Vocational skills give young people the edge

Guest blog from Jan Hodges OBE, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation

IMG_0744.JPGIn January 2015, Ayrshire College was awarded £100,000 from the Edge Foundation’s Innovation Fund to support the creation of a Skills Centre of Excellence, located within Irvine Royal Academy, a secondary school in North Ayrshire. This ground-breaking facility is responding to the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy and is a shining example of how schools, colleges and businesses can work together.

The ethos behind this unique partnership is a determination to prepare young people for work by providing more vocational options in the senior phase of secondary school (fourth year and above).  Courses will be influenced by the needs of the local economy, and better links with the business community will ensure that young people make informed decisions about future study and careers.

Jan Hodges OBE is the chief executive of the Edge Foundation. In this guest blog post, she describes how vocational education can give young people the edge.

The need to support skills

Supporting innovation in education is a huge part of our mission here at the Edge Foundation. Over the years we have worked, often in partnership with those who share our vision, to create projects that offer a practical demonstration of the many benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational learning.

Picture1Many of these have resulted in the creation of new types of institution and new approaches to blending academic and vocational learning in the curriculum and the Skills Centre of Excellence at Irvine Royal Academy is a great example of this.

We are passionate about the fact that all young people should be able to experience this mix of academic and vocational learning and that, from a young age, they are aware that there are many paths to success. The Centre sets the bar high when it comes to colleges and schools working together to ensure that this happens.

Offering school pupils direct access to a range of vocational courses previously only available at FE colleges is a huge step forward in building the bridge between school and employment. By opening their eyes to the courses, further education options and careers available to them, the Centre will equip these young people with the knowledge and opportunity for them to make informed decisions about their futures; decisions that are based on their individual ambitions and talents.

Not only do we support and encourage the practical demonstration of the benefits of technical, practical and vocational learning but we also celebrate those who choose these pathways. In 2008 we set up VQ Day. This national celebration of vocational excellence has gone from strength to strength and now, in its eighth year, we’re looking for it to be even bigger. We want schools, colleges, learning providers and employers up and down the UK to get involved and celebrate the achievements of their vocational learners.

At the heart of the VQ Day celebrations are the VQ Awards. Nominations are now open and in Scotland we have two awards: VQ Learner of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. These awards recognise the success of students who take vocational qualifications and the employers who support and promote them in the workplace.

The deadline for entries to both awards is 1 May. You can download everything you need to celebrate VQ Day from the website.

The traditional route through education is losing some of its shine as an increasing number of graduates are struggling to find roles that require their degrees. Now more than ever it is important that the awareness is raised of the many other alternative routes available.

Contrary to many outdated opinions, studying vocationally can open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be unknown. Many vocational courses and foundation apprenticeships with work based elements, such as those on offer at the Skills Centre, encourage the development of the skills and attitude that make the leap from education to employment more of a smooth step.

Working closely with employers can also nurture in students an entrepreneurial streak and a passion for developing their own ideas for businesses. This is a route we are also keen to support at Edge, which is why we launched the Edge Challenge.

Now in its third year, the Edge Challenge is an exciting competition to find the next generation of young entrepreneurs. It is run by the Edge Foundation in partnership with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and the Gazelle Colleges Group.

The competition is open to 16-25 year old students (past and current) of any FE or Sixth Form college, who have taken (or are undertaking) a course of technical, practical or vocational education and have a bright and original business idea. For more information, and to be in with a chance of winning up to £4000, head to the website.

Whichever path is taken, we want to ensure that all young people leave the system with the confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed, whatever their different abilities and interests. The Skills Centre of Excellence will go a long way to doing this and will be a beacon for technical, practical and vocational learning in Scotland.

We are delighted to be able to support Ayrshire College as they embark on this venture.


Tourism students meet Scottish Government Ministers

NC Travel and Tourism students had the pleasure of visiting the Scottish Parliament recently as part of their core skills units.

Richard Toner was one of the students on the visit. He explained to Ayrshire College’s Marketing and PR Officer Martin Currie what the trip to Edinburgh was like for the class.

“When we arrived at the Scottish Parliament we met up with Fergus Ewing, who is Scotland’s Minister for Business, Energy and Tourism.

“As we’re a travel and tourism class, we asked him questions about the tourism industry – both presently and looking into the future.

“Mr Ewing said that our questions were better than some of the politicians in the chamber! He was really generous with his time and we got pictures with him as we handed over an Ayrshire College hoodie.

“While we were standing where the politicians come out of the chamber, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon surprised us when she came through the door.

