Frank Mitchell, Chair, Skills Development Scotland
Nobody in Scotland has been unaffected by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When it comes to employment prospects, the evidence shows that young people are being affected more that the rest of us.
Both as an employer with Scottish Power Energy Networks, and as Chair of Skills Development Scotland, the safety and wellbeing of colleagues has been an absolute priority.
That includes a particular focus on young people.
At a time when many businesses across the country are focused on survival, it can be tempting for business leaders to think about developing young talent as a problem for tomorrow.
Even through difficult times, Scotland can’t deny young people one of the most direct pathways to a rewarding career – an apprenticeship.
Encouragingly, with support from the Job Retention Scheme and other government intervention, the great majority of Scotland’s apprentice employers have been able to stand by their young people, supporting apprentices through the pandemic.
For that, they have my sincere thanks and will have the continued support of Skills Development Scotland.
As we continue backing the current generation of apprentices, it has never been more critical to create opportunities for young people.
With the recent launch of the Young Person’s Guarantee, the Scottish Government has committed to minimising youth unemployment caused by the pandemic.
The guarantee rightly covers a range of opportunities after leaving school – work, volunteering, learning and training.
It’s a bold commitment in what has felt like the bleakest of times.
Unlike other forms of learning and training, an apprenticeship isn’t the promise of a job – or the potential to get into employment.
It’s a job from day-one – working, earning and learning.
Apprenticeships provide opportunities for sustained employment at a time when young people need them most.
The potential that an apprenticeship can release in a young person is directly matched by the benefits to employers who get a skilled workforce.
After over a decade of rapid expansion, the number of new apprenticeship opportunities has reduced in the last six months.
This isn’t a surprise – we know the labour market has contracted as a result of the pandemic and advertised job opportunities are down in almost every sector of the economy.
However, it’s critical that we minimise this disruption – the need to support apprenticeship opportunities and work-based learning pathways has never been greater.
We know that Scottish business backs talent – pre-pandemic more than 12,000 employers supported apprenticeships.
The steady increase over the years and managed expansion of apprenticeships has been in line with growing employer demand to develop their workforce.
New initiatives in recent years, such as Foundation Apprenticeships for pupils and Graduate Apprenticeships, are creating a world-leading work-based learning system right here in Scotland.
Scottish Government remains firmly committed to the long-term role of apprenticeships in economic renewal, in supporting growth areas of the economy and providing the best career prospects for young people
Through its Programme for Government, Scottish Government is focusing on youth employment, training and apprenticeships to avoid the ‘scarring of youth unemployment’.
SDS and partners have responded to the pandemic, enhancing services and offering new support for apprentices, employers and training providers.
The Apprenticeship Employer Grant looks to provide additional support for employers to take on apprentices up to the end of the financial year.
Funding for Adopt an Apprentice – to help employers to take on redundant apprentices – has increased from £2000 to £5000.
The Apprentice Transition Plan service will also see more support for apprentices made redundant near the end of their apprenticeship to help them get qualified.
New Pathway Apprenticeships will also provide opportunities for school leavers facing more limited options due to the economic impact from COVID-19.
As the national skills agency, SDS will continue to work to ensure the right support is there for those who need it in the months to come.
We will continue to work with the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board and other employer organisations to maximise the support available.
As employers we need to sustain our investment in young people through apprenticeships to avoid a generation missing out on the critical skills that will last them a lifetime and help renew our economy.
For those who can, the support and help from Skills Development Scotland is there to make sure apprenticeships can strengthen your business.
Visit apprenticeships.scot to get the help you need to give a young person a chance.