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McColl makes case for more apprenticeships

Leading Scottish industrialist Jim McColl has highlighted the vital role apprenticeships can play as the country continues to struggle for the skills it needs to drive the economy forward.

Mr McColl said his time as an apprentice at Weir Pumps has been crucial to his career development, stating he continues to benefit from the experience in his role at the head of Clyde Blowers Capital. The investment vehicle specialises in acquiring engineering businesses it believes offer significant growth potential.

Speaking as he was unveiled as one of the first inductees of Skills Development Scotland’s new “Apprentice Greats” initiative, which celebrates individuals who have used their apprenticeships as a platform for successful careers and make a significant contribution to apprenticeships in Scotland, Mr McColl said: “Because of my apprenticeship and the time I spent on the shop floor, I am able to walk round and I have got a good feel for what is happening in the business that you might not have if you haven’t done that.

“Also, I progressed from working in engineering management as I went up the hierarchy after my apprenticeship to being a senior consultant with Coopers & Lybrand. I was put into industrial businesses to see if we could come up with a plan to improve them; they were usually in trouble.

“Now, my natural instinct is to walk around the shop floor and talk to the people there. This is where I got most of the answers to what was wrong. I was very comfortable doing that because that was my background; I had served an apprenticeship and it was just second nature to me. It has been hugely advantageous in the way my career has developed.”

Mr McColl, who sits on the Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers, emphasised the importance of apprenticeships to the companies Clyde Blowers invests in. These include the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow, where 40 apprentices have helped to bring down the average employee age of 55. Nearly one-quarter of Ferguson’s apprentices are female, with the firm taking steps to encourage more young women to consider careers in engineering.

But Mr McColl fears Scotland is not currently producing enough skilled people for technical and engineering roles, suggesting they have become unfashionable as the education system has evolved.

He said: “There is more focus on sending people to university. We are lacking the skills, the technician type of person. There are some really good quality jobs but there is a lack of people to fill them.

“And perhaps they are being filled by people coming out of university who have not necessarily had the training and gone through the evolution as a person [that occurs] when you go through an apprenticeship.”

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