That’s the message from firms who won accolades at the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards.

The spotlight was shone on the achievements of apprentices, employers and learning providers from different industries across the country, at a virtual awards ceremony, delivered by Skills Development Scotland.

Balfour Beatty were crowned Large Employer of the Year and the UK’s leading construction and infrastructure company currently has 70 apprentices learning in Scotland.

Community Benefits Advisor John Cairns believes apprenticeships are hugely important because they cultivate the business leaders of the future and stresses Balfour Beatty are still committed to investing in the development of young people.

John said: “Apprentices are the future experts of our industry. At Balfour Beatty, we have a strong track record of apprentices progressing through the company; in fact, two of our Managing Directors are former apprentices.

“The benefits apprentices bring to the organisation are vital and the progression from Modern to Graduate Apprenticeship has been important in allowing us to retain talent.”

Kelso’s Scotmas Group won the SME Employer of the Year award, sponsored by SQA, and CEO Alistair Cameron believes the company’s excellent apprenticeship programme has enabled them to develop talent on their doorstep while also establishing their reputation as a world-class operator.

The world-leading chlorine dioxide specialist offers Modern Apprentices the opportunity to progress on to Graduate Apprenticeships, which enables the company to attract and retain young talent in the Borders.

He added: “We’re a company that is based in a rural area of Scotland and work in a very specialist industry – we export and work internationally.

“We can’t pick staff up on the shelf with the experience and expertise that we need. It’s a fundamental requirement for us to be competitive in our international markets and that our staff are trained, competent and qualified to do the work.

“Being able to offer high-quality job opportunities in the local area is very important to us – we’re firmly rooted in the local community.”

The Scottish Apprenticeship Awards recognised the resilience and hard work of Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprentices as well as employers who invest in their workforce.

Samir Khan-Young also won Graduate Apprentice of the Year for excelling in his role; which included working night shifts in order to produce PPE for the NHS.

Samir was one of a number of winners at the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards, co-ordinated by Skills Development Scotland, who had shown resilience over the past year.

The 25-year-old Engineering: Design and Manufacture Graduate Apprenticeship with Thales said: “It was great to put my skills to good use during lockdown as part of the nightshift team who were making PPE for NHS staff. It was a rewarding experience.”

Having previously completed a Modern Apprenticeship at Thales, Samir was aware that a Graduate Apprenticeship was the natural progression.

Samir, who also plays for Shettleston Football Club, said: “I knew that a Graduate Apprenticeship was the perfect next step for me to progress after my Modern Apprenticeship.

“My award is a direct reflection of the support and encouragement my colleagues have given me, which has allowed me to grow professionally.”

Other apprentice winners included: Annabel Stewart of Charles River Laboratories, winner of Foundation Apprentice of the Year prize, Ciara Phillips, of Morgan Stanley Modern Apprentice of the Year – Level 5 award, Tamara Kamal, of NHS Lothian won Modern Apprentice of Year Level 6 category and Cameron MacDonald of Diageo won the Apprentice Ambassador of the Year.

BAE Systems’ Marie Brennan was named Instructor of the Year after the Apprentice and Skills Development Leader was recognised for helping 180 apprentices to fulfil their potential over the past 13 years.

Harper MacLeod won the Large Employer of the Year – Promoting Diversity category while the SME Employer of the Year – Promoting Diversity prize was awarded to Edinburgh accountancy firm Zen Consultants.

Zen CEO Saj Sharif urges other businesses to back apprenticeships and reap the rewards.

Saj said: “My advice would be to do it. Taking on an apprentice will benefit your business because you will be shaping an employee into becoming an asset.”

Livingston’s Openreach training school was presented with the Innovation in Learning Provision Award for the adaptions it made to Modern Apprentices.

Chair of Skills Development Scotland, Frank Mitchell said: “Businesses backing talent through apprenticeships will play a crucial role in supporting Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic.

“The Scottish Apprenticeship Awards show the value apprentices add to employers and the economy.”

Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair work and Culture, Fiona Hyslop, said: “Apprenticeships will play a major part in our economic recovery.

“I offer my heartfelt thanks to all our apprentices, and the businesses supporting them. Your continuous hard work and commitment during this incredibly challenging time is appreciated by everyone.

“This Apprentice of the Year award is a fantastic achievement and Samir should be thoroughly proud of himself. We are right behind him and will continue to do everything we can to support our apprentices and young people.”