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Graduate Apprenticeships (GAs) have a critical role in driving economic growth, increasing productivity and responding to future skills needs, according to a report published today.

Independent research body, the Edge Foundation, has published a report, Graduate Apprenticeships: Developing Scotland’s Future Workforce which also found that Scottish employers are demanding more work-based learning opportunities to help support their post-pandemic recovery.

The new study examines the current supply and asks if this is enough to sustain and respond to the future of the labour market in Scotland.

Researchers found that Graduate Apprenticeships are valued by employers and learners alike, while recommending some changes around flexibility, funding and the broadening of disciplines available, to help to strengthen the unique GA system in Scotland.

Graduate Apprenticeships have been available in Scotland since 2017 and cover a variety of roles such as accountancy, engineering, care and IT. Developed in partnership with industry and the higher education sectors, Graduate Apprenticeships have been created to meet the critical skills needs of employers by providing work-based learning opportunities up to Master’s degree level.

They offer a blend of academic and work-based approaches where the apprentice learns while being a paid employee.

Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training, Jamie Hepburn said:

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on Scotland’s economy and apprenticeships have not been spared the effects as employers have reviewed and delayed recruitment plans. While new apprenticeship starts are moving in the right direction, recent statistics suggest employers are still having to make difficult business decisions.

“The research commissioned by the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) will provide a good platform for discussions on how we can strengthen the impact and reach of Graduate Apprenticeships.”

Offering flexible learning which takes ‘recognition of prior learning’ into account through previous qualifications, skills and experience, GAs allow flexible entry and exit points and the opportunity to upskill and reskill existing employees, covering learners of all ages.

The report was commissioned by The Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) a group of industry leaders, employers, representative organisations and professional bodies who act as ‘the voice of industry’. The study was set up to help employers understand the current apprenticeship system, the future of work and the role that apprenticeships have in helping the post-pandemic recovery.

Using interviews and focus groups with employers, experts and apprentices, the report reflects upon the success of the programme to date.

Paul Campbell, Head of Learning & Organisational Development, Scottish Water and Chair of Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB) Employer Engagement Group who commissioned the report, said:

“Employers want Graduate Apprenticeships - they deliver the right skills, faster. Graduate Apprenticeships combine theory and practical workplace skills from the start and therefore add value much sooner, unlike traditional academic education.  

“The Edge Foundation’s report distils current thinking of employers, along with apprentices who have been or are going through a GA programme, with expert knowledge and examples of successes in work-based learning from high performing economies. The report clearly highlights the value of GAs to businesses in Scotland and demonstrates the need for this to be communicated clearly. 

“My hope is that employers, policy makers and educators will use these findings to be innovative around the future adaptations of Graduate Apprenticeships and grow them in volume and in terms of sectors. Graduate Apprenticeships are desirable, unique and offer so much to everyone involved.” 

The report highlights five key opportunities to further strengthen and grow the Scottish model, including recommendations to improve flexibility and allow employers to drive demand, secure longer-term funding and raise awareness of GA programmes in schools.

Findings also show that there is a wider international trend towards degree-level work-based learning and that employers are pointing to skills shortages, making it clear that they value broader ‘meta-skills’ such as team working, problem solving and communication, as well as skills learned within the workplace.

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