As further signs of economic recovery continue to emerge, it is more important than ever that we increase awareness, understanding and demand for apprenticeships, especially in sectors like environmental sciences, transport planning, engineering and construction where, in some areas, there are severe skills shortages.
As well as helping businesses and the wider economy grow, apprenticeship programmes also offer real potential in addressing the key issue of youth unemployment which currently sits at over 21 per cent in Scotland.
The Modern Apprenticeships programme introduced by the Scottish Government has made a positive impact, offering people aged over 16 the opportunity of paid employment combined with training at different levels.
Over the past year the government agency Skills Development Scotland recorded over 15,000 young people aged 16 - 24 starting a modern apprenticeship programme. While it is encouraging to know that the public sector is doing its part to provide support, business also needs to look at where it can get more engaged.
WSP works closely with the various institutions, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Association for Consultancy and Engineering but also with Scottish universities and within local schools to encourage the next generation of talent. We are passionate believers in making the sector more diverse by engaging with more young people to promote the real career opportunities that are available to them.
Through the support of apprenticeship programmes we also have the potential to attract more women into our industry where they are currently under-represented. Women represent only 12% of the whole construction industry in the UK, the worst proportion of any industry surveyed according to ONS data. While women constitute closer to one in three technical staff at WSP, we recognise that more needs to be done.
We're delighted to have 18-year-old Samantha Somerville from Edinburgh on board as one of our current apprentices. She found out about the opportunity through a friend while seeking work in the retail sector. Although civil engineering had not previously been on her radar she is now developing a new career path and is busy learning new skills, including designing roads in Qatar.
From a purely commercial perspective, the business case for apprenticeships stacks up. We are able to invest in bright young people like Samantha, train them up and benefit from their experience as they provide vital support for our existing teams, and over time, the specialist expertise we require on our key projects.
Given this positive experience why do we not see more apprenticeship programmes? I believe the answer may lay in the fact that some employers may have a mistaken view of modern apprenticeships as being little more than short term, government-subsidised training initiatives.
Our own experience has been that they can work very well for us as a commercial, technically focused business and for the apprentices themselves.
And, as the economic recovery continues, businesses which are geared up to deal with the upturn - particularly in core sectors such as property, rail, and planning where growth will be driven by government support for housing and infrastructure - that will come out on top. Further commitment to apprenticeship programmes will be an important factor in making this happen.
Mike Hodgson is Technical Director at WSP (Scotland)