Dr Liz Cameron OBE, Chief Executive of SCC highlights the skills challenges ahead and how apprenticeships form a vital part of the solution.

The pandemic has brought to the forefront skills challenges that existed pre-pandemic as well as bring to light new challenges that will have to be addressed collaboratively. Pre-pandemic, the challenges included skills gaps; availability of talent; equality of opportunity & progression; training & development; and migration.

Now as a result of the pandemic, those issues have been exacerbated as well as creating new challenges to manage including new modes/patterns of working; risk of rising unemployment; industry & skills transitions; skills and talent gaps to support recovery; and tailored reskilling and upskilling interventions.

It should come as no surprise that apprenticeships have also been disrupted by the pandemic given it is businesses that create the opportunities for workplace learning.

On this basis, employers have been in a desperate battle to retain the jobs they have, with little left over to create new ones. Where they could, I know Scotland’s employers have worked incredibly hard to create apprenticeship opportunities for young people throughout a challenging period for sectors across the board. Those employers believed that choosing to recruit or upskill staff through work-based learning would support them now and in the future.

In the last year, Scottish Government backed incentives such as the Apprenticeship Employer Grant and enhanced funding within Adopt an Apprentice have been welcomed. As a member of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB), the Scottish Chambers of Commerce took part in the consultation to help define some of the detail of the Grant, ensuring that it was suitable, accessible and had real impact for businesses. I was pleased with the final outcome – more than double that available through the equivalent scheme in England.

During the pandemic period of business disruption, strong partnerships between employers and learning providers have enabled our young people already in apprenticeships to continue to learn, progress and achieve outside the workplace. As we continue to see restrictions on businesses ease in the coming weeks, existing and new apprentices should be at the heart of how business will rebuild and invest in the future, talented workforce.

Looking ahead, we know that the impact of Covid-19 is already having a disproportionate economic effect on young people, reducing job opportunities just as they are starting out on their careers. I am encouraged that the government’s strategy through the Young Person’s Guarantee places apprenticeships as a vital part of the solution.

Moreover, as the newly formed Holyrood administration gets to work, it’s positive to see their pre-election manifesto commitment to build apprenticeship starts back up to 30,000 a year and further will now be actioned.