Elaine Ellis explains how a promising new apprenticeship could help youngsters gain invaluable experience and boost their career options
After many years of being considered the poor relation to university, training young people through apprenticeships is back in fashion in the UK.
Although policy and approach varies in the devolved nations, each have placed apprentice training at the heart of their youth skill strategy.
In March, the Scottish Government set a target of starting 27,000 people on apprenticeships by the end of March 2018. The majority of those who start training will be under 25.
One of the outcomes of this positive focus on work-based apprenticeship training is the expansion of the apprenticeship family from modern apprenticeships to the introduction of Foundation Apprenticeships and Graduate Apprenticeships. These schemes are still at the pilot stage.
A national problem
Along with the rest of the UK, Scotland has one of the world’s lowest youth unemployment rates. A strong apprenticeship programme is seen as one of the key reasons. (Germany has the lowest rate, with an apprenticeship programme and links with industry and education hailed as the world’s best.)
Despite this, the UK still has a problem with youth unemployment and an over-reliance on low-skilled jobs for young people. Worldwide, youth unemployment is at epidemic proportions and, while we’re doing well in comparison with many countries, we can’t afford to be complacent.
Although young Scots may have favourable employment rates when compared with their European compatriots, unemployment rates are still significantly higher than for adults.
A recent report has highlighted structural changes that impact negatively on young people entering the labour market. The Life Chances of Young People in Scotland suggests that, for today’s 16 to 24-year-olds, there are significant new entry barriers into employment that will affect them at a greater level than any previous generation.
For those who are disadvantaged or don’t have the right contacts or support, the barriers are even harder to navigate, showing that even in a relatively progressive country like Scotland, we’re leaving many young people behind.
Another issue is the mismatch between the skills that young people enter the labour market with and the skills employers are looking for. There is the economic paradox that, while young people struggle to access good quality jobs, employers are also struggling to fill vacancies with available talent.
A new approach
One approach to address these barriers is the introduction of Foundation Apprenticeships. Designed for pupils entering S5, they allow youngsters to gain a work-based qualification, while also developing experience with employers and also developing a practical grounding in useful workplace skills.
For those not pursuing a career in their Foundation Apprenticeship subject, completion will provide credit towards university or college.
Sadly, Foundation Apprenticeships in their current format are not ideal for the electrotechnical sector. The safety aspect of our work fits the old adage that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”, and part-training without completion of the full programme is not in our interest.
However, the philosophy behind Foundation Apprenticeship is sound and should be supported. After all, a qualification that builds links with industry, employers and schools is positive, and allowing youngsters to widen their knowledge of career possibilities and gain work experience is to be welcomed.
As the Foundation Apprenticeship programme evolves, there will no doubt be an opportunity to work towards a qualification that suits the construction and building services sector, and we would be delighted to work with our industry partners and Skills Development Scotland to explore every option.
It is essential that, as a sector, we look for imaginative ways to support the expansion of qualifications that link schools, young people and industry. While the current Electrical Installation Apprenticeship is one of – if not the – largest single discipline for apprenticeship training, and as such sets many young people on a positive career, it is only one route.
We should be looking to widen access and, as a sector, support initiatives that widen opportunities for all young people at an earlier stage, not just for those that go on to become electricians.
By building stronger links with education we will be able to widen the talent pool and attract a wider demographic to our sector in a range of roles. Foundation Apprenticeships will be an excellent way to do that.
If you require further information about qualifications and skills development, contact Elaine at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her on 0131 445 5577
The Experience gap
One of the reasons for high youth unemployment is down to the experience gap. Research by UK Commission for Employment and Skills in 2014 found that 66% of employers rate work experience as either crucial or highly significant when recruiting. The lack of work experience is a major barrier in allowing young people to access vacancies, in particular those in which they could build a meaningful career.