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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 12, 2020

Meeting of the Parliament 12 March 2020

Agenda: Business Motion, General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Apprenticeship Week , Portfolio Question Time, Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Covid-19 (Update), Business Motion, Decision Time


Scottish Apprenticeship Week

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-20766, in the name of Jamie Halcro Johnston, on Scottish apprenticeship week 2020.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that Scottish Apprenticeship Week takes place from 2 to 6 March 2020; understands that this year’s theme is Talent Without Limits; appreciates that the annual campaign is coordinated by Skills Development Scotland and aims to highlight the opportunities that Scottish apprenticeships create for everyone, no matter their background, and for every business, no matter its size or sector; notes that events, activities and visits will take place across the country to celebrate the diversity that makes work-based learning good for individuals, employers and the economy; celebrates that a growing number of employers and training providers are offering foundation, modern and graduate apprenticeships, and notes that Members are being encouraged to take part in a local visit or event as part of the week.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

Last week, this Parliament marked another successful Scottish apprenticeship week. Many members took the opportunity to visit a range of businesses and employers in their constituencies and regions and met apprentices who shared their experiences so that we could learn at first hand about what they do. Apprenticeship week has been a fixture in the calendar for many years now, but it still retains the ability to surprise and impress us. It allows us to see for ourselves apprentices setting out on new careers, learning, training and developing their skills.

Here, in the Parliament, it was my pleasure to welcome apprentices from all parts of Scotland last Wednesday. The reception in the garden lobby, which showcased just some of the exciting work that they do, was a celebration of their achievements but it also allowed us time to reflect on the important role that apprenticeships play.

Earlier that day, I convened a meeting of the Parliament’s cross-party group on skills, at which we were joined by a number of young apprentices who came to share their experiences, including 2019’s apprentice of the year, Jordan Fairlamb. There was a drop-in that gave members an opportunity to meet modern and graduate apprentices, and the cross-party group on colleges and universities held its own meeting later in the week.

I was pleased to see so many colleagues engage with those opportunities and show their support. I particularly thank the team at Skills Development Scotland, which has done so much to make successive Scottish apprenticeship weeks such successes. I also thank all those who were able to join us here, in the Parliament.

As I mentioned, Scottish apprenticeship week is a celebration of our apprentices’ achievements, but it is also about raising awareness of apprenticeships, their importance to our society and their contribution to producing a highly skilled workforce. This is partly promotional, because an apprenticeship is a great way to gain a range of skills for work, to learn while doing and to earn a wage.

We can also look at the wider gains that apprenticeships provide by improving productivity, supporting good-quality work and encouraging businesses to think more about training and their wider social responsibilities. High-quality, well-organised apprenticeships can have an enormously positive effect on our labour market. We should learn the lessons from their success, such as the importance of structured training and the need to look in greater depth at lifelong learning and change it from an aspiration to a practical reality in all our workplaces.

We should also recognise the contribution of employers, who are getting involved in increasing numbers. Some might be taking an apprentice for the first time. Others might be smaller businesses that did not think that it would be possible for them to recruit apprentices. Some may be pathfinders, creating new routes into sectors and workplaces where they would not have been found before. In all cases, apprenticeships have made a contribution whose value will endure for many years to come.

I mentioned the range of visits that members were involved in during apprenticeship week. My own visit this year was to Walkers, in Aberlour, the world-famous producer of traditional Scottish shortbread. It is a family business that is firmly rooted in Speyside, and it has been operating for more than a century in a small Moray village. However, it has a global reach and is a huge exporting success, topping the list of Scotland’s food exporters.

Complementing its long history is a focus on the future and the workers who will carry on the business into the next generation. I had a fantastic visit, met the apprentices and heard about the company’s passionate support for the apprenticeship scheme.

Just as many providers are looking to the future, so must we. We look at the fast-changing world in which our labour market finds itself and see that people’s aspirations are shifting and their approach to work is evolving. The skills that businesses require can increasingly be quite different from one year to the next, and there is a sense that training and qualifications must keep up. The challenge for apprenticeships is to match that pace of change and to maintain their relevance in an evolving economy but also to grow and to maintain their high quality, becoming even stronger and more responsive.

