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SPONSORED: Apprentices still boosting productivity for businesses

Apprentices at the Forster Group
Apprentices at the Forster Group

Many employers across Scotland have continued to recruit or retain apprentices during the pandemic, developing new ways of working to ensure their talent continues to add value and their businesses remain resilient.

Forster Group started out as a roofing company just over 30 years ago, and expanded into renewable energy in 2010. While the headquarters remain in Angus, it is one of the biggest roofing and solar firms in Scotland.

With a focus on innovation, over the years Forster Group has established new apprenticeships to help future-proof its business, its apprentices’ skills and the wider construction industry.

Maureen Douglas, the organisational development director and a member of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, has been instrumental in shaping Forster Group’s approach to education. She recently completed five years as a trustee for the UK Construction Industry Training Board (CITB).

John Forster, founder and board chairman, has been chairman of the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre since 2018. Forster Group are also members of the Scottish Apprenticeship Advisory Board, which provides “the voice of industry” on apprenticeships.

The company supports apprenticeships at all levels for the office and worksite. It has Graduate and Technical Apprentices, and is employing and training Modern Apprentices through its in-house Skills Academy.

Since the academy opened in 2015, Forster Group has put 50 apprentices from local areas and across Scotland through this programme, which offers a blend of on-the-job work experience and residential training.

The apprentices at the Forster Group have been continuing to learn virtually during Covid restrictions and lockdown

The company’s Modern Apprentices had to adapt to the challenges of 2020. The pandemic and changes to construction qualifications meant everything had to be evidenced from the workplace, rather than college work – a big change.

Maureen is “absolutely delighted” that the apprentices (with help from the dedicated wider team) adapted and completed their portfolios for the end of the year.

Forster Group is also involved in the development of work-based learning at school, helping to design the pilot model for the Foundation Apprenticeship at SCQF Level 4 and 5 for pupils at an earlier level of learning.

It worked closely with Skills Development Scotland (SDS) on this, with John stressing how collaboration with organisations like SDS (as well as other relevant parties) is key to success and innovation of this kind.

Maureen said: “The most obvious output from that has been the design and build, which is now the Foundation Apprenticeship at SCQF Level 4 and 5 in construction.”

No matter what level of apprenticeship someone takes at Forster Group, they’ll get to learn key skills in a key sector from a forward-thinking company. But apprentices also bring lots to the company, which John points out is only ever as good as the people within it.

Apprentices in the classroom pre-lockdown

“We are best when we grow our own talent,” says John. Although some employees are already well established when they join the firm, for many “Forster will have been the making of their career, and if you like, they will have been the making of Forster”.

Plus, education is key in helping the company get ready for the future, including meeting the demand for housing.

“Forster are leading the way in the UK in developing what the roofing company of the future will look like and developing an understanding of the skills that will be needed,” says John.

“The apprentices have helped define what we’ve been able to do today and, indeed, set us up for the opportunities of the future.”

When it comes to encouraging other firms to establish apprenticeships it’s clear to John at Forster that getting involved in educating the future workforce is a valuable opportunity.

Taking on an apprentice, at any level, is a chance to make a huge difference in someone’s life and career while also shaping, developing and leading the way in your industry, as Forster Group successfully illustrates.

£5,000 Covid-19 funding available

Additional support for employers has been put in place through Skills Development Scotland as part of the response to Covid-19 to support apprenticeships.

The Apprenticeship Employer Grant provides up to £5,000 to employers taking on a Modern or Graduate Apprentice.

If applications are for upskilling existing employees, the grant specifically supports those who have changed job roles within the last four months.

Funding for the grant is available for eligible employers where the apprenticeship start date was on or after December 1 and it will remain available until March 25, or until funding levels are exceeded, whichever comes first.

Payments for employers recruiting apprentices who have been made redundant during the pandemic are being increased from £2,000 to £5,000 through the Adopt
an Apprentice scheme.

Across Scotland, apprentices are employed in a wide variety of roles covered by more than 100 different types of Scottish apprenticeships.

For more information on how to access the funding, to find a learning provider or to upload apprenticeship vacancies promoting opportunities in your business, visit