Guest post – Julie McLachlan: Ambitious for Ayrshire

IMG_0763.JPGJulie McLachlan is Business Development Officer at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry and a former student of Ayrshire College. Here she describes her journey from school into further and higher education, and the career she has embarked on.

I first visited Ayrshire College in 2007 as a starry-eyed girl from Ochiltree. Back then it was to enrol as a student. Last month I revisited the College, now working for Scotland’s leading economic development organisation.

I became a student of Ayrshire College to study sociology on a part-time basis for three reasons. Firstly, after fifth year I was bored at school. Secondly, I wanted to enter the world of work and earn some money before going to university. And lastly, through Modern Studies at school, I had learned of the inequality and poverty faced by many in our society, and indeed across the world, and I wanted to change this.

Being a student at the college provided me with the flexibility to be able to work yet also build on my knowledge to be able to study politics at university. It was also a completely different environment from school. You are given more responsibility and treated as an adult but, at the same time, you are provided with the resources and guidance to immerse yourself in your subject and learn competing insights and ideas from classmates from across and beyond Ayrshire.

I embarked on my academic career studying Politics at the University of Strathclyde where I gained extensive knowledge of public policy and UK and foreign political systems. After I obtained my Honours degree I wasn’t quite ready to leave the glamour of university libraries and, wanting to delve into my subject matter more, I decided to undertake an MSc in Global Security at the University of Glasgow. This demanding and comprehensive course analysed the new contemporary security challenges currently faced at the local, national and global level including human security, environmental security and economic security.

Once I left university I didn’t manage to secure graduate level employment, despite relentless efforts in applying for jobs that I didn’t want to work at, most of them based in London or unpaid. However, my problems were solved by an organisation called Adopt an Intern, which provides graduates with hands on experience through paid internships.

Through Adopt an Intern, I joined the Scottish Government and worked in two high profile policy areas as part of an intensive graduate internship. I worked on Commonwealth Games Business Legacy with a range of partners including local authorities, Scottish Enterprise and the UK Government to deliver a programme of business legacy events. After the Commonwealth Games, I joined the Scottish Government Cities Team, where I supported the delivery of the cities strategy, working with Scotland’s cities to optimise growth for the benefit of the whole of Scotland.

Sadly, my time at the Scottish Government was not forever but I then had a fantastic opportunity to join the Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI) as a Business Development Officer. This role was a great follow on from my time and experience at the Scottish Government to engage and empower economic growth.

SCDI is an independent economic development organisation which seeks to influence and inspire Government and stakeholders with an ambitious vision to create sustainable economic growth for Scotland. Our diverse and influential membership spans across the public, private and the social economy.

In a professional capacity, it is great to see the College move from just being a provider of education and training towards playing a leading role in local communities and the Ayrshire economy as a whole. In doing so, it aims to raise the aspirations and empower all those that come into contact with it. Raising aspirations for young people in Ayrshire is fundamental to growing the regional economy and this is particularly true for girls and women, traditionally left out of growing industries like engineering.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has broken the ultimate glass ceiling – now there should not be anything that girls and women from Ayrshire cannot achieve. But let’s set our sights beyond Scotland because Ayrshire College could have the girl who will be the next Periscope or Twitter founder, or indeed a lead engineer in one of Europe’s spaceports!

By raising our ambitions we will combat Scotland’s economic challenges of poor productivity, a lack of innovation and weak internationalisation. The answer to these economic puzzles lies not only in Scotland’s regions but in our people. Ayrshire should be a place with global ambitions. So, here’s the challenge.

When Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, she said “This is a special and very proud moment for me – a working class girl from Ayrshire given the job of heading the government of Scotland”. Her achievement is special. But let’s not settle for stories like Nicola’s being an exception, let’s make these stories the norm. To do so, we need to make sure that every young woman walking into college for the first time does not face barriers that will ever hold her back from achieving her ambitions.


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