Of course, apprenticeships are also changing. Modern apprenticeships have been joined in recent years by foundation and graduate apprenticeships, which provide new routes for learning. They are still at a relatively early stage, but they are real commitments to growth that should and must be met. Foundation apprenticeships, in particular, must go beyond being an option in every local authority area to sitting equally alongside the established qualifications framework.

There are, of course, other policy choices to make on improving and expanding our existing schemes. In the most recent years, apprenticeship growth has been marked among the over-25s. That is a positive step and one that was called for by many, including myself. However, we should be vigilant that it does not come at the expense of the under-25s. We are also still seeing considerable gender divides within frameworks. This is not a problem of the apprenticeships themselves, but a wider issue around opening up aspirations to all our young people regardless of their attributes and background.

Sitting alongside parity of esteem with other post-school learning routes comes the question of how we effectively signpost these opportunities; what guidance is given to our young people on careers; and, at a more fundamental level, how we show young people from the earliest points in their education the whole range of opportunities that can await them.

This Scottish apprenticeship week has looked, in particular, at where an apprenticeship can take a person. Its catchline, “talent without limits”, focuses on aspiration. When we look at our education and skills system, the core question should be about whether it is translating talent into opportunity. Is it effective in moving people into the careers that they seek?

We have seen considerable progress in apprenticeships since the Parliament was created, two decades ago. As Skills Development Scotland points out, the old-fashioned ideas no longer apply. We should look to the future with ambition for our apprenticeship system and our apprentices, but also with confidence. Together, we have heard many positive experiences from apprentices and those who have moved on into careers. I look forward to hearing more from around the chamber today. We should remember that apprenticeships are not just another qualification or training scheme, as important as that is. Done well, they support our economy and build pride in achievement. They open horizons, and that is what we should all be aiming for.


Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the debate to Parliament today. It is a timely debate about something we should be celebrating. I also thank him for hosting last week’s event, at which we had so many young apprentices—I should say apprentices of all ages and not fall into the trap of assuming that apprenticeships are all about young people. It brought people to the Parliament to see the number of diverse opportunities that exist and hear the apprentices speak passionately about the opportunities that they have been given.

As a member of this Parliament for two sessions, I have seen the development of the developing the young workforce agenda, with schools and employers taking up those opportunities to engage with apprenticeship programmes—foundation apprenticeships, modern apprenticeships and, of course, the graduate apprenticeships. It is a joy to see that agenda bedding in to what we are doing as a society in Scotland.

That evening, the minister brought it home to us that nearly 30,000 people are engaged in apprenticeships in Scotland, which is a fantastic result.

I try to do an apprenticeship visit every year, and this year I was delighted to go along to L McCann Electrical Ltd, in Motherwell, in my constituency. It is a national electrical contractor that has been established for over 30 years. It is also a proud sponsor of Motherwell Football Club, so we had quite a nice backdrop for our apprenticeship week photograph this time.

The visit was incredible, and I cannot thank the director, Ryan McCann, enough for the opportunity to meet four of the apprentices and talk about the stages on their journey to qualification. I also thank Ryan’s daughter Sienna for my beautiful flowers.

All the apprentices were eager to talk about the wealth of opportunity that they have been given. Some have been able to work in London and in northern England on some of the major contract work that the company is engaged in, and they were enthused by the quality of the opportunities in the projects, which included refitting colleges with more energy-efficient lighting and looking at the carbon footprint of the organisations that they were engaging with.

I cannot think of a better company to visit, given that we have just been through a climate change budget, because it specialises in LED lighting design and installation and offers turnkey solutions and business case services. The installations that it does are state of the art. It will come as no surprise to the Presiding Officer that we started talking about sensor technology, the LoRa network and what the fourth industrial revolution will mean for a lot of companies. I felt very much at home discussing those issues.

