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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 29, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 29 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Scottish Apprenticeship Week, Tackling Child Poverty Delivery Plan 2018 to 2022 , UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, Housing (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Scottish Apprenticeship Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-10268, in the name of Jamie Halcro Johnston, on Scottish apprenticeship week 2018. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that 5 to 9 March 2018 is Scottish Apprenticeship Week; understands that this year's theme is Apprenticeships are the Business; appreciates that the week aims to highlight the importance and value of apprenticeships to individuals, businesses and the economy, with events, visits and activity taking place across the country to encourage more employers to take on apprentices and ask young people to consider an apprenticeship; notes the emergence of foundation and graduate schemes, which now complement modern apprenticeships; acknowledges that Members are being encouraged to get involved by visiting an apprenticeship employer or training provider in their area, and hopes that all of the employers, training providers and apprentices involved in the activities have a successful week.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

First, I thank the businesses, employers and everyone else who contributed to this year’s Scottish apprenticeship week. Special mention must go to Skills Development Scotland, which helped with much of the organisation and arranged the visits that many members who are in the chamber will have enjoyed. I am sure that we will hear more about those experiences later.

I understand from SDS that 99 visits to businesses and training providers took place as a result of apprenticeship week, involving 92 MSPs from across all parties. Over 120 organised events took place, with a further range of employers, training providers and partner organisations taking the opportunity to celebrate the achievements of their apprentices.

This year’s theme, “Apprenticeships are the business”, was designed to convey the value of apprentices to employers across the country. My visit was to Leonardo’s airborne and space systems division here in Edinburgh, and I was heartened to see the business’s commitment to investing in building skills and providing training. I thank Allan Colquhoun and his colleagues at Leonardo for what was a fascinating and encouraging visit. As well as the work that the apprentices are doing on cutting-edge technology as part of their normal role, it was great to see some of the work that they are doing in their spare time to help to adapt sensor technology to help students at the Royal Blind School. I commend them for that and wish them every success with it in the future.

In recent years, there has been a welcome political focus on apprenticeships and work-based learning. That stretches to a rare cross-party consensus that having more and better apprenticeships offers a valuable way of providing skills and training. We now have a great deal of experience of modern apprenticeships—last year, there were 26,262 starts—but this is a turning point for the new forms of apprenticeship that are coming down the pipeline. In 2016, the first foundation apprentices made a start on their learning, and there have been 1,591 participants as the scheme has rolled out nationally.

The number of frameworks has increased from eight to 10. However, in many local authorities, there is limited provision. In some parts of the country, as few as two frameworks are offered, and in areas such as the Highlands and Islands there is little room for participants to travel. Therefore, I was pleased by Jamie Hepburn’s reply on 27 September 2017 to me that the Scottish Government is committed to increasing the choice for young people in Scotland’s remote and rural communities, and I look forward to further news on that being rolled out.

During apprenticeship week, my colleague Ruth Davidson called for the expansion of foundation apprenticeships to every secondary school. That solid ambition would begin to address, at an earlier stage, the need to get Scotland’s businesses better engaged with the education process and access to the skills pipeline that they are so reliant on. However, we also know from SDS meeting minutes in December that it expected that only 2,600 of the contracted number of 3,200 starts could be delivered in 2018-19 due to budget pressures. I caution the minister that this fledgling programme must be properly funded, and reducing growth next year would deny hundreds of people the opportunity to realise the benefits.

The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

I caution Mr Halcro Johnston against misunderstanding what was reported in the press on that issue. SDS and the Scottish Government have been clear that the target was always for 2,600 foundation apprenticeship starts this year. SDS contracted for more than that figure, so that the target can be hit.

Jamie Halcro Johnston

I am encouraged if the minister considers that the targets for foundation apprenticeship starts are being met.

At the same time, we are also seeing the introduction of graduate apprenticeships. In 2015, the University of the Highlands and Islands led the initial pilot. There are now 12 institutions delivering a range of frameworks, which are largely focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects. The target is for 4,000 starts by 2020. We look forward to seeing SDS’s latest annual report next month, when we will be better placed to assess progress.

A vital part of apprenticeship week is addressing the parity of esteem between work-based and academic learning. That must be accompanied by work across Scottish Government departments if it is to become a reality. Parity must be embedded in careers guidance across every school in Scotland. From an early age, young people must be aware of the opportunities that apprenticeships offer. Positives include innovations such as the My World of Work website, but such innovations must be publicised and embraced by the education sector to function efficiently.

We recently debated the developing the young workforce strategy. Although progress has been made since the 2014 Wood report, we need to see revolutionary change in how employers engage with the education and skills sector if we are to address the needs of our rapidly changing labour market.

Apprenticeships stretch beyond the young workforce. Of those who start MAs, 74 per cent are under the age of 25, and they are commonly entering the workforce for the first time. However, a range of people in other age brackets would benefit from effective reskilling and the apprenticeship programme is a way of supporting that.

Apprenticeships must be accessible. Some years ago, there were disappointing figures for the number of women and people with disabilities entering apprenticeships. The figures have improved, but there are still considerable gender distinctions in the various apprenticeship frameworks.

In my region, apprenticeships can be a key factor in creating a skills base that reflects local needs, as well as giving young people the opportunity to stay in their local community and learn after leaving school. The circumstances in my region are very different from those in the central belt. Typically, enterprises are smaller, and more work needs to be done to get small and medium-sized enterprises on board and engaged with providing apprenticeships. Earlier this month, following a report by the Federation of Small Businesses Scotland, I raised that issue with the First Minister. She accepted that smaller companies face barriers and that there is a need to increase the diversity of apprenticeship providers. It would be useful if the minister could expand on the Scottish Government’s plans in that area.

