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All Scottish Apprenticeships are set to be approved by a new Apprenticeship Approval Group as of 1 April 2020.

Hear from Ruth Jennings, Group Apprenticeship Qualifications Manager for Sainsbury’s and Chair of the Apprenticeship Approvals Group - a new independent body, aimed at ensuring Scottish Apprenticeships meet the needs of employers. 

The Apprenticeship Approvals Group (AAG) was set up in late 2019 and established with a clear remit: to ensure employer-led representation throughout all stages of the development and governance of apprenticeships. 

I’m a passionate advocate of apprenticeships and always have been. I’ve been immersed in the world of skills, learning & development and qualifications all my professional career and my belief is that every person should be able to access the support needed to achieve their potential at work.  

I came to Sainsbury’s in 2015, tasked with developing a robust skills agenda for colleagues and a plan for the whole of the UK. The objective of the skills team is to support colleagues to grow their professional skills and qualifications in order to deliver excellent customer service, for Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, Sainsbury’s Bank, Argos, Nectar and Habitat. So, I’m kept busy during my ‘day job’ which takes me all over the UK, supporting the needs of colleagues from the four nations.  

This, combined with having a training provider background, has given me exposure to different systems and some real insight into the varied operating models of apprenticeships across each of the nations. But through various roles, including my most recent appointment as Chair of the AAG, I’ve always maintained a special interest in the Scottish set up 

Why did we need a new Apprenticeship Approvals Group? 

As a member of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) – made up of senior leaders from employers across Scotland to provide ‘the voice of industry’ – I have the opportunity to help shape policy, governance and delivery of apprenticeships in Scotland. The thinking behind SAAB and its working groups is that we have apprenticeships that plug the skills gaps in industry and meet the present and future needs of employers 

It was through the work of the SAAB Standards and Frameworks Group that we identified the need for a transparent system which better engaged with employers - both in terms of the creation and quality assurance of standards and frameworks in apprenticeships. Hence the new Apprenticeship Approvals Group was born.  

We are currently in a period of phasing out the old governance system (the Modern Apprentice Group) which, as the name suggests, only had Modern Apprenticeships in its remit. The transition from a Modern Apprenticeship Group to the Apprenticeship Approval Group directly addresses this issue of MAG having a remit that was too narrow. As Foundation and Graduate apprenticeships have grown in number and prominence, there became a disconnect in the review of and how apprenticeships are considered, across the apprenticeship family. We needed a solution which reflected the need for coherent learner journeys linking Foundation, Modern and Graduate apprenticeship programmes. Paving more visible pathways enabled us to keep the learner as the main focus.  

It was also apparent that we had to embed employer leadership in the setting up of any new approval process and ensure that it should address the requirements of learners and employers alike. I was delighted to be appointed Chair of the new Apprenticeship Approvals Group and I think it’s important that people see employers at the heart of decision making. 

The ‘progressive’ Scottish Model 

The Scottish model puts the individual at the heart of development, supported by a quality, tailored, learning offer. The Scottish system is all about transparency and quality. We are building a system that employers can trust in - a system of excellent standards.  

There are some great similarities in the systems operating across the four nations and it is a privilege to be part of the really progressive developments occurring in Scotland. These include building on the strong foundations that already exist in the National Occupational standards (NOS) and forward-thinking concepts such as Technical Expert Groups (TEGs) 

Transparency at its heart 

Transparency is at the heart of the new Apprenticeship Approvals Group – we have terms of reference that are thorough and set out our purpose, remit and lines of communication with our stakeholders.  

This allows comprehensive alignment and transparency in the development of apprenticeships. And it will ensure that the activities and decisions of AAG are understood and are clear, by producing regular performance reports and through the publication of minutes/ decisions of meetings online, in the public domain. 

Employer-led membership 

I feel that key to AAG’s success will be its membership. We’ve already had our first few meetings and although it is in its early stages, it’s very reassuring to see such a diverse group of people at the table. AAG members bring knowledge from across different strands that all feed into the Scottish skills landscape. The room is not too busy, but also offers a safe space for strong debate to really drill down on some of the technical aspects of apprenticeships. We have representation from trade unions, qualification bodies, education, several different employers – and we also benefit from having a former apprentice member who has just recently qualified through a Modern Apprenticeship framework. This ensures a vital ‘reality check’ with everything we do and is a component that many working groups tend to omit. 

As AAG members we are a conduit of communication between the different ‘working parts’ - the variety of stakeholders involved in developing and creating apprenticeships. The unions are a good example – we have great representation from STUC, for example, where our member can help develop apprenticeships, go back and explain to unions, their local representatives and members, consult with them and then bring that feedback back into AAG so we can revisit. It helps provide those all-important communication tools and ensure proper collaboration at every step in the process.  

Helping to deliver Scotland’s dynamic learning system 

Research into the changing world of work means that it’s crucial that any new system is adaptable in its approach. I have high hopes for AAG. It’s much more than corporate responsibility for colleagues or the business; its about actually doing the right thing, not just being seen to be doing the right thing 

It incorporates many functions: helping individuals and the workforce by ensuring that Scottish Apprenticeships are high in quality and future-focused. It supports employers by putting them at the heart of shaping skills, aided by technical assurance and delivery experts. And overall, it ensures the currency and relevance of all aspects of Scottish apprenticeships, helping to deliver a dynamic and responsive learning system in Scotland. 

Further Information

Find out more about the new Apprenticeship Approval Group

Read about the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board 

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