When we think of apprentices, we typically think of trades like plumbing, carpentry or mechanics. But Scotland's modern apprenticeships are a far cry from the apprenticeships of the past
(see pages 16-18). The clue is in the name, I suppose.
There are dozens of them. Accounting, renewables and engineering, care, hospitality, hairdressing - think of an industry and the chances are that an apprenticeship will be available. Last week, even the Scottish Parliament announced that it was going to get involved by offering 20 apprenticeships.
Almost 13,000 people started an apprenticeship this year, according to statistics published by Skills Development Scotland (SDS). Yet Colleges Scotland recently presented evidence to Parliament's education committee criticising the careers service for not adequately informing young people about the vocational options available to them.
It's not only a lack of information: the sector has long argued for parity of esteem between academic and vocational routes. Apprenticeships offer practical training in real-life workplaces, as well as expert guidance and theoretical backing.
And they provide an opportunity for young people to earn as they learn, offering a viable alternative for those put off by the cost of higher education. Statistics also show that nine out of 10 modern apprentices are in work six months after completing their training - giving them a clear lead over most university graduates. But this makes perfect sense: apprentices have practical skills and experience that many new graduates lack.
So, there can be no denying the benefits for young people. One of the challenges in meeting the government's ambitious target of 25,000 new apprentices each year, however, is encouraging enough employers, particularly the small- and medium-sized ones, to provide placements.
But there are a number of benefits to training an apprentice. For one, it is a way to bring in someone who, grateful for their first opportunity, is likely to be a loyal and dedicated employee. A recent SDS survey of employers shows that more than two-thirds experienced improved productivity and better staff morale as a result of taking on an apprentice.
These young people can bring fresh perspectives and new ideas. And, because they are part of a generation that is steeped in technology, they can introduce their colleagues to the latest innovations.
The government has pledged to increase the target for new apprentices to 30,000 each year, making them an even more significant part of the landscape. And they should be. Modern apprenticeships are going to be key to building a successful Scottish economy, offering a crucial route into work for young people and a pool of promising talent to Scottish business.
They really are that valuable.