At the start of last week I was in St Andrews Square Gardens to support Scottish Apprenticeship Week.
The event brought together apprentices from traditional trades including stonemasonry, 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.
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 third 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 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.
In 2012, more than one in eight 16-19 year olds were 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 25 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 are understandably concerned about their job prospects following successful completion of their apprenticeship. Given the lack of construction work and the aftermath of the statutory notices fiasco, building companies are still shedding staff. That means that in the current labour market completion of an apprenticeship doesn’t guarantee a job.