The United Kingdom apprenticeship levy has also been a welcome move in ensuring that business contributes to the training and the skills of the workforce. As we know, the approach that the Scottish Government has taken is different from the UK Government’s plans for how the levy is spent in England.

Again, we are at an early stage, but the experience of business in accessing funding and being able to utilise it usefully, particularly in relation to the flexible workforce development fund, will be key. Questions remain over whether the fund should be broadened out to include providers other than colleges, as well as over how effectively the college sector is building on those all-important employer links.

The debate is an opportunity to highlight the important role of work-based learning and to celebrate the achievements of apprentices across Scotland. In addition to the visits by members, SDS is calling on members to be an apprentice for a day in order to get a taste of some of the hands-on work that they undertake. I call on colleagues from across the chamber, whatever area they represent, to sign up to that and to help emphasise the role of apprenticeships in their own communities.

I look forward to hearing today’s speeches and again offer my thanks congratulations to everyone involved in making apprenticeship week such a success.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

A lot of members wish to speak, so I ask everyone to adhere strictly to four minutes. It would be appreciated if folk could say all they had to say in even less time.


Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing this important topic to the chamber for debate.

As part of Scottish apprenticeship week, the motion encouraged members to get involved by visiting an apprenticeship employer or training provider in their area. I am pleased to say that, like many colleagues, I took part in the week and visited the Irvine paper mill, where I met an interesting and bright group of modern apprentices. They were all in different phases of their apprenticeship, but they had one thing in common. They had not been told about the possibility of apprenticeships in their schools. That raises the question of whether apprenticeships are as widely promoted at school as they should be, and what more we can all do to ensure that our young people are aware of all paths available to them. The young folk I met are all enjoying high-quality learning and work experience in their engineering apprenticeships and will have a good job in our local community by following that path.

One key element of raising the profile of this opportunity is that we need to stress the parity of esteem between vocational or work-based learning and academic paths. An obvious way to do that is by making sure that information about apprenticeships is more widely and positively promoted in schools. I recently raised this issue at the Education and Skills Committee with the Minister for Employability and Skills, who acknowledged that, although the situation is improving, it can still be a bit patchy. I understand that the developing the young workforce strategy is making sure that more young people are aware of apprenticeships as a post-school option, and I would be encouraged to see that further rolled out, as the minister suggested.

I also agree with the minister that the careers information and guidance offered by Skills Development Scotland could be broadened out and offered to young people earlier, so that they are aware of apprenticeships—foundation, modern or graduate—at an early stage in their school life. The chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland, Joanna Murphy, has pointed out that promoting apprenticeships in secondary 5 and 6 is too late and that, instead,

“All options should be outlined to pupils in a broad sense in S2, so they can make the right decision for them based on all the options available.”

She also stressed that

“Parents certainly don’t hear enough about the different options available to their children. Parents are often hesitant to support ‘unknown’ routes and can inadvertently negatively influence their children.”

I am glad that the minister is open to doing more to ensure earlier and more diverse careers information and guidance and I look forward to monitoring progress on this, as we work to raise young people’s awareness of all the opportunities that are available to them, including quality apprenticeships.

I am also happy to say that I will be taking on the challenge of being an apprentice for the day. I am not sure where I will be going in my Cunninghame South constituency, but I hope that it will be something that does not involve wearing a hairnet or something unflattering, although you never know. I am sure that it will be great fun anyway.


Alexander Burnett (Aberdeenshire West) (Con)

I congratulate my colleague Jamie Halcro Johnston on achieving cross-party support and bringing the debate to the chamber. Indeed, it is a topic which is close to my heart, as I am an employer who is keen to see apprenticeship programmes flourish and nurture new talent. As such, I refer members to my entry in the register of interests, in particular to the businesses that I own, in which I currently employ six apprentices, who benefit from Construction Industry Training Board funding. I aim to take on a further six later this year.

To date, we have taken on over 150 apprentices. There is a reason why employers such as me are so keen on apprenticeship programmes. They are a productive and effective way for any business to grow its own talent. They also allow businesses to nurture the motivated, skilled and qualified workforces that they require in their companies.

Productivity is a term that we often refer to in the chamber in relation to our economy, but we also measure productivity at a micro level in businesses. Apprenticeships help to boost productivity as they reduce staff turnover and recruitment costs. There is an added bonus of employees feeling more valued, which boosts staff morale, loyalty, commitment and retention.

Those are positive attributes for a company that lead to confidence from shareholders and potential employees and clients. CITB Scotland has found that 80 per cent of employers feel that their workplace has become more productive through having apprentices, so apprenticeships challenge the status quo for a business and encourage innovative ways of working. The number of apprentices receiving support from CITB Scotland has gone up 36 per cent since 2011 and CITB Scotland is now the single largest training provider of modern apprenticeships across all frameworks in Scotland, so businesses are clearly catching on to those benefits. Many of us in the chamber will be keen to ensure that apprentices are not there just to benefit businesses, however. I am therefore pleased that the format of apprenticeships will ensure that the largest beneficiaries are the apprentices.

Generally, apprentices are registered with one of the trade bodies, ensuring that they are employed and paid appropriately. In addition, they study at college and gain experience on site over a four-year period. There are slight variations in the length of apprenticeships, with some being two-year adult apprentices, but, by and large, the same college curriculum is mirrored across colleges in Scotland to ensure that all apprentices get the same off-site training.

