We should be proud of Scotland’s apprentices

Work-based learning is increasingly recognised as a route into a rewarding career. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Work-based learning is increasingly recognised as a route into a rewarding career. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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Work-based learning is the way ahead, says Damien Yeates

In recent times it has been encouraging to see the opportunities offered to Scotland’s young people receiving a great deal of attention.

Scotland has a lot to be proud of in this respect, but we must also be aware that the world doesn’t stand still.

If we are to equip future generations with the right skills and build a diverse, competitive economy, we need to offer young people more options for learning.

Work-based learning is increasingly recognised as a route into a rewarding career for young people and as a means to nurture talent by employers.

A lot of the old distinctions between “vocational” and “academic” learning are also becoming less relevant as people recognise the two are complementary rather than separate. Being a Modern Apprentice means getting a job and getting paid while gaining an industry-recognised qualification.

There are more than 25,000 new apprenticeship opportunities in Scotland each year in a far wider range of careers than people may realise.

They range from engineering and construction to ICT and digital, life sciences, food and drink, tourism and retail. These are not ends in themselves – they can offer further opportunities in terms of higher education and career progression.

For the businesses operating in these sectors, it offers the chance to recruit talented, enthusiastic people who are desperate to learn, shaping their future careers so that they quickly become key members of staff, adding value to the work of their employers.

The popularity of modern apprenticeships endures because they are the construct of industry and are demand-led. Employers specify a range of on and off-the-job programmes and experience that will give them confidence that their employee is competent to do the job.

Everything meets industry specifications, pulled together in frameworks that are SQA accredited, with the prize being a fully skilled workforce.

Clearly the intensity, duration and depth of an apprenticeship varies from industry to industry. For example, the food and drink sector provides craft baker apprenticeships which start at an entry level 2 because the industry wants to train people in the key basics at an early stage in their career.

Conversely, others use the programme to raise the profile of their industry and to meet the need for higher skills. In 2014, the hospitality sector last year launched a five-star apprenticeship tailored to the needs of luxury modern hotels.

Several leading Scottish hotels, including Gleneagles, Cameron House, The Blythswood, The Bonham and Apex Hotels, have worked to create the plans in partnership with Skills Development Scotland (SDS).

It is important to contually build on this work and support industry. Scottish Apprenticeship Week plays a key role in encouraging businesses, young people and their career influencers to consider and also celebrate the contribution the Modern Apprenticeship programme makes to Scotland’s economy.

Now in its fifth year, the campaign is set to be bigger and better than ever.

Running from 18-22 May, it will see a range of organisations – including training providers, employers, local authorities and colleges – embracing the opportunity to celebrate apprenticeships.

The week kicks off with the Scottish Council for Development and Industry’s Skills Summit etc at Hampden Stadium on 18 May.

Marking a year since the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce published its report, the summit will focus on creating a skills system which values vocational learning and allows business to meet skills and growth requirements.

It was around this time last year that I visited British Airways Maintenance Glasgow and spent a day working with aircraft maintenance engineer Jamie Esdale, who had just finished his apprenticeship.

Here was a young man who had spent three years learning the skills to equip him for a job where there is no margin for error, and not only did he have a fabulous experience over that time, but there were opportunities ahead of him for further learning and development.

Stories like Jamie’s are inspiring, and at SDS we are proud to see them being replicated up and down the country. Scottish Apprenticeship Week’s appeal and its success is down to the support from all those who have a shared interest in the success of the programme, and the hard work and dedication of the apprentices themselves.

The campaign has grown from a handful of events to more than 160 last year covering the length and breadth of the country. Businesses, apprentices, colleges, training providers and local authorities all get behind the week.

From family firms to global companies – businesses are backing the week and backing apprenticeships. Getting involved in Scottish Apprenticeship Week means different things for different people.

For Skills Development Scotland it’s a chance to promote apprenticeships and encourage more employers to consider hiring apprentices.

Many colleges and training providers take the opportunity to show how they contribute to training apprentices for local employers. Some companies choose to use the week to celebrate the contribution apprentices make to their success, while others use the week to promote recruitment drives.

The ultimate aim remains the same – get young people and employers to consider how the Modern Apprenticeship programme could benefit them.

This support from industry and employers demonstrates what we believe is the beginning of a cultural shift: a shift towards apprenticeships being valued and coveted as a route into a career.

It’s important that young people, their parents and teachers get the opportunity to see and hear more about apprenticeships to raise their awareness of the wealth of opportunity, regardless of background or gender.

Damien Yeates is chief executive of Skills Development Scotland. Visit www.scottishapprenticeshipweek.com to find out more about local events and to hear young people who are realising their ambitions through this programme.