AN action plan to address skills gaps in rural Scotland has been launched.

Created by Skills Development Scotland and partners, it found there are increased barriers to education and training in rural areas, particularly additional costs and limited opportunities

to study locally. The document also says hard-to-fill vacancies are more prevalent in rural areas and fewer employers arrange or fund training.

Business growth in rural areas since 2010 is 13%, behind the national figure of 17%.

Among the actions listed in the plan are increasing use of e-learning and digital technology to enable people to learn off campus.

Others include the promotion and extension of evening and weekend classes, and using shared apprenticeship models to encourage more small businesses to offer apprenticeships.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing launched the plan on a visit to Scotland’s Rural College Barony Campus in Dumfries.

He said: “With the rural economy being a major source of growth, nurturing key sectors such as food and drink, energy and the creative industries, this new approach will help individuals to develop the skills required for jobs across rural Scotland now and in the future.

“By better understanding the skills requirements of rural businesses, we can seek to provide more tailored, accessible education and training that will help to upskill and retain people in rural areas.”