Increasing the diversity of Scotland’s STEM sectors is a key part of ensuring employers can attract the talent they need for future growth.

From improving the gender balance of traditionally male-dominated industries to increasing access for Black and Minority Ethnic groups, people with disabilities and care experienced young people, more and more employers are working to develop a more diverse workforce.

Skills Development Scotland (SDS) is committed to supporting this work through improving diversity and inclusion in apprenticeships.

This includes updating SDS’s Apprenticeship Equality Action Plan, a five-year plan developed with the support of equality groups and stakeholders, setting out progress achieved so far and priorities for the future.

Katie Hutton, Director of National Training Programmes at SDS, said: “Scotland’s biggest asset is its people – their skills are the basis for achieving inclusive growth, wealth creation, equality and sustainability.

“At SDS, we are committed to ensuring that individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds can access work-based learning opportunities and achieve equitable outcomes.

“We are also working to encourage employers to value and develop a diverse talent pool with the right skills for their business.”

The plan acknowledges that increasing diversity is a complex challenge, reflecting broader societal issues that no one organisation can tackle on its own.

For that reason, the plan focuses on sustained partnership working in order to create change and deliver results, whilst providing examples of employers committed to improving diversity.

They include BAE Systems, whose Education Partnership Strategy encompasses school roadshows, careers events, STEM promotion, work experience, the Schools Engineering Challenge, site visits, teacher resources and a network of STEM Ambassadors, all contributing towards a high quality and diverse pool of applications for apprenticeship vacancies.

Other employers are showing similar levels of commitment towards developing a diverse workforce. One apprentice to benefit from this is 21-year-old Kieren Batchelor who works with Diageo.

Kieren took part in Diageo’s primary school Science Technology Engineering and Maths outreach programme. He has autism, Asperger’s Syndrome and ADHD.

The Science and Technology apprentice said: “When I was younger this made any social interaction difficult at best and near impossible at other times. As I have gotten older, I have learned to read the situation but in a different way to most people.”

The former Kirkcaldy High School pupil felt he didn’t want to go down a purely academic route, but was good at engineering and science, because he enjoyed doing practical work.

Kieren spent time at Fife College and learned about the apprenticeship opportunity with Diageo through the website

Modern Apprenticeships offer people opportunities to get a job, get paid and get qualified in a range of sectors including the full range of STEM industries.

Now in his third year, Kieren’s positive and proactive approach means his laboratory is the benchmark for other colleagues. He has helped improve laboratory capability by codifying and standardising his work.

He was nominated for a Diageo Apprentice of the Year award because of his innovative ideas and the way he has coached colleagues.

Kieren also shared his personal experiences through a Yammer post which was seen by more than 1,500 colleagues.

He said: “Just receiving support where I need it and more importantly, understanding from people about the difficulties, can make things better and make a huge difference to someone like me.

“I would say to anyone who is thinking about an apprenticeship
and who is good at something to go for it.”

Diageo’s Early Careers Specialist Gillian Dalziel said: “Kieren embraces every opportunity to learn and grow.

“He demonstrated this when he moved outside his comfort zone to take part in workshops with apprentices from other parts of the business and facilitated a science and technology session at a local primary school.

“Through sharing his personal story, Kieren has inspired others to share and other young people to recognise that we are all different and there are always different pathways into careers. At Diageo, it is our differences that make us better.

“Kieren has a huge amount of functional expertise and is passionate when he speaks about our brands. He is a great role model for our apprenticeship programme.”

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Skills plan helps safety firm to grow abroad

Helping Scotland’s small to medium enterprises with workforce planning and skills strategy is a key focus for SDS.

Skills for Growth is a fully funded service for businesses with between five and 250 employees. It offers up to two days of business consultancy, helping employers understand their skills needs and to create a detailed people plan with guidance towards the right support.

One STEM employer to benefit from the service is Aberdeen-based Aquaterra Training.

The firm works across the world providing training covering a range of high-risk environments and materials from working at height or in confined spaces, to working with explosives or radioactivity. They grasped the opportunity to make use of Skills for Growth, offered by SDS in partnership with Remarkable. Director Charlie Cameron said: “Doing this was a no-brainer. You were getting someone who could undertake a review of your business free of charge and offer an expert opinion of how you could improve.

“It was pitched at the right level. It was a very easy process to engage with and the focus was always on how we grow the business.”

The process resulted in a People Skills Action Plan which identified the steps Aquaterra Training needed to take in order to grow their business.

Charlie said: “It resulted in quite an informative plan that was all about our business. It was surprising to see something so detailed emerge.

“Themes that came from discussions with staff were that there are a lot of things we do well but there are other things we could better.

“We identified ourselves that we wanted to grow our existing customer base, develop new business in the UK and abroad and look at different ways to attract new clients.

“Eighty per cent of our training is for the oil and gas industry, and we’re sending instructors all over the world - to mainland Europe, to Africa, to places like Ghana and Kazakhstan.

“We train about 10,000 people a year just now but we want to grow that.

“One thing which emerged is looking at our vision and our values. That’s something which will offer benefits in the long term but the staff are fully engaged with it.

“The action plan also looked at what other skills we needed in the business as well as the front line delivery staff required in order to meet the needs of clients.”

According to Roddy Innes, Skills for Growth Adviser at SDS, Aquaterra Training is a prime example of how companies can benefit from support.

He said: “Making use of Skills for Growth has already delivered results for Aquaterra and will continue to do so.

“This is an established firm with a global footprint, but they were still keen on identifying ways to improve so they could continue to grow.

“I’d encourage all small and medium enterprises at all stages of development to consider if Skills for Growth could bring them similar benefits.”

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