McCann Electrical is a partner of Philips Lighting, which has been renamed Signify. The company does partner work with many lighting manufacturers to support the delivery of installations and commercial bids. It also helps other companies to reduce their carbon footprint and installs state-of-the-art technology. I was very interested to hear about one of its products, which uses a particular wavelength of ultraviolet light to control mould and fungus and to ensure that working environments are free from bacteria, which is relevant to our current situation.

I will finish by saying thank you once again to Ryan McCann and the apprentices. The scheme is an absolutely brilliant example of why talent without limits is possible in our country.


Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP)

I, too, thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing this subject to the chamber.

I will concentrate on foundation apprenticeships and share with members my wonderful day on Monday 2 March, when I went to Portlethen academy and followed what some of the young students there were doing. What they were doing is typical of what is happening in Aberdeenshire, with Aberdeenshire Council leading on foundation apprenticeships. I hope that the minister will be so impressed by what I say that he will visit and see for himself.

On arrival at Portlethen academy, we had a briefing from Andrew Ritchie and his senior management team from Aberdeenshire Council and the senior management team in the school on the objectives of the foundation apprenticeships. Through a work-based learning approach, they enable a broad range of young people to gain Scottish credit and qualifications framework-level qualifications and give them access to a range of positive post-school destinations and pathways to a future career.

We met the apprentices, who told us about the benefits of the apprenticeships. Those apprenticeships build their confidence and help them to engage with wider learning. The apprentices were learning new skills in areas of the economy in which there are skills shortages.

In Aberdeenshire, there are foundation apprenticeships in 12 subject areas: accountancy, business skills, civil engineering, creative and digital media, engineering, financial services, food and drink technologies, hardware and system support, software development, scientific technologies, social services for children and young people, and social services and healthcare. From speaking to the pupils, we learned how they are engaged in local nurseries, primary schools and old folks’ homes. We followed some of the apprentices to Station House Media Unit—or SHMU—in Aberdeen, where we met apprentices from not only Portlethen academy but Peterhead academy and the Gordon schools in Huntly. The students, who were disengaged from school, were enthused by what they were learning in a new unit at SHMU, which has wonderful equipment for creative and digital media and computing skills. That day, we learned that, by doing those foundation apprenticeships, the young people learn how important the other subjects that they do in school are to their overall qualifications.

We then visited Aberdeen royal infirmary and saw apprentices working on the wards. A girl from Portlethen academy, who was from a minority ethnic community, was doing the healthcare foundation apprenticeship. As a result of her confidence in her social and soft skills, she had been offered places at three medical schools in Scotland. She put that down to the fact that she was doing that apprenticeship. She was learning soft skills, which employers often say that our pupils do not have. One employer said to me that pupils do only rote learning. It is important that employers realise that that approach is far from rote learning.

It is important to encourage parents to see the importance of foundation apprenticeships. One parent—a general practitioner whose daughter was disengaging—was so passionate about foundation apprenticeships that she said that everyone should do them. With graduate apprenticeships, they are instilling parity of esteem for all education.


Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

As others have done, I extend my thanks to Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber.

As Jamie Halcro Johnston said, Scottish apprenticeship week has been organised for many years by Skills Development Scotland, which has undertaken great work in promoting work-based learning opportunities over that period. I am sure that members across the chamber look forward, as I do, to the annual invitation to meet apprentices in their local area and mark the week with a local visit.

A striking thing about those visits, which colleagues have already referred to, is the diversity of the modern apprenticeships that are now available. The old-fashioned idea of apprenticeships was that they were relevant only to traditional skills, such as bricklaying, joinery and electrical skills. They are different now, but modern apprenticeships still have employment-based learning at their core.

I have no interest in striking a sour note, but I want to strike a note of caution on foundation apprenticeships, because they are different. They are work-related and work-based learning, but they are not employment-based learning. They are extremely important and valuable, and I have seen great examples of how they work—in fact, I will refer to one of those examples later on—but there is a difference between work-based learning and employment-based learning, which modern apprenticeships and graduate apprenticeships involve. Indeed, the Scottish Government has always been very clear in pointing out that that is the difference between the modern apprenticeship programme in Scotland and the programme in the rest of the United Kingdom—that is, it is based in employment.

