SCOTLAND needs full powers over migration to address recruitment challenges in the country, Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray has said.

His comments came after news emerged that the employment rate in Scotland is now lagging behind the UK average, following a record quarterly dip.

Data from the Office for National Statistics showed the employment rate for those aged 16 to 64 fell in the three months to April to 74.6%, down 1.8% on the previous quarter and below the UK rate of 76%.

There were 2.572 million people in that age group in work over that period.

READ MORE: Alister Jack lists Scotland 'transgressions' in committee clash

Experts at the University of Stirling’s Fraser of Allander Institute say the economic outlook “remains concerning”.

Scotland’s unemployment rate did not change in the last quarter, remaining at 3.1% between February and April this year. This was below the UK unemployment rate of 3.8%.

Wellbeing Economy Secretary Neil Gray welcomed near-record unemployment rates but insisted the economic outlook remains challenging with the ongoing cost-of-living crisis.

He said if Scotland had full powers over migration it could solve the problem of certain industries facing serious issues with recruitment.

Gray said: “The Scottish Government is committed to supporting more people into work – including parents, disabled people and those with health and caring responsibilities – through employability and skills support, high-quality early learning and school age childcare provision, as well as improving access to flexible working.

“We are quickly taking forward the commitments made in the National Strategy for Economic Transformation, including developing a lifetime skills offer for adults, which will ensure future support is targeted at those who need it most.

“However, with certain industries still facing recruitment challenges, an urgent rethink of UK Government immigration policy is needed to enable increased access to the international labour and skills that Scotland needs for our economy and communities to flourish.

“With full powers over migration, Scotland could boost its workforce and tackle the recruitment challenges, many of which have been caused by the end of free movement and the hard Brexit imposed on Scotland by the UK Government.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson: Committee 'to find former PM misled Parliament'

The Scottish Trade Union Congress said politicians at Westminster and Holyrood need to “wise up” to the grave challenges facing workers in Scotland.

General Secretary Roz Foyer said: “It’s troubling that, in Scotland, we find a record quarterly dip in employment, down 1.8% and now lagging behind the UK average.

“To add insult to injury, sickness levels have increased, pay is down and average hours worked have risen. Workers are working longer hours, for less money and gradually falling sicker.

“We need an economic model that delivers for workers. That means increased investment in our public services, boosting employment and delivering higher wages for the workforce.”

Professor Stuart McIntyre, of the Fraser of Allander Institute at the University of Strathclyde and Associate Dean (Impact) in the Strathclyde Business School, added: “The significant decline in the employment rate and the associated increase in economic inactivity in the latest data for Scotland suggest that the labour market is weakening in the face of a set of pressing economic challenges.

“It’s too soon to tell where this will go next, and we’ll have to await further data to understand how these wider economic pressures will play out in the labour market, but the outlook remains concerning.”