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I’ve always had a keen interest in apprenticeships, being a former one myself, and this had continued throughout my career into senior leadership and as part of my role as Co-Chair of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) – the ‘voice of industry’ on Scottish apprenticeships.

I was therefore delighted to be asked to speak at a recent event – Business Backing Talent - to help launch #ScotAppWeek21.

Employer and apprentice benefits

The event was hosted by Charandeep Singh, Deputy Chief Executive at Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) and had speakers from fellow SAAB member organisations (Openreach, Balfour Beatty and SCC themselves). They delivered the same, clear message – a call for Scottish firms not to give up on our young people and to think about apprenticeships as a way to inject fresh talent and ideas into a business while giving someone ‘a chance’.

We heard from Fraser Rowberry and Scott Baker from Openreach who illustrated the importance of apprentices, who were very much at the front line of delivering essential services. Despite the challenges of Covid-19 in 2020-21, Openreach has developed agile ways of working in the new virtual environment and continued to recruit and train apprentices with over 1,000 starts across the UK.

Bethany Welsh, a Graduate Apprentice from Balfour Beatty talked about the high-profile projects she has had the opportunity to work on as an apprentice, such as Inveramsay Bridge and West Ham’s stadium refurbishment. Now an apprentice ambassador, it was fascinating to hear Bethany explain how her friends, who chose university, now sit with a similar engineering degree but that Bethany also has seven years industry experience over and above her peers.

I started my career as an apprentice in banking. I was almost 16 when my father died and I decided to leave school and start working. By the age of 21 I was qualified, had some excellent experience, a deposit for my first flat and was already taking two holidays per year. I did think about going back to university as had been my initial plan, but thankfully my head overruled my heart, otherwise I would have been on a very expensive pathway to smoothing out a chip on my shoulder about not going through the traditional academic route. I became CEO for HSBC I also sat on the Board of Scottish Enterprise and was Chair of CBI Scotland.

"As employers, getting behind apprenticeships will help your business, the Scottish economy and significantly, our young people who – especially at this time - really deserve ‘a chance’."

Alison McGregor, Co-Chair, Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board

Part of industry driving apprenticeships

I am also very proud to be the Co-chair of SAAB, which gives me the chance to connect with such a diverse range of talented leaders and innovative business leaders, all on a subject I care very deeply about.

We’ve enabled a switch in the system from being government-led, to now being industry-led. We ensure that the design, development and approval of apprenticeships in Scotland is done through the leadership of SAAB and that employers are in the driving seat. Overall, our aim is to ensure that apprenticeships are ‘future-fit’ and reflect the needs of industry.

The pathway for apprenticeships is clear and my message delivered to employers will remain steadfast. As employers, getting behind apprenticeships will help your business, the Scottish economy and significantly, our young people who – especially at this time - really deserve ‘a chance’.

More information

Employers can find out about the support to take on an apprentice at

Find out more about the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board on the Skills Development Scotland website.

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