Rethink financial support for employers

21st December 2007 at 00:00
It is no surprise to find from last week's report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that schools do well when preparing children for further and higher education but poorly when asked to do the same for a future in vocational training or the workplace.

For many in schools, vocational training is the refuge of low achievers. Perhaps we should not be surprised that teachers understand and value the career route which has served them in their lives. But we must do better for young people. The number of children still cast on to the scrapheap at 16 should be a source of national shame.

This short-sightedness fails not only those youngsters, but also a huge number of Standard grade General and Credit pupils. They prepare for exams and apply to universities in the belief that it is a sure route to success and happiness. Few are encouraged to aspire to anything else and most have few opportunities for the personal growth and job satisfaction that a vocational career can offer.

Where the system fails, industry picks up the pieces. Some commentators cling to the belief that if only there were more apprenticeships, everything would be fine. In reality, the number of construction apprenticeships in Scotland has increased by 42 per cent over the past four years.

The problem is not capacity, but quality. Many employers remain reluctant to take on more apprentices, as they perceive the costs may often outweigh the benefits. Instead of a steady stream of motivated youngsters, many employers find that the young person they have invested time and money in has a very poor grasp of the social skills and attitude that is required for the workplace.

Another report published last week, on the destinations of Scottish school leavers, shows there are only 28,000 modern apprentices across all industries in Scotland, some way short of the 50,000 pledged by the First Minister in Parliament recently.

A radical rethink of the financial support available to employers, particularly in the challenging early stages, must feature in any debate on the way forward.

I hope the Scottish Government heeds the warnings in these reports and makes some radical changes.

Michael Levack, Chief executive,

Scottish Building Federation, Stenhousemuir.

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