The University of Dundee have joined forces with the University of Stirling, Dundee & Angus College, Fife College, Perth College, Forth Valley College and West Lothian College to create a working relationship, with the aim of helping local businesses to develop their talent, boost their performance and grow their business.

From Business to Engineering, IT to Social Care, the Scottish Apprenticeship Family provides fully funded opportunities for businesses of all shapes and sizes, whether they are looking to develop talent of the future by offering opportunities to those just starting their career, or they would like to develop current or new members of their workforce all the way up to degree level.

The idea was the brainchild of Wayne Paul, the University of Dundee’s Industrial Liaison Officer for their Graduate Apprenticeship Programme.

“Throughout my career my priority has always been to connect people with products or services that make their lives easier. When I joined the University within the Marketing Team, I had never heard of the Scottish Apprenticeship Family, but finding out more about it made me curious – a programme that was not only fully funded but also so easily accessible without mountains of paperwork and hoops to jump through. Ultimately, existing to provide businesses of all shapes and sizes with the opportunities they needed to develop their workforce at no additional cost to the business. I was hooked!”

Moving into his current role, one question always remained at the back of Wayne’s mind, why had he never heard about the Scottish Apprenticeship Family before? Having worked for a few large businesses, represented many small to medium sized businesses, and owned several of his own businesses, Wayne was a prime target for the Scottish Apprenticeship Family.

“When I started in my role, I decided to investigate why this could be the case. Speaking with employers, support organisations and fellow professionals, it was clear that many of them had also never heard of the Scottish Apprenticeship Family or had only heard about one of them.”

After analysing his findings, it became clear that three main barriers existed. The first was clearly brand awareness for those who had never heard of the programme. The second however was a lack of collaboration amongst apprenticeship providers.

“If employers had heard of the apprenticeship family, many did not know that Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprenticeships were part of the same family and that they could, for example, provide an opportunity to someone at school via a Foundation Apprenticeship and then hire them and progress them through both a Modern Apprenticeship and Graduate Apprenticeship, leaving them with an employee who is fully integrated within the company structure, with many years of industry experience and has a full honours degree, all at no additional training cost to the business.”

The third, and perhaps most challenging barrier, is that there is still a stigma around apprenticeships.

Many people hear the word apprenticeship and associate them solely with the trades, or that they are for those who did not thrive at school. Perhaps one of the largest misconceptions is that apprenticeships are only for young people or for new employees.

“The Scottish Apprenticeship Family is such a versatile programme that it allows businesses to develop their workforce at any stage of their career, be that providing an opportunity to someone just starting out in their career, upskilling a current member of the workforce, or providing an opportunity for someone who is looking to change direction within the business.”

Having established that these barriers existed, Wayne set about trying to resolve them.

Then the pandemic hit!

“The pandemic really put into perspective just how beneficial the Scottish Apprenticeship Family can be for businesses of all shapes and sizes. The pandemic impacted businesses in so many ways, from employers having to reduce their workforce and increase their efficiency, others needing to maximise the capabilities of their current workforce, and even those who needed to expand their workforce due to an increase in demand. Regardless of the impact the pandemic had, and continues to have, on businesses, one constant remained. The need to invest in the development of their workforce. But at a time when resources were tight, many businesses faced having to significantly reduce or completely stop any employee development opportunities. This is where I saw an opportunity for our Graduate Apprenticeship Programme to step in and help businesses to continue to develop their workforce without putting extra financial pressure on the business. This led to the creation of our ‘Developing your workforce in difficult times’ campaign which not only helped to increase brand awareness of the programme but also allowed employers to see how their business could benefit from them.”

Although this led to record numbers of Graduate Apprentices joining the Graduate Apprenticeship Programme in October, Wayne was not finished yet.

“Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, my plans to collaborate with other Universities and Colleges who offer the Scottish Apprenticeship Family were put on hold, as we all tried to navigate the unknown situation we were facing. Once we had successfully welcomed our new intake of Graduate Apprentices, I set about forming plans to increase collaboration among providers. This started with the formation of the Graduate Apprenticeship Employer Engagement Network, a group that meets quarterly with representatives from all Graduate Apprenticeship providers coming together to share their ideas on how we can support as many employers as we can and overcome any barriers we are facing.”

This was a great start, but it was only the beginning.

“After I connected with my fellow Graduate Apprenticeship providers, I also wanted to reach out to the colleges in our area that offer Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships. This was not only to increase collaboration and make the employer and apprentices journey more seamless when utilising the Scottish Apprenticeship Family, but also to start developing strong long-term relationships with these providers, so that we could closely work together and look at ways to help businesses prosper.”

Having formed an instant bond with his counterpart at the University of Stirling Fiona McMillan, they joined forces and met with representatives from Dundee & Angus College, Fife College, Perth College, Forth Valley College and West Lothian College.

“What was incredible to see was that we established very quickly that we were all on the same page and that by working together we could overcome some of the barriers we were facing and ultimately increase brand awareness of all the apprenticeships, helping more and more businesses to survive and prosper, especially during these difficult times.”

Fiona agrees: “Collaborating with Wayne and our college partners is a real pleasure, and we’re delighted to be making more organisations aware of the positive impacts of the whole apprenticeship family. Apprenticeships provide a fantastic solution to the skills challenges faced by many companies, equipping them for the future – we’re proud to be part of that.”

These meetings ultimately led to the first of many collaborations between all the Universities and Colleges involved, with the launch of the series of Scottish Apprenticeship Employer Events in early March.

“As businesses start to look to the future and look at the support that is available to them, we wanted to start our collaboration off with a series of events that outlined exactly what the Scottish Apprenticeship Family is and how businesses can benefit from them. These apprenticeships can work hand in hand with the business’s goals and objectives, allowing them to focus on the task at hand whilst we work to develop the skills and experience that are entering their business, increasing their flexibility, responsiveness and efficiency. Our aim is to help as many businesses as we can during these trying times so we would be delighted to speak to any employers about how the Scottish Apprenticeship Family can help their business.”

With future collaborations in the pipeline, it is an exciting time for both the providers and employers to maximise the potential the Scottish Apprenticeship Family has for everyone involved.