An injection of good sense
One of the SNP's manifesto commitments in the last Holyrood elections was the creation of technical apprenticeships. This was in response to the need to provide more flexible and relevant qualifications within current apprenticeship programmes.
As the manifesto states: "We will adopt a similar approach for a wider range of college courses, with technical apprenticeships at HNC and HND level, focused on more of the technical skills our economy will need in the years ahead."
The advent of the current higher level apprenticeships does not fully achieve this. In some circles the approach remains overly cautious and fixated on Scottish Vocational Qualifications (SVQs), despite employers' ongoing calls for greater flexibility in qualification types.
The need for urgent action to provide more relevant technical apprenticeships, unconstrained by SVQs, was brought home to me in a recent conversation with Susan Walsh, the principal of Glasgow Clyde College and an expert in the health sector.
As she pointed out, over the past five years Scotland's healthcare qualifications have experienced a quiet revolution. This is the result of a unique partnership between health boards, colleges, the Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, the Scottish Qualifications Authority and NHS Education Scotland. Together they have come up with a qualifications framework that embeds the quality standards required by the NHS into a set of nationally recognised, flexible and transferable qualifications from SCQF level 5 to level 8.
However, now we need to decide how to provide training for the next generation of health and social care roles. The system is changing into a more community-based care service that keeps people in their own homes and is focused on the patient, rather than on the vagaries of separate teams of care providers.
As Ms Walsh explained to me: "Mrs Mac in Pennilee or Peterhead doesn't want a stream of people in her home. She needs the best of care delivered by as few bodies, literally and metaphorically, as possible. She needs the technical caring skills underpinned by compassion, delivered under the direction and supervision of a care professional."
Technical apprenticeships built around valued higher qualifications would seem to be ideal in this context. We could design them so they properly meet the needs of Scotland and the fast-moving developments in health and social care.
Here, too, is an opportunity for the government to practise joined-up thinking across the health, skills and education sectors in the interests of those in need. It should not be deterred from implementing in full its own manifesto commitment.
Roger Mullin is an honorary professor at the University of Stirling, a former member of the Scottish government change team and an adviser on post-16 educational reform