Construction is not just about bricklaying, as there have been a lot of advances in technology and there is a growing demand for technical roles in the industry. We need joiners, plasterers, managers, surveyors, civil engineers and more. More than half of those in the construction industry are reaching retirement age, so I encourage those seeking jobs or those in school who are thinking about potential careers to consider a career in construction. There is a real opportunity for the next generation to take advantage of what is an ever-growing industry.

If there is one ask today, it is for tradesmen to remember when they were starting training and to be keen to participate in taking on an apprentice, as someone once did for them. That would help to improve on-site training and, if enough tradesmen took part, it would allow apprentices to rotate around mentors, which would benefit them.

I am very proud to be an employer with apprentices and I will continue to champion the benefits that they can bring to businesses across Scotland.


Tom Arthur (Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for securing the debate, and I am delighted that we have an opportunity to recognise modern apprenticeships. I am very proud that the Scottish Government has delivered more than 200,000 modern apprenticeships since it first came to power in 2007, and I commend the commitment to raising the number to 30,000 per annum by the end of this decade.

I was one of the 99 MSPs who had the fantastic opportunity to visit apprentices in their constituencies. I went to the McGill’s Buses depot in Johnstone; the company also has a depot in Barrhead. McGill’s has apprentices from across my constituency of Renfrewshire South and beyond. We have debated buses often of late in the Parliament for many reasons, but McGill’s is a fantastic employer that has been giving brilliant opportunities to young people. On my visit, I met a range of apprentices who cover a range of trades—coachbuilders, mechanics and electricians—and it was clear to me how much they value their opportunity and how much pleasure they take from it through camaraderie and friendships.

However, some points were raised that echoed points that Ruth Maguire highlighted about the need to do more to increase awareness of modern apprenticeships. I commend Skills Development Scotland for the work that it does to raise awareness, but there is always more that we can do. It is also important that parents know about modern apprenticeships. If there is lack of awareness and understanding of what a modern apprenticeship entails, parents, as key influencers, might not have the confidence to back a young person and recommend that they take up a modern apprenticeship.

The key issue of parity of esteem has been raised in the debate. I agree that we have to have parity of esteem between vocational and academic learning. My father and two of his brothers were apprentices in the different era of the late 1960s, when somebody could walk into a yard on a Friday and get a job for the Monday. My father and his brothers were born in a single-end in Barrhead in the late 1940s and early 1950s and they left school with no qualifications. My father was an apprentice electrician who was able to go on to work abroad, to work in the health service, to do his City and Guilds examinations, to progress to become an electrical engineer, to become a manager and to develop continuously before eventually retiring as an estates manager in the health service. My uncle started off as a mechanic, got a job with Scania and then set up his own business that had a seven-figure turnover. That speaks to me of the nature of on-the-job learning and the capacity to adapt.

One of the challenges that we face is the ever-increasing pace of change in the workplace. The jobs of 10 years ago might well be obsolescent in 20 years’ time. The capacity to continuously reinvent oneself by retraining and reskilling so that one does not end up in an ossified role will be vital.

Alexander Burnett made an eloquent point about the benefit to employers in that regard, with particular regard to productivity. A thought that struck me when Mr Burnett was speaking was that one of the challenges that we face on productivity is that although many businesses are good at innovating, there are challenges for them in taking up innovations. Apprentices, who have on-the-job learning hardwired into them, will be far more skilled at seeing opportunities to take up and apply innovations.

Apprenticeships are great for apprentices themselves, but they are also fantastic for employers and great for the Scottish economy overall.


Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

I thank Jamie Halco Johnston for bringing the debate on Scottish apprenticeship week to the chamber today.

It is a week that I always try to mark. In previous years, I visited Torness nuclear power station and met some of EDF’s marvellous young apprentices there, so for something different this year I visited Yester Farm Dairies near Gifford—a family-run dairy farm that is well known locally and increasingly well known nationally for its milk and cheese. There I met Carol Wakefield, who has since successfully completed her modern apprenticeship in dairy skills. When I met Carol and the team, they were battling to cope with the disruption caused by snow and the red weather warning. Despite the severity of the weather, they managed to keep the local shops—and my fridge—stocked with milk when the supermarket shelves were empty. I wish Yester Farm Dairies and Carol Wakefield the very best for the future.

We have heard from many members how modern apprenticeships open up fantastic opportunities for training and qualifications, and they are indeed a vital part of our education system and the developing the young workforce strategy.

In many ways, the current modern apprenticeship programme dates back to the budget dispute of 2009. At that time, modern apprenticeships were really in decline; there had been a fall from around 17,000 starts to around 10,500 starts over a short, two-year period. As a result of the negotiations that were held with the then Government in order for it to get its budget through at the second opportunity, the number of apprenticeship places was increased again, so the downward trend was reversed.

Since then, we have made real progress on expanding modern apprenticeships, which is very welcome. The Government is now making progress towards the target of 30,000 MAs by 2021. However, we need to be careful to look at the detail of that, because the truth is that there was a significant increase in the number of modern apprenticeships in 2009-10 as a result not of more opportunities being made available but of the recategorisation of level 2 training programmes as part of the modern apprenticeship level 2 framework.

