Developing the Young Workforce

On Wednesday 18 February, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Angela Constance MSP formally opened the Skills Centre of Excellence at Irvine Royal Academy. The Skills Centre of Excellence is an innovative shared campus development between Ayrshire College and Irvine Royal Academy. It will help achieve many of the recommendations of Education Working for All! and the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce.


Angela Constance with Modern Apprentice Dale Dunlop and his employer Steven Dunsmuir from TPS Weldtech

This blog post illustrates how Ayrshire College is already developing Ayrshire’s young workforce and describes how the Skills Centre of Excellence will offer even more high quality vocational options for young people.


Developing the young workforce is a top priority for Ayrshire College. To achieve this, we work hard to make sure that the courses we offer respond to the needs of the regional economy. This is only possible by working closely with employers, industry bodies and local partners, and this video highlights some of the successes of that approach.

Here’s a summary of the young people featured in the video.

James – Modern Apprentice at GSK, Irvine

18-year-old James wanted to study a science higher education qualification when he left school. After ruling out university, he decided to embark on a science course at college. When he saw an advert for a process chemistry apprenticeship at Glaxo SmithKline he applied, was successful and combined study for an HNC Applied Science at the College with work-based learning at the company.

Shaun – Modern Apprentice at Dustacco Engineering in Newmilns

Shaun knew at school that he wanted to work in a job related to engineering and went to college to study a Level 2 qualification. In his second year at college he chose to specialise in welding and secured a month-long work experience placement with Dustacco Engineering who then offered him an apprenticeship.

Lesley – Owner of Lesley McDonald Hair & Beauty, Troon

Lesley achieved a clutch of Highers at school and was encouraged to go to university. However, she wanted to be a hairdresser and chose to follow her ambitions. In 2010, at just 22 years old, Lesley set up her own company and four years on she now employs six staff. A firm believer in balancing college learning with experience in the workplace, two of her employees are undertaking qualifications at Ayrshire College. Practising what she believes in, Lesley graduated last year with an HNC.

Find out more about these young people by clicking on their names – James, Shaun, Lesley.


The Skills Centre supports government ambitions to ensure all young people access high quality vocational qualifications from a young age, which are based on labour market needs. The College’s ambition is that all young people should experience the highest quality learning, complemented by relevant work experience or volunteering opportunities, in a setting that builds their confidence and gives them the best possible platform to progress onto further learning or employment.

The long term goals of the Skills Centre of Excellence are:

  • Young people at school will experience a more balanced learning experience with practical, vocational courses directly relevant to industry requirements
  • Young people will leave with up-to-date skills, confidence and attitude to make a positive contribution to the local economy
  • To become a beacon of best practice in terms of positive outcomes for young people and the school/college/employer partnerships necessary to achieve that
  • Businesses will have more confidence to recruit young people from the area.

Why was the Skills Centre established?

North Ayrshire has had a low performing economy and experienced the highest rate of unemployment, particularly amongst young people, in Scotland for many years. Efforts are being made by the local authority and national agencies to diversify and grow the employer base, and skilled young people with valued industry qualifications and experience are critical in supporting these efforts.

There is great potential to improve success for young people if more relevant, high quality courses are available to them. Taking part in practical, vocational learning will motivate young people to achieve recognised and valued qualifications. Exposure to employers at a young age will counter negative perceptions of some industry sectors and help school students make better career choices in tune with local labour market opportunities.

How will employers influence the Skills Centre?

Central to the success of the Centre will be employer buy-in and support. Building on well-established and trusted relationships with the college, employers have already influenced courses offered at the Skills Centre for 2014-15. Industry sector workshops with employers in August started the process of reviewing course provision for 2015-16. This engagement will continue to ensure that courses are refreshed in line with developments in industry sectors, eg to address skills gaps, emerging technologies, etc.

What will be delivered in the Skills Centre?

In year one, 220 students aged 15-24 will take part in vocational courses offered by the Skills Centre; plans for year two (commencing in August 2015) are for 340 students. Courses will support the skills needs of industry sectors with economic and employment growth potential in North Ayrshire. In year one, courses have been offered in the areas of hospitality, care and sport; in year two, engineering and construction courses will also be available.

The Skills Centre offers school students access to vocational courses previously available only by attending a traditional college building, enabling the delivery of vocational courses to young people in fourth, fifth and sixth year at secondary school.

Working with Skills Development Scotland and North Ayrshire Council, the college will pilot foundation apprenticeships in engineering in the Skills Centre from August 2015, with work-based elements provided by the private sector. With these, young people will be able to progress on to Level 2 and 3 Modern Apprenticeships, full-time college courses or a job.

How has the Skills Centre been funded?

To date £900,000 has been committed to the development of the Skills Centre – 400,000 from Ayrshire College; 350,000 from the Scottish Funding Council; 100,000 from the Edge Foundation Innovation Fund; and50,000 from Skills Development Scotland.

Ayrshire College is the only college in Scotland to benefit from the UK Edge Foundation Innovation Fund, securing a maximum grant of £100,000. This was announced by the Edge Foundation on 21 January 2015.


Celebrate vocational achievement on VQ Day on 10 June 2015! Find out more at


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s