“She was nice. She’s from Ayrshire herself, and I think she was very pleased to see us. We didn’t ask her many questions because we were about to go on the tour, but she stopped to have selfies with all of us individually which was a nice gesture.

“Meeting Nicola Sturgeon put a smile on my face because I’m happy that she became First Minister for Scotland. Also, Fergus Ewing was a great speaker – he gave great feedback on the questions that we put to him. Overall the trip was very enjoyable and educational.”

Richard TonerStudent Richard Toner with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon



Women in Engineering – Making it happen!

In December 2014, Ayrshire College hosted a ‘Magnificent Women and their Flying Machines’ workshop with the Women’s Engineering Society. Forty second year girls from South Ayrshire secondary schools took part in activities aimed at encouraging them to think about a career in engineering. The school pupils took part in a range of practical activities, tried out the specialist equipment in the College’s dedicated aeronautical facility and heard from women who have built successful careers in the industry. The young women left the workshop more informed about engineering careers and more open to considering a future as an engineer.


Unfortunately, STEM – that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – subjects generally do not appeal to girls and take-up in subjects like physics at school or engineering at college has remained low for decades. Could that be changing? We hear from three women working in the College’s engineering department to get their take on girls and engineering. Marti Anderson is the curriculum manager for STEM at the Ayr campus, Carol Summers is an aeronautical engineering lecturer and Sarah Taylor is a lecturer in engineering.

Why are young women not choosing engineering?

Carol highlighted the problem the industry faces in attracting girls, saying “Part of the reason there are still very few females in engineering is that to go into engineering you really need to have done science at school. And, if you didn’t choose science in second year, this puts up a barrier early on. By the time they’re applying to college, if they haven’t got science qualifications, it’s normally too late.

“However, we are adapting our courses to open up opportunities for young people who haven’t studied science at school. In our Performing Engineering Operations course this year, as well as focusing on the critical hand skills in engineering, we’ve included maths and physics as well. So, if you come into college wanting to do engineering, but without the necessary maths and physics knowledge because you didn’t do these at school, then this is an alternative way in.”

Marti agreed and said that the way secondary school students think about their class choices is another important factor. She said “Physics is still seen as a male subject in schools, which is a shame as physics helps with things like radiography and optometrics. Taking physics at school would be an advantage for a range of careers, including engineering.”

And Marti firmly believes girls are suited to a career in engineering. “Girls and women are usually very good at hand skills, often very precise, so they would tend to have an advantage there. And basic hand skills, along with maths and physics knowledge, can be enough to get a job in the engineering industry.”

There were no such concerns for Sarah entering the engineering industry. She said “Engineering is something I’ve been involved in ever since I was little. My dad’s an engineer and my uncles are engineers. At first, I wanted to go into theatre lighting and took an engineering slant to understand more about how theatre lighting worked. I soon discovered that I enjoyed the engineering side of it more, which led me to go to university and achieve an engineering degree.”

Sarah is optimistic that more girls will follow in her footsteps saying “When I started in engineering the culture was predominantly male-dominated but I think that is slowly changing. Women engineers are showing what we’re capable of and that we are just as good as the lads. It helps that society’s changing, and there really is now no job that neither a male nor a female could not do. That’s helping to break down barriers.”

“At Ayrshire College, we have no barriers at all” Marti added.​ “When I was at school, I got the grades to go on to do sixth year studies but my teachers actually tried to stop me from doing it. I don’t think that would happen today.”

“I’m hopeful more girls will take up engineering if curriculum for excellence in primary and secondary schools is widening access as it seems to be. Things like the Magnificent Women event are fantastic. If we excite young girls at that age, show them the huge opportunities available in the engineering industry, and let them meet female students and female lecturers, they will be drawn in.”

What have you enjoyed about your career in engineering?

Engineering offers an exciting career path and Carol has travelled the world in her aviation career. “When I was doing my maths degree, I looked at lots of different options and decided that I wanted to build planes! I joined British Aerospace as a mathematical modeller and got the chance to travel around the world, meet lots of people and experience different airlines. It was very exciting and a great experience but you don’t get access to such great opportunities unless you knuckle down and do the studying.”

Sarah took a different path, teaching physics at secondary level before teaching engineering in the Royal Navy. She recalled her early years of studying engineering. “I’ve enjoyed being an engineer, but I still remember going back home when I was at university and someone asking what I was doing. When I said engineering they said ‘females can’t become engineers’! To me that was like a red rag to a bull and made me even more determined to show them and the rest of my town that girls can become engineers. And I did it, I proved them wrong!”

