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EACEA National Policies Platform


3. Employment & Entrepreneurship

3.5 Traineeships and apprenticeships

Last update: 25 January 2021

LAST MODIFIED ON: 10/11/2020

On this page
  1. Official guidelines on traineeships and apprenticeships
  2. Promoting traineeships and apprenticeships
  3. Recognition of learning outcomes
  4. Funding
  5. Quality assurance


Apprenticeships combine practical training in a job with study. There is no formal traineeship programme in Scotland, although elements of the foundation apprenticeship programme (see below) are similar to a traineeship. This section therefore only covers apprenticeships.

Opportunity for All

Skills Development Scotland is one of the delivery partners for Opportunities for All, the Scottish Government's commitment to an offer of a place in learning or training for all 16-19 year olds. This partially meets the definition of the European Youth Guarantee.

The range of opportunities include:

  • staying on at school
  • pre-employment programmes
  • further and higher education
  • activity agreements
  • additional opportunities offered through the third sector, Community Jobs Scotland and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

It places a specific focus on 16- to 19-year-olds who are not already engaged in education, employment or training (NEET).

Information sharing is critical to the success of Opportunities for All. The 16+Data hub holds information on 16 to 24-year-olds that can be shared securely between partners, including local authorities, Colleges, the Scottish Funding Council, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland and the Department for Work and Pensions. The data held includes expected school leaving dates, where young people intend to go after school (e.g. job, modern apprenticeship, college or university), and who is receiving career services and welfare benefits.

The Scottish Government and Skills Development Scotland have developed a new Participation Measure to support the overall ambitions within Opportunities for All. The aim of the measure is to show the current activity that 16 to 19-year-olds are participating in at a national and local authority level. The most recent report, published in August 2020, outlined that 92.1 per cent of 16-19 year olds were participating in education, training and employment between April 2019 and March 2020, an increase of 0.5 percentage points on the 2019 figure, the highest participation rate recorded since the Participation Measure was introduced. In 2020, the percentage of 16-19 years olds not participating was 2.8%, a 0.3 pp

decrease compared to 2019 (3.1%). In 2020, participation was highest amongst 16 year olds (99%) and lowest amongst 19 year olds (84.1%). The report states: 

The effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and associated lockdown measures have been impacting Scotland and our economy since March 2020. The effective closure of the economy is likely to have impacted on young people’s participation (particularly in employment) in the first quarter of 2020-21. However, as the statistics presented in this report cover the period 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020, they are unlikely to have been affected materially by the pandemic. We would anticipate, the impact will be much more significant in the year ahead.

Official guidelines on traineeships and apprenticeships

There are five types of apprenticeship in Scotland:

  • foundation apprenticeships
  • modern apprenticeships (MAs) at Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework (SCQF) Level 5 and Level 6/7
  • technical apprenticeships at SCQF Level 8/9
  • professional apprenticeships at SCQF Level 10+
  • graduate apprenticeships at SCQF Level 8-11.

Apprentices aged 16-18 are entitled to the apprentice minimum wage of £4.35 an hour.  Apprentices are paid for both their normal working hours and the time they spend training as part of their apprenticeship. Apprentices aged 19 and over are also entitled to the £3.90 apprentice minimum wage in the first 12 months of their apprenticeship. After the first 12 months of their apprenticeship, people aged 19 and over are entitled to the age appropriate National Minimum Wage. See the article on 'Labour market situation in Scotland’ for details of the National Minimum Wage.


Foundation apprenticeships

Foundation apprenticeships were introduced in 2014/15 and it is intended that they will be available in every school across Scotland by the 2020/21 academic year. In 2019, there are up to 5,000 Foundation apprenticeships available. Working with national and regional partners, SDS has contracted with learning providers with the expectation that up to 5000 young people will take up a Foundation Apprenticeship opportunity in the 2020 academic year.

