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Career chances of Highland apprentices being hit by coronavirus pandemic travel hitches, says MSP


By Hector MacKenzie

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Edward Mountain MSP: 'I am deeply concerned about how the pandemic is threatening the viability of apprenticeships in the Highlands'.
Edward Mountain MSP: 'I am deeply concerned about how the pandemic is threatening the viability of apprenticeships in the Highlands'.

CONCERN over the impact the coronavirus crisis is having on the career opportunities of Highland apprentices has prompted calls for solutions at Scottish Government level.

The challenges faced by Highland employers and apprentices during the pandemic were raised at Holyrood by Edward Mountain MSP.

Some apprentices are unable to drive and depend on transport from their work colleagues. However, vehicle sharing for long periods of time during the pandemic “is providing an unacceptable level of risk” for some employers and apprentices alike.

The Highlands and Islands MSP asked the Scottish Government: “What additional action it is taking to protect apprenticeship schemes in the Highlands and Islands, and how this compares with the rest of Scotland."

The minister for business, fair work and skills, Jamie Hepburn, replied: “Apprenticeships are a core part of Scotland’s skill system and continue to play a key role in our economic recovery from Covid-19." He continued: “Funding is also available for the provision of modern apprenticeships in Scotland’s rural areas through the rural supplement and 2019/20 spend in the Highlands and Islands was £459,250, and in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, SDS have been working with partners in the Highlands and Islands to support regional economic planning, and protecting and expanding existing apprenticeships within the region.”

He was asked by Mr Mountain what advice he could give to apprentices and employers who face particular problems relating to travel.

Mr Hepburn said: “What I would say to them is discuss that matter with their training provider.” He added:“The point of the rural supplement is to support some of these additional costs, so in any circumstance I would encourage the apprentice and the employer to discuss these matters in the first instance with their training provider.”

Mr Mountain said later:“I am deeply concerned about how the pandemic is threatening the viability of apprenticeships in the Highlands, especially those apprentices who cannot drive and rely on transport provided by their work colleagues.”

“Social distancing is necessary, but it is providing huge challenges for employers and apprentices. Let’s not forget that public transport in the Highlands is often too infrequent to be a helpful alternative.”

“I will continue to press the Scottish Government to provide a solution which protects public health and does not risk the future of apprenticeships in our rural communities.”

“Highlanders cannot afford to lose the career opportunity that an apprenticeship provides.”

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