One in five Scottish students could soon be gaining a vocational qualification while still in school, according to Skills Development Scotland (SDS).
The body has announced an ambitious target for 20 per cent of senior-phase pupils to undertake a foundation apprenticeship by the 2020-21 school year. SDS wants the programme to be offered by every secondary in Scotland within five years.
The foundation apprenticeship scheme, which was piloted in two local authorities last year, allows students to engage in work-based learning alongside core subjects.
Earlier this month, SDS chief executive Damien Yeates told a skills summit in Edinburgh that he was keen to see more work-based pathways being made available to young people in the Scottish school system.
Over the next five years, SDS and its partners will "test if it is possible for young people to take the first year of an apprenticeship alongside core subjects", he told delegates.
It could be more productive for some young people to begin an apprenticeship rather than studying "Higher origami" simply to achieve the required academic tariff, he said.
Valerie Nicolson, headteacher at Anderson High School in Lerwick, told TESS that from June the school would be piloting a new senior-phase academy in engineering. About a dozen S5 pupils will spend two afternoons a week at the North Atlantic Fisheries College, working towards a national certificate in engineering systems.
She said that, as a result of demand from local employers, students would also complete an SVQ 2 in performing engineering operations, which would equip them with essential practical skills such as welding. Alongside this, they would study three subjects at school, which could be at Higher or National level.
With the scheme running over two years, pupils will leave school with six subjects, an HN qualification and an SVQ 2, as well as two summers of relevant work experience. "They will be very employable by the end of S6," Ms Nicolson said.
SDS said that the school would also pilot a similar pathfinder programme in social services and healthcare.
Mr Yeates said that the foundation apprenticeship scheme would be extended in 2015-16 from two to 19 local authorities, and expanded from two industry sectors to six. He also said that it would work with 13 college partners rather than this year's two.
However, he stressed that one of the major challenges the initiative faced was to persuade parents that apprenticeships were a worthwhile route for their children.
Eileen Prior, executive director of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, agreed that there was "a lot of work to be done" in this area. "Schools will need to change the way that they organise themselves and communicate with families about the options open to youngsters," she said, adding: "Many parents are going to welcome this."