Foundation Apprenticeships  are intended for young people in S5 (age 16/17) and take two years to complete. Foundation apprenticeships allow pupils to spend part of their week out of school, gaining hands-on experience at a local college or employer. They can be a stepping stone into employment, further study at college or university or accelerated entry to a Modern Apprenticeship. In 2020, they were available in the following subjects:

  • accountancy
  • business skills
  • creative and digital media
  • civil engineering
  • engineering
  • financial services
  • food and drink technologies
  • hardware and system support
  • social services - children and young people
  • scientific technologies
  • software development
  • social services and healthcare.

Skills Development Scotland COVID-19 FAQ’s for foundation apprenticeships are available here

Modern apprenticeships

A modern apprentice carries out paid full-time work while receiving training towards a vocational qualification. The training must lead to a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) Level 2 (equivalent to Level 5 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework – SCQF) or above and include core skills. Although this is an all-age programme, support is targeted at 16-24 year olds.

Modern apprenticeships (MAs) can take between one and four years to complete, depending on the level of apprenticeship, the apprentice’s ability and the industry sector.

There are over 80 modern apprenticeship frameworks, ranging from Accountancy to Engineering and Youth Work. Each is designed to provide a training package that meets minimum standards of competence. The Modern Apprenticeship Group supports the further development of these frameworks to ensure that they will successfully encourage high rates of participation and completion that they respond to sector-specific needs and priorities in changing economic conditions.

MA frameworks each contain three key components:

  • a relevant Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) or alternative competency based qualification
  • core skills
  • industry linked training.

Core skills are the five skills that are key to learning and working, namely:

  • communication
  • numeracy
  • information and communication technology
  • problem solving
  • working with others.

The Modern Apprenticeship Group (MAG) is responsible for approving publically-funded MA frameworks. Only those which are approved are deemed eligible MAs for the purposes of Skills Development Scotland MA Provider Contracts. MA Provider Services cover four main areas:

  • identifying and starting eligible employees onto approved MAs which meet the needs of both the employer and the employee
  • taking steps to ensure that each MA participant receives the necessary training to meet the requirements of their MA framework
  • providing advice and guidance to support each MA participant to achieve their MA
  • ensuring that the administrative requirements of the Awarding Bodies and Sector Skills Organisations are met.

Full details and requirements are set out in the Modern Apprenticeship Programme Rules 2019/20. In 2019, the Scottish government expanded the number of Modern Apprenticeships to 29,000 with a target of having 30,000 new apprenticeships starts per year by 2020. 

Skills Development Scotland COVID-19 FAQ’s for modern apprenticeships are available here


Technical and professional apprenticeships

Technical and professional apprenticeships were developed in response to feedback from the Scottish Government's Making Training Work Better Consultation in late 2011. They offer employers flexible, work-based training, as a tool for developing and up-skilling staff to meet their specific business requirements.

They retain the three elements of modern apprenticeships (a registered qualification, core skills and industry linked training), but have two key differences:

  1. there is greater flexibility with respect to the qualification offered; they can be Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ), Competence Based Qualifications (CBQs), Higher National (HN) qualifications, professional qualifications and any other qualifications based on current National Occupational Standards (NOS) at SCQF Level 8 and above
  2. core skills are replaced by career skills, which better reflect the work-based requirements at this level;  these are grouped under the following headings:
  • business administration
  • management (including business continuity and governance)
  • customer service
  • enterprise.

Further information is available from the SDS website.

Graduate apprenticeships

Graduate apprenticeships provide work-based learning up to Master's level (SCQF level 11). Created in partnership with industry and the further and higher education sector, they combine academic knowledge with skills development. They have a range of entrance and exit points from a Higher National Diploma (SCQF level 8) to a Master's degree (SCQF level 11). 

The first Graduate Level Apprenticeships began in 2016 with an initial focus on ICT/Digital, Civil Engineering and Engineering.

In 2019, there are 1300 Graduate apprenticeships available across 13 subjects. Scottish Ministers are committed to increasing the number of Modern Apprentices, including Graduate Apprentices to 30,000 by 2020, and have expressed their strong support for the expansion of Foundation Apprenticeships, as an important part of its Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) youth employment strategy.