Indeed, just recently the minister wrote to me to confirm that, of the apprenticeship starts in 2016-17, 17,263 were level 3 and the target for next year for level 3 is 20,000. However, Audit Scotland’s most recent report on the apprenticeship programme shows that well over 20,000 level 3 apprenticeships were created every year between 2003 and 2006. Comparing like with like shows that the modern apprenticeship programme at level 3 and above is still below the peak that it was at 15 years ago.

Jamie Hepburn

I understand the point that Mr Gray is making, but does he accept that in many circumstances a level 2 apprenticeship is appropriate and is still a valuable experience for a young person to go through?

Iain Gray

I absolutely do accept that. Indeed, Carol Wakefield’s apprenticeship, which I mentioned earlier, was a level 2 apprenticeship in dairy skills. My point is simply that we should not get too carried away with the progress that we have made as far as numbers are concerned. As other members have said, there are other problems—for example, on gender balance.

We all agree that expanding the modern apprenticeship programme is important. However, we need to consider not just the number of people on such programmes but their quality and balance, as they are a critical element of building our economy and creating opportunity for the next generations of young people.


Emma Harper (South Scotland) (SNP)

I add my congratulations to Jamie Halcro Johnston for securing the debate. I fully support the aim of highlighting the importance and value of apprenticeships to individuals, businesses and the economy.

As the motion encourages us to do, I marked Scottish apprenticeship week by visiting an apprenticeship employer in my area: BSW Timber Group in Dalbeattie, which is the United Kingdom’s first fully integrated forestry company. In February, the company was named youth employer of the month by Skills Development Scotland because of its commitment to growing talent. Across its site in Dalbeattie, BSW employs 150 people and 30 apprentices—including Katie, Scotland’s first female saw doctor, whom I met on my visit there. In fact, BSW recently launched the UK’s first saw doctor apprenticeship, in partnership with Inverness College.

It was very interesting to meet the apprentices and to see the highly technical work that they perform at the mill. While I was there, I also spoke to Tony Lockey, the group’s learning and development manager, who is clearly passionate about helping his apprentices to get the most out of their time at BSW. The company offers good opportunities and jobs in rural areas, which can be challenging to find, so I was delighted to support the work that it is doing and to recognise its good employment practices and the opportunities that it offers to young people in the local South Scotland region.

Scottish apprenticeship week truly gives us the opportunity to promote the value of our young people and to examine how we can support young folk from all walks of life to fulfil their potential. We know that university is not the optimal place for everyone to develop their specific skill sets. Apprenticeships offer high-quality work-based learning that allows employees to learn on the job, reflect on their work and learn through experience. Such an approach not only helps young people to gain the qualifications and confidence that they need to succeed but allows businesses to develop the talent that they need in order to grow.

More than 90 per cent of apprentices are still in employment six months after completing their modern apprenticeships, and 96 per cent of employers say that former apprentices are better equipped to do their jobs. To build on that progress, as has been mentioned, foundation apprenticeships have been developed to provide work-based learning opportunities for senior secondary school pupils. Such apprenticeships last two years, with pupils beginning in S5 and spending time out of school at college or with local employers. I am delighted that, this academic year, Dumfries and Galloway College secured the contract to deliver foundation apprenticeships in engineering, business skills, social services and children and young people. Over 10 years in government, the Scottish National Party has supported 7,000 modern apprenticeships in Dumfries and Galloway, which is an increase of almost 60 per cent since 2007, so I am pleased that there will be provision of foundation apprenticeships in the region.

I will close by acknowledging the progress that is set out in the developing the young workforce annual report for 2016-17. The programme’s headline aim of reducing youth unemployment by 40 per cent by 2021 was met four years ahead of target. Although there is more to do—particularly in tackling gender imbalances, as has been mentioned, and in improving employment opportunities for those who are less able, those who are care experienced and those from ethnic minority backgrounds—we are well on the way to improving the life chances of Scotland’s young people.

Presiding Officer, I, too, would be very happy to be an apprentice for the day, and perhaps I will do so at BSW. Through a quick Google search, I see that there are 26 opportunities in the south-west that I would be happy to take up.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Does that mean that you are going to take all of them up, Ms Harper?


Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

I, too, thank Jamie Halcro Johnston and congratulate him on securing the debate. I apologise for being absent from the chamber briefly at the start of it. I also thank SDS for its work on apprenticeship week. As we have heard in the debate, and as we have seen from the briefing, the level of involvement that it has managed to secure from members of the Scottish Parliament is highly impressive.

In previous years, I have met apprentices at Orkney Builders, although every second apprentice that I came across seemed to be a fellow member of the Sanday parish cup team, so this year I instead went to visit E Fraser Electrical in Finstown, where I met Bruce Simpson and the team of apprentices there. Much like Ruth Maguire’s experience, they were at various stages of their apprenticeships, but all were very positive about the experience that they were having and the skills that they were gaining through the apprenticeship. If there was a concern, it was simply that having one afternoon in which to take forward the apprenticeship is often not enough to enable meaningful work to be undertaken. That might need to be looked at.

Apprenticeship week has successfully served to help to raise awareness of the importance of work-based learning. There is a need to expand not just the number but the range of those who see apprenticeships as a way of helping them to fulfil their potential. Too often, individuals are pigeonholed into apprenticeships or a more academic route. As we have probably all seen at local level, that misunderstands the value of apprenticeships.

In the statistics from SDS, it is encouraging to see the increased number of modern apprenticeships in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics frameworks. That needs to be improved further, as does the proportion of female participation. To follow on from a point that Emma Harper made, and having raised the issue in the past when I was a member of the Education and Skills Committee, I am pleased to see the increased number of modern apprentices drawn from traditionally underrepresented groups, whether that be those with a disability, those with care experience or those from ethnic minority groups. Everybody would accept that there is still a way to go, but that is encouraging. Iain Gray was right to remind us that we need to look beyond and behind the statistics but, nevertheless, the direction of travel seems positive.

