Frank Mitchell (Chair, Skills Development Scotland)

Two years ago, Deputy First Minister John Swinney underlined his commitment to provide up to 5,000 new Foundation Apprenticeship opportunities available in schools by the end of 2019.

The ambition is a bold one for Scotland’s young people. It has the potential to re-shape the future skills of our economy.

Evidence from around the world tells us that countries with well-developed apprenticeship and work-based learning systems are more productive, have more resilient economies and lower youth unemployment.

That is the potential prize for introducing work-based learning earlier, forging better links between employers and education through Foundation Apprenticeships.

Foundation Apprenticeships mean pupils spend time out of the classroom working on real projects with real employers getting qualification at the same level as a Higher.

The changes required within schools and the education system to enable young people to choose a Foundation Apprenticeship can’t be underestimated.

Schools and businesses are different. Building better links locally between both presents challenges we need to tackle with creativity, determination and flexibility.

Even changes to timetables to ensure pupils can attend college or work placements needs a degree of thinking differently.

It’s incumbent on us all to ensure young people, schools and parents understand the value of work-based learning.

Critical to this challenge is that although all universities and colleges now recognise and value Foundation Apprenticeship qualifications for entry, we still measure a school’s success or failure by Highers.

SDS has delivered on the commitment to making more than 5,000 Foundation Apprenticeships available for the academic year ahead.

Thousands of young people across Scotland have just chosen their school subjects.

SDS clearly has a crucial role to play in the success of Foundation Apprenticeships.

We are ensuring young people see this opportunity is being achieved through social media, advertising, TV campaigns and of course our professional career advisors.

But it will also take a unified effort from local authorities; schools, colleges and employers across the country to ensure they are able to deliver on that commitment and young people are able to take up the places on offer.

And why does that matter so much?

Over the years, I have been lucky to meet and work alongside some great people.

I have seen the benefits of investing in talent and developing the young workforce through apprenticeships.

It was a real pleasure when I met Scotland’s Apprentice of the Year, Fraser Wallace, and his very proud parents.

Fraser is a Modern Apprentice with aerospace engineering firm GE Caledonian.

It’s fantastic to think about the heights Fraser’s career could reach in the future.

It’s also important to recognise how got to where he is just now.

Fraser was one of the first young people in the country to complete a Foundation Apprenticeship.

He completed his engineering Foundation Apprenticeship attending Ayrshire College and work placements with GE Caledonian while he was a pupil at Greenwood Academy.

He learned in the workplace from expert engineers with decades of experience on the job.

The company was so impressed they offered him an apprenticeship job when he left school.

It’s not hard to see how Foundation Apprenticeships are bridging the gap between education and employers – the aim of Scottish Government’s flagship youth employment policy to develop the young workforce.

Full-time further education is not for everybody.

The ability to earn and learn opens up more opportunities for all of society; the benefits of increasing work-based learning opportunities are good for individuals, good for employers and overall good for the Scottish economy.

We all must work together to make the most of this fantastic opportunity.