I had a look back through my diary at the various apprenticeship week themes and visits that I have been on in East Lothian. Those visits have included—this demonstrates the diversity of the modern apprenticeship programme—visits to the tarmac cement works outside Dunbar, Yester Farm Dairies near Gifford, and Had-Fab Ltd in Macmerry. All of them showcased the diverse range of opportunities, skills and work-based learning that are available to apprentices locally.

As we have heard, the theme for apprenticeship week this year is talent without limits. This year, I visited Oscars Childcare at the Haddington joint campus school to meet staff and discuss the importance of apprenticeships to the business. That is, of course, relevant to the debate that we had in the Parliament yesterday on how the expansion of funded hours in childcare will be delivered. I met Ciara Herkes, who is undertaking a modern apprenticeship. She spoke to me about her positive experience of undertaking that training in a childcare setting. I also heard from senior staff at Oscars Childcare about the opportunities that the apprenticeship path has afforded to other team members and, indeed, about how it has provided the organisation with the chance to grow and expand, as its staff get the chance to upskill through working to achieve an industry-recognised qualification that is recognised and valued by the company’s managers and by other potential employers in the sector. I place on record my thanks to SDS and Oscars Childcare for facilitating that visit.

It is not, of course, only the private sector that has a role in supporting apprenticeships; local authorities have also embraced the modern apprenticeship scheme. East Lothian Council has been a strong supporter of apprenticeships at all levels, including modern and graduate apprenticeships. The current opportunities at the council include blacksmith, painter, joiner, and electrician apprenticeships in the property maintenance team. It is also very involved in the foundation apprenticeship scheme as an entry-level scheme to the MA. This year, I was very pleased to hear about a Dunbar grammar school pupil—Annabel—who undertook a foundation apprenticeship in scientific technologies and now wants to pursue a career in science.

Those local examples clearly demonstrate how important the apprenticeship programme is. We need to work hard so that parents, carers and teachers are aware of just what possibilities can be opened up by apprenticeships. Apprenticeship week is, of course, a key contribution to achieving that purpose.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate to mark Scottish apprenticeship week, the theme of which this year is talent without limits. I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing forward the debate and affording us the opportunity to celebrate the fantastic organisations the length and breadth of Scotland that are training and educating innovative and passionate young people. It is great to hear about all the work that is happening to raise awareness of apprenticeship week in Parliament as well, including the events that Jamie Halcro Johnston talked about in his opening remarks.

I also thank Skills Development Scotland for its briefings ahead of the debate, which inform us about what is happening on the ground with apprentices and organisations across our regions and wider Scotland.

A modern apprenticeship is a great way for people to start or develop their career, allowing people to work, learn, train, and earn. We know that there are three types of apprenticeship across Scotland. We have foundation apprenticeships, which provide work-based learning opportunities for secondary school pupils who are making their senior phase subject choices, which Iain Gray spoke about.

Modern apprenticeships provide individuals with the opportunity to secure industry-recognised qualifications while they are in employment and earning a wage. Graduate apprenticeships, which are industry-recognised, degree-level and work-based qualifications, are offered in key sectors where there is a need for skilled employees.

Across Dumfries and Galloway and the south of Scotland, we have many organisations that offer apprenticeships. Those include public sector organisations such as Dumfries and Galloway Council, NHS Dumfries and Galloway and Forestry and Land Scotland, as well as private sector companies such as Jas P Wilson and BSW Timber in Dalbeattie, DuPont Teijin Films in Dumfries and Gentex in Stranraer. All those organisations must be commended for offering young people across the region the opportunity of employment, education and skills to enhance their talents without limit.

In 2018, Dumfries and Galloway College secured a contract to deliver three foundation apprenticeships, in engineering; business skills; and social services, children and young people. Shortly after the award of the contract, the college received funding from the Scottish Government to build STEM—science, technology engineering and mathematics—and digital extensions at the Dumfries and Stranraer college campuses. Last month, I had the privilege of attending the official opening of the Dumfries college extension along with Deputy First Minister John Swinney, who was joined by Jamie Hepburn, the minister, via videolink with the Borders College. It was great to see how the new extension will allow the college not only to take students in renewable energy, social care and engineering but to employ modern and foundation apprentices through its new contract. That will allow Dumfries and Galloway to grow our own talent—our own engineers, carers, healthcare workers and scientists of the future.

