'˜Apprenticeships equal to university places' says SNP MSP

Apprenticeships should be 'sold' to pupils across Scotland as having the same value as university places, an MSP has said.

Pupils need to be given information about apprenticeships early on at secondary school, experts say.

Ruth Maguire, SNP MSP for Cunninghame South, said apprentices she met told her they had stumbled on the career path by themselves rather through information and vocational classes at school.

While vocational education is becoming more common - with almost 2,000 senior secondary pupils enrolled in work-based learning Foundation Apprenticeships in 2016-2017, an increase from 480 in 2015-2016 and 72 the previous year - they are not yet available in all local authority areas.

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Vocational courses are relatively rare and are under threat froms budget cuts in some councils.

Ms Maguire, who met the apprentices at a paper mill in Irvine, North Ayrshire, and has raised her concerns with Jamie Hepburn, minister for employability and training, said: “The apprentices all had one thing in common, which was that they hadn’t been told about the possibility of apprenticeships in their school time - they’d all come to it later on.

“Now these are young folk in really high-quality apprenticeships. They’ve got good job prospects within our local community following that path.”

Earlier this year the Scottish Government increased the target for new apprentices in 2018-2019 to 28,000, an increase of 1,000 on the 2017-2018 target.

It also announced additional support for training costs for apprenticeships in social services for children and young people, dental nurses and management, with increases ranging from £600 to £1,700.

Mr Hepburn said there was a “mixed” picture of how apprenticeships were promoted across Scotland and that improving schools’ work in this area would be crucial in attracting more pupils to apply for apprenticeships.

However, experts say apprenticeships need to be highlighted as a career in the early years of secondary, vocational courses provided.

Joanna Murphy, chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, said promoting apprenticeships in S5 and S6 was too late.

“All options should be outlined to pupils in a broad sense in S2, so they can make the right decision for them based on all the options available.

“Parents certainly don’t hear enough about the different options available to their children. Parents are often hesitant to support ‘unknown’ routs and can inadvertently negatively influence their children.”

Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “I believe that school pupils should be provided with equal information on apprenticeships, university and college courses when they are considering their next steps. Our youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, is geared to ensuring that all of these pathways for young people are viewed with parity of esteem in the school environment.

“We place significant value on the role of apprenticeships, evidenced by the increase in new apprenticeships from around 10,500 in 2008 to 28,000 in 2018-19. We remain on track to achieve 30,000 new apprenticeship starts by 2020. In addition, we are expanding the number of Foundation Apprenticeships, to equip more young people at school with industry recognised qualifications, skills and the practical experience that industry demands, both now and in the future.

“In order to support graduates’ in-work development, we are also increasing the number of Graduate Apprenticeships available. Initial activity has focused on STEM with opportunities in the Engineering, Civil Engineering, Cyber and Digital sectors.”