Earlier this week I was in St Andrew Square Gardens to support Scottish Apprenticeship Week at a Historic Scotland traditional skills workshop.
The event brought together apprentices from traditional trades including stone masonry, roof slating, painting and decorating and joinery for practical demonstrations.
During the event I got the chance to try my hand at the different trades which gave me a real appreciation of the levels of skill involved. Speaking to the apprentices themselves, I was impressed by their dedication to learning their trades and by their enthusiasm about the modern apprenticeship programme in general as a route to training and finding work. I have lodged a motion in Parliament highlighting the event.
Maintaining a skilled workforce in these traditional trades is vital, particularly here in Edinburgh where the architectural heritage of our buildings creates great demand for them. Modern apprenticeships are an important measure to help maintain the workforce and create opportunities for young people to train.
This is the fourth year that Scottish Apprenticeship Week has been run with events across the country celebrating the achievements of modern apprentices and encouraging employers to become involved.
The Scottish Government has set a target of 25,000 modern apprenticeships a year in Scotland to rise to 30,000 by 2020 and while I am happy to welcome that commitment I believe that more can be done to make them more effective in helping to tackle youth unemployment.
Government statistics indicate that over 13% of 16-19 year-olds are identified as not in education, employment or training. Modern apprenticeships should be part of the safety net which prevents these young people falling through the cracks, giving them the chance to develop the skills that would lead to long-term, sustainable employment.
However, figures for modern apprenticeships over the last few years show that the majority of the increased places have gone to the over 20 age group with concerns that thousands of places are going to people already in work. There are also legitimate concerns that the standard of apprenticeships is being reduced with an increase in shorter, cheaper training.
The young people I met are highly skilled as a result of their hard work but it is important that following their training they are able to access suitable work opportunities.