At the end of 2019, fourteen of Scotland’s universities and colleges are delivering Higher and Graduate Apprenticeships, in 14 subject areas covering sectors including ICT/Digital, Cyber Security, Data Science, Civil Engineering, Engineering, Construction and Business.

In April 2020 the Scottish Government extended the Adopt an Apprentice programme to include Graduate Apprenticeships to offer £2,000 to employers who employ a redundant Graduate Apprentice. Graduate Apprentices who have been made redundant from 1 February 2020 will be eligible for the programme.

Direction of apprenticeships

The Scottish Government’s Youth Employment Strategy and Audit Scotland’s Review of MAs were both published in 2014. They had significant policy implications for the Modern Apprenticeship Programme and SDS is already working with Scottish Government and other partners on the areas highlighted below:

  • aligning MAs with the skills required to support economic growth, with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas
  • using detailed evidence, including Skills Investment Plans and Regional Skills Assessments, to inform the allocation of MA opportunities across the economy
  • continuing to concentrate on the 16-24 year old cohort where the long term returns are likely to be greatest
  • improving access to and progression from the MA Programme
  • promoting equality of opportunity throughout the MA Programme
  • promoting the Scottish Employer Recruitment Incentive, a recruitment incentive package to equip and support smaller and micro businesses to recruit and train more young people
  • commissioning independent, external review of off-the-job components of MA delivery (through Education Scotland).

A 2018 progress report on the Youth Employment Strategy has found some developments relating to these areas. As well as an increase in the amount of apprenticeships, the number of females at Level 3 or above has increased by 22% (+1,220 starts) but has decreased at Level 2 by 25%. There was also an increase of 1.3% of STEM Modern Apprenticeships in 2017. 

TheModern Apprenticeship Programme: Service Delivery Policy Statement (Skills Development Scotland, 2016) provides full details of the purposes and objectives of the MA Programme and policy context.

In August 2020, the Socttish government announced £10 million in funding for recruitment and retainment of apprentices, including additional funding for the Scottish Government’s Adopt an Apprentice programme. This funding is in response to the challenges for apprenticeships due to COVID-19. Frank Mitchell, Chair of Skills Development Scotland, said:

This welcome announcement underlines the importance of apprentices to the Scottish economy and the crucial role they will play in supporting individuals and businesses in the recovery from COVID-19.

Promoting traineeships and apprenticeships

Skills Development Scotland maintains the Apprenticeship Scotland website. It provides opportunities for employers to advertise apprenticeship vacancies and for young people to apply for them.

In February 2015, a campaign to promote modern apprenticeship to young women was launched. The campaign highlights the range of opportunities open to young people and encourages them to consider MAs in roles traditionally regarded as male dominated.

There are also a number of national events which promote apprenticeships:

Making apprenticeships attractive to employers

Scotland's Employer Recruitment Incentive (SERI) is an initiative prompted by the Scottish Government’s commitment to target support at unemployed young people who face the greatest barriers to employment. The objective of SERI is to enable young people to obtain and remain in sustainable employment, including Modern Apprenticeships. It is expected that 25 per cent of MA places allocated to local authorities will support young people who are care leavers, carers, ex-offenders or have a disability.

SERI is administered on behalf of the Scottish Government by SDS and delivered by Scotland's 32 local authorities. It offers employers up to £4,000 when their company creates a new vacancy or new MA. The funding is available as a contribution toward the additional costs of recruiting and sustaining a young person during their first 52 weeks of sustainable employment. It can be used in a number of different ways, including additional supervisory costs, training, initial travel to work costs or wages.

If the company pays the young person the living wage there will be an additional payment of £500 (see the article on 'Labour market situation in Scotland').

Further details are available from the Our Skillsforce website.

Recognition of learning outcomes

 Each apprenticeship contains 3 key components:

  • a relevant Scottish Vocational Qualification or alternative competency based qualification
  • core skills (or careers skills for technical and professional apprenticeships)
  • industry linked training.

