Is it time to modernise Modern Apprenticeships?

Douglas Morrison

By Douglas Morrison, director of operations and skills, Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC)

ALMOST 40,000 people in Scotland took part in apprenticeship training in 2019/20, according to a recent report by Skills Development Scotland. For the construction industry, Modern Apprenticeships have been an incredibly valuable way of supporting our developing workforce to gain the skills, knowledge, and competencies required to pursue a career in their chosen discipline. Indeed, almost a quarter of those new apprenticeship starts were within construction.

Apprenticeships have long been a feature of the industry’s commitment to work-based learning and nurturing new talent, however, in the near three decades since Modern Apprenticeships were introduced, the construction sector has undergone a significant transformation. New technologies, new materials, modern methods of construction, and an ever-increasing focus on sustainability are all features of transforming industry. That’s before you even consider the ongoing effects of Covid-19.

As we collectively respond to Scotland’s ambitious net-zero targets, the sector has a critical role to play in decarbonising our built environment – both in terms of new developments and the transformation of existing buildings. There is a collective desire to create a built environment that better supports our citizens and communities, using more sustainable, locally sourced materials. We must consider the range of new skills required by our workforce to realise these ambitions.

There is a huge opportunity for apprentices – some of whom will become our future industry leaders – to play an important part of this transition and we should, therefore, expect to see continuous transformation and refinement of the apprenticeship programme over the next decade. This goes beyond the content of apprenticeship programmes. It includes the development of new models, methods and approaches that balance the needs of the industry with leading practice in education and training.

The recent expansion of the apprenticeship family, to include Foundation and Graduate Apprenticeships, has been a positive step towards improving access to employment within the industry. It demonstrates that with the right support and investment, flexible delivery models can be achieved.

As a result of the widespread adoption of technology within the industry, there is an ever-increasing demand for digital skills development. This has led to the creation of new roles and occupations, changes to more traditional roles and the way in which tasks are carried out, and a new understanding of what a well-rounded construction apprentice looks like. The gradual integration of transferable, meta-skills into our work-based learning programmes is another welcome addition, as we seek to develop skills that are adaptable to new approaches.

The scope and scale of change cannot happen in isolation, however. Construction companies, trade associations, training providers and other stakeholders must continue to work together to create future programmes that meet the changing needs of the sector and of our society. We can see positives emerging from the work of the Construction Leadership Forum, for instance, and I look forward to seeing the products of several planned initiatives that focus on skills and workforce transformation.

Effective collaboration and communication between apprentices, employers and training providers remains a critical component of ensuring we balance the needs of the industry with the needs of our individual learners. CSIC works to support partners across the industry and education to bring emerging and leading practice into training delivery. Through our networks, we provide opportunities to engage with new technologies, processes, systems and products, as well as developing content that can augment traditional modes of apprenticeship delivery.

By integrating innovative technologies alongside new industry standards at the beginning of their construction careers, we can give apprentices the skills, knowledge and competencies they need to succeed in an ever-changing environment. There is a golden opportunity to redefine occupational standards over the next few years, in a way that will help us to create a cleaner, safer, more productive construction industry.