The number of apprenticeship starts by  16–24 olds in Scotland has fallen by over 5,800 - a drop of 28% - since 2015/16, according to new analysis from the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development.  

The CIPD’s new report, Devolution and evolution in UK skills policy: Finding common ground across the four nations, explores skills policy of the four UK nations, with a particular focus on UK apprenticeship systems and their outcomes. The research also shows the number of apprenticeship starts by those aged 25+ has doubled over the same period – an increase of over 5,400, despite the Scottish Government’s apprenticeship policy seeking to prioritise young people. 

In response, the CIPD is calling on the Scottish Government to expand flexible skills funding for employers and employees and improve business support services for SMEs, particularly on HR and people management.

The research further highlights that recent reforms have failed to reverse the decline in employer training more widely: 

  • Investment in training per employee in Scotland has declined by 20% since 2011*. 
  • UK investment in training per employee now stands at around half that of the EU average.   
  • 64% of Scottish employers provided some sort of training in the last 12 months – a drop from 73% in 2011*.

The fall in employer investment in training has occurred despite the number of skills shortage vacancies more than doubling in Scotland, from 17,827 in 2017 to 36,806 in 2022.

Marek Zemanik, senior public policy adviser (Scotland and Northern Ireland) at the CIPD, said:  

“Skills and labour shortages continue to be a real problem across Scotland and all sectors of the economy, and we need to get apprenticeships and vocational education right if we’re to tackle these challenges. Apprenticeships should primarily be pathways that provide young people with in-depth quality training in a workplace setting, but too many are simply missing out.

“Introducing apprenticeship hiring incentives and expanding flexible skills funding for employers will help boost skills development opportunities for employees, but employers themselves must step up too. Investment in training and development is critical in addressing skill gaps and improving workplace productivity, but it continues to decline in Scotland.”  

To address skills shortages and boost employer training, the CIPD has set out a range of recommendations for Scottish policy makers, including:  

  • Expand the Flexible Workforce Development Fund to provide a broader range of skills development opportunities for employers. 
  • Develop interventions to boost management capability and increase understanding of skills needs and development opportunities in small firms. For example, the CIPD’s People Skills model.  
  • Refocus the scope of apprenticeship policy to include a discussion on direct financial incentives, alongside a focus on funding off-the-job training costs. For small business in particular, apprentice hiring incentives can make a difference. 
  • Introduce fast-track routes to apprenticeship qualifications for adults with existing workplace skills. 
  • Well-resourced and comprehensive careers services need to be a priority, with a focus on impartial advice on the breadth of vocational and academic pathways. 
  • Close the gap in UK-wide employer advice on how to navigate skills development, in organisations that operate cross-nationally. 

Marek continued:  

“Despite the importance of SMEs to Scotland’s economy, there are still major barriers in their engagement with the current skills system, including its complexity, lack of resources, and poor people management capability. Good quality advisory and business support services, aimed at boosting management capability and increasing understanding of skills development, are key to engaging small businesses.” 

Read the report

Notes to editors

  • *Based on CIPD analysis of the UK Government’s latest Employer Skills Survey (ESS):  

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