Why apprenticeships matter

03 Mar 2017

Looking ahead to Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017 - 6 to 10 March - SWA head of industry resources Alison Galbraith shares her thoughts on the importance of training for new recruits and existing employees.

During the 24 years I have worked at The Scotch Whisky Association I have seen many changes.  When I first started, there was no Internet and a mobile was something you hung on the ceiling to keep a baby amused!   People wrote letters and we used something called a fax machine.  As for apprenticeships, by the 1990s, the system had virtually collapsed. 

Last year, the Association produced a well-received skills report (available below).  The conclusions, based on research conducted across the industry in 2015, show high levels of commitment across the Scotch Whisky industry to invest in the skills and training of its employees - some 96% of companies provide training to employees, compared to the national average of 71%. 

But the report also highlights challenges facing the industry and makes recommendations for addressing these.  Looking to the future, there are particular difficulties in engineering and in leadership and management where there is strong competition with  other sectors.

So what are we doing to address these?  I have recently been asked to represent the SWA on the Scotland Food & Drink Skills Group, which has responsibility for taking forward implementation of the Skills Investment Plan, and I've been nominated as Priority Champion on one of the sub-groups co-ordinating the delivery of  'driving leadership and management excellence'.  Expected outcomes include provision for leadership and management development that is more accessible and relevant to the needs of employers across the food and drink sector.  We also plan to improve company performance through increased networking, mentoring and sharing of best practice.

As I know only too well, the existing workforce is ageing and we must continue to attract new talent to maintain sustainable growth.  Skills Development Scotland's 'My World of Work' website is an excellent resource, packed with idea for careers, links to courses and jobs and support for applying for jobs.  Recently, I have been pressing for increased visibility of Scotch Whisky on the site to show the great diversity of roles that we can offer as an industry.  We also welcome the Scottish Government's firm commitment to greater support for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) skills and training across Scotland.  This should go some way to ensuring we have a future pipeline of engineering talent to support the sector.

So where do apprenticeships fit in and why all the fuss?  Admittedly, apprenticeships were popular in industries such as engineering, shipbuilding, plumbing and electrical services in the early 1900s.  After peaking in the 1960s, apprenticeships entered a slow decline with half as many apprentices in employment in 1995 as there were in 1979.  'Modern Apprenticeships' - announced in 1993 - were developed to meet employers' demands for vocationally-related qualifications with a job-specific content which could largely be delivered through workplace-based training.

Growing Scotch, or just preparing for the future, means developing the right skills.  That's exactly what Modern Apprenticeships offer.  They help employers to develop their workforce by training new staff and by improving the skills of existing employees.  They let people work, learn and earn at the same time.  And it's a real success story - 91% of apprentices are still in employment six months after completing their Modern Apprenticeship; and 96% of employers say former apprentices are better equipped to do their job. What a long way we have come since the 1990s. 

Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017 is taking place from 6 to 10 March and the SWA is  voicing its support.   This will be a fantastic time to highlight the benefits of Modern Apprenticeships and I would encourage readers to get involved.  We all have a part to play so let's rise to the Government's challenge of 30,000 Modern Apprenticeships opportunities each year by 2020.

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