Elaine Ellis: The Skills Investment Plan and the role of apprenticeships

Meeting the current and future skills needs of employers was the focus of the first Skills Investment Plan for Scotland’s Construction Sector, published four years ago.

In the second of a series of articles highlighting work resulting from the Skills Investment Plan, Elaine Ellis, skills planning manager at Skills Development Scotland (SDS) reflects on the role of apprenticeships, upskilling and reskilling in meeting the needs of business.

Elaine Ellis: The Skills Investment Plan and the role of apprenticeships

Elaine Ellis

Whether it’s meeting current housing and infrastructure demands or helping Scotland shift to a low-carbon economy, our sector plays a pivotal role in shaping the country’s future.

This requires a constant stream of new talent and a skills system working with employers to help them understand their skills needs. 

The Skills Investment Plan has represented a concerted effort by the industry, SDS and other partners to set out its future skills needs and the interventions required. 

Economic disruptions such as an ageing workforce, Brexit and digitisation are challenges facing every part of our economy, and construction businesses of all sizes are not immune to this.

Building a pipeline of skilled talent in the face of these challenges has been a key focus of the Skills Investment Plan.  Embedding work-based learning is one of the ways employers can recruit and retain a skilled, diverse and agile workforce.

That’s why SDS has worked with industries to modernise and expand the apprenticeship offer, with the construction sector at the leading edge of this development. 

Apprenticeships have evolved and are increasingly used to develop management and professional skills alongside more traditional areas. Given the 30 per cent increase in Modern Apprenticeship uptake in the last four years, this stream of talent is growing amongst employers of all sizes.   

Visibility of these opportunities has also improved – with the apprenticeships.scot website providing an easy and free platform for businesses to attract high quality and diverse candidates.  Likewise, employers, learning providers and apprentices across the country are using this week – Scottish Apprenticeship Week - to promote the importance and benefits of work-based learning.

Thanks to Scotland’s Apprenticeship Network, current and past apprentices can use their first-hand experiences to share the benefits of apprenticeships to individuals, employers and others. 

A vibrant and competitive construction sector can’t rely just on numbers, however.  The Plan identified priorities around innovation and flexibility.  As a result, employers and individuals now have greater choice – including the Foundation Apprenticeship in civil engineering and Graduate Apprenticeships in civil engineering and in construction & the built environment. 

Beyond apprenticeships, the plan called for action to widen routes into the sector, boosting diversity. Initiatives including the Inclusive Value project led by Equate Scotland are fantastic, but we must go further.     

Increased upskilling and reskilling within the workplace also plays a crucial role, helping employees adapt and take advantage of shifts in technology and the economy. That’s why training providers, industry bodies and businesses are collaborating to develop new training models, including online and distance learning.   

It’s that innovative, joined-up, industry-led approach which will build the skills needed for future growth. We’ve made a great start but much work remains to ensure industry can access the right skills and talent to thrive in our future economy. 

SDS, working closely with the Industry Leadership Skills Group and others, stands ready to support businesses in grasping the opportunities that lie ahead. 

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