For modern apprenticeships, the most common qualification  is equivalent to an SVQ Level 2 (equivalent to Level 5 of the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework – SCQF). The mandatory qualification(s) in each framework must be within the SCQF.

For information about qualifications in Scotland – see the article on the National Qualifications Framework in the Eurydice Network's description of education systems. 


Modern Apprenticeships

Modern Apprenticeships (MAs) are a joint investment between employers and public funding. Employers invest the greater amount through wage costs and ongoing support, and public funding contributes towards the cost of training. Skills Development Scotland administers the Scottish Government’s public funding contribution towards the cost of MA provider services.

Funding priorities are set out annually in the programme rules which are in line with Scottish Government policy imperatives. The rules for 2019/20 are available from Skills Development Scotland. 

Skills Development Scotland, on behalf of Scottish Government, has launched a Grant Scheme for Modern Apprenticeship (MA) and Employability Fund (EF) learning providers. The funding support is designed to assist eligible providers with the costs of providing continuity of contracted services for apprentices, learners and employers during the pandemic.  The Grant-in-Aid scheme offers eligible SDS MA and EF contract holders a monthly grant payment. The scheme initially covered the period of April to June 2020 and has now been extended to include July, August, September and October 2020. Support is calculated each month as 1/12th of the contract value, minus payments already made and paying 40% of the balance, capped at actual costs. Some providers have already claimed over the calculated monthly payment and will therefore not receive any relief payment for the month concerned. 


Other apprenticeships

Mechanisms for funding the other types of apprenticeships are similar to those described for Modern Apprenticeships above.

In addition, Foundation Apprenticeships receive support from the European Social Fund.

Apprenticeship Levy

Following the passing of the Finance Act 2016, a new Apprenticeship Levy was introduced in April 2017 for large employers (including public bodies) who have an annual pay bill of more than £3 million. The levy is set at a rate of 0.5% of an employer’s gross wage bill. Each employer will receive a £15,000 allowance, meaning that only those whose total wage bills are more than £3 million pay the levy. Employers only pay the portion of the wage bill that is above the £3 million threshold. In response to the new Apprenticeship Levy, the Scottish government set up the Flexible Workforce Development Fund, open to all apprenticeship-levy paying employers to fund training their workforce. In 2018/9 employers can access £15,000 in additional support.

From January 2020 employers who do not pay the apprenticeship levy have been able to create accounts on the apprenticeship service and reserve funding to cover the costs of apprenticeship training and assessment. For the remainder of the 2020-21, the number of ‘active’ or ‘used’ reservations available to non-levy paying employers at any given time will increase from 3 to 10. This enables non-levy paying employers to recruit more apprentices for their businesses through the apprenticeship service. This policy came into effect on 15 July 2020 and will continue to be kept under review.


Guidance related to how hiring an apprentice and apprenticeship funding for employers is available from the government website.

Quality assurance

SDS Quality Standards have been developed to help assess the extent to which each apprenticeship provider maintains capacity and capability to successfully deliver quality provider services throughout the period of the contract. The Quality Standards are designed to focus on continuous improvement and specifically to ensure each MA participant receives training in line with the requirements of the relevant MA Framework. Failure to meet any of the Quality Standards at any time is considered a breach of SDS rules and, in addition to enforcement action, may impact on renewal of MA Provider Contracts. The Quality Standards address nine areas:

  • leadership
  • planning of training delivery
  • staffing
  • partnerships and resources
  • delivery of training
  • learning outcomes
  • staff outcomes
  • partnership outcomes
  • organisational outcomes. 

Providers must complete a self-evaluation which demonstrates how they meet all nine SDS Quality Standards. SDS Assessors review the self-assessment and supporting evidence and identify strengths and priority areas for improvement.

When training is provided in a further education college, its quality is assured by Education Scotland. See the article entitled 'Quality Assurance in Adult Education and Training' in the Eurydice Network's description of education systems for details.