Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Chief Executive Damien Yeates has defended his organisation and the Modern Apprenticeship scheme it administers, saying that those critical of the way the programme was being administered “totally misunderstood” its purpose.
The Scottish Government and SDS have come under fire from Scottish Labour after Kezia Dugdale revealed figures, obtained from SDS, showing that 39 per cent of the 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships created in the financial year ending in April went to individuals who had already been in work for at least six months.
“One of the Scottish Government’s flagship policies has been exposed as a blatant con,” Dudgale said. “They said they had created 25,000 apprenticeships. What they actually did was take at least 10,000 people who were already in jobs and re-badge their employment as apprenticeships.
“The SNP have been exposed. They did not create 25,000 new opportunities for people seeking jobs. All they created was a set of crooked figures in an attempt to deceive the Scottish people.”
However, in an exclusive interview with Holyrood, Yeates questioned those comments. “It’s really interesting to see the interpretation of what the programme’s about. Apprenticeships have always been a workforce development tool. They have never been specifically about taking young people off the unemployment queue, and delivering on that as the primary objective,” he said.
“The other thing that seems to be totally misunderstood is that they’re demand-led. It’s the employer that chooses to employ the person, which is the first step; then the second step is that they then start their apprenticeship.
“Until very recently, Scotland was the only place in the British Isles where we sustained employed status, and that’s why people really value apprenticeships – they’re not like a training scheme. It starts with: ‘we’re giving you a job, and then we’ll decide what framework and what type of apprenticeship might follow on after that’.”
“Typically, the early years for young people are characterised by part-time work, underemployment – a lot of chopping and changing. Our argument has always been that the starting of an apprenticeship for young people is the first point of their career. It’s an employer that’s saying: ‘Tell you what, I value you and I’m going to commit to this apprenticeship.’”
Yeates also said that while Modern Apprenticeships were a valuable tool to combat youth unemployment, their impact couldn’t always be directly measured against unemployment statistics. “If you went straight from school to an apprenticeship, you wouldn’t be registered as unemployed before you started. Is that a negative outcome? Would politicians argue that that’s not a valuable outcome? Are they saying, ‘Actually, you need to be unemployed before you start an apprenticeship?’ That seems daft.
“The programme hasn’t changed. The programme was operated the same way under Labour as it is under the SNP.”