Hands-on learning for an exciting future

Modern apprentice Ross McBeath, working on site for Scottish Power, is just one of many who have benefited from learning in the workplace
Modern apprentice Ross McBeath, working on site for Scottish Power, is just one of many who have benefited from learning in the workplace
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Education in the classroom combined with work-based experience produces well rounded employees, says Neville Prentice

Having just arrived at Skills Development Scotland (SDS), I can’t help but think back to my own school days and my experience of the world of work.

I remember leaving school feeling pretty well prepared for most things that university and academic study could put my way.

Looking back, no matter how confident I was in the skills I had acquired, their practical application remained a mystery to me. How would it all help me when I make the inevitable transition from full-time education to the workplace?

Since joining SDS I have been impressed by the concerted effort that goes into giving pupils a glimpse into industry and career opportunities from an early age. Through the SDS web service “My World of Work”, pupils can begin to explore career options and how their interests and skills can translate into tangible jobs, supported by SDS school career coaches providing tailored information, advice and guidance.

It is encouraging to see this activity bolstered by an increasing interest from employers in engaging with the education system. Businesses are forging stronger links with schools in a bid to inspire young people and give them that real experience of the world of work that, whilst evident in many schools, needs to be improved if we are going to give our young people a fuller awareness of work opportunities.

SDS has long advocated the importance of bringing industry to life for young people and welcomed the report by the Commission for the Development of Scotland’s Young Workforce which recommended greater industry investment in training and skills.

The report chimes with SDS’s focus and our ongoing work to open up opportunities for employers to engage with schools. For example, we recently led a week of employer events in schools across Scotland – from the Borders to the Highlands – and the response from business was overwhelming.

More than 300 employers, including many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), were lining up to visit schools to speak to pupils and open their eyes to the fact there are so many exciting jobs available. It echoes my experience of the private sector as many businesses recognised the need to strengthen ties with schools and ensure skills supply met demand and I would encourage greater ongoing participation in the future.

As the week focused on learning through work, employers were joined by modern apprentices and it was incredible to see the pupils captivated by their stories.

Their role in these visits was particularly fitting, as one of the high points of the week was Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship Awards which were held in Edinburgh on 5 November, celebrating the brightest and best modern apprentices.

Just like the school pupils, I found myself captivated by the apprentices’ stories, by their enthusiasm and drive. I was struck by a comment made by one of the winners that he was delighted not only personally to have won, but that it was also a win for his company and colleagues.

It is clear that the blend of classroom-based learning and on-the-job training is developing well rounded employees who value their experience and have a determination to continue on their journey of learning and achievement. They are truly inspirational and demonstrate the value of work-based learning.

Throughout the awards, there was also a real sense of pride among the employers and there was perhaps some envy among those from previous generations in the room who did not have the option of an apprenticeship when they first entered the world of work.

SDS is determined to build on this success. We have been working with partners and employers to trial foundation apprenticeships in ten schools in Fife and West Lothian. Pupils in their senior phase of secondary school have the opportunity to complete a programme of learning including the core elements of an apprenticeship.

I was pleased to hear one of the participants say she wanted to take part to gain an advantage for her future career and was also keen to boost the number of women in engineering.

Our Modern Apprentice of the Year, Suzanne Birney from Doosan Babcock, also highlighted her wish to inspire other young women to consider engineering.

The work-based learning approach is opening up options to pupils; they may choose to progress to a modern apprenticeship but they also have the option of further training, university or employment. Regardless of their choice, the opportunity to leave the classroom and textbooks behind and gain hands-on experience in the workplace is one that will serve them well whatever path they choose to take.

The value of this approach is recognised around the world. SDS recently held a symposium on learning through work and, by listening to international educational experts extol the benefits of meaningful workplace experience, it affirmed my belief that private industry needs to strengthen links with schools.

I have been encouraged during my time at SDS and what is clear from this week is that when more parents, teachers, employers and support agencies come together to engage with our young people at an early age, it can only increase the chances of our young people realising their full potential.

Neville Prentice is senior director of service development and delivery at Skills Development Scotland