A modern look at apprenticeships

Written by Gemma Fraser on 2 October 2018 in Inside Politics

New apprenticeship programmes are designed to broaden career pathways for young people – but stigma and gender bias need to be addressed first

Image credit: Sanctuary Group

There was a time when the decision on what to do after leaving school was simple: you either got an apprenticeship and joined the world of work, or you went to university.

University, back in a different lifetime, was the preserve of the wealthy middle classes.

Thankfully, over the years, this social stereotype has been reversed. The introduction of free tuition fees in Scotland has broken down wealth barriers, meaning some young students have been proudly waved off to university by working-class parents who could only have dreamt of such an opportunity when they were that age.

But while this culture and societal shift can only ever be considered a positive step for our country –there is absolutely nothing negative about increased educational opportunities – it can be argued that there are certain drawbacks.

With more than 40 per cent of school leavers going on to study at university in 2016/17, there has been criticism that degrees are being handed out too readily, effectively diminishing their worth.

There is also the argument that university doesn’t suit everyone, and some youngsters are going simply because they feel like they should.

Whether you agree with that viewpoint or not, there is one thing that most educators will agree on: there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to further education and future career pathways.

At Holyrood’s Skills & Apprenticeships in Scotland event, which was sponsored by the SQA, those with an interest in education from all perspectives joined forces to discuss how we shape, promote and support a range of pathways for young people and school leavers to follow.

Delegates learned about the different types of apprenticeships now available – the traditional modern apprenticeship where you learn on the job, the foundation apprenticeship for school pupils in S5 or S6, and the recently-introduced graduate apprenticeship where students work, get paid, and achieve a degree – even up to Masters level.

Dr Gill Stewart, Director of Qualifications Development at the SQA, told delegates about a project at Craigroyston High School in Edinburgh which sees young people go out to work with local businesses – ranging from hoteliers to engineering companies – two or three times a week.

At the end of the programme, some of the young people go on gain apprenticeship places with the companies they’ve worked with, or go into further or higher education, highlighting just one way young people can be helped at a school level.

For Rosie Wilkins, the route into her apprenticeship journey was much less structured – in fact, she admitted to stumbling into it.

Named Scotland’s Apprentice of the Year 2017, Wilkins began her apprenticeship in hospitality at the Torridon Hotel in the Highlands after being encouraged by the hotel owner to do so while she was doing seasonal work as a housekeeper.

“I don’t think I would be who I am and where I am if it wasn’t for this programme,” she said.

“I have been offered a position of duty manager in the hotel which is quite a position to go into after three years.

“I have got the skills and experience behind me to do this job and carry on.”

Delegates discussed how uptake of apprenticeships can be significantly impacted by a stigma that is attached to the schemes – perhaps a hangover from bygone days.

One of the key ways to address this stigma is to educate and involve parents, they agreed.

“Maybe if parents realised their child could be working and earning money but still get the same qualifications as they would get going to university, that would help,” Wilkins said.

Sally Charles, Business Development Manager at Robert Gordon University, said the new foundation and graduate apprenticeships are building on the pre-existing modern apprenticeships.

She added: “I think the opportunity of introducing the graduate apprenticeships gives parents that reassurance but brings in the benefits of work-based learning into this model.”

Susan Mackay, Managing Consultant, SQW, pointed out that those who are considered higher achievers are not given information about apprenticeships and sometimes have to go against advice from parents or schools.

Delegates also heard from speakers how the uptake of apprenticeships amongst girls in STEM areas and traditional male-dominated areas of work is also a major barrier which needs to be overcome.

Speaking about Arnold Clark’s training academy, the company’s Early Careers Manager, Suzanne Sherry, told delegates that out of 260 young people who started an apprenticeship, only nine were girls.

The challenges have been identified and agreed upon, but the next step is to address them by raising awareness, breaking down barriers and addressing stigmas.

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