Guest post – STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith on Scottish Apprenticeship Week

 Grahame Smith is the General Secretary of the STUC, a Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Board Member and the Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) National Group link member for Ayrshire.

In this guest post, Grahame shares his views on the value of apprenticeships to young people, employers and the economy.


From its inception six years ago, Scottish Apprenticeship Week has offered a platform for all those with a shared interest in the success of apprenticeships to celebrate the benefits they bring to individuals, organisations and the Scottish economy.

However, the week has become much more than a just a celebration. It has provided the spark for many young people to consider pursuing a Modern Apprentice (MA) as a meaningful career choice and, for many employers, the catalyst for recruiting an apprentice.

More and more young people are seeing earning and learning as a genuine alternative to continuing in full time study, and more employers are seeing the business benefits of hiring and training apprentices to meet their skills needs.

According to SDS’s apprentice employer survey, 75% of firms believe apprentices improved their productivity; 71 per cent that they improved product service or quality; and 72% that employing apprentices improved morale. 

Across Ayrshire during the last full year (2014-15) there were 1,976 Modern Apprenticeship starts. By 2021, the number of Modern Apprenticeships funded by the Scottish Government through SDS will increase from 25,000 to 30,000 starts each year. The opportunity this offers will only be realised if that commitment is reciprocated by employers and industry partners including, amongst others, colleges and the trade unions.

The task at a local level of encouraging and supporting more employers, particularly small and micro businesses, to engage with our schools and colleges and to take on apprentices has been offered to employer-led regional groups being established across Scotland. A recommendation of the Wood Commission on Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, on which I served, these group are now beginning to emerge. I am excited by the enthusiasm and commitment of the new DYW Ayrshire group and look forward to supporting its efforts in my role as both the DYW National Group link member for Ayrshire and a member of the SDS Board.  

A key challenge for all committed to MAs is to increase access to apprenticeship opportunities. In December 2015, SDS launched its Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland. This five-year plan sets out the action SDS and partner organisations will take to address gender imbalances in the MA programme, as well as the low numbers of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds or with disabilities or leaving care starting an apprenticeship.

Redressing gender imbalances in apprenticeships, for example females in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related jobs, is part of the plan. This, amongst other things, will be supported by SDS’s Equality Challenge Fund. The fund is aimed at innovative projects involving equality partners, charities, colleges, training providers and employers to get more young people from under-represented groups onto Modern Apprenticeships.

These projects are already having an impact across the country.

One, led by Ayrshire College, is changing perceptions about engineering and ICT among young women. There are rewarding careers to be found in both industries, so it’s no exaggeration to say that this project could be life-changing for the young women participating and crucial to the future of companies in these sectors currently struggling to find the skilled workers they need.

An MA is often a young person’s first real experience of the workplace and it is essential that it’s a positive one. That’s not just about the quality of the training. It is also about the quality of the workplace environment, and the terms and conditions under which they are expected to work. Some apprenticeship pay rates are unacceptably low and with travel and other costs to consider, a prospective apprentice might be turned off from a work-based training opportunity that otherwise would benefit them, the employer and our economy.      

Ultimately, it’s down to employers to play their part. Many do and the support is there from SDS, from Ayrshire College and from the DYW Ayrshire group being managed by the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce to help many more. They have to provide the opportunities and, in return, they will get motivated young people with new ideas, enthusiasm and the talent they need to help them realise their business ambitions.  

Apprenticeships key to developing Ayrshire’s young workforce 

It’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 – a nationwide campaign celebrating apprenticeships. At Ayrshire College, we promote apprentices throughout the year by featuring case studies on our website, our blog and our e-zines. Scottish Apprenticeship Week is another opportunity to demonstrate the rewards of taking on an apprentice to companies who haven’t yet done so. 

Vice principal Jackie Galbraith describes our commitment to apprenticeships and highlights what you can look forward to throughout the week.


 Last year, we demonstrated our commitment to Developing the Young Workforce by continuing to stimulate demand amongst employers and increase our support for Modern Apprenticeships (MAs). 

A total of 805 MAs undertook training at the college in 2014-15; 507 through our contract with Skills Development Scotland (SDS), and 298 sub-contracted by industry bodies like the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Most of the apprenticeships we support are in engineering and construction. Nine out of every ten of our apprentices are aged between 16 and 24, and over 80 percent are undertaking Level 3 apprenticeships. The number of new MAs we started in 2014-15 was up 14 percent on the previous year – a sign that employers are willing to take on apprentices if they are relevant, high quality and fulfil a business need.  

In May 2015, Education Scotland carried out a review of off-the-job training for engineering Modern Apprentices supported by Ayrshire College. They awarded grades for six high-level questions on the themes of outcomes and impact; service delivery; and leadership and quality culture. We were awarded four Excellent and two Very Good grades for the high quality of our apprenticeship delivery. About the success rate if apprentices, the report stated:

“In most areas, rates are significantly higher than the national average of 75%, and withdrawal rates are very low. Progression by apprentices onto level 3 programmes (on-the-job training) is 100%, with attainment rates of 86% for completed MAs.”

This high quality also applies to our delivery of the education component of the MAs we train for industry bodies. For example, according to the CITB, while the average performance rating for providers delivering CITB Apprentice Programmes is 75%, Ayrshire College’s performance rating is 92.3%. 

High quality STEM apprenticeships, and vocational courses at school, college and university are vital to the ambitions of the recently published manufacturing action plan, A Manufacturing Future for Scotland.