What advice would you give to girls thinking about a career in engineering?

“Go for it – if you enjoy it, then go for it!” said Marti. “Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s mainly boys who do it. Girls can do what they want to do, regardless of what anyone else thinks. What matters is that you do what you want to do.”

Carol advised “You’ve got to do the geeky stuff – you’ve got to do maths and you’ve got to do physics. What’s my advice? Do science and love science! Some people think it is a slog and, yes, to be successful you do need to work hard, but the rewards are great.”

Sarah added: “I think the biggest thing for girls is to ensure we give them the opportunity to show how they can get involved in all aspects of STEM – science, technology, engineering and maths. Give it a go. It’s not as hard as it looks and is really enjoyable when you get into it. It’s a very worthwhile industry. Just give it a go!”



Stay calm and get some career advice!

One thing that remains consistent over the years is how confused and overwhelmed parents feel advising their son or daughter on the best route to take on leaving school. Over the next few weeks we will be writing a series of blogs aimed at parents, signposting you to places you can go for up-to-date careers information. We will also explain some of the opportunities that are available by starting at college.

Where you can get advice

So, what do you do if your son or daughter is ready to leave school this year and they still don’t know what to do? Well, don’t panic, it’s completely normal. There are more young people who have not made up their minds than those who have a career plan all mapped out and, judging by the number of parents who attended our recent Open Evening, this is not going to change any time soon. Our research shows young people consider their parents the main people their turn to for advice and approval, but when you become a parent you don’t realise that part of the “job” is careers advisor! The good news is that there’s a wide range of people who can support you and lots of resources available to help you advise your son or daughter to make an informed decision about their future.


The Skills Development Scotland (SDS) website – www.myworldofwork.co.uk – is a good first port of call. Here you can find out all you need to know about the many careers available today and how young people can prepare for these. SDS has just launched a dedicated place on this website for parents which is worth having a look at – parents.myworldofwork.co.uk.

Ayrshire College offers a wide range of courses to help young people prepare for their chosen career – find out more on our website. Explore our website to find out about the successes of young people who come to Ayrshire College by reading stories on our News Page, watching short films on our Videos Page and meeting some of our students on our Blog.

You can make an appointment to talk to one our student advisors at the our Ayr, Kilmarnock or Kilwinning campuses who can then advise the on the most relevant course. Call 0300 303 0303

College not for you? Think again!

Today, colleges are modern, dynamic and inspiring places with excellent facilities to help people prepare for the workplace or for university. College is a great stepping stone between school and employment or university.

Colleges help people to gain confidence, achieve relevant qualifications and learn new skills. As well as learning specific vocational skills, we also help people gain employability skills – the soft skills that employers are looking for like being organised, problem solving, communicating, working in teams and managing time.

And, young people don’t have to wait until they leave school to do a course at college. We have a wide range of courses on our campuses across Ayrshire. You can find out what’s on offer to school pupils in your council area in the School Zone on our website.


At Ayrshire College, we want people to start here and go anywhere. We are running a campaign on that theme to share stories of why people come to college and the different places they go onto afterwards – university, employment, self-employment, apprenticeships, volunteering, travelling around the world. Ayrshire College is an inspiring and exciting place to start a career.  Follow our blog over the next few weeks and think about whether this could be the place for your son or daughter to make their start on their post-school education and career.

Next week: College to university routes.


Getting women on board!

David Cruickshank has been the Chair of professional service firm Deloitte in the UK since 2007 and a partner in the firm for over 23 years. Angela Mitchell oversees Deloitte’s local public services business across the UK and leads their work in the Scottish public sector.

It was a great pleasure to welcome both to Ayrshire College in February 2015 to deliver an inspirational talk on gender equality in the workplace to students and staff. Marketing and PR Officer Martin Currie sat down with David and Angela after their presentations to get their thoughts on how to succeed in their type of business and on women in the workplace.

What do you hope the students have taken away from your talk?

David Cruickshank (DC): “I just hope we managed to move some of the invisible barriers that are there and that they ask questions like ‘well, why can’t I do that?’ or ‘maybe I should look at doing this instead of something else’. For me that’s the biggest thing. In a short session you can’t influence people’s life chances but I hope we’ve opened some doors.”

Angela Mitchell (AM): “To think about things a wee bit differently. One student came up to me at the end and said ‘I can’t do IT at all’. It’s about not thinking about the things you can’t do but capitalising on what you can.”

What advice would you give our students looking to break into your line of work?

