Public service employers are leaving Scotland’s apprentices facing an uncertain future, says UNISON.

That is the conclusion of UNISON’s survey – A Fairer Start: a survey of apprentices in Scotland’s public services – released today (Tuesday). The report is the latest in UNISON Scotland’s damage series which looks at the impact of austerity cuts on the country’s public services and the people who deliver them.

The survey reveals a group of workers who are plagued by job insecurity. The track record of employers providing employment for apprenticeship schemes is patchy but generally poor. While a small number of employers had a near 100 per cent record of transferring employees to permanent contracts – the NHS scores highly here – figures of 30% or less are much more common.

Other key findings show:

• More than one in three (35%) rated their chances of achieving a job upon completion of their course as ‘don’t know’ or ‘unlikely’.
• While 81 per cent of apprentices described their training as excellent or good, almost half (46%) felt there should be a greater degree of off-the-job training.
• Gender segregation remains a huge issue. While the percentage of women employed in apprenticeships varied across councils, a strong pattern exists of women taking up apprenticeships in administration or care, while being almost completely absent from ‘craft’ apprenticeships.
• Apprentice recruitment is not happening at a sufficient rate to either: alter the ageing demographic of the workforce in public services; or replace the numbers leaving the workforce through voluntary redundancy or early retirement.

Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, said: “Apprentices play a vital role in delivering public services and it is vital we invest in them. They provide employers with skilled workers who have relevant, job-specific skills for their organisation and can deliver value even before they are finally qualified.

“Job insecurity is a major issue for apprentices and has left swathes of young men and women facing an uncertain future. While there are examples of good practice among employers offering permanent employment upon completion of apprenticeships, generally the track record is very poor. Apart from the obvious unfairness to the trainees, it represents a very poor use of resources.

“There also needs to be urgent action taken to tackle gender segregation in the workplace. While this will require action by employers, the real work tackling this will need to be done in schools and by a proactive careers service outlining a greater range of options than are currently perceived to be available.

“Developing skills and increasing access to quality training is crucial to the future success of Scotland’s economy. Recently trained workers must be valued for their potential rather than seen as a pool of temporary workers easily hired and fired.”


Notes to editors

• You can find the full survey online at

For further information
• Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, on 07958 122 409
• Trisha Hamilton, UNISON’s communications officer, on 0141 342 2877