Having set out that positive prognosis for the apprenticeship programme, I want to spend a couple of minutes on a concern that I have raised with the minister previously and on which we had correspondence last year. Although the Construction Industry Training Board does excellent work at local level, there is real concern about the move away from indentured craft apprenticeships. There appears to have been a lack of prior consultation before the decision was taken, and there is a feeling that the needs of small and medium-sized construction firms are not being properly reflected. The concern that has been raised with me is that there is a dilution of the value and attractiveness of apprenticeships. When the minister wrote to me last year, he said that he would update me on the engagement with the United Kingdom Government on the review of the industry training boards, so perhaps he could do that in winding up the debate.

I look forward to taking part in the apprentice for the day scheme in due course. I might need to reassure my constituents that I will be under strict supervision and that I will not be allowed to rewire anybody’s house, despite my presence at Fraser Electrical earlier this month.

I again congratulate Jamie Halcro Johnston on securing this worthwhile debate. I hope that the efforts of SDS, through apprenticeship week and the apprentice for a day scheme, will encourage more people to see such work-based learning as a way of fulfilling their potential.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

A few members still wish to speak, so I am happy to accept a motion under rule 8.14.3 to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes. I ask Jamie Halcro Johnston to move such a motion.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Jamie Halcro Johnston]

Motion agreed to.


Clare Haughey (Rutherglen) (SNP)

I, too, thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the debate to the chamber. He was actually one of three MSPs to lodge a motion on Scottish apprenticeship week 2018. I am grateful that his was marked for members’ business so that it could be debated today. I lodged one of the motions, although mine acted as an amendment to another one in order to ensure that the Scottish Government, trade unions and professional bodies were all recognised for their roles in developing, supporting and sustaining apprenticeships. Without all partners working together, the range of apprenticeships in Scotland would not have been able to grow as it has done over the past decade.

The aim of Scottish apprenticeship week is twofold. First, it is to highlight the enormous opportunities that apprenticeships offer in allowing people to work and earn while studying for a recognised qualification and, secondly, it is to celebrate businesses that value training their employees.

For the past two years I have been delighted to visit employers and apprentices in my constituency during Scottish apprenticeship week. Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Arnold Clark’s Rutherglen branch, and while I was there it struck me that not only do the apprentices regard the experience as overwhelmingly positive but the company thinks that that is the case, too. When I visited, Barry Johnston, service manager at the branch, said that the apprentices who he works with are “invaluable” to the business.

As members have said, the theme of this year’s Scottish apprenticeship week was “apprentices are the business”, in recognition of the value that work-based learning brings to employers across the country.

To mark this year’s initiative, I visited MD Electrical Contractors, which is based less than 200 yards from my constituency office in Rutherglen. The company has taken on a number of young adults and school leavers. Such people make up the majority of apprentices across the country. It is unfortunate that some people think that once someone’s school studies have ended they must go on to further education and attend college or university. That is a myth, because many people go straight into the world of work and have successful lives, and others think that an apprenticeship is the avenue that will best suit them. It was clear that the apprentices at MD Electrical Contractors thought that undertaking an apprenticeship was the best move for their chosen career path.

Another employer in my constituency who has made great use of the apprenticeship scheme is Clyde Gateway URC, which is Scotland’s largest and most ambitious regeneration programme. In partnership with Glasgow City Council, South Lanarkshire Council and Scottish Enterprise, it is working to achieve unparalleled social, economic and physical change across Rutherglen and the east end of Glasgow. The company is a major source of employment locally. Niki Spence and Jim Clark kindly supplied figures to me, which show that Clyde Gateway has directly created 58 apprenticeships, the vast majority of which have been in construction.

Another myth that, collectively, we must bust is that apprenticeships are for men. A number of Clyde Gateway’s construction apprenticeships have gone to women, and the company recently awarded permanent contracts to three females who had gone through finance and administration modern apprenticeships.

I thank Skills Development Scotland for its briefing paper, which showed that 60 per cent of modern apprenticeship starts last year were male and 40 per cent were female. The proportion of female starts at level 3 and above has risen each year since 2014-15, but we must not rest on our laurels until our apprenticeships provide the same opportunities to women as they do to men.

As we heard, MSPs are being encouraged to become an apprentice for the day at some point during the year. I look forward to meeting that challenge. Scottish apprenticeship week might have ended at the start of March, but we must not forget to promote the benefits of apprenticeships all year round.


Rachael Hamilton (Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire) (Con)

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing this debate to the Parliament, and I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests, which states that I am a business owner and modern-apprenticeship employer. Indeed, when Skills Development Scotland got in touch with me after it heard that I was interested in getting involved in apprenticeship week, the business that it suggested that I should visit was my own.

I visited Forbes Technologies in Kelso, which specialises in the production of industrial plastic tanks for virtually every field of industrial activity world wide. Forbes apprentices undertake a vigorous programme, which includes on-the-job training in state-of-the-art 3D computer-aided design technology. Apprentices can work towards a qualification in mechanical engineering, and they learn invaluable skills there during their course. For example, they can specialise in industrialised welding of fibreglass.