In January, I had the opportunity to visit DuPont Teijin Films in Dumfries along with the minister. DuPont, which has received about £1 million in support from the Scottish Government, has several modern and graduate apprentices and opportunities for young people to take part in skills development. During the visit, the minister and I heard from David Hoyle and Alastair Hall, who described how they wanted to do something more hands on rather than go to university. They explained how their apprenticeships allowed them to work, gain a wage and develop their skills at the same time. David and Alastair are assets to the company and a testament to the positivity of the apprenticeship programme.

Recently, I have been working closely with George Jamieson from NFU Scotland and Melanie McEwen from Dumfries and Galloway Council. Both have been working with Scotland’s Rural College to create agriculture, forestry and rural apprenticeships in order to encourage young and new entrants into the rural sector. That work is great and I hope that it will be a catalyst for other local authorities to follow suit.

I wish all the young people across Scotland at any apprenticeship level every success for the future. I again welcome the debate and thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing it to the chamber.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I, too, thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for securing the debate. Today, we celebrate Scottish apprentice week and everything that makes work-based learning such a great choice for individuals, employers and the economy. In particular, we spotlight the students who choose to take that career route and the employers who provide the space for them to do so.

This year’s campaign theme is talent without limits, which celebrates the boundless opportunities for success through work-based learning. Over the years, apprentices as well as employers of every size and in every sector have generated positive effects on the economy, and that success has not gone unnoticed.

Given the increased competition in the job market, apprenticeships can equip young individuals with lifelong skills that will allow them to adapt to changes in employment. In collaboration, Fife Council and Fife College have offered one of the most ambitious programmes in Scotland. Their work-based learning pathway is a great opportunity for people to gain certificated work experience outside the classroom setting.

Apprentices and employers alike are enthusiastic about their achievements. In a survey that was conducted by Skills Development Scotland, apprentices reported high levels of satisfaction, happiness and feeling that their life is worth while, when compared with the general population. Additionally, it is reported that 96 per cent would recommend an apprenticeship to other people.

Last Friday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Ecology Centre in Kinghorn to meet its our bright future apprentice, Richard McLaughlin, who shared his personal story and spoke highly of his decision to pursue an apprenticeship. I was delighted to see the projects that Richard has been able to organise while working at the Ecology Centre. In particular, he has helped to construct a new polytunnel in the community garden and the facility’s new seedling greenhouse. He is not only learning on the go but building valuable leadership skills by taking on the role of volunteer co-ordinator to recruit, train and manage individuals.

The charity is heavily reliant on volunteer support, so Richard’s interpersonal skills have been extremely valuable in organising volunteers from organisations such as the Department for Work and Pensions and Scottish Water. Together, they are working on the creation of a set of new paths for the centre. By collaborating with various companies and working with diverse groups of people, his apprenticeship has boosted his confidence and self-esteem. It was amazing to see the benefits that apprenticeships can bring first hand. Like many other employers, the Ecology Centre has given Richard responsibilities, freedom and a chance to learn from the tasks he is able to take part in and from the people he has been able to meet. Through Richard’s experience, it is apparent that an apprenticeship can be the best route for young people who are working towards an industry-recognised qualification.

I am a firm believer in investing in the future of our youth. We need to support them and give them the best opportunity to succeed. To do that we also need to address the barriers that prevent people from choosing an apprenticeship because of their gender, physical health, financial background, or any disadvantage that they may face. Sadly, the Department for Education reported that only 9 per cent of STEM apprenticeships were taken up by women in 2019.

