A BLUEPRINT for delivering skills to the STEM sectors that drive Scotland’s economy has been launched. The Future Skills Action Plan outlines the Scottish Government’s vision for Scotland’s skills system, focusing on the critical importance of human capabilities in boosting productivity.

Work-based learning and apprenticeships play a central role in the plan, which has been developed in close collaboration with Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and Scottish Funding Council (SFC). 

The plan reinforces the view that meta-skills such as communication, teamwork and creativity are vital to ensuring Scotland’s workforce – including those in STEM sectors – can adapt within a rapidly changing economic landscape.

Work-based learning will be an integral part of the skills offer and will have a vital role in retraining and upskilling employees.

SDS will work with Scottish Government, SFC, colleges, universities and employers to develop a wide range of in-work retraining and upskilling opportunities, including the further development of Graduate Apprenticeships. The Plan also sets out a vision to introduce greater flexibility in the delivery of apprenticeships, while retaining the quality of the training they provide, in response to industry and learner demand.

SDS Chair Frank Mitchell said: “This plan outlines how we will create a more responsive system led by government and employers that drives upskilling and reskilling to reduce skills gaps, increase resilience and boost productivity.”

Business Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “Scotland’s highly skilled workforce ensures we are an ambitious, productive and competitive nation.

“While we already have a strong skills system in place, further change is needed to enable us to move forward confidently. This includes considering what skills provision is required and how we ensure the system is both agile and sustainable.

“The Future Skills Action Plan clearly signals our intention to invest more in the skills of those already in work, while promoting a culture of shared investment with employers in Scotland’s future workforce.”

Nora Senior, Chair of the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board, added: “The Future Skills Action Plan looks at key areas around future skills development, upskilling and reskilling in the workplace, lifelong learning and embedding innovation into all areas of people’s learning.

“One of the things we are particularly keen on promoting is meta-skills – what kind of skills do individuals need in order to drive both their own careers and workplace productivity forward?

“That includes things such as problem solving, communication and team building. The Future Skills Action Plan goes a long way to help us achieve that.”


Giving Scotland’s young people greater knowledge of the breadth of careers available in STEM sectors is central to the Future Skills Action Plan


The plan follows publication of a report on the early activity and progress of Graduate Apprenticeships, which shows they are solving a skills need for Scotland’s employers.

Graduate Apprenticeships have grown rapidly since they were launched nationwide in 2017, with the choice of frameworks having doubled from six to 12 to meet demand.

The report also outlines the continued growth in businesses employing Graduate Apprentices to recruit or upskill their workforces, that more education institutions are offering Graduate Apprenticeships, that uptake has increased by more than 230 per cent, and that almost half of businesses that were engaged in the first year of delivery have taken additional Graduate Apprenticeship places in 2018/19.

This supported a second year of delivery that saw 921 registered apprentices working with 346 employers and 13 institutions, with many focused on STEM industries such as ICT and Digital, Cyber Security, Data and Civil Engineering.

Jonathan Clark, Director of Service Design and Innovation at SDS said: “Our ability to deliver Graduate Apprenticeships would be impossible without strong collaboration.  

“Key influencers of individuals, including teachers, parents, carers and employers play a crucial role in enabling us to scale our full Apprenticeships offer.

“We are working very closely with a range of partners to ensure that Graduate Apprenticeships continue to evolve and grow. 

“As we communicate the benefits of Scottish Apprenticeships with individuals, parents, and employers, our ambition over the next 10 years is to achieve significant growth with Graduate Apprenticeships. 

“We are supported by the Scottish Government in our ambition to achieve this, with at least 1,300 new Graduate Apprenticeship opportunities available in academic year 2019/20 - our third year of delivery.” 

Among those to benefit is Edinburgh-based Ryan O’Connor, who was a Modern Apprentice with the highways team of Jacobs UK and has now become a Graduate Apprentice with the company.
Jacobs UK provides technical, professional and scientific services to the construction industry.

Edinburgh-based Ryan completed his Construction Contracting Operations: Site Technical Support at SCQF Level 6 last year. This allowed him to be fast-tracked into year two of a BEng (Hons) Civil Engineering at Heriot Watt University. 

Ryan also became an Apprentice Ambassador, encouraging more young people to follow his footsteps and consider an apprenticeship as a route into a STEM career. 

He said: “As well as earning while learning, I’m also developing new skills and getting involved in projects that give me real life experience that will be valuable later in my career when I’ve gained my degree.

“Without the apprenticeship, I would probably be a full-time student at this point in my life, without any work experience in engineering. An apprenticeship does what it says on the tin - you gain valuable experience and qualifications.”

Ryan’s ambassadorial work has included visiting Breadalbane School to help get senior pupils get ready for the work environment

He said: “We did different things, such as mock interviews and CV writing. I spoke about what the apprenticeship has been like for me and explained that going straight from school to university isn’t the only way to get into this profession.”

Jacobs UK said that, in addition to being a valued member of STEM, Ryan has been participating in various career events across Scotland. His enthusiasm and commitment are widely recognised across the business

Michal Kaniewski of Jacobs UK said: “Ryan has become an integral part of the business since completing his Modern Apprenticeship. 

“Doing the apprenticeship gave him the knowledge, confidence and project understanding to be able to progress through the early stages of his career, and feel like a valued member of the team.”