I want to sing the praises of one of the apprentices who, as part of his apprenticeship, had to spend time studying away from home. That was not ideal, but he stuck with it and three years down the line he is developing his skills and has recently taken on a mortgage to buy a home in Kelso.

It is so important that modern apprenticeships enable local people to live and work in their communities. Sometimes it does not suit a young person to leave home to study. The issue might be transport, expense or the thought of leaving friends and family. Skills Development Scotland is aware of the issue and has worked with a local training provider to deliver the theory element of the qualification closer to Kelso, to support young people. The young person who I met clearly demonstrated the value of apprenticeships and why Parliament must do as much as possible to promote the scheme.

Borders College is also responding to sectoral needs and offering an array of modern apprenticeship courses from business to construction, engineering, health and social care. Borders College plays a strong and important role in preparing young Borderers for a future life in which they can make a real difference to the economy, socially, and financially.

I also want to use today’s debate to bring something to the minister’s attention. When I visited Forbes Technology, I noticed that every person in the building doing these very technical engineering jobs was male. I make a plea for us to put some real effort into increasing the opportunities for young women in STEM subjects.

As a local MSP for the Borders, one of my focuses is on making it an even better place for young people to live and work in. One of the ways in which I worked towards that recently was when I hosted an event that invited 150 school pupils from across the Borders to highlight the opportunities that we have in different sectors, particularly in tourism and hospitality, as well as apprenticeships. The tourism sector across Scotland faces gaps, and apprenticeships can act as a bridge to closing that gap and preparing the future workforce for the sector while helping it to evolve and grow.

The same skills shortages are felt in other sectors. One sector that has had attention recently is the tech sector. Again, Borders College has taken the initiative by offering a coding class to young teens, which is a super-encouraging move, because we are all facing a world in which coding has become an essential skill. However, to ensure that full advantage is taken of that development, we must encourage apprenticeships in those industries, and there is so much opportunity in Scotland that we can explore.

If we are to do that, we must knock down the barriers to entry in every industry, from engineering to tech, hospitality and tourism. We should promote apprenticeship schemes to knock down those barriers and ensure that Scotland retains its world-class status in the sectors that I have just mentioned.

I have been championing young people since I became an MSP and I hope that the Borders will become a better place for everyone to live and work in. Like other members, I look forward to taking up the challenge of an apprenticeship, and I have asked my team to look for something that involves making gin.

I wish continued success to all apprentices and all those businesses that get involved with the training.


David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the motion to Parliament in recognition of the importance of Scottish apprenticeship week.

The programme has, time and time again, proven the benefits that it brings to individuals, businesses and the economy. It pulls together employers, apprentices, training providers, colleges, councils, schools and many other partners to create and celebrate a week of work-based learning that can prove invaluable for young people across Scotland.

Apprenticeships are a solution to balance an academic education with work-based learning. The Scottish apprenticeship programme matches young people from secondary school to graduate level with companies and businesses and gives them a chance to explore fields that they are interested in, meet working professionals, and form the skills and connections they need to advance in their careers.

From an employer’s perspective, apprentices are also beneficial. They offer the opportunity to find young talent and allow employers to co-ordinate with schools, colleges and training providers to ensure that apprentices have the ability to learn the skills that they require.

The success of the Scottish apprenticeship programme is evidenced by the expansion it has achieved during the past few years. The flagship programme—modern apprenticeships—is on track to have more than 27,000 young people engaged in an apprenticeship this year. The foundation apprenticeship, which was introduced four years ago, opened doors to secondary school pupils and brought education closer to industry. The graduate apprenticeship programme, which was offered for the first time this year, increased the scope of the young people involved to include those who are seeking a diploma of higher education up to a masters degree, allowing them to attain certification via employment.

The continued growth in participation and the scope of the Scottish apprenticeship programme can be attributed to the value that our young people and employers gain from it. During Scottish apprenticeship week, I welcomed the opportunity to witness the value of the programme at first hand. My visit to G1 Reeds in Kirkcaldy gave me a challenging start. I had to find out where it was and its unassuming residential front surprised me. However, on entering the building, the first sight that greeted me was the world pipe band championship trophy. I was impressed when I found out that G1 Reeds make the very reeds and chanters that were chosen by the 2017 world pipe band champions. I understood how G1 Reeds has achieved such global success when I witnessed the meticulous work that its dedicated team creates. The reeds, chanters and other pipe band products that are made by this company are of the highest standard.

That small company employs eight people and two apprentices. It was inspiring to see how enthusiastic the two young apprentices were about the work that they were doing, and how dedicated they were to ensuring that their work was of the finest quality. G1 Reeds was definitely the most unusual workplace that I have ever visited, but I left absolutely impressed, and sure that the Scottish apprenticeship programme provides countless benefits to apprentices and to employers.

I thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the motion for this debate to the chamber. Scottish apprenticeship week is worth celebrating because it highlights the achievements that the programme has produced in the short time that it has been running. Scottish apprenticeship week allowed me to discover a talented company in my constituency, and to see exactly how fully and enthusiastically the apprentices are engaged in the business and in the work that they do.


Gordon MacDonald (Edinburgh Pentlands) (SNP)

I too thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for securing this debate.

During this year’s Scottish apprenticeship week, I was invited by the Apex Hotels group, which is headquartered in my constituency, to visit one of its hotels to meet some of the modern apprentices. I spent an enjoyable afternoon speaking to the young people about the benefits of undertaking a modern apprenticeship and their experience of working for the Apex group. They highlighted the benefits of earning while learning, on-the-job training to develop skills through hands-on experience, and support from the company to improve their qualifications.