There is a lot of work to do. We need to create more avenues for women to find where their passions lie and, hopefully, to give future generations the inspiration to forge new untrodden paths. In that light, I encourage more employers to cultivate a progressive workplace that reflects the modern world. We have already seen positive changes happen. In 2019, SDS drew up a five-year plan to increase the number of young disabled people, minority ethnic groups, and LGBT+ apprentices. In the same year, SDS worked in partnership with Fife Council to deliver an employability programme to help young people with a disability or health condition to access apprenticeships and, ultimately, a paid job.

I commend all the organisations working together to offer support and opportunities for underrepresented groups. It is incredibly important that we emphasise inclusion in work-based learning opportunities to continue growth and meet future economic needs. During Scottish apprenticeship week, I highly recommend everyone to get involved in activities and events in their local communities to see the contributions that apprentices and employers have made through work-based learning.

In conclusion, I emphasise the importance of this year’s theme. I encourage any young person, regardless of their circumstances, to explore their passions, harness their skills and acquire endless amounts of knowledge, because their talent is without limits.


Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the debate to Parliament. An apprenticeship can be the gateway to a great career, and it is absolutely right that we mark that opportunity with apprenticeship week each year. I have had the pleasure of meeting many apprentices and every time I have been impressed by their drive to succeed. They all recognised the opportunity that they had and were working hard to use it as a springboard to launch their careers.

A great example of that was a young woman I spoke to who was undertaking an accountancy apprenticeship at Campbell Dallas in Renfrewshire. Her sister was also training to be an accountant, but at university. They had two paths to the same goal, but it was the young woman on the apprenticeship who was already earning and gaining on-the-job experience, and who had secured a long-term position. That sort of success deserves more recognition—apprenticeships need that parity of esteem with other post-education destinations if they are to give young people and their families the confidence that they can deliver for them.

It is not just the apprentice who stands to gain—employers are crying out for skilled workers. Eighty per cent of business leaders are struggling to find staff with the required skills and Scotland’s skills shortage doubled between 2011 and 2018. The Scottish Government’s own performance indicator has shown a worrying uptick in the number of STEM employers with at least one skills shortage vacancy. Apprenticeships are an important means of addressing those shortages, especially in the case of STEM skills. I saw that for myself when I visited the Rolls Royce plant in the west of Scotland where production relies on highly skilled engineers and technicians. For such employers, apprenticeships are the future of their business.

With engineering traditionally a male-dominated profession, it was great to see the inclusion of young women in the apprentice team. Breaking down those barriers is vital if we are to see genuine opportunity for all, and to ensure that businesses can tap into the full talent pool we have in Scotland. It is worrying, though, that Scotland is the only part of the United Kingdom where women’s employment prospects are declining, according to the latest women in work index. Apprenticeships are an obvious means to help address that, but they must be signposted better throughout the education system and careers guidance, and they must have the parity of esteem that I described earlier. Alongside such measures, another obvious step would be to complete the roll-out of foundation apprenticeships, and all frameworks, across Scotland’s schools. Scottish Conservatives have consistently called for that.

Beyond school, we must ensure that lifelong learning is also supported. In 2018-19, almost a third of apprentices were aged over 25. That is a clear demonstration of both the desire and the potential for retraining and upskilling. That represents an opportunity to create a flexible workforce that is able to respond to the rapidly changing working environments of the 21st century.

Whether it is building that resilience, breaking down barriers, or growing businesses, an apprenticeship is one of our most powerful tools. Our job is to ensure that everyone can benefit from it who wants to.


The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills (Jamie Hepburn)

I join others in thanking Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the debate. I thank Skills Development Scotland for its significant work in supporting members in the variety of visits that they have undertaken during Scottish apprenticeship week, and for the work that it undertakes all year round on promoting apprenticeships.

At the parliamentary reception last week that Jamie Halcro Johnston very kindly sponsored, I was able to remark that although there are many things that Mr Halcro Johnston and I disagree on, we can agree on the importance of apprenticeships as life-changing experiences for the people who undertake them. I use the term “life-changing experience” in its truest sense. It is critical to ensure that apprentices are appropriately skilled to undertake the area of work that they are engaged in, but I was very much taken with, and agree with, the point that David Torrance made about the confidence that can be imbued by and the improvement in a person’s interpersonal skills that can be derived from an apprenticeship. That is important not just in the world of work but in life generally.

