SPEND on education and training is, inevitably, front-loaded and concentrated into the first 16 years of everyone’s life.

While this model has served us for centuries, are there interventions which could serve us even better in today’s challenging world? Might both older and younger members of the workforce benefit from continuous professional and personal development?

Diversity in the workplace doesn’t just relate to gender balance and equality. Improved diversity within an organisation leads to a greater understanding of trends and opinions, and an enhanced ability to handle changes in the market – whether that is seeking new custom or future recruits. So, it’s reasonable to expect that an organisation which embraces apprenticeships, and encourages workplace learning for all staff will have a much greater grasp of global trends and thus be able to respond to opportunities.

Monday marks the start of Scottish Apprenticeship Week, and is a perfect time for leaders to consider the multitude of benefits that come with having apprentices in the workplace.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, there are already over 12,000 businesses currently involved in apprenticeships. This provides a great opportunity to foster home-grown talent, and not just in the trade and labour-based sectors such as engineering and construction, but across all sectors of business.

Certainly, evidence suggests that economies with high levels of work-based learning have higher levels of productivity. Given the recurring media theme of Scotland's low productivity, this is without a doubt an area we would all wish to improve on. Scottish apprenticeships are a great example of work-based learning and as they are demand-led, they have been designed to directly respond to the critical skills needs of Scotland’s employers.

The Scottish Government’s Employer Skills Survey (2017) showed that almost a fifth of graduates in Scotland are under employed, and with Brexit there will likely be an increase in skill shortages in sectors and regions which have relied heavily on EU labour. This is especially true as the population growth rate forecast slows in parallel with a decline in working age population which will only exacerbate the problem.

To help to mitigate this, introducing a younger, more diverse dynamic into the workforce through modern apprenticeships could provide a solution – alongside offering an opportunity for senior management to benefit.

Coined reverse mentoring, this is the concept that while traditional mentoring improves a younger employee’s understanding of a company, business etiquette and practice (amongst other areas); these improvements are not solely the domain of the active younger mind.

Senior leaders stand to gain greatly from being mentored by those starting out in their careers. In a world where automation and technology are becoming standard business practice, we have an opportunity to learn from a generation who have grown up with technology, and to whom it is second nature. Reverse mentoring also helps avoid groupthink by introducing a challenging voice to the mix.

Scotland’s greatest asset is its people. Scottish apprenticeships and work-based learning create opportunities for everyone, no matter their background, and for every business – regardless of its size or sector.

The benefits to business are clear in terms of plugging the skills gap, future-proofing the business and investing in the new workforce, however it is just as beneficial for leaders, as there is so much to learn from the future generation of workers.

Malcolm Cannon is national director of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Scotland