Alison Johnstone: Pay all apprentices a real living wage

Apprentices learn useful skills that will provide them with a livelihood, and society with the buildings and facilities it needs. Picture: Rob McDougall
Apprentices learn useful skills that will provide them with a livelihood, and society with the buildings and facilities it needs. Picture: Rob McDougall
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I recently hosted the Scottish Apprentice of the Year Awards for the Scottish Building Apprenticeship and Training Council in the Scottish Parliament, and it underlined how vital it is that we offer apprenticeships.

Fourteen young people were honoured for their outstanding work. To have reached the final when there are some 5000 apprentices registered with SBATC is no mean feat. Yet it became clear that many would struggle to find place on their crowded mantelpieces for another award, such is their talent in their chosen trade.

What made the awards truly memorable was the short biography that Gavin Hay, the SBATC chairman, read out as the apprentices came forward.

Daniel Barr and Alexander Lind were joint winners of the Adult Apprentice of the Year. We heard how Danny from Govan had begun as a labourer, how he’d spent a large part of his pay on travel, and how he’d cycle to work on a friend’s pink bike if that’s what it took. His current employer, PBR Building Services, rightly proud, told me that Danny is never late and that his skill in plastering is matched only by his desire to learn.

As the judges simply couldn’t place one before the other, Danny shared the Adult Apprentice of the Year Award with Alexander. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering, but such was his desire to work with his hands on a daily basis, that he moved his young family from Aberdeen to Edinburgh and works with True Build Trade Services in carpentry and joinery. In his spare time, he works with a local homeless charity and has been involved in school building projects overseas.

It’s clear that apprenticeships appeal to a wide range of people, some young, some not quite so young, who are attracted to learn useful skills that will provide them with a livelihood, and society with the buildings and facilities it needs for a decent quality of life.

I learned from John McKinney of the Scottish Traditional Building Forum that 72 per cent of buildings in Scotland aren’t wind and watertight. Fixing them should be a national priority and ensuring we have the skilled workers to carry out this work to the highest standard is essential.

And while many accredited employers pay the Living Wage to apprentices, we must ensure support so that all receive it. The workers of the future deserve a real living wage.

Alison Johnstone is a Scottish Green MSP for Lothian