The Apex Hotels modern apprenticeship scheme was launched back in 2012 by the then Minister for Youth Employment, Angela Constance, to set young people up for a career in hospitality. The programme gives apprentices the opportunity to learn skills and acquire knowledge in many different areas, from food and beverages to front office, and from housekeeping to catering. The family-owned hotel group aims to make working as a modern apprentice a positive, educational and tailored experience, providing apprentices with the knowledge, skill set and confidence to set them on the right track for a fulfilling and rewarding career in the hospitality, leisure and tourism sector.

Since my visit at the beginning of the month, when Apex Hotels had 43 apprentices, it has taken on an addition 11 young people, taking the current number of apprentices to 54.

Having seen the benefits of the approach to the business, Apex Hotels became one of the five founding members of the Scottish apprenticeship in hospitality programme, which was created in 2014; the other founding members were the Gleneagles hotel, Blythswood Square hotel, Cameron House hotel and the Torridon hotel. There are now 14 hotels in Scotland that deliver the programme. The two-year course, with the option of a specialised third year, is a world-class, industry-led hospitality programme that is aimed at 17 to 24-year-olds. It allows young people to work on real projects with experienced colleagues, and to reflect on and develop their work through practice.

The apprenticeship was created to attract the best young people in Scotland to consider hospitality as a rewarding career opportunity at a time when, because of the growth of leisure, travel and tourism over the past decade, we are seeing an inevitable global expansion of the hospitality and tourism industries. What helps to make the programme unique is the opportunity to participate in learning journeys and master-classes designed and delivered by top industry professionals.

The benefits of an apprenticeship to young people have been clearly illustrated in the debate. However, as the theme of this year’s Scottish apprenticeship week is business, I want to finish by saying why the Apex Hotels group makes that investment in young people and their career development. Two things were mentioned to me. First, it gives the company the chance to grow its own talent, because it delivers the training and it knows its apprentices best and can provide them with the support and the mentoring that are right for the individual, allowing them to succeed in the company’s environment. Secondly, the mentoring, coaching and confidence building make the Apex hotel group an attractive employer—somewhere where people want to work—which plays an important part in staff retention.

Apprenticeships in Scotland have come a long way and the benefits that they bring are well recognised. They provide the opportunities that our young people need and the expertise that that our industries require. As Scotland builds the skilled workforce that it needs for the future, it is clear to me that apprenticeships will play a significant role.


Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I, too, thank Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing this important issue to the chamber. Yesterday, we were give a timely reminder of the importance of modern apprenticeships in developing our young workforce. I raised at First Minister’s questions the issue of the TOM Group in Airdrie, which has announced its closure. Hundreds of jobs will be lost. Although Airdrie is not in my constituency, it is very near, and many of the people whose jobs are at risk will be from Coatbridge. I welcome the First Minister’s response and her commitment.

As members may remember, I lodged a similar motion for debate in anticipation of Scottish apprenticeship week last year. It is an event that I have now had the honour to participate in for a second year running. Scottish apprenticeship week 2018 had a successful run in the week beginning 5 March, with MSPs and ministers attending 99 visits all over Scotland, at which they met foundation, modern and graduate apprentices.

This year, I had the pleasure of meeting modern apprentices at the Gartcosh-based Lochview nursery, where the training that the apprentices receive and the work that they do exemplified this year’s theme, which is, as Gordon MacDonald said, “Apprenticeships are the business”, recognising the value that apprentices bring to employers across the nation. The programme is an extraordinary opportunity for our young people to take advantage of the paid work-based learning process of an apprenticeship, ultimately making them attractive to employers and more likely to move into employment.

Lochview nursery is doing an outstanding job in equipping future childcare providers with both qualifications for the specific role and skills that are transferable across the sector. That work is particularly necessary at the moment, because of the Scottish Government’s commitment to increasing early learning and entitlement to free childcare, which is scheduled to go from 600 hours to 1,140 by 2020. That will undoubtedly create a greater demand for people who are trained in childcare. Thus, the apprenticeship programme not only furthers the careers of young people, but can be a crucial component of answering the changing demands of our economy.

As I said, this is not the first year that I have witnessed the great work of the apprenticeship programme. Last year, I had the chance to visit Monklands hospital, where I spoke to GRAHAM Construction apprentices about their programme and training methods. Both visits were great experiences, and I heard from very enthusiastic young people on both occasions.

Predictably, Presiding Officer, I will stick to my constituency. I recently welcomed the minister, Jamie Hepburn, to Stepps for his visit to Solutions Driven recruitment, a firm that helps employers with their recruitment challenges. The minister heard about the good work that the firm has accomplished in its 20-year history—it has celebrated both platinum certification by investors in people and the gold award for good practice from investors in young people. Those awards speak to the firm’s commitment to the recruitment, training and retention of young people in the workforce. I can confirm, as other members have, that over the coming months, I will take part in SDS’s apprenticeship for a day programme in my constituency, although I have not yet determined where.

Apprenticeships are a vital part of supporting our young people into work, and the extra investment and focus over the past decade have transformed apprenticeships across the board. Countries with well-developed vocational learning systems and significant employer engagement have the lowest levels of youth unemployment, so by investing in modern apprenticeships we are paving the way to a better future for all our children.

Apprenticeships are particularly beneficial for people who may feel that college or university is not the best fit for them. Instead of penalising such young adults, apprenticeships offer them an equally rewarding and successful path into the world of employment. Apprenticeships are a vital part of building a stronger Scotland and ensuring that we have a talented and multi-skilled workforce that will help to build our economy. It is in all our interests to ensure that modern apprenticeships are easily and equally accessible to all Scotland’s young people, so that we develop the leaders and innovators of tomorrow.


