The number of apprenticeship starts by 16 to 24-year-olds in Scotland has dropped by more than 5,800 over the last decade, according to research.
Analysis by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) also found the number of apprenticeship starts by those aged 25 and over increased by 5,400 over the same period.
The professional body for HR and people development said the change came despite the Scottish Government’s apprenticeship policy seeking to prioritise younger people.
In response, the body is calling on the Government to expand flexible skills funding for employers and employees and to improve business support services for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
The CIPD also believes recent reforms have failed to reverse a decline in employer training, with UK investment in training per employee standing at about half that of the EU average.
The fall has happened despite the number of skills shortage vacancies more than doubling in Scotland in five years, from 17,827 in 2017 to 36,806 in 2022.
Marek Zemanik, senior public policy adviser for the CIPD in Scotland and Northern Ireland, said: “Skills and labour shortages continue to be a real problem across Scotland and all sectors of the economy, and we need to get apprenticeships and vocational education right if we’re to tackle these challenges.
“Apprenticeships should primarily be pathways that provide young people with in-depth quality training in a workplace setting, but too many are simply missing out.
“Introducing apprenticeship hiring incentives and expanding flexible skills funding for employers will help boost skills development opportunities for employees, but employers themselves must step up too.
“Investment in training and development is critical in addressing skill gaps and improving workplace productivity, but it continues to decline in Scotland.”
The CIPD has set out a range of recommendations it believes will address the issue, such as expanding the flexible workforce development fund.
It also recommends refocusing the scope of apprenticeship policy to include a discussion on direct financial incentives, and introducing fast-track routes to apprenticeship qualifications for adults with existing workplace skills.
Mr Zemanik said: “Despite the importance of SMEs to Scotland’s economy, there are still major barriers in their engagement with the current skills system, including its complexity, lack of resources and poor people management capability.
“Good quality advisory and business support services, aimed at boosting management capability and increasing understanding of skills development, are key to engaging small businesses.”
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