Professor Steve Petrie is Business Performance Director at Balfour Beatty and new Chair of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board’s Standards and Frameworks Group.

I started my career as an apprentice. It all happened quickly and at the age 16, I found myself on a train to Edinburgh from Aberdeen, about to start a course to become an engineer for British Gas. It was the best start I could have ever asked for. The apprenticeship was structured, well-paced and most importantly, was precisely the training needed to be able to do the job well. I completed it and never looked back.

My view back then is the same now – that apprenticeships and a degree have the same currency and that the system should reflect this parity.

Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board: ‘future focused’

My keen interest in supporting, not just our young people, but learners more generally – and especially through apprenticeships – continues as I take on my new role as Chair of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board’s (SAAB) Standards and Frameworks Group. The SAAB is a group of cross-sector employers and representative bodies who provide insight into the skills needs of business and help to shape policy and support available. Overall, we work to ensure that apprenticeships are ‘future fit’ and industry focused.

Continuing a commitment to apprenticeships

I’ve helped to drive change programmes for over three decades now and I want us – the Standards and Frameworks Group, other SAAB groups, Skills Development Scotland and Scottish Government – to be ambitious for the young people of Scotland. Apprenticeships remain a key Scottish Government commitment through the Young Person’s Guarantee and SAAB will continue to get behind this. We have already shaped and advocated the development of incentives and additional support for employers including the Apprenticeship Employer Grant which has helped boost job opportunities for young people during the pandemic period.

I recognise that despite these difficult times, many employers have continued their investment in apprenticeships, where and when they can – this is testament to the value that work-based learning can bring to an organisation. As we come out of the restrictions and start to rebuild our businesses and economy, it becomes more important now, than ever, for employers to continue this momentum in supporting apprenticeships. I see my role as helping the system to create more quality apprenticeship opportunities, with the right skills, at the right level.

I have joined SAAB at an exciting time – during a period of economic recovery and with a new apprenticeship development and governance system now going into implementation phase – I have high hopes.

Businesses setting the pace of change

The impact of the digital revolution will obliterate automated roles while people will be needed more than ever in front line and service roles, as well as cyber and software development. With this in mind, my aspirations as chair for the group, are also its biggest challenges – to bring together both the public and private sector and ensure that they collaborate effectively to facilitate the pace of change. It’s employers who are the customers, driving the demand and training providers, colleges and universities therefore need to anticipate the needs of business to keep up with new and changing skills requirements. Skills relevancy and clear pathways into real jobs is paramount for the future of our learners, businesses and the Scottish economy.

New approach to apprenticeship development

The Standards and Frameworks Group will provide leadership to help steer new apprenticeship development, ensuring they continue to offer relevant skills at a high quality for individuals and employers. Having already taken part in apprenticeship development back in 2017, I have experienced the benefits of the new approach first-hand. I participated in the first ever Technical Expert Group – an employer-led group of operational managers with the right experience to validate skills and real activities done within the workplace.

It came about after I asked the question around how employers can ensure that apprenticeships are right and can provide high quality candidates into the construction sector. We were routed towards SDS who were looking for employers to do exactly that – and so we helped to shape the Graduate Apprenticeship which we now know as Civil Engineering in the Built Environment.

I already feel that the work achieved in Scotland puts us ahead of the other three UK nations in terms of its ambitions to bring employers in at every stage of apprenticeship development, but I’m determined to continue to press ahead and not be complacent. I want Scotland to be recognised for its relevancy in terms of work-based learning – in the same way that I experienced and benefitted from, in my early career.

I would say to employers out there, if you think you can make a difference, step up, get involved and make the difference.