Balfour Beatty has a long history of developing talent and its workforce through employing apprentices.

Meeting Scotland’s critical skills needs through Graduate Apprenticeships

Hector MacAulay, Managing Director,
Balfour Beatty’s Scotland and Ireland construction business

Modern apprenticeships are a key part of the building blocks of our talent pipeline, however now there are also opportunities with foundation apprenticeships, creating work-based learning pathways for senior phase school pupils, and Graduate Apprenticeships offering jobs with work-based learning up to degree level.

At Balfour Beatty, Graduate Apprentices nurture their skills and add real value to some of our most high-profile projects in Scotland. We currently have two based on North Scotland projects: Linkwood Primary School in Elgin and Ninewells Hospital, Dundee. We also have one graduate apprentice currently on a rotational placement within the Technical Services team which allows them to experience and learn about different roles and departments within Balfour Beatty.

We offer a variety of Graduate Apprenticeships, covering Civil Engineering, Construction and the Built Environment as well as IT disciplines. Where an employee shows an interest in another subject, we make every effort to support this. It is vitally important for us to create opportunities through apprenticeships and we believe life-long learning is key to leaving a sustainable, lasting legacy through our projects in Scotland. Employer perceptions are shifting and no longer are apprenticeships simply the domain of school leavers, or for non-academic subjects.

Balfour Beatty are also a proud member of ‘The 5% Club’, founded by our CEO Leo Quinn – The 5% Club is a UK, employer-led initiative focused on the recruitment of people into “earn and learn” placements to increase the number of apprentices and graduates. It’s about allowing young people to improve their career prospects, while equipping Scotland, and the whole of the UK, with the skilled people we need to safeguard our economy. The current regional Scottish figure is 8%.

Addressing critical skills needs

One of the great things about Graduate Apprenticeships is that they directly address the critical skills requirements of our business now, and in the future. Significantly, for us, they provide skills that are appropriate for the world of construction.

The way they do this is that courses are industry led – so they are designed by employers and aligned to the skills that businesses will use and need. Apprentices are equipped with a good blend between learning received at university and the practical knowledge learned in the workplace – it’s a win-win situation for everyone.

It’s no news that there is a skills shortage in Scotland, and I can see Graduate Apprenticeships as having a crucial role is addressing this. Their development is centred on the sectors that have a need for highly skilled jobs.

The skills shortage isn’t an issue that’s going to go away in the short or long-term. The current political climate is having an impact on the availability of skills, and changes to Scotland’s demographics are putting more pressure on the working age population. The pace of technological change means our workforce needs both flexibility and resilience.

Future proofing our industries

It is therefore encouraging to see the choice of frameworks growing – it has more than doubled from six, back in 2017 when they were first introduced, to fourteen. The appetite for Graduate Apprenticeships is certainly there – the feedback and research show this – and satisfying this will help future-proof our industries and workforce. The world of work is continually changing at a rapid pace, and employers and skills are challenged to keep up.

Graduate Apprenticeships are firmly part of Scottish Government policy and strategy commitments for the future. Scottish Government’s Future Skills Action Plan, Youth Employment Strategy and Economic Strategy set out a clear commitment to Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships and their part in building a world-class work-based learning system. But there’s always more that can be done.

Demand outstripping supply of Graduate Apprenticeships

We would like to see more Graduate Apprenticeships available throughout Scotland. I can say with confidence that a simple increase in places available would be beneficial to the construction and infrastructure industry. I am confident that this would also be the case across other sectors too.

Through our work within Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, I can see that, employers, both large and small, are desperately seeking highly skilled, qualified people. A Graduate Apprentice will combine the taught, theoretical aspect of a role with the practical, business-mindset gained from that vital exposure to the job, making this an attractive route for people carving out their career path, and employers alike.

Government and legislators should see this as an enormous opportunity. A change in the system is underway. Now, with universities and colleges onboard and the permeating benefits that can be felt by everyone involved – and the Scottish economy – there should be nothing standing in the way of creating more Graduate Apprenticeships.