Apprenticeship opportunities in Shetland

by Alex Garrick-Wright -

With such a wide range of industry and enterprise, there are lots of opportunities for young people in Shetland. The isles have one of the highest rates in Scotland for young people being in education or employment, and a strong tradition of apprenticeships is a big part of that.

Events like the Developing the Young Workforce apprenticeship fair are a great way to showcase the apprenticeship options available. The most recent event saw nearly 20 employers setting out their stalls to scores of young people and their parents, as part of the nationwide Big Parents’ Evening initiative.

There were representations from local organisations and companies such as the Shetland Islands Council, the Shetland Recreational Trust, E&H Construction, Scottish Sea Farms, Shetland Arts and DH Marine. Everything from baking to welding was covered.

Some firms have a long tradition of taking on apprentices and brought some of their current young workers along to give some first-hand advice. Claire Christey, from engineering and fabrication specialists Malakoff Ltd, was on hand with a couple of their current apprentices.

Claire explained that apprentices are the lifeblood of Malakoff Ltd, and the amount they take on varies on the level of candidates – anywhere from 0 to 5 are taken on per year – although they try to take on at least one welder/ fabricator and one marine engineering apprentice annually:

“Apprenticeships are really important to us; they’re how we train our workforce,” she said. “They allow us to shape the employees we take on.”

Kieran is a great example of what Claire was talking about. In his two-year employment at Malakoff, Kieran has helped build catamarans and ferries, completed an SVQ3 in Construction, attained a Certificate in Naval Architecture, and is now enrolled on the Graduate Placement Scheme through Robert Gordon University, allowing him to work towards a Bachelors’ Degree in Engineering while on the job.

Another Malakoff member, Jamie, is just about to finish his first year of a Marine Engineering apprenticeship. Jamie gained a great deal of useful experience by taking an SLP course, which meant he attended college for two days each week, while still at school:

“I did the first year of [the SLP course] and really enjoyed it,” Jamie said. “College courses you can do at school are really important.”

At the other side of the fair was Barnaby Mercer, Director and Lead Developer of software development company Mesomorphic. Barnaby explained that they were there to promote their Graduate Placement Scheme; a ‘working degree’ that is earned while on-the-job while dealing with real projects as part of the team.

“It’s good for us because we get to develop local talent,” Barnaby said, “and it’s good for Shetland because we keep the skills here.”

Mesomorphic current Graduate Placement, Findlay, was there to explain to potential applicants about the benefits of the scheme: “It’s much better to be able to stay in Shetland and learn a practical skill. You learn so much. I’ve definitely learned more than if I were just studying.”

The North Atlantic Fisheries College (NAFC) is a renowned institution in Shetland, being the training agency for local apprentices in the nautical, aquaculture and engineering fields. As Shetland has a rich history of sailing and fishing, the NAFC is the go-to for anyone interested in a career at sea.

The NAFC offers courses directly in some subjects, such as a variety of Nautical Science and fishery courses, while it also acts as the training centre for apprentices employed by private firms, and runs the Merchant Navy Deck Cadet programme, which is effectively an apprenticeship for engineers or officers.

From water and fish to flour and dough, The Sandwick Baking Company was also present (along with a tantalising selection of their produce). The bakery’s apprenticeships are accredited and run by the Scottish Baker’s Federation, and the qualifications gained are recognised throughout the UK.

All training is done on-site, with apprentices given a wide range of options for how much they want to take on: the bare minimum skills (i.e. the hands-on baking) would take about 18 months, whereas completion of all six core skills – everything from baking to development and bakery management – takes three to four years.

Opportunities abound for young people in the isles interested in getting stuck into a valuable and rewarding career in an astounding spectrum of fields and subjects – and the employers are actively seeking them. And, judging by the attendance at the Apprenticeship Fair, they’ll be inundated with keen candidates.

Posted in: News

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