AM: “Keep looking for opportunities. Keep trying to be the best that you can. Always be thinking ‘what could I do next? How can I keep developing? What do I like doing?’ Keep looking for opportunities and take advantage of them when they come up – don’t put your head down and let opportunities pass you by.”

DC: “I agree with that. There’s a lot of information out there and lots of opportunities, so students need to use their networks and their knowledge. Some people might tell you ‘no, you can’t do that’ but don’t let that put you off.”

What are the main qualities you’re looking for at Deloitte when recruiting?

AM: “For me, it’s energy and enthusiasm, and a keenness to solve problems and understand how things work. To work together in teams is really important as well.”

DC: “I would only add to that – people who really want to be good at what they’re doing. In addition to all that Angela’s said, we want people who want to be excellent and work in teams that are excellent. Some people are happy with just being okay, but I think people from all sorts of different backgrounds want to be the best.”

The 30% Club started in 2010. Are you on target to achieve the goals that you set?

DC: “Very nearly. The position has improved a lot since we started when, in the top companies in the UK there were only about 12-13% women on their boards. It’s now up to 22%. Lord Davis’ commission recommended there should be a minimum of 25%. Our organisation is called the 30% Club because we think it should be 30%, but whether it is 25% or 30%, what’s most important is to have a critical mass of women in leadership positions. So, while we’re on target, the challenge that’s remains is the pipeline, particularly for executive positions, where we lose women. It’s the same within our own firm. For people to become a partner requires a lot of work, and we need to make sure that we don’t lose women on the way through. I think we need to be better at bringing women through in our clients and our own firm.”

And what would you put the lack of women in top positions down to?

DC: “There’s a lot of history in it. Like I was saying today, the boardrooms of Britain and the partnerships of firms like ours were dominated by men until the mid-80’s; in fact they were almost exclusively male. So a lot of it is history, point one. Point two, I think is the invisible barriers I was talking about today and point 3 is women believing in themselves more. As Angela said today, we need to have more role models. We’re getting there, but we need to work harder at it.”

We’ve taken time out of your busy schedule – so, what’s a typical day like for you at Deloitte?

AM: “A typical day? Meeting clients to talk about how a project that we’re working on is doing, coming back to the office and sitting down with some of my team to talk about their career development, looking at the running of our business, how we’re doing from a financial perspective – and so much more!”

You’re in a very competitive industry. How do you pitch yourself to clients and remain one of the leading organisations in this industry?

DC: “By having the best people, and having the best people working together. It’s no good having people who are just individually very good – we need people who want to work together as a really great team. I think that’s such a big part of it, and having the right culture and environment where people can express themselves and bring out the best in each other, and have those same sorts of interactions with clients. It’s all about people. We’ve got a big name and big buildings, but fundamentally our main assets are our people.”

What do you enjoy best about coming to places like Ayrshire College and delivering these motivational talks?

DC: “I’m realistic. I think in every talk you hope that maybe two or three people open their eyes to doing things differently. I think there’ll be some people who won’t like Angela – well, they’re more likely to like Angela – or won’t like me, saying ‘well this is all for somebody else’. But for some people to think ‘I’m going to look at something different’ – that’s fantastic to me.”

AM: “I feel much the same as David. Although it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was sitting in a classroom, actually it is, and it’s nice to come back into this environment. And if maybe one of the students here ends up applying for a job with Deloitte and working with us, that would be brilliant.”

The 30% Club

The 30% Club is a group of business leaders committed to achieving better gender balance at all levels of organisations, because they believe this will make businesses and boards more effective. They are taking voluntary steps towards the goal of 30% women on boards by 2015 and believe that business-led change is the right way forward. Efforts by men and women working together on the issue over the past four years, following the launch of the 30% Club in 2010 and the publication of the Davies Report into Women on Boards in 2011, have led to a quickening in the pace of change in the UK. In the year ended February 2012, 27% of FTSE 100 and 25% of FTSE 250 board appointments were female – in the six months ended September 2014, these figures had risen to 33% and 31%.

Ayrshire leading the way in the college sector on gender balance in leadership positions

Ayrshire College has one of the most gender balanced board of managements in Scotland with a 50:50 split of male and female members. In addition, four out of five of its executive management team are women, and there is an even balance of men and women in the College’s senior management team.

A Scottish Government report last year, Women on Board – Quality through Diversityhighlighted that only 35 per cent of public board members in Scotland were women, that just 1 per cent of board chairs or conveners were female, and that only 11 per cent of board members of public corporations are female.