Adviser on the Edge

careers in island communities: research, theory and practice


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Young People’s Attitudes and Aspirations in the Islands

So, over the last couple of months Highlands and Islands Enterprise have been publishing a range of reports on the attitudes and aspirations of young people in the Highlands and Islands. The research consisted of a survey of young people (aged 15-30), some online focus groups and consultations with a range of stakeholders (I’m rather proud to be named as one of the consulted stakeholders!). As well as a general report on aspirations and attitudes in the Highlands and Islands, separate reports have been completed for Orkney and Shetland, as well as for other areas.

Over the last week I have been reading and digesting these reports and in this blog will attempt to draw out some key findings.

Orkney and Shetland Stayers and Leavers

Firstly, and significantly for my research, the report categorises young people in terms of their planned migration statuses. These are summarised in the table below:

Which of the following best describes you?

Expressed in terms of % of total excluding potential returners, new residents

and none of the above

Shetland

(n=120)

Orkney

(n=211)

Highlands and Islands

(n=3607)

Committed stayer: I live in the H&I and I plan on living and working here 55 58 43
Reluctant stayer: I live in the H&I; I would prefer to leave but I don’t think I will be able to 3 6 5
Reluctant leaver: I live in the H&I; I would prefer to stay but I don’t think I will be able to live and work here 18 10 13
Committed leaver: I live in the H&I, but I plan to leave and live and work elsewhere 24 27 40

(adapted from HIE 2015a, HIE 2015b)

What we can see here is that young people in Orkney and Shetland are considerably more likely to be ‘committed stayers’ and less likely to be ‘committed leavers’. In Orkney young people are more likely to be stayers than in Shetland, and in Shetland there is a high proportion of reluctant leavers.

Curiously in both Orkney and Shetland the main towns (Lerwick and Kirkwall) have greater proportions of reluctant stayers, and less committed leavers or committed stayers than in the other (often more rural areas) or the islands. This suggests some regional variation within Orkney and Shetland.

When looking at future aspirations, the pattern of commitment to the islands remains marked, so over half of young people in the islands want to be in the islands in five years’ time (which compares to 36% for the Highlands and Islands region as a whole). These levels are even higher when young people are asked to consider where they wish to be by the age of 35 with 57% from Shetland and 65% from Orkney wanting to be in their local area (significantly higher than regional average of 33%).

Overall these figures demonstrate that young people in Orkney and Shetland view their communities very positively, and although some wish to leave many leavers also wish to return to the islands in later life. These figures also show some variations between Orkney and Shetland, suggesting perhaps slightly higher commitment to staying in the islands or returning to the islands in later life in Orkney than in Shetland. However, Orkney also has higher levels of committed leavers, so perhaps as has been suggested in previous research from HIE, there may be a pattern of ‘planned return’ in Orkney.

Understanding these patterns

The rest of the reports offer some interesting features of young people’s perceptions which might help explain these patterns. Some interesting points are:

Perceptions of the community

  • Young people from Orkney and Shetland have the highest levels of pride in their local community of all areas in the Highlands and Islands region. Similarly there are very high percentages of young people in these island groups reporting that the communities are a good place to raise a family (94% in Orkney, 96% in Shetland). And compared to the Highlands and Islands as a region, Orkney and Shetland are felt to be the safest areas.
  • However, 25% of young people ‘strongly disagree’ that the islands are places where it’s okay to be different – although this is in line with the regional averages.

Further and Higher Education

  • Compared to the regional averages, school leavers from Shetland are slightly less likely to want to go on to further education (college or university), this compares to Orkney where young people are considerably more likely to want to progress.
  • Young people in Orkney and Shetland are more positive about the local further and higher education offerings than in the rest of the region, believing there is a good range of courses and that these are well aligned to employment opportunities.
  • Young people in Orkney are more familiar with the offering of UHI than regionally, in Shetland proportions are similar to the regional averages.
  • Higher levels of young people in Orkney and Shetland would be happy to attend UHI. The cost of studying in Shetland is perceived less favourably and in Orkney more favourably than the regional averages. This could perhaps be due to the high accommodation costs in Shetland and the geographical distances that some young people in Shetland would need to cover to get to Lerwick.

Employment

  • Awareness of graduate placements in Orkney and Shetland is low, although proportions are similar to regional levels.
  • In comparison opportunities for apprenticeships are viewed much more strongly than in the region as a whole – in Shetland 69% and in Orkney 60% think opportunities are quite good (compared to 49% regionally)
  • The level of local employment opportunities and pay levels are also viewed more positively than in the region as a whole – 64% of young people in Shetland and 51% in Orkney said local employment opportunities were quite or very good – higher than 35% regional average. In terms of pay, 39% in Orkney and 57% in Shetland said this was quite or very good, higher than the regional average of 27%.
  • In Shetland the labour market appears to be viewed more positively in Orkney, with men in Shetland being much more positive than women. There is some suggestion that this could be due to the strength of the male dominated (and well remunerated) oil and gas sector in Shetland.
  • The perception of pay levels in Shetland gets more positive with age, but in Orkney perceptions get less positive with age. Similarly the prospects for career development are viewed more positively with age in Shetland and less positively in Orkney.
phone pics 2015 july 3460

Lerwick: in the left of the picture is an accommodation barge brought to Shetland to help house workers for the new gas plant. Although the strength of the oil and gas industry may result in positive impacts such as the availability of work, negative impacts such as the cost of accommodation may also result.

