Comment: National Apprenticeship Week and our young workforce

With an uncertain political landscape, there is danger of a further decline in skilled tradespeople.

Ian Macfarlane (far left) pictured with CR Smith apprentices, and Frazer Walker, lecturer at Fife College (far right). Picture: Rebecca Lee Photography.

We need to invest both time and money in nurturing talent; National Apprenticeship Week - which takes place 4 to 8 March – is the ideal time to talk about it. Apprenticeships are an insurance policy for the economy and the future survival of local companies.

In Scotland, there are different apprenticeship models. There is day release, where the apprentice gets one day off a week to study, and block release, where they can be off work and in college for up to two weeks at a time, on full pay. There are also the new Foundation Apprenticeships, offering one day a week in-work training for school pupils.

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This can make it difficult for an employer – both from an operational and financial point of view – to juggle training commitments and work schedules. Latest figures suggest that the drop-out rate for Scottish school leavers starting an apprenticeship is as high as 22 per cent, rising to 30 per cent for apprentices across the UK.

At CR Smith, we have created our own accredited apprenticeship programme as an alternative to the existing system of block release by going back to night classes. It means having the young person on the job at the times they are needed, integrating them into teams with more experienced joiners, which results in them learning quicker. For us, this is both practical and far more effective.

Our apprenticeship programme incorporates the specific skills we need and teaches the importance of customer service and what it means to represent our brand. We have offered permanent employment to all the apprentices who have completed their apprenticeship, which is testimony to the success of the training and effort the apprentices put in.

Critical to the success of the scheme is our collaboration with Fife College. It has diligently worked with us to develop a programme that satisfies our needs as an employer and gives the apprentices a leg-up on to a career path that will serve them throughout their lives.

The apprenticeship programme required considerable investment, but this is something we considered essential. Our chairman started his career as an apprentice with Fife Council, so there is a recognition that apprenticeships provide an exceptional grounding. As we look forward, we also recognise that we have to grow the business through investing in and nurturing our young workforce.

Ian Macfarlane is the managing director at CR Smith