Comment: Kick-start the economy and young careers

MODERN apprenticeships are a vital part of giving our youngsters a chance in life as well as helping industry, says Jan Thomson

Nicola Sturgeon marked the start of Modern Apprenticeship week with a visit to the Arnold Clark training centre in Glasgow. Picture: PA
Nicola Sturgeon marked the start of Modern Apprenticeship week with a visit to the Arnold Clark training centre in Glasgow. Picture: PA

It IS Scottish Apprenticeship Week this week and it will be a great opportunity to celebrate all the positive activity that is going on to inspire, empower and upskill young people, delivering fresh talent to the industries that fire Scotland’s economy.

The Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy, influenced by the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce report, recommended that modern apprenticeship programmes focus on vocational training, combining work experience, practical learning and theory, to make sure young people are fully prepared for future careers in industry.

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The unemployment rate among Scots aged between 16 and 24 is currently 14.9 per cent. The good news is that, over the past year, young people have moved from unemployment, down 3.8 percentage points, and economic inactivity, down 4.0 percentage points, into employment, up 5.8 percentage points.

Despite this positive shift we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to boosting young people’s employability prospects. Modern apprenticeships play a crucial role in continuing to reduce youth unemployment over the next seven years. To be effective in the long term, it is essential that these programmes bridge the gap between education and employment opportunities and deliver the real skills that are needed in workplaces.

With that in mind, we hosted an event recently under the banner Young People Matter in Edinburgh and Lothians. The keynote speaker was the minister for youth and women’s employment, Annabelle Ewing MSP, and it was attended by representatives from schools, employers, industry bodies and local and national policy makers.

It was hugely heartening to see the appetite and passion to ensure that young people get the best opportunities.

As well as committing to the shared goal of improving opportunities for young people, there is the need to put those young people at the heart of the discussions and debate. Young people need to have a voice.

Skills Development Scotland has a target of 25,000 modern apprenticeships in 2014-15 and is working to increase the number of modern apprenticeships to 30,000 by 2020.

At Edinburgh College, we are actively helping to achieve these ambitious targets and are working with employers not only to increase our modern apprenticeship provision but to understand specifically what skills their industries are looking for.

We currently have 148 of our own modern apprenticeships across a range of key sectors including engineering, hospitality, automotive, hairdressing, childcare, highways maintenance and security. Next year we plan to increase this by up to 50 in key sectors such as engineering, automotive, and hospitality and tourism. We’re continuously listening to businesses to make sure we’re future fit and prepared to expand our offering year on year to keep up with the evolving requirements of Scotland’s economy.

Edinburgh College also works with employers and training providers to deliver apprenticeship training in additional areas including construction trades, care, business administration, accounting, and sports and leisure, with more than 1,000 apprentices training here each year. In the coming years we aim to introduce apprenticeships in growing industries such as IT, energy services, life sciences, and finance and management.

Modern apprenticeships are fantastic ways to gain vocational training, but it’s crucial that we don’t simply offer a one-size-fits-all solution.

One of the main principles of the college is to provide training that is accessible to people at all points of their career journeys, including the earliest stages. We are currently working with SDS and the SQA to explore the delivery of foundation apprenticeships (FAs) aimed at school pupils. Foundation apprenticeships give students a head start towards a career or a modern apprenticeship while they are still at school. Initially, we are piloting FAs in financial services, and are one of only two colleges in Scotland to offer this exciting new school-college programme in 2015-16.

Edinburgh College and the further education sector as a whole will be showcasing how we are helping the government create new chances for young people during Scottish Apprenticeship Week, by sharing inspiring success stories.

We’ll also be taking part in events including a CPD event for teachers and career advisors with partners including SDS and local businesses to discuss the opportunities available to young people.

Developing the young workforce is a priority for economic growth and we are privileged to be able to work in partnership with a number of business sectors to give young people in Edinburgh and the Lothians the opportunities they deserve.

• Jan Thomson is head of Edinburgh College Business School