Apprenticeships: Past, present and future

With Scottish Apprenticeship Week coming up, we thought we’d have a frank, honest chat with you about apprenticeships.

We know that sometimes apprenticeships are thought of as an old-fashioned option, reserved for traditional trades. But things have changed and apprenticeships today are getting people into all kinds of modern, hi-tech careers. We don’t think they’re getting the credit they deserve so, if like loads of people you don’t know much about them, we’re here to change that.

Whether you’re heading off to university even though you know deep down that studying a degree isn’t for you, or you’re confused about what you’re going to do next, an apprenticeship could be what you’re looking for.

So let’s look at apprenticeships and discuss why more young people should consider them as a post-school option.

What is an apprenticeship?

Apprenticeships have existed since the middle ages when apprentices were a vital part of industry. Apprentices worked as shoe makers, machine engineers, weavers and shipwrights. This continued into the Industrial Revolution, with demand for apprenticeships in new emerging industries.

By the start of the 20th century there were 340,000 apprenticeships available a year. However due to the large expansion of new universities and colleges in the 1960s and 1970s, the number of apprentices learning on the job declined over the next few decades. By 1999, there were only 59,000 a year.

To put it in perspective, each year 25,000 people start a modern apprenticeship in Scotland (SDS).

Is university the best option?

University is a great choice for many young people and hugely popular – one in four Scottish 18 year olds go to university.

You get to pick from thousands of courses and develop knowledge that can be easily transferrable to a range of job roles.

However, it’s not for everyone – some people prefer learning in a more practical way. And one downside that most people always hear about when university is discussed is the huge amount of student debt that a single student can rack up. Young people will leave university with average debt of more than £50,000.

Therefore, it’s perhaps now more important than ever to discuss apprenticeships and how we can improve the future prospects of our young people, so that university and a vast amount of debt are not the only reputable option.

What are apprenticeships like today?

Apprenticeships, in comparison to the middle ages, are no longer dominated by manual trades. Apprentices are now being employed in accountancy, law, journalism, media and IT. Major household names like Santander, Nestle, the Scottish Government and Schuh are all offering apprenticeships.

A quick search on Prospects can show you dozens of apprenticeships up for grabs now, which can give you the opportunity to start from the ground up in a company, without four years of exams and a future of debt.

What do we, as a college, think of apprenticeships?

A lot of people think that college is only a stepping stone for those who wish to go to university. This is not the case! We know that college is just one stop on a number of different journeys.

We have worked hard to incorporate apprenticeships into our course offering. We want young people to experience what a workplace is like, to see what the job is like, and gain experience that employers are looking for.

We offer foundation apprenticeships for young people who are in S5 or S6 of high school, providing them with a chance to gain work experience and a qualification whilst they are still at school.

Modern apprenticeships are designed with employers and industry in mind, giving students the best possible training and a qualification at the end.

So we think it’s time for apprenticeships to get the praise they deserve. Apprenticeships have grown with the times. It’s no longer just for tradespeople – it’s for our future web developers, financial analysts, aerospace engineers, video producers, and so on. Apprenticeships are suitable for everyone growing up in a digitally focused world where jobs are forever evolving.

If you have any questions at all about apprenticeships, please get in touch with the Apprenticeship team on