Welcome to the latest monthly column from Donald McLaughlin, Chair of SDS’ Digital Technology Skills Group, where he will give his personal perspective on some of the challenges impacting the tech sector in Scotland. Here, Donald discusses the introduction of ‘Foundation Apprenticeships’ and their potential for the digital technology sector.

Wouldn’t it be terrific to inspire more young Scots into a career in digital and tech? I have already used this column to champion the many ways that learning providers, businesses and the public sector are working together to meet the recruitment challenges faced by our industry, but one initiative I haven’t touched on before is the recent introduction of Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs).  

These last over one or two years, allowing school students in S5 & S6 the chance to gain valuable work-based learning in one of Scotland’s 12 growth industries, including the digital & tech sector.  By spending one or two half days each week working with a local employer, young people are gaining valuable real-work experience while learning both the practical and technical skills needed for their future career.  

This year alone, 5,000 Foundation Apprenticeships opportunities are being offered, all of which could lead on to employment such as a Modern or Graduate Apprenticeship or further study. There are twelve FA frameworks in place so far, including Creative & Digital Media, IT Hardware & System Support, and Food and Drink Technologies, and employers of all sizes are on board already, including the likes of Dell and Microsoft.  

I am inspired by the new, innovative ways that schools and also youth work are improving learning in IT, tech and digital. These don’t only generate an increased appetite to work in the sector, but also give young people the fundamental skills to launch their career in digital and tech.  The FAs complement this work well by giving pupils the platform to learn and apply new skills in a professional environment, whilst also working their way towards a recognised qualification.

Completing a Foundation Apprenticeship also means that students achieve an SCQF level 6, which is the same level as a Higher. If you couple this with the fact that all Scotland’s colleges and universities accept FAs as entrance criteria, it’s clear that work-based learning opportunities can only be a positive thing for students’ prospects.

Of course, having young people in the workplace helps inspire and nurture the industry talent of tomorrow, but I am a big believer in young people affecting positive change for employers.  I think of high-school pupil Struan, who was instrumental in developing a website providing defibrillator location information for a local charity whilst undertaking his Foundation Apprenticeship.  He also led on developing an online donations page, giving him invaluable experience for his future career in digital. Struan’s example underlines the far-reaching benefits of apprenticeships – to the individual, employer and the wider community.     

The take-up of digital & IT-related FAs represents less than 20% of starts in 2018 and the opportunities in these sectors aren’t yet in every local authority so there’s definitely more work to do. It’s my hope that every young person in S5 and S6 has the option to undertake a FA in the industry as part of their curriculum choice. 

What can employers do? Well, hopefully I have given you a flavour of the rewards that Foundation Apprenticeships could bring your business, and also help address the skills demands of our sector leading to a pipeline of new talent to meet the high-skilled roles of the future. I’d encourage employers to visit Apprenticeships.scot and Digital World to find out more. If you are already offering FAs, it would be great to hear about your experiences. 

Until next time…