The Scottish Government has agreed the Skills Development Scotland budget for 2023-24 and SDS has completed contract awards to support up to 25,500 new modern apprenticeship starts in 2023-24. Official statistics that SDS published on 23 May this year report 25,447 modern apprenticeship starts by the end of quarter 4 in 2022-23. Statistics also show that the number of apprentices in training across the country is the highest ever, at around 39,000.
SDS provides an all-age career service in every local authority area, highlighting the options that are available to people across Scotland, including modern apprenticeships, and undertakes further activity, together with employers, to highlight the importance of modern apprenticeships, particularly through Scottish apprenticeship week.
We continue to work closely with SDS to monitor and support modern apprenticeships throughout Scotland.
Last month, the Scottish Training Federation stated that the Scottish Government’s delay in setting a budget for skills and employability programmes had led to 75 redundancies since April.
Last year, there was an apprenticeship freeze, and this year’s vital budgets, including the individual training account budget, have been delayed. Why are apprentices and training providers always the Government’s last consideration?
Th e member will recognise some of the financial challenge with which the Government has been presented, not least in relation to inflationary pressures, which have meant that we have had to recalibrate budgets across the Scottish Government. I do not make an apology for that today, but I recognise the challenge that was presented to me in the first two weeks of undertaking the post of cabinet secretary.
It is important to say that we have had a slight increase in the number of modern apprenticeships, as I outlined in my initial response. I recognise the challenge from the federation; I am delighted that we have now been able to commit to that funding and move forward.
I am committed, as cabinet secretary—working alongside Mr Dey—to working with the sector to ensure that we support the roll-out of modern apprenticeships. Those qualifications are really important to support people into work; in that respect, it is hugely important that we take cognisance across Government of the skills review report, which was published yesterday. Many recommendations of the Withers review are around the delivery of skills and how they could be delivered in the future.
I am aware that, as cabinet secretary, I have a plethora of different reports coming to fruition at a similar time; it is important that we have an overarching strategic direction from Government as we move those reports and their respective recommendations forward.
On Monday, Scotland’s leading electrical bodies were celebrating a boost for the industry after receiving confirmation of financial support for the next intake of electrical apprentices and adult trainees. Fiona Harper of the Scottish Joint Industry Board said:
“This second guarantee of additional places means we can continue to train and develop a significant number of skilled electricians”.
Amid enormous pressure on Government budgets due to Tory economic mismanagement, is that not support of the demonstration of the value that the Scottish Government places on apprenticeships?
I welcome that news as very positive. Investing in skills across a person’s lifetime is critical to our future productivity as a nation. The commitment underlined more broadly in our national strategy for economic transformation highlights that fact, too.
I was delighted that, in May, SDS undertook a re-allocation process and issued updated contract awards for more than 2,000 new modern apprenticeship starts, to provide us with strong evidence of employer demand. Where there is a need to support critical skills in the economy, our priority as a Government continues to be to ensure that apprenticeships are of the highest quality and lead to sustainable employment opportunities.
The percentage of women who start modern apprenticeships has dropped. One reason that was suggested for that drop was the increase in construction-related apprenticeships, where women represent just 2.5 per cent of starts. Does the cabinet secretary agree that more women should be encouraged to take up roles in construction? Can she set out what steps it will take to increase female representation in the sector?
Pam Duncan-Glancy makes an interesting point. Overall, 38.1 per cent of starts were female and 61.9 per cent were male. However, she is absolutely correct to point to the industry-specific challenges around gender. I am more than happy to take that point away, particularly in relation to “construction and related”, as it is badged, which has seen the largest proportion of new starts. It is really important that more women come into such fields. We have more than 22 per cent who have been supported through modern apprenticeships in health and social care and information technology.