Business Gateway supports young entrepreneurs to help tackle rural migration

Population trends across the Highlands and Islands reveal a mixed picture of a declining rural community, while a desire for a wider range of education opportunities has led to a shortage of young people.

To combat this, a focus on education and high-quality job creation is key, but more and more people are discovering that self-employment is a viable option.

A 2018 study by Highlands and Islands Enterprise estimated that just 17% of the region is aged 15-30, compared to 21% across Scotland as a whole. A lack of high-quality jobs, limited housing options, education needs and poor infrastructure are all regularly cited as reasons why young people choose to move elsewhere.

The problem of rural migration is felt widely, as Claire Kemp, Business Gateway Manager in Orkney, points out: “It’s understandable that people want to leave for university – we’re not aiming to stop that – but we would like to support those that want to stay on the island or return after university.”

Efforts are underway to encourage young people to view the area as an attractive place to live, work and study.

One example is the Outer Hebrides Young Entrepreneur Start-Up Scheme (OHYESS), which provides grants to support entrepreneurs age 18-40. Developed with funding support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), the two-year scheme launched in July.

This new scheme follows the success of the Outer Hebrides Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (OHYES), which helped to support 43 start-ups run by young people, with a projected combined turnover of up to £2m.

Norman MacLean, Business Gateway Manager for the Outer Hebrides, explains: “The OHYESS grants have fostered a supportive environment for young entrepreneurs and helped to promote the Outer Hebrides as an outstanding place to live and work for people of all ages.”

Other Business Gateway offices, including those in Argyll and Bute, Shetland and Orkney, are exploring options to launch similar schemes. Meanwhile, there is a range of opportunities designed to encourage rural entrepreneurs across the region.

Claire Kemp continues: “As well as providing advice to young entrepreneurs and helping them access council funding, we have been introducing self-employment at an earlier age by providing adviser support to Young Enterprise companies and including a business competition for primary schools in our annual Orkney Business Festival.”

Kirsten Nicholson, Business Gateway Manager for Shetland, adds: “Shetland College is now the most northern partner of the University of the Highlands and Islands, which has substantially increased the range of courses and qualifications available locally.”

The recent success of the City Region Deals as a mechanism to encourage economic growth has led to the possibility of rural growth deals.

Announced in October this year, Argyll and Bute will receive £50 million dedicated for transformational development projects. One of the key drivers behind the deal is the desire to increase the region’s working age population to help stimulate economic development.

Looking forward, there is much to be positive about and, while challenges continue to be addressed, there are a range of opportunities for young people who wish to remain or relocate to these beautiful areas of Scotland.