Uncertainty remains, but 29,000 people starting apprenticeships is an encouraging economic sign

Employers in Scotland backed apprenticeships last year with more than 29,000 new starts supporting the economy.

A total of 29,035 people started a Modern or Graduate Apprenticeship in the past financial year.

Four out of ten apprenticeship starts were in science, technology, engineering or maths related job roles.

And three-quarters were in higher level apprenticeships. The number of women taking up apprenticeship jobs also increased. Business, Fair Work and Skills Minister Jamie Hepburn said: “These are encouraging figures, and I’m pleased that more than 29,000 people started apprenticeships last year, enabling them to access high-quality training while employed.

“However, the figures only cover the very start of the lockdown measures and don’t capture the huge uncertainty and anxiety that many people including apprentices will be feeling as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. We firmly believe that apprenticeships are an essential way to help people begin or progress their careers, while enabling employers to invest in their workforce and provide the skills that we need both now and in the future.

“They will be even more important as we enter the recovery phase and supporting Scotland’s apprenticeship family through the pandemic is one of my key priorities.”

The figures were published by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) who administer funds for apprenticeships.

SDS Chair, Frank Mitchell, said: “While Scottish employers continued to support the growth in apprenticeship opportunities over the past year, we are of course facing into a very different economic landscape due to COVID-19.

“Throughout the pandemic SDS has worked with Scottish Government, training providers, employers and other partners to understand the impact on apprenticeships and provide support measures.

“We can’t overstate the scale of the challenge faced by business and employers across Scotland. Any employer of an apprentice who needs help or guidance can contact SDS on 0800 783 6000.

“SDS continues to work with Scottish Government and the Enterprise & Skills Strategic Board with a focus on supporting apprenticeships during these unprecedented times. As we move towards economic recovery, reskilling, retaining and lifelong learning through work-based learning and apprenticeships will certainly all have a crucial role to play.”

The Scottish Government’s economic recovery advisory panel will publish a report this month with youth employment and apprenticeships expected to be included in recommendations.

Apprentices across Scotland are also performing vital functions in a myriad of key roles.
As a Waste Water Treatment Modern Apprentice at Scottish Water, Ailish Lavelle feels proud to be helping to keep the water running for Scotland during the pandemic. 

The 23-year-old has continued to work at Scottish Water’s Erskine waste water treatment plant throughout the lockdown. 

Ailish, from Giffnock, said: “It has been good to be able to keep working on site. Scottish Water has introduced new measures with strict social distancing rules, policies to limit contact and use of PPE, face masks and hand sanitisers. It’s become the ‘new normal’.” 

On a day-to-day basis, Ailish has been reading and analysing waste water samples, safely cleaning the water and dealing with essential contractors. 

The waste water operator says she’s learned new skills as a result of working through the pandemic. Ailish explained: “I’ve not been able to socialise on the job because of a limit on contact through policies such as taking separate break times. 

“It’s meant that I’ve had to work more independently rather than talk things through with the team. I think that’s given me more confidence to take decisions while having the security of knowing there will be someone available and on the end of the phone if I do need any advice or guidance.” 

Similarly, Sky employee and Technology Modern Apprentice Kerr Ramsay was part of the team making sure his contact centre colleagues were set up to manage customer calls from home at the start of the pandemic.

The contact centre had to be prepared to deal with an influx of calls from customers who also needed to make sure they were well connected for home working. 

Software Technician Kerr, from Falkirk, explained: “It was important to make sure our agents had the software and connectivity at home to be able to contact and support customers. 

“We had a test day before lockdown to make sure we could all connect to the networks.” 

Just before lockdown, the 23-year-old had recently joined the test automation team as part of his apprenticeship with Sky  and so has had to adapt and learn whilst working from home. 

Kerr said: “I’m quite a social person and like to communicate face to face at work, so I’ve had to build on my communication skills.

“I love being able to investigate new issues with the software and fix them. Anything can happen at any given point and I love the reactiveness of my role and working with a team to fix the problem.”

This article was brought to you in association with City of Glasgow College