Scottish Apprenticeship Week is running from March 1-5 to spotlight how apprenticeships help businesses, individuals, and the economy.
The initiative, backed by Skills Development Scotland, will help showcase how companies can use apprenticeships to employ and develop talented workers.
The benefits they offer companies are numerous – bespoke training to meet the company’s needs, creating a more diverse workforce, or reducing employee turnover.
Meanwhile, apprenticeships offer a chance for people to earn while they learn and an alternative route into work.
To find out more, DIGIT spoke with Skills Development Scotland’s Digital Technologies Sector Skills Manager Claire Gillespie and Marketing and Communications Advisor Rob Bruce.
The Right Stuff
While apprenticeships have generally focused on manual trades, they are now available to teach modern technical skills, such as cybersecurity. With digital skills at the heart of Scotland’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, the likes of coders and software developers are in high demand.
Skills Development Scotland helps develop the frameworks for its technology-focused apprenticeships alongside employers to ensure their needs are met. The group also has a network of industry contacts to help develop those frameworks.
In addition, Skills Development Scotland provides funding to cover training costs. “That’s what makes it cost effective for employers – they can get a resource they might not have otherwise been able to afford,” Bruce said. There is also currently an additional £5,000 incentive for companies using the apprenticeship programme, running until the 25th of March.
“The training that the apprentice gets is bespoke to the employer,” Bruce added. “So the employer gets an opportunity to mould the apprentice in a way that really fits with their business.”
This bespoke training helps reduce turnover and ensure that companies can capitalise on the investment they make in their workers. “If you look at surveys and stats, you see apprentices tend to be very loyal to the business,” Gillespie said.
There are also benefits for the apprentices. Not only do they gain a consistent salary during their studies, they can also put their new skills into immediate practice.
Furthermore, apprentices generally have a guaranteed fulltime job at the end of their course, alongside long-term career opportunities.
For potential apprentices, the apprenticeships.scot website provides a one-stop shop of available positions.
While there are many talented people with the potential to work in digital fields, university is not the right path for everyone. Apprenticeships provide an alternative route towards skilled jobs. “This encourages and allows additional talents to come into the sector,” Gillespie said. “It makes for a lot of diversity in the workplace, from people coming from different backgrounds and different experiences.”
Diversity comes in many forms – gender, ethnicity, differently-abled, and neurodiversity, to name a few. Scottish Apprenticeship Week is helping highlight the advantages people from these groups bring to a company.
“There’s a need to make sure that diverse teams are contributing to new products and services,” Gillespie said. “There’re some interesting examples of products that haven’t quite hit the mark because they’ve been developed by an all-male team, for example.
“So it benefits businesses in terms of getting better quality products and services. There’s lots of research showing that businesses perform better when they have better diversity, particularly around ethnicity and gender. Businesses in the top quartile of productivity and effectiveness tend to have better diversity.
“For neurodiversity, the research we’ve done indicates that people who come from neurodiverse conditions can have particular aptitudes around technology. For example, autism and cybersecurity are quite well linked, so there’s a real opportunity to identify people’s strengths and help them into a career in technology which is suited to them,” she added.
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Furthermore, bringing in diverse talent provides a new perspective on a group’s practices. “They question why a business does things in a certain way and that opens up the business’s eyes to doing things in a new way,” Bruce said.
These outside perspectives make apprentices particularly valuable. While the focus is generally on the technical skills they bring to a company, apprentices also offer wider soft skills, such as collaborating or thinking creatively about problem-solving.
“Technology employers traditionally wanted just the tech skills,” Gillespie said. “But there’s a real recognition of the hybrid skill sets that you pick up as you do job. Apprenticeships are a better way to build those hybrid skills.”
Old Talent, New Skills
“Also, apprentices don’t need to be young people – there’s an opportunity for older people with different transferable skills too,” she added.
“For cybersecurity companies and technology companies more widely, there’s a lot of very transferable skills they look for. Data skills are very well regarded, along with wider coding skills. Somebody that comes with those skills as well as cybersecurity makes them very employable for a cyber company but more widely in technology,” Gillespie noted.
Apprenticeships provide opportunities for employers to upskill their existing employees. As the digital transformation promotes new skills and changes existing roles, companies need to stay proactive to ensure they have access to the right abilities.
There is a greater understanding, Gillespie noted, that “people change their careers, do online courses – there’s so many ways of identifying valuable transferable skills and experiences”.
“We’re talking about a tech-driven recovery going forward,” Gillespie said. “One of the selling points of apprenticeships as a reskilling tool is a lot of staff are having to change their roles, and that’s not even just in technology. I can see apprenticeships being a big part of that reskilling and upskilling of the workforce.”
Bruce added: “There’s appreciation and understanding that lifelong learning is an integral part of your career. You don’t just go to university and then start work and that’s you for the rest of your life.
“The world is moving so fast, and jobs are changing so quickly. You’ve got no option but to continue learning – new skills, new methods, new ways of doing things, and apprenticeship play into that very well.”