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Shaun powered team of apprentices to cut costs and carbon footprint at sawmill

Work-based learning Apprenticeships Youth employment Employers Rural Scotland

A former apprentice is helping his employer BSW Timber to chop its carbon footprint and potentially save tens of thousands of pounds as it aims to hit net zero.

Innovations through a team of apprentices but driven by Shaun MacLeod through the Fuel Change Competition included the idea of introducing a new electric powered mobile side-loader plant to the mill in Fort William.

The initiatives that were found by the 21-year-old and his team, then reviewed, offered new ways of working and could potentially deliver annual savings of £400,000 a year for the timber mill, with the added opportunity to cut carbon emissions by thousands of tonnes per year.

These findings link to BSW Timber's business standards of tradition and integrity combined with high-tech innovation. As a business, the firm takes pride in trying to be ever more cutting edge and to deliver zero-waste principles and recovery of 100% of resources. Its business has a robust strategy based on long-term expansion and sustainability.

He completed his apprenticeship in November 2021, learning lots along the way and is now studying for an HNC qualification at UHI Inverness College.

Shaun said: “Technically, I really progressed my learning in electrical and mechanical areas and my understanding of industrial manufacturing through my apprenticeship.

“My apprenticeship has also helped me massively with my personal skills, my confidence, and being able to communicate with others.”

Supporting Net Zero Apprentice Of The Year Shaun Macleod
I'm currently in a mentor role for the younger apprentices who are going through the Fuel Change Challenge and so this has helped with my leadership skills.

Shaun McLeod

Shaun’s innovative business solution was borne from participating in the Fuel Change Challenge, which is a low carbon innovation challenge open to apprentices across Scotland.

Shaun said: “I've always thought about the environment. I was a part of the eco committee at school and I'm very into conserving the outdoors. BSW Group gave me the opportunity to be part of the Fuel Change Challenge with the rest of the team.”

The positive experience he gained through Fuel Change has led Shaun to support others participating in other projects at BSW and with local community projects.

He explained: “I'm currently in a mentor role for the younger apprentices who are going through the Fuel Change Challenge and this has helped with my leadership skills.”

Tony Lockey looks after apprenticeships, graduates and learning development at BSW Group. It has about 1,200 staff across the UK, with about 230 employees at the Fort William Mill.

Tony said: “The Fuel Change Challenge is a competition that tasked groups of apprentices to come up with real time solutions that would help their employers cut carbon emissions. This is incredibly exciting and offers young people the opportunity to make real changes to improvements at work and in our lives.

“Shaun saw getting involved in Fuel Change as a fantastic opportunity to highlight his ideas, to cascade key messages of improving new zero carbon ambitions and to share findings with a wider audience.

“Shaun has a real appetite for anything new and has good ideas about how to improve things. Shaun became a leader on the Fuel Change Challenge. He grabbed it with both hands.

“Shaun has become our ambassador for net zero by taking part in podcasts with the Fuel Change Team, attending events and adding value at these. He is inspirational to the new apprentices and existing teams.”

Shaun saw getting involved in Fuel Change as a fantastic opportunity to highlight his ideas, to cascade key messages of improving new zero carbon ambitions and to share findings with a wider audience.

Tony Lockey

BSW Group

An apprenticeship has helped Shaun realise his dream of following in his grandfather's footsteps.

Shaun said: “My grandfather passed away when I was three months old. He was highly regarded as a good electrician in the area and I thought I'd like to follow in his footsteps. That's how I got into my electrical apprenticeship.

“I decided an apprenticeship would be best for me because prior to leaving school I was working in a bike shop at weekends and I enjoyed working with my hands. I thought an apprenticeship would let me learn on the job.

“The main benefit of the apprenticeship for me is that I’m getting to learn hands on. Through my apprenticeship I work with so many different tradesmen and learning different ways of doing things. Also, with the college, you are getting that underpinning knowledge. I’m achieving all this and getting paid at the same time.

Shaun was a finalist in the Supporting Net Zero Apprentice category proudly sponsored by Ocean Winds at the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards.

Shaun said: “It's absolutely fantastic to be a finalist in the Supporting Net Zero Apprentice category. I'm ecstatic. It's really nice to have not only my own work recognised, but also the work of the rest of the team. Hopefully this help to widen everyone's views on what they can do to reach net zero.”

BSW Group has reaped the benefits of employing apprentices for many years.

Tony explained: “We actively employ and see real benefit it employing a range of different types of apprentices, from engineering disciplines, administration, marketing, and IT basically right across the board.

“This is a very exciting time in our industry. Our business needs young people to help take BSW Group into the future. Our apprentices have been fantastic and we see real benefit through succession plans and in the drive and energy they bring.

“Apprenticeships as key to our business. They help us integrate with our local communities especially as we are based in the main in rural areas - apprenticeships offer fantastic career opportunities. I have found that apprentices bring ideas, enthusiasm and energy from day one, to our business.

“From the moment Shaun came for interview with us he has shown real dynamism. I've never forgotten his home-made clock he brought as a show and tell. Time has certainly taught us that Shaun is a great asset to engineering.”

Pippa Le Fevre of UHI Inverness College said: “The BSW and UHI relationship is an incredibly positive one through the apprenticeship programme.

“Shaun has been a great apprentice to work with. Throughout his apprenticeship he was always positive, produced work of an excellent standard and was methodical and consistent in his approach to all of his activities, including looking at ways to make his role better through environmental and sustainable options.”

Scottish Apprenticeship Awards

The winner of the Supporting Net Zero Apprentice category sponsored by Ocean Winds was revealed at this year's Scottish Apprenticeship Awards, organised by Skills Development Scotland.

To find out more about the winners, and how apprenticeships can benefit young people and employers, visit