Other factors

  • Housing is more of an issue than regionally in Shetland and less of an issue in Orkney.
  • Public transport is rated strongly for availability but very poorly for affordability in both island groups. Notably as well as plane travel being considered unaffordable, so is boat travel with approximately one third in Orkney and half in Shetland considering the ferry unaffordable. This contrasts to other areas in the region such as the Outer Hebrides where the rate is considerably lower because of the ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’ being offered.
  • Broadband speeds and access do not appear to be a significant concern, but mobile connectivity is a fairly big issue in Orkney in Shetland, with these two island groups rating mobile connectivity the worst in the whole region.
  • The availability of arts and leisure facilities are very well rated in both island groups.
  • Although generally the perceptions of the island groups are very positive perhaps somewhat strangely in both islands there are lower proportions of young people than regionally believing the region is a better place to live now than five years ago, and there is also greater pessimism about the future.

Overall the research demonstrates that there is significant regional variability in the perceptions of young people. Although both island groups are viewed very positively overall, there are significant differences in things like how the labour market is perceived and housing issues. It is quite possible that some of these differences in perception are due to material differences between the communities – for example the different geographical position and layout of the island groups, and the different labour markets (with the impact of the oil and gas sector on Shetland specifically being noted throughout the research).

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Aquapelagos and Island Careers: a case study of Orkney and Shetland

This week I published a paper in Shima: the International Journal of Research into Island Cultures titled “Career Decision making in Island Communities: applying the concept of the Aquapelago to the Shetland and Orkney Islands”.

Shima front cover

Front Cover of Shima: love the puffins! It reminds me of some great puffin-watching at Sumburgh Head a couple of years ago.

In this paper I take Hayward’s concept of the Aquapelago (which I have previously blogged about) and examine how useful it can be as a conceptual frame for thinking about island career pathways.

Hayward originally introduced the term ‘aquapelago’ as a way of redefining the ‘archipelago’, a term he felt had become too land-focused (focusing on the land spaces of an island group, rather than the integrated marine and land environment). His full definition of the aquapelago is:

a social unit existing in a location in which the aquatic spaces between and around a group of islands are utilised and navigated in a manner that is fundamentally interconnected with and essential to the social group’s habitation of land and their senses of identity and belonging.

(Hayward, 2012: 5)

My main argument in the paper is that the concept potentially offers a strong interpretive value when considering island careers for several reasons:

  • It refocuses and expands the concept of the island labour market so that it includes employment that may take place on and around sea spaces as well as land spaces.
  • Alongside conceptualising the labour market, it also focuses on the experiences of migration off, on and between islands. This allows for an integrated perspective on career pathways which considers migration issues alongside labour market issues.
  • It highlights the social and cultural context of island communities, and the role of space in the creation of ‘identity’. This allows for an understanding of the way the social and cultural context of islands may influence career decisions.

I then go on to discuss Orkney and Shetland using the lens of the aquapelago to pick out some themes about island career trajectories.

I would be really interested to know your thoughts on the paper!


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Graduates should be matched to local jobs… just an urban issue?

I just read this article by Times Higher Education: “Graduates should be matched to local jobs says report”. This article refers to the UniverCities report, which looks at how universities can support city growth.  Part of the backdrop to the report is the issue of graduate migration after graduation – some graduates will return to their familial homes and others will be drawn to the bright lights of London, which potentially deprives their university towns and cities of the talent that has been fostered there.

The report makes recommendations under three main themes:

  1. Optimising research and teaching for metro growth.
  2. Promoting graduate retention and utilization.
  3. Enterprising students, graduates and faculty.

Now, these are ideas that interest me, because even though this report focuses on urban growth similar recommendations also appear in rural development literature. So, in the Orkney Population Change Study (2009), commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise and Orkney Islands Council, recommendations for a sustainable future included supporting ‘partnerships between education establishments and the productive sectors on the islands’ (p.9)  ‘a slight reduction in out-migration of younger age groups’ (p.7) and ‘supporting enterprise’ (p.8). Now these recommendations are not specifically about higher education or graduates, but the similarities with the recommendations in the report are striking.

The difference, I guess, is that for many rural areas historically there has been an export of talent to major cities, especially for higher education. So although for urban areas the migration of students back to their rural ‘home’ regions may be a loss, for the rural areas they move back to they are a positive gain. Indeed, in the Orkney Population Change Study although a ‘slight’ reduction in out-migration is noted as necessary, more critically a 40% increase in in-migrants who are aged 25-34 is identified as important (p.7) So, although as the UniverCities report proposes, retention of graduates might be valuable in urban development, it may be important to consider how this could impact on rural areas who are also seeking to attract young graduates back.