For some Scottish businesses working in STEM disciplines, the pandemic has had an unexpected upside with apprentices thriving in lockdown

ADAPTING and innovating to meet the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic is something that every business in Scotland is now familiar with.

And for firms with apprentices, maintaining learning and development has actually been part of the solution as well as part of that challenge.

Measures have included colleagues making the most of technology and the latest kit, while some companies have had to take on on new apprentices to meet an increased demand for services.

Keeping apprentices engaged, with a focus on their well-being, has been a priority for many of the employers who have been able to operate through Covid-19 restrictions, such as leading aerospace, defence and security technology firm, Leonardo.

Leonardo has taken a proactive approach to the coronavirus pandemic, working from the early stages to procure additional remote working infrastructure such as laptops and secure network bandwidth to allow apprentices to work from home. 

Apprentices have been encouraged to stay in touch via a variety of digital channels in place of the face-to-face meetings they are more used to. 

As a result, all of Leonardo’s apprentices passed their modules with flying colours – most with A grades – with most Graduate Apprentices passing their year with distinction.

Leonardo’s UK Head of Apprenticeship Management, Deborah Soley explained: “We issued our apprentices with a bank of personal development courses and continued to work with them on their SVQs. We also made sure their managers were supported to be able to work effectively with apprentices remotely.”

Keeping the apprentices engaged included an innovative project to support the community and learn new skillsets during lockdown. Deborah explained: “To get them working together, we asked apprentices to create and film STEM exercises while at home, which were shared on our UK website and social media channels to in turn support children with their home schooling.

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“Our main concern was to make sure our apprentices were supported and continued to feel part of the Leonardo community, as many had moved to Edinburgh specifically to join us and so we had a responsibility to safeguard their wellbeing.”
The Leonardo site has now moved on to shift patterns, with apprentices being re-integrated into the workplace. 

The way its apprentices have quickly adapted to new ways of working and learning has been a source of pride for the company. 

Deborah said: “Our apprentices have demonstrated great resilience in the way they’ve adapted to their new working environment and their commitment to their studies has been reflected in these outstanding results. 

“We’ve also appreciated the strong partnerships we’ve forged with local colleges and universities, which have been vital during this period.”

Despite the lockdown, Leonardo is continuing to invest in apprenticeships, adopting a new online recruitment process which will see a further 26 apprentices join the business in the coming months.

Leading seafood company, Mowi, has also had to recruit more Modern Apprentices to support growth as a result of the pandemic.

The business, which is based in Rosyth, is taking on a further seven apprentices in IT, Business Administration and Engineering and plans to take on more to deal with a range of challenges including an ageing workforce. 

Mowi’s Learning and Development Manager, Donald Waring explained: “There was huge demand for our products in the supermarkets at the start of lockdown. Initially, it was like our Christmas season and we found that many people were trying our salmon for the first time and liking it, which has led to repeat buying and continued growth.

“We see apprentices as an important part of managing the growth and also ensuring the business develops its talent for a successful future.”

Mowi’s employees are classed as essential workers who have continued to supply the nation during the pandemic. 

As a result, the company had to put in place further adaptations across all its workplace environments to support current apprentices and the wider workforce.

Donald said: “We have always had to have a sterilised environment but now we are Covid secure and have installed shields, screens, sanitisers, provided training and implemented other measures to comply with the guidelines. 

“We’ve already introduced the desks for our future apprentices, to ensure that they are coming into a safe working environment from day one on the job.”

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Get help to keep up the PACE in jobs race

WHEN Bruce McAllister was made redundant during the Covid-19 pandemic, he feared the worst in terms of securing new employment.

The 49-year-old from Hamilton had worked at Quadscot Precision Engineers in Blantyre for 13 years.

“It came as a bit of a shock to lose my job”, Bruce said. “I felt quite angry and disappointed, as I thought I’d have been with the company until retirement, I was quite happy to stay there. It was a bit of a bombshell to be honest.”

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Bruce added: “I was made redundant in the middle of June, with the doors of the company closing a few weeks later. 

“Although it was during the pandemic period, the closure wasn’t related to the Covid-19 situation.”

Bruce and his colleagues were told about Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE), the Scottish Government’s initiative for responding to redundancy situations. 
Skills Development Scotland leads on the delivery of PACE support in conjunction with a number of partners including Department for Work and Pensions, local authorities and training providers.

Bruce said: “We were told about PACE, and then we had a video meeting with a PACE Adviser, Gillian Steven, who told us what PACE did, and she answered any questions that we had. 

“We were then offered a one-to-one phone call. I thought ‘I’ve nothing to lose here’ so I requested a call.

“Gillian was brand new. She went through everything with me, what my skills were, what I wanted to do, and asked how I was feeling. I told her I was feeling a bit down and unhappy. 

“She took my email address and sent me lots of information, including a phone number for Routes to Work South. 

“I phoned them and sent them my CV, which they helped me tidy up. The next thing I know they told me that a company were looking for staff and asked if I was interested, and I said yes. My CV was sent to them, and I was offered an interview.”
Bruce got the job and is now working as a general operative at Tradebe in Bellshill, who deal with clinical waste from the NHS.

He said: “It was quite a relief actually. I’ve only been in my new job a few weeks, and I’m quite enjoying it. 

“I’m just so glad to be working again, especially in the current climate.”
Bruce was delighted with the support he received from PACE and would encourage others to make use of the free, confidential service.

He said: “I’d highly recommend PACE as they helped me with everything and they put me on to Routes to Work. It was great getting the help with my CV. 

“You can do these things online, but sometimes it’s good to get somebody else’s opinion. If it hadn’t been for the help I received, I might still have been looking for work just now.”

  • To find out more about PACE support visit redundancyscotland.co.uk or call 0800 917 8000 to speak to an adviser

This article was brought to you in association with Skills Development Scotlands as part of our STEM campaign