The Minister for Employability and Training (Jamie Hepburn)

I join others in thanking Jamie Halcro Johnston for bringing the debate to the chamber. I also thank the large number of members who have taken the time to contribute, which I very much welcome; it reflects the Parliament’s cross-party interest in the subject. I join Jamie Halcro Johnston in thanking Skills Development Scotland for the year-round work that it undertakes in relation to apprenticeships, and in particular for Scottish apprenticeship week. I also record our thanks to training providers and colleges for the training that they offer.

It is also important to thank employers; we must remember that every apprentice is an employee and we rely on employers to take them on. Without the commitment of employers, it would not be possible to welcome the great expansion in the number of apprentices that we have seen. We also need that commitment in order to ensure that there is employer input to the design of our apprenticeship system. The Scottish apprenticeship advisory board, which is facilitated through Skills Development Scotland, contains many representatives from industry and other interested parties who inform the design of our system.

In that regard, I join Alexander Burnett in calling for more employers to become involved and take on apprentices. I offer some moderate words of caution to him, however. First, we probably should not talk about “tradesmen”, but about “tradespeople”. We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes, which are a significant challenge for us in relation to apprenticeships.

We want people who are involved in trades to take on more apprentices. However, we should not talk about them in isolation because, as we have heard, our apprenticeship offer goes much wider than apprenticeships in only the trades. Failing to talk about that sometimes reinforces misconceptions about what apprenticeships are about.

The full blast of winter was unleashed across Scotland the week before Scottish apprenticeship week, so I was a little apprehensive about the impact that it might have on the number of scheduled events and visits. Iain Gray timed his visit absolutely right; he must have been one of the few people who managed to source a supply of milk that week, so his visit was very convenient.

Despite the challenges that the weather posed, thanks to the resilience and commitment of everyone involved, including members in the chamber, there was a minimal impact. A number of members have referred to there having been 99 visits by MSPs over the week, which is a fact that they must have drawn from the SDS briefing. I have something of an advantage in that I engage with Skills Development Scotland probably more regularly than other folk, so I can tell members that that number has been revised upwards. There were 103 visits over the week, including 25 ministerial engagements. The number is up from 90 visits the year before. The eighth Scottish apprenticeship week was one of the biggest and best yet, which is very important.

Tom Arthur, Ruth Maguire and others rightly talked about the need to ensure more parity of esteem between vocational education—in particular, apprenticeships—and other post-school destinations. I take that challenge very seriously. We have faced that challenge historically, which is why I mentioned that we should be cautious about talking about the trades in isolation. We are investing time and effort in improving parity of esteem through careers advice and through our educational offer in schools.

I think that Jamie Halcro Johnston offered some words of caution about pace in relation to foundation apprenticeships. If we look at the issue reasonably, we see that 340-odd foundation apprenticeships started two years ago; that this year 1,200 will start; that next year 2,600 will start; and that the year after that our commitment is that 5,000 apprenticeships will start. That is pretty significant growth in a short time, and our ambitions go further still.

Embedding the thinking about apprenticeships in the school environment opens up the minds of young people, teachers and parents. It is critical that young people understand the apprenticeship offer while they are still at school.

I will not go through the visits that members made over the course of the week. However, I will say that it was heartening to hear about the range of visits and that everyone found their experiences to be enjoyable and rewarding, which was certainly how I found my visits to be.

I went to see Strathclyde partnership for transport at the Broomloan depot for the Glasgow subway. I am delighted that it is taking on the first batch of apprentices that it has had for some considerable time. Crucially, some people who have worked for SPT for a long time have been given apprenticeship opportunities and the chance to upskill: guys in their early 30s, who have worked for SPT for about 12 years, will get the opportunity to do an apprenticeship. In this case, it happens to be actual “guys”—although that is another reminder that we need to broaden the range of people who participate.

I also met more than 40 apprentices from the hospitality sector, including Rosie Wilkins, who was the Scottish apprentice of the year in 2017. Gordon MacDonald will be delighted to hear that Apex Hotels Ltd was represented. Hospitality is an important example of a sector in which the jobs have traditionally been viewed as being somewhat transient and as not representing a long-term career. The fact that there are apprenticeships in hospitality is very welcome, because it shows that people can build a career in that sector.

A couple of issues were raised around the equalities agenda, which we take very seriously. Skills Development Scotland is working to its equalities action plan. There have been some improvements, but there must be more. We will continue to work to that plan.

Jamie Halcro Johnston mentioned the apprenticeship levy. I say, happily, that we are taking a different approach from that which is being taken in England. On our performance, over the first three quarters of this year, 70 per cent of the targeted number of apprenticeships for this year have started, which is the same position as we were in at the same point in 2016-17. In England, in the first quarter since the introduction of an apprenticeship levy, there was a 59.3 per cent reduction in the number of apprentices from the figure for the previous year. In the second quarter, there was a 26 per cent reduction.

Our figures are a result of Scotland having a high-quality offer, because we are not following what has been done in England. I believe that England has set too ambitious a target in terms of the raw numbers, which has led to concerns about diminution in quality. We are not doing that here. We have a high-quality offer, which is what we all want, and is what Scottish apprenticeship week should remind us about. I welcome the fact that we have had the chance to debate that this afternoon.

13:46 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—