Lauren Brown: Strong foundation for the world of work with a skills apprenticeship

The expansion of the ­apprenticeship ­family to include Foundation Apprenticeships not only ­provides learners with an exciting new work-based opportunity while they are in their senior phase of school, it also gives employers a chance to attract highly motivated young people who are equipped with recent, relevant skills and experience.

Foundation Apprenticeships ­support the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, and form part of a wider focus on reducing youth unemployment, improving the connection between employers and education, and broadening career pathways for young people.

For pupils in S5 and S6, Foundation Apprenticeships can be selected as a subject choice alongside Highers and Nationals. This fantastic qualification allows pupils to gain work experience while still at school.

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Foundation Apprenticeships have been developed for 12 of Scotland’s growth industries including food and drink technologies, software development and engineering, which meet real skills demands from employers to fit with economic need.

Lauren Brown, Project Manager, Developing the Young Workforce - West Lothian

The qualification provides young people with the opportunity to spend time out of the school classroom – at college or with a local employer – ­giving learners valuable work ­experience and the chance to ­develop core skills which help them to make a smooth transition into the world of work. For employers, ­getting involved in Foundation Apprenticeships is a winning formula.

Pupils choose a Foundation Apprenticeship in a sector they are interested in. This means that ­students who undertake a placement with an employer are motivated, committed and eager to learn.

Learners also develop an understanding of the responsibilities and duties placed on employers and employees, developing a clear idea of what is expected of them in the workplace. Moreover, this allows employers access to a pool of future talent, allowing businesses to identify potential early on, and creating a ­talent pipeline for future recruitment opportunities.

Involvement in Foundation Apprenticeships is cost-free, yet there is plenty of added value for employers. Providing staff to mentor and support pupils while they ­complete their Foundation Apprenticeship placement is an excellent professional development opportunity, which can be harnessed to develop existing staff’s coaching, communication and leadership skills.

There are plenty of progression routes for pupils once they have gained their Foundation Apprentice qualification – it can lead straight into a paid job, a pupil could fast-track on to a Modern Apprenticeship, or it could lead to further study at university or college.

In West Lothian, our region was an early adopter of this innovative new work-based learning qualification, and our own West Lothian Developing the Young Workforce Group has certainly felt the direct benefits of what a Foundation Apprentice can go on to achieve.

When former West Lothian pupil Connor Waldron signed up to a ­Foundation Apprenticeship in ­engineering back in 2014, he had no concept of the path it would set him on.

He said: “When I was at school, I thought I didn’t need a qualification to show people that I can work hard. Then I was really surprised when I got to go to college. I felt it was a make or break situation for me, but I really wanted to make a go of it.”

While Connor was still at school, he spent time at West Lothian ­College and completed the work-based ­elements of his qualification with West Lothian Council’s fleet services department.

In 2016, Connor was recognised as the first Foundation Apprentice of the Year at the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards, organised by Skills Development Scotland.

Connor not only went on to subsequently be employed as a Modern Apprentice in HGV vehicle maintenance, he is now part of West ­Lothian’s Developing the Young Workforce Regional Board, providing valuable insight and input into the overall strategic direction of the work of the group.

There is no doubt that Connor’s Foundation Apprenticeship was a hugely valuable platform for him to be able to take these next steps in his career, and to allow him to become such an important part of the overall work of Developing the Young Workforce in West Lothian.

As we collectively strive to meet the Scottish Government’s ambition to provide 5,000 Foundation Apprenticeship opportunities in schools by the end of 2019, employer support for Foundation Apprenticeships is more crucial than ever. The time that employers spend on nurturing and supporting the Foundation ­Apprenticeship ­programme will help further ­develop the skills needed to prepare Scotland’s future workforce.

Lauren Brown, project manager, Developing the Young Workforce – West Lothian.