By ROSALIND GRIFFITHS
MOST of the young people seeking apprenticeships will not get them because of lack of government funding, and the situation could get worse.
That was the finding of a recent report to the Shetland College Board, which showed that this year there are 154 applications from young people hoping for training through Skillseekers or Modern Apprenticeships. But the government is only allowing Train Shetland and the SIC funding for 54 places, just one third of the demand. Local employers have offered up to 72 places.
Skillseeker and modern apprenticeship training is delivered by Train Shetland (Vocational Training), part of Shetland College. It has always been supported by the council, which sees skills development as a priority to sustain economic development within Shetland.
In these apprenticeship schemes, open to 16-18 year olds, employers pay the young person’s wages, while training costs, such as college fees, exam fees, travel and accommodation are met by the government. But this partnership between government and employer is now under review.
Funding used to come from Highlands & Islands Enterprise through HIE Shetland, but this changed in April when Skills Development Scotland was set up by the Scottish government.
Further changes were signalled with the Apprenticeship (Scotland) Bill, proposed in the summer. This stressed the need for training to be tailored to employment needs in the public sector and industry. But the wish to “free up funds for research and development” indicated plans to reduce current government funding and look for employers to pay more.
Councillor Jonathan Wills raised the issue of young people failing to get apprenticeships at a recent meeting of the services committee. He said: “I’m sure local employers would offer more if the government support was there. We’re only meeting one third of the demand.
“The contrast with university applications is very marked. If you pass your exams you’ve a fair chance of getting a place at a university – certainly better than the one in three for an apprenticeship. It may not be your first preference and it may be a different course from the one you had in mind, but probably there’ll be something for you.
“Apprenticeship applicants have already been labelled ‘non-academic’ at school and it seems unfair to place extra obstacles in their path. They’re being treated as second class citizens. This is bad for the economy as well as for the individuals concerened because, as far as I’m aware, we already have an ample supply of media studies graduates but there’s a serious shortage of electricians and skilled builders whose contribution to society is, arguably, just as valuable as that of people like me who got a grant to do an honours degree and a PhD.
“The Shetland apprenticeship schemes have been a great success, with higher than average rates of young folk applying for and successfully completing courses. The proportion who go on to a job after qualifying is also very high. I say the government should match the council’s investment in these hard-working and intelligent young people.”
Most of Train Shetland’s grant income comes from the contract issued by Skills Development Scotland and the value for this year is £367,640. Money is given to trainees in stages – after the start payment, further funding is released when the trainee completes stages of their training programme. A final payment is made once the trainee qualifies.
Although Train Shetland began as a direct training provider, the service now acts in a co-ordinating role, sourcing courses or training to suit the needs of the employers and trainees. Most trainees undertake college blocks at Shetland College or NAFC Marine Centre, but if an apprenticeship programme is not available in Shetland, then other colleges on the UK mainland are contracted to provide training. Not all training requires college attendance but they all require qualified assessors and verifiers. Independent training groups and self-employed tutors are also contracted, with an overall aim to deliver as much training as possible in Shetland.
Train Shetland makes direct contact with local employers, with the level of skill and type of training being directly related to what local industry requires. Through these contacts, Train Shetland has also been able to provide some “relatively expensive” training programmes such as veterinary nursing and furniture making without any extra cost to employers.
In 2006-7, 28 per cent of Shetland’s school leavers went into employed training or apprenticeships.
The Scottish government’s Skills for Scotland Strategy aims to ensure the modern apprenticeship programme achieves two separate, but interlinked objectives: “to build skills thus growing the economy and supporting a wider social inclusion agenda” and to “achieve parity of esteem between academic and vocational training, recognising that vocational learning is a valuable alternative to the academic pathway and important to all”.
Vocational training manager at Train Shetland Margaret Simpson, who wrote the report, said: “The situation is unknown because of the reorganisation [involved in the setting up] of the SDS.”
- Chairman of the board of the SDS Willy Roe will be visiting Shetland at the end of the month. The SDS is a non-departmental public body and company limited by guarantee.