there are still many options available to educate and train talented individuals locally and provide identifiable professional opportunities for future employment. Organisations like Skills Development Scotland provide a wide range of services that helps connect the learning needs and objectives of students with the skills and workforce requirements of businesses. Similarly, the general apprenticeship model can help businesses to connect with young people and secondary students to fill vacancies, enabling them to train potential full-time employees with the requisite skills, values and culture of the organisation.

Additional avenues for training and education, and employment opportunities upon graduation, encourages younger people to stay locally and support their local communities. Being able to attract and retain skilled employees to towns and cities, encourages KIBS to relocate to these areas and setup permanent establishments. This promotes diverse city centres, further boosting local economies and establishes an attractive investment opportunity for future growth industries and infrastructure projects. All of these, ultimately, benefitting the high streets, other local businesses and the wider community in smaller town and cities across Scotland.

If you are a company looking to develop a relationship with your local university or recruit local graduates, we can help connect you to the right people and resources available.

Strathearn Strategic Consulting


+44 (0) 7913 413 699