Apprentices Still Boosting Businesses ProductivityNeil Hardie
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 their 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 company’s Modern Apprentices had to adapt to the challenges of 2020. The pandemic and chances 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 works 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 a lot to the company, which Join points out is only ever as good as the people within it.
“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 defined what we have 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 its clear to Jim 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 to someone’s life and career while also shaping, developing and leading the way in your industry, as the Forster Group successfully illustrates.