One of my great joys and pleasures is the wide range of visits that I undertake the length and breadth of the country, to see the fantastic activity of apprentices. Emma Harper mentioned the visit that I undertook with her to Dupont Teijin Films UK Ltd near Dumfries, which is one such example. If any member wants to invite me to see activity in their constituency or region, I will be very happy to go along. In that regard, let me say, in case I forget, that I am happy to accept Maureen Watt’s invitation to see what is happening at Portlethen academy.

Today we celebrate the 10th Scottish apprenticeship week: 10 years—a decade—of any event is worth remarking on, and that is particularly true of apprenticeship week. The week is an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of apprentices and employers. However, in some regards, it is even more important to promote the on-going and enduring benefits of apprenticeships to individuals and employers. We want to see many more people undertaking apprenticeships and we want many more employers to engage apprentices.

Scottish apprenticeship week 2020 included 24 ministerial engagements and another 70 engagements by MSPs. Jamie Halcro Johnston mentioned that he was able to visit Walker’s in Aberlour. That is a visit that I would have been very interested in undertaking—not because of the shortbread, but because Nicky Walker, who is one of the senior directors at that firm, is the finest goalkeeper that I have ever seen playing for Partick Thistle during my time as a supporter. It is important to get that on the record. If ever there is a chance to visit Walker’s, I would be delighted to do so.

The level of engagement that we have seen reflects the welcome and widespread cross-party support for the apprenticeship system—the apprentices, employers, training providers, universities, colleges, schools, Skills Development Scotland and all the other partners.

I had the pleasure of opening Scottish apprenticeship week by visiting Balfour Beatty apprentices who are working on the redevelopment programme at Queen Street station in Glasgow, which is a very visible backdrop to the excellence of our apprentices. I was delighted to welcome Balfour Beatty’s commitment to the full range of apprenticeship provision. The apprentices include a foundation apprentice from Bannerman high school, modern apprentices and graduate apprentices, one of whom—Bethany Welsh—is in a graduate apprenticeship in civil engineering. It was encouraging to hear how our apprenticeship programme is seeking to challenge occupational segregation and to open up pathways to all.

That was reflected in all the visits that I undertook this week. At Dawnfresh Seafoods Ltd in Uddingston, I met the apprentice of the year, Jordan Fairlamb, who was mentioned by Jamie Halcro Johnston. I also met an apprentice who had been working for Dawnfresh for 28 years before he began his apprenticeship with the company, which underlines the point that Clare Adamson made about apprenticeships being relevant to all ages.

Emma Harper

The minister has noted a lot of visits that he and other members have made. I will mention another that he made. Will the minister acknowledge the excellent work that BSW Timber Ltd in Dalbeattie is doing on promoting women? It now has two fully qualified female saw doctors. That is good news.

Jamie Hepburn

I agree. Emma Harper is right that I visited that employer. I am delighted to see BSW Timber’s commitment to widening the number of people and groups in apprenticeships that have not traditionally been viewed as a preserve of women. The company is expanding opportunity.

There is a similar approach at [email protected] in Hamilton. It is offering apprenticeships to people who have experience of the care system and to veterans, who are two cohorts of the population that we know face disadvantage in the labour market.

I saw excellence across the land-based agriculture and aquaculture sector at the Lantra awards. My constituent Laura Graham won the equine learner of the year award. She has, at 21 years old, established her own business. That is extraordinary to see, and has come about because she did an apprenticeship.

I have almost run out of time. I hope that the visits that I have talked about and which I undertook as part of Scottish apprenticeship week, and those that other members have described, show that apprenticeships offer a life-changing experience and make a difference to the people who undertake them.

We will continue to expand the number of opportunities. I am confident that we will achieve the 29,000 starts that we seek to offer for modern apprentices and graduate apprentices this year. Next year, we will move towards 30,000. I hope everyone will agree that that is a clear demonstration of our commitment to continuing to offer opportunities to the people of Scotland. We will continue to do that for many years to come.

13:33 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—