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Alison McGregor, Co-chair SAAB and interim CEO

Alison McGregor, former apprentice and co-chair of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB), has endorsed findings from a leading international organisation about Scotland’s apprenticeship system.

The latest report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ‘Strengthening skills in Scotland’ reviews the resilience of Scotland’s apprenticeship system and outlines four key recommendations. 

A resilient apprenticeship system

Scotland faces unparalleled economic challenges from the Covid-19 pandemic.

But as we emerge from this crisis, the strength and resilience of our apprenticeship system will ensure that work-based learning is a key part of recovery.

As a former apprentice and apprentice employer, I’ve seen first-hand that apprentices can contribute effectively from day one on the job, as well as adding life-long value to any organisation. The benefits of apprenticeships are felt not only by individuals, but by employers and the economy too.

The OECD’s report underlines this, highlighting the strength of Scotland’s apprenticeship system and the role it can play in economic recovery. 

The Scottish Government continues to emphasise the importance of work-based learning as they set out key actions to generate significant economic growth, combined with a focus on supporting jobs, skills and training.

These measures and further support for apprentices and employers will maintain the strength of the Scottish Apprenticeship system and provide a platform to keep building on the recommendations made by the OECD.

We’ve seen significant developments and progress over the last decade, such as the expansion of Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships. This means more people and businesses can access and benefit from apprenticeships. But, if Scotland is to realise its ambition of a world-class apprenticeship system, we can’t stop there.

Building capacity to respond to change

Although commissioned prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the report is more relevant now than ever, as we build resilience and work towards an agile work-based learning system.

Representing the voice of industry, the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board has reviewed, scrutinised and endorsed the report.

As business leaders, we believe taking forward the four recommendations will ensure employers continue to retain and invest in apprenticeships.

I wholeheartedly agree with the OECD’s recommendation on the need to create more flexibility in the system. Introducing demand-led funding for apprenticeships will allow employers and apprentices to drive apprenticeship provision and bring Scotland in line with other leading apprenticeship countries.

Building on the work of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, the OECD also recommends establishing minimum requirements for the length of apprenticeship programmes and for the proportion of off-the-job training. This would ensure the minimum standards for apprenticeships meet international norms and would strengthen the quality and brand of apprenticeships.

For experienced adult workers, the OECD highlights the need to develop a non-apprenticeship route to the qualifications currently realised through apprenticeships, which would fill a gap in provision. This verification of experience via an assessment or proof of prior learning would ensure that skilled workers are able to access the qualification without entering a training programme.

In SAAB we often discuss our aspirations to be within the top performing OECD countries in terms of work-based learning. By implementing the recommendation outlined in the report about developing master craftsperson qualifications we will be able  to follow in the footsteps of high performing countries such as Germany. This would allow qualified apprentices, often with work experience, to acquire higher level technical and professional skills, learn how to run their own small business, and develop skills in training further apprentices.

Supporting economic recovery

The Covid-19 crisis imposed a sudden and unexpected new pressure on Scotland’s apprenticeship system. As Scotland faces significant challenge and uncertainty, now more than ever there is a need for further investment and innovation.

We can’t do it alone. Taking forward these recommendations demands a focused and coordinated response across government, the skills and enterprise agencies and all relevant partners.

A whole system approach and inter-agency collaboration is a must. We will work closely with Skills Development Scotland as they engage with a wide range of partners to address the recommendations.

I am confident that Scotland’s apprenticeship system is strong, resilient and well-placed to support our recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. The OECD’s recommendations reinforce this, creating a demand-led and responsive work-based learning system for employers, apprentices and the Scottish economy.

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