What could apprenticeships do for your business? - a guest blog

As the national skills body, Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is committed to making skills work for employers, in particular within a vocational or work based environment.

We are also passionate about developing skills in the community and getting more young people into work. Both these ambitions are also core to the Scottish Business Pledge and SDS supports any and all businesses to achieve the pledge.

Global competition, tighter labour markets, an ageing workforce, the development of niche markets and new skills requirements are additional pressures for employers in attracting and securing the right people for their business. Successful businesses will often point to the dynamics and diversity of their workforce as one of the key factors for their success and sustainability. This doesn’t just happen, it takes considerable effort to achieve and ensure that the right people with the right skills are employed to create a diverse and equal workforce. A workforce is also a community which, like all communities, will operate most effectively when the balance is right.

Apprenticeships can be used as a means to help achieve or work towards The Business Pledge. They are a great way to source new talent and in developing an equal and diverse workforce whilst ensuring the workforce is being upskilled and becoming highly competent in their roles. This in turn can also open up new opportunities to grow as a business through attracting people that would not have otherwise applied for vacancies as the training aspect is attractive.

Apprenticeships are designed by industry to meet the needs of the particular area of industry where the training is taking place. Training occurs mainly in the workplace so apprentices learn through experience and can refine their new skills to suit the business they are working in and the customers they serve.

An apprenticeship incentivises and attracts people who want to learn new skills whilst employed which are also skillsets businesses seek out in all employees. But apprenticeships don’t have to be only for new staff. Apprenticeships can also be used to upskill existing staff which evidences commitment by their employer to continued investment and interest in their employees. Surveys show that apprentices are more engaged, motivated and more productive employees.

With more than 25,500 new Modern Apprenticeship opportunities across Scotland each year, in over 80 different frameworks there are hundreds of different job roles which employees and employers could benefit from. These range from financial services and healthcare to construction and IT and because each apprenticeship is developed by industry to suit their needs apprentices can build valuable work experience from day-one and gain an accredited qualification which is recognised by industry.

Some of the companies who have already signed the Scottish Business Pledge are enjoying the business benefits apprenticeships can bring including Ferguson Marine Engineering, Scottish Water and Aberdeen Asset Management.

Ferguson Marine Engineering, winners of the SME Employer of the Year award at this year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Awards, have reduced the business’ age profile and attracted female employees in what is traditionally a male-dominated environment.

Head of HR Kelly O’Rouke said: “With an aging profile within our established workforce, the apprenticeship programme allows us to capture the highly valued skills and knowledge of our workforce and transfer this to a new generation to help ensure sustainability and sound succession planning.”

Scottish Apprenticeships have expanded recently in response to feedback from business and industry. Foundation Apprenticeships were launched with employers, colleges and partners in 2014. These have been designed to better prepare young people for the world of work and are for pupils to gain real work based skills before leaving school.

Lasting two years and typically starting in S5, with Foundation Apprenticeship pupils complete elements of a Modern Apprenticeship alongside their other studies, such as National 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers. Foundation Apprentices spend part of the week out of school, getting hands-on experience at college and with a local employer in one of a growing number of industry areas.

Successful completion of a Foundation Apprenticeship means that the young person leaves school with an industry recognised qualification which is set at SCQF level 6 (the same level as a Higher). As well as gaining qualifications, Foundation Apprentices develop the soft skills – like time management, teamwork and communication – that come from demonstrating competency in the workplace. This means they’re better prepared for the workplace when they leave school.

The most recent development in extending work based learning is new Graduate Level Apprenticeships. These have once again been developed in response to listening to business and developed in partnership with industry and further and higher education to ensure that there is a route for new and existing employees to train and study in the workplace up to Master’s degree level.

For employers Graduate Level Apprenticeships are a good way to recruit or develop employees with the ability to learn at this level whilst keeping them in the business. This ensures that the learning can be applied directly to business situations which offers a working benefit for the business and the employee.

Coming into force in April 2017, the Apprenticeship Levy that is bring introduced by the UK Government will mean all UK employers with annual salary bills of more than £3 million will pay 0.5% of their pay bill to the HMRC, aimed at funding apprenticeships across the country.

Over 2017/18, the Scottish Government will see £221 million of levy funding through the block grant. Based on the feedback received through their consultation with employers on the levy, which saw strong support for work based learning, Scottish Government have outlined they will use the funding to further support skills, training and employment in Scotland. This includes commitments to expand the Modern Apprenticeship programme as growth continues towards 30,000 new starts each year by 2020, increasing the number of Graduate Level and Foundation Apprenticeships during 2017-18 and continuing with the implementation of the Youth Employment Strategy: ‘Developing the Young Workforce’.

In Autumn 2017, the Scottish Government will also establish a new £10 million Workforce Development Fund to help employers up-skill and re-skill their workforce. Employers, through the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, will play a key role in shaping this fund. You can read further information in our news story.

Find out more on apprenticeships.

Marion Beattie, Head of Employer Services, Skills Development Scotland (SDS)