Apprenticeship use increases in Scotland as fight for talent intensifies

28/02/2022
Andrew Howie, Managing Partner at Grant Thornton in Scotland

AHEAD of Scottish Apprenticeship Week next month (7-11 March), new research from Grant Thornton UK LLP shows that Scotland’s mid-market is increasingly making use of apprenticeships as a means of upskilling their people at all levels.   

With job vacancies and resignations at record highs, Grant Thornton’s latest Business Outlook Tracker survey shows that there’s an upward trend of apprenticeship use in the mid-market which is set to expand in 2022. 38% of respondents in Scotland agreed that more of their people will be trained using apprenticeships this year than in 2021.   

Employers in Scotland saw additional strategic benefits to apprenticeships withalmost half (46%) of the business leaders surveyed saying that apprenticeships had helped to improve social mobility in their business and almost half (48%) are planning to use apprenticeships to fill gaps in data and digital skills.

The study found that mid-market organisations are now using apprenticeships at all levels of the business, from entry level to senior management. Results in Scotland revealed that apprenticeships are being used to upskill senior management teams, with nearly two thirds (62%) of respondents stating that they’ve embraced this approach. Nearly half of those surveyed (46%) said that the Apprenticeship Levy had been a motivating factor in the increased use.     

This growing use of apprenticeships in Scotland mirrors the UK-wide picture. From the 601respondents to Grant Thornton’s latest Business Outlook Tracker* survey across England, Wales and Scotland, all but one business said that they currently use apprenticeships to develop their people. This has increased from a similar study conducted by the firm in 2018**, when 86% of mid-market respondents said they used apprenticeships in their organisation.    

Andrew Howie, Managing Partner at Grant Thornton in Scotland, said: “Mid-market employers are increasingly recognising the agility and flexibility of apprenticeships as an effective development tool. In a climate where job vacancies and attrition are reaching record highs, retention and recruitment of the right skills has never been more critical to business growth.”  

“We’re seeing clients prioritising the retention and development of their workforce like never before, in order to improve the diversity of its employees and encourage a more sustainable recruitment process. Employers now value the flexibility of apprenticeships, and its ability to help fulfil these HR goals.”

“By tailoring courses for specific development requirements, employers are able to fulfil their needs. High priority skills like digital, finance and data analysis can be supported through to master’s degree level, bringing valuable new skills into the business.”

According to rolling data from Grant Thornton’s Business Outlook Tracker, investment expectations for skills development in the mid-market have fluctuated greatly throughout the challenges of 2021. At the start of 2021, 58% of businesses in Scotland said they intended to invest more in skills development over the next six months, a figure which has gone up and down throughout the year, last recorded in December at 38%.      

Andrew Howie suggests that this dip in investment expectations has less to do with appetite for skills development than it does with rapidly changing priorities. He added: “The expectations for investment in skills changes in line with confidence in the strength of the economy. This confidence has fluctuated over the previous two years, with the turbulence caused by the pandemic leading many businesses to realise that while they need to develop, they also require cost effective solutions tailored to facilitating growth.”

“The Apprenticeship Levy helps with this and has become an integrated part of Learning and Development funding for many firms over the last few years by providing full funding for qualifications up to master’s degree level.”    

As a leading employer of apprenticeships Grant Thornton has long championed the benefits they can offer and this month the firm’s Talent Solutions team are running a series of events to support National Apprenticeship Week. Around 20% of Grant Thornton’s UK workforce are currently using apprenticeships for development and it also partners with leading training and education providers to deliver high quality, Levy funded development programmes with practical application from the outset. 

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