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The features of Graduate Apprenticeships (GA) make them a win-win choice not only for employers, but learners as well.

A graduate apprentice is an employee, meaning they earn professional accreditation, while earning a salary from day one, and they can reduce recruitment costs for the employer. GAs are built on industry and professional standards, meaning that the apprentice becomes productive much sooner than through academic study alone. Also, graduate apprenticeships are open to all employers and their full-time employees, offering flexible entry and exit points to suit different learning styles and help with upskilling and reskilling of employees – overall, resulting in a more flexible, productive and innovative workforce.

Graduate Apprenticeships – what employers want

The publication of the report, Graduate Apprenticeships: Developing Scotland’s Future Workforce is a significant and long-awaited piece of independent research which only serves to clearly illustrate these strengths and amplify what employers have been saying for years – Graduate Apprenticeships are valued by Scottish employers and they want access to more GA opportunities, both in terms of scale and diversity of provision.

The Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) Employer Engagement Group was delighted to commission the Edge Foundation – experts in learning and skills - to conduct this research.  The final article provides a report which looks at the current policy landscape, the future of work, international examples and what that means for the future of GAs. It addresses each of these with balance and consideration, offering practical advice and strategic guidance. If we, as employers, maintain our support and Scottish Government fulfil their commitment, this will bring multi-facetted benefits – not least of all to the Scottish economy.

As Chair of the SAAB Employer Engagement Group, I have talked to employers in detail about the benefits of GAs since their launch in 2017. Members of the advisory board – made up of industry leaders and experts across various sectors and sizes of organisation - agree that the demand for degree-level, work-based learning will continue to grow.

The Edge Foundation’s report distils current thinking of employers, along with apprentices who have been or are going through a GA programme, and combines this with expert knowledge and examples of work-based learning successes from high-performing economies. 

Key recommendations

The report highlights the value of GAs to businesses in Scotland and stresses that these need to be communicated clearly. Its findings and recommendations will help inform the future advice we give to Scottish Government, in our role as ‘the voice of industry’ on apprenticeships, including some key areas where the Scottish system can be strengthened:

  • increase flexibility in graduate apprenticeships and build a more flexible system to support the delivery of Graduate Apprenticeships
  • upskill and introduce an agile, demand-led funding system, driven by employer demand
  • make a clear commitment to longer-term funding to provide certainty and clarity of provision
  • broaden the frameworks on offer, to future proof GAs, including sectors where there might be more female applicants
  • drive demand and increase awareness of the GA programme in schools and colleges

The last two years and the impact of Covid-19 have been hugely disruptive on the global economy, as well as education, training and the workplace generally. As nations plan their long-term recovery, we want to ensure that the skills landscape in Scotland can underpin economic and social recovery, post-pandemic. SAAB is keen to share the message that apprenticeships have an important role in supporting this and the future of work.

A new skills system which cultivates positive change

There are lessons to be learned from international comparisons cited in the Edge’s Foundation’s study, and work to be done to shift the skills approach in Scotland to one which is demand-led and therefore fully reflective of the needs of industry.

Scotland’s skills system has recently been refreshed, with more robust governance processes and a focus on employer-led apprenticeship development. Four years after its launch, employers are keen to see the Graduate Apprenticeship programme grow in volume and in terms of sectors covered.

This, along with the evidence contained within the GA Report provides us with strong foundations to learn to build upon. My hope is that employers, policy makers and educators will use these findings to be innovative around the future adaptations of Graduate Apprenticeships going forward. Graduate Apprenticeships are desirable, unique and offer so much to everyone involved.


Paul Campbell
Chair of Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) Employer Engagement Group
Head of Learning & Organisational Development, Scottish Water

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