Embedding Sustainability in Scottish Apprenticeships – New Report

15th December 2021

Apprenticeships are vital in upskilling the workforce to meet goals to tackle the climate emergency. However, there are several challenges in adapting apprenticeships to allow a system level approach to net zero transition. A collaboration between Skills Development Scotland, The Scottish Apprentice Advisory board and IFF research has led to the development of a report that outlines 5 recommendations for embedding sustainability in Scottish apprenticeships to overcome these challenges.

Policy requires apprenticeship providers to take significant, swift action to embed sustainability in their courses. This was broadly suggested by the Just Transition Commission in 2020  recommending  ‘Aligning the skills system to support net zero jobs’ but priority area 3 of the Scottish governments Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan 2020-2025 is much clearer, instructing ‘Developing the future workforce for the transition to net zero’ by ‘aligning the work based learning opportunities available to support the transition to net zero’. The plan outlines the need for development of skills, training and reskilling for green jobs through apprenticeships. 

Ensuring all apprenticeships transition smoothly toward this goal requires change in three areas: organisational policies and culture, the function of the job, and apprentices’ behaviour toward their tasks. While the latter two areas can somewhat be pushed forward by the apprentice themselves, employers play a vital role in supporting each of these areas and therefore must be supported in the transition through sustainable changes to all apprenticeships.

The ‘Sustainability in Scottish Apprenticeships’ report  was developed in collaboration with employers and experts on the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board (SAAB), who highlighted key ideas around embedding sustainability in apprenticeships.

Four drivers for change struck a chord across employers participating in the research:
  1. moving towards net zero,
  2. talent attraction and awareness,
  3. long-term mindset/culture shift (identified as most important overall)
  4. adaptation and survival
The importance of each of these drivers depended on four differentiators between companies: size, type, region, and their consumers or shareholders. However, regardless of motivation for embedding sustainability in their apprenticeships, all board members agreed on five challenges they felt needed resolved in order to achieve this and made recommendations on how to go about this.
Need for consistent terminology
  • Definitions of green competencies vary, especially between countries.
  • The term green competencies may be too vague as things like digital skills are considered complementary competencies but in fact are essential.
  • ‘Sustainable skills’ more appropriate for scope of skills.
Ensuring all apprentices, across all sectors, develop sustainable work practices
  • Creating bespoke sustainability apprenticeships insinuates the climate response is a responsibility for the few, rather than everyone.
  • Creating new frameworks from scratch is too complex.
  • Cross-sector and occupational integration approaches allow flexibility to embed sustainability across apprenticeships.
Respond to emerging, industry-specific needs that support the net zero transition
  • Future technologies (including digitisation), legislative changes, political or cultural shifts change future demand beyond apprenticeships duration.
  • Consulting stakeholders, particularly employers with specialised knowledge, to guide sustainability competencies identification and integration, including emerging and future skills demands.
Urgency and need for pace in reflecting sustainability
  • Employers require an urgent response from employees, faster than additional training materials can be developed and rolled out.
  • Time and finances can limit speed of progress.
  • Phased or iterative approaches to considering sustainability may help apprentices anticipate developments in their occupational activities and raise awareness of sustainable options.
  • Investment prioritised to critical demand areas.
Building awareness, capacity and capability among stakeholders including employers, providers and assessors
  • Employers believe providers don’t have necessary trainers in place, particularly in SMEs.
  • Bottleneck of qualified teachers suggests employers may have to take on this role.
  • Provide support to stakeholders by running ‘training the trainer’ programmes with incentives, including financial, to remove barriers relating to time and resource to increase availability of suitable trainers.
Find the full Sustainability in Scottish Apprenticeships report here 
apprentice and mentor working in construction