Laying the foundations – the benefits of Foundation Apprenticeships for employers

5th March 2020

This year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week (2-6 March) offers a great opportunity to celebrate everything that makes work-based learning such a great choice for individuals, employers and the whole economy.

In particular, the week is a chance to highlight the many benefits of Foundation Apprenticeships (FAs) – not just for the school pupils who choose to do them, but also for employers who provide the apprentice placements.

Here at Fife College we are delighted to work in partnership with Fife Council to offer one of the most ambitious Foundation Apprenticeship programmes in Scotland on behalf of Skills Development Scotland (SDS). FAs are a work based learning pathway giving school pupils a great opportunity to gain a recognised qualification with certificated work experience whilst still at school.

Offered through our Schools College Partnership programme, all 12 SDS frameworks are available in the Fife region. These cover some of Scotland’s biggest growth industries, including engineering, accountancy, software development, creative media, scientific technologies, financial services, social services and children and young people.

FAs can be chosen by senior phase school pupils as part of their subject choices, alongside National 5 and Higher qualifications. The FA is structured to give pupils time out of the classroom with a learning provider, such as a college, and also work with an employer on real projects alongside experienced professionals.

This gives pupils an opportunity to develop their skills, experience and knowledge in a live business environment, at the same time as gaining an industry-recognised qualification at the same SCQF level of learning as a Scottish Higher.

Not only would I recommend all pupils, parents and carers to find out more and seriously consider an FA, but in an SDS survey, 91% of Foundation Apprentices across Scotland said they would recommend a FA to a friend.

Recognised as entry qualifications by all Scottish universities and colleges, FAs also support progression on to further and higher education, as well as on to a job, or further work-based learning pathways, such as a Modern or Graduate Apprenticeship. If the young person chooses to progress to a Modern Apprenticeship their time to complete their apprenticeship can be shortened, as key elements are covered within the FA course, supporting their journey to an increased earned income sooner.

But there are also great benefits for businesses that offer work-placements as part of the FA programmes.

One of the main benefits for employers is that FAs have been specifically designed with employer input, from the planning and design stage and into the delivery of the qualification itself.

This means businesses can shape how placements look so they meet specific skills demands, equipping the next generation of employee with the right skills, at the right time, in the right place.

Equipping the workforce of the future with the right skills has never been more important either, with skills gaps emerging in many areas including engineering, technology, and childcare.

Foundation Apprentices across Scotland have reported a range of improved skills that employers look for, 90% stating improved organisational skills and problem solving; 93% having improved team working skills and 94% possessing improved communication skills and confidence.

FAs can also be great way for businesses to fast-track talent development with young people working on real projects during their placement. By allowing young people to get to know individual businesses first hand, they can enter the workplace with working knowledge and potentially go on to complete a Modern Apprenticeship with the same or a different employer much faster.

Not only can employers play an active role in developing this talent pipeline, which can help close the skills gap, but FAs can also offer current staff a great opportunity to coach and mentor future talent.

Employers already engaged with the programme have said they value FAs as they can help them better recruit and retain specialist skills such as new technologies, including social media. Employers are able to identify young people who are right for their organisation with apprentices possessing the current skills businesses need.

With no direct cost to employers either, it’s easy to see why FAs are already proving popular with different companies across Scotland – from sole traders to global businesses.

As we celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week, I hope many more employers start to explore the benefits of becoming involved in Foundation Apprenticeships in Fife visit or contact SDS via

Iain Hawker is Assistant Principal (Quality and Academic Partnerships) at Fife College.

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