We have a great week of activity lined up for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 including –

  • New video case studies of apprentices in companies like Spirit Aerosystems, Hyspec Engineering, Woodward and GSK
  • Daily posts on our blog highlighting how apprentices are supporting industry sectors central to Ayrshire’s economy
  • Guest blog posts from STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith and Skills Development Scotland’s Equality Adviser Emma Bolger 

During this year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week we are focusing on three themes –

  1. Tackling gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeships
  2. Making your business our business
  3. Developing the young workforce in Ayrshire.

    Tackling gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeships 

    One of the key objectives in our Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, an ambition set out in more detail in our Outcome Agreement for 2015-16. Our commitment to this was acknowledged by Education Scotland which said “the college is taking positive action to address the need to recruit more females into engineering apprenticeship programmes and is involved in a number of initiatives to progress this.”

    In 2015, I was a member of the Scottish Funding Council’s gender steering group, which contributed to the interim Gender Action Plan for colleges and universities, published on 22 February 2016. The Scottish Government has invested £1.5 million over two years to enable the Scottish Funding Council to pursue a range of enhanced opportunities for young people, including a programme of equality projects. Supported by the funding, we have planned a range of activity which we will update you on throughout the year via our blog and other media. 

    Last year, SDS published an Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland to improve the participation of under-represented groups. As part of this, they introduced an Equality Challenge Fund aimed at innovative projects to get more young people from under-represented groups onto Modern Apprenticeships. A project led by Ayrshire College aims to change perceptions about engineering and ICT amongst young women. On Tuesday Willie Mackie, the Chair of the college, will visit apprentice Anna Manson at Spirit Aerosystems with Emma Bolger from SDS to launch our new video series funded by the Equality Challenge Fund. Look out for Anna’s video and Emma’s guest post on our blog this week. 

      Making YOUR business our business

      In partnership with the Ayrshire Engineering Alliance, we are hosting a skills conference for employers on Thursday to demonstrate how the college makes it our business to support the skills needs of employers.

       Also on Thursday, college Chair Willie Mackie will become an apprentice for a day – an aeronautical apprentice in the morning and a hospitality apprentice in the afternoon. You can find out how Willie got on in our blog on Friday.

      Throughout the week, college staff will be supporting a range of events across the region organised by East, North and South Ayrshire councils. 

      Fittingly, Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 rounds off in Ayrshire at a business conference hosted by Team North Ayrshire and at the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner. The college is a strategic partner in each of these important employer networks, and we are working hard to support the skills needs of the hundreds of businesses which will participate in these events.

      Developing Ayrshire’s young workforce

      Last year, we worked with Skills Development Scotland to pilot an engineering foundation apprenticeship and you can read about the experience of one of these senior phase pupils on our blog. As part of our programme of high quality vocational provision for senior phase pupils, we will be offering a range of Foundation Apprenticeships to young people in Ayrshire’s secondary schools from August.

      Vocational qualifications are richer when they are accompanied with high quality, relevant work experience. The DYW Ayrshire regional group was launched in October to improve the relationship between schools and employers, and equip young people with the skills and attitudes to help businesses prosper.

      The college is an important partner in the DYW Ayrshire group. The Chair of the group is industry leader and college board member Jim English, who is General Manager at Hyspec Engineering, and I have the privilege of being Vice Chair. Jim’s commitment to developing his company’s young workforce is demonstrated in one of our new videos which features one of Hyspec’s apprentices, Megan. 

      Finally, as one of Ayrshire’s largest employers, we at the college also want to invest in our young workforce and we will be recruiting two apprentices in the next few weeks – one in ICT, the other in digital marketing. These are fantastic opportunities for young people in Ayrshire and we will share their apprenticeship journey on our blog throughout the year.  


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      Celebrating LGBT+ History Month

      In celebration of LGBT+ History Month 2016, Ayrshire College’s Equality and Inclusion Officer Sara Turkington has agreed to share her thoughts with us.

      Sara has been instrumental in organising a number of important LGBT+ initiatives through her work at Ayrshire College and as the College’s representative on the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group.

      Thanks to her efforts, and the efforts of the Equality and Inclusion team, the Ayrshire College Student Association and the aforementioned Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, Ayrshire College received award nominations in the Equality Initiative of the Year category at Equality Network’s LGBTI Awards 2015.


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      Growing up my heroes were male or teenage mutant ninja turtles – they certainly weren’t gay.

      Born in 1982, and with a tomboy persuasion, my family TV was always tuned into programmes like the A-Team, MacGyver, He-Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also spent hours practising ‘that kick’ from the Karate Kid. They were my heroes because, well, they were heroes. They always defeated enemies or overcame hurdles; MacGyver had the brains and He-Man had the brawn. And they almost always saved or won the girl or had a female companion who wasn’t quite as strong or as clever as them.

      Okay, there was Princess She-Ra, twin sister of He-Man, but, for me, she still embodied powerful cues about what it meant to be female. Let’s face it, Princess She-Ra was like a really strong Barbie – blonde, thin and immaculate at all times.  Honestly, I was happy being a tomboy. Being a girl? No thanks. These characters taught me that.

      33 years on, the undercurrent of heteronormativity which also accompanied these TV programmes still arguably exists in some form or another and permeates throughout all aspects of our everyday lives. I didn’t realise it when I was younger, but now I know that ‘who’ I am in terms of both my gender and sexual orientation weren’t portrayed as ‘good’ or ‘desirable.’ And that was difficult.

      Times have changed, I don’t doubt that. But I am not a young person who has to contend with having language like ‘that’s so gay’ said to them or around them in their most frequented spaces such as school or college. In 2014, for example, Stonewall Scotland’s ‘The teacher’s report’ found that 91% of secondary staff in Scottish schools hear pupils use expressions like ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’.

      Such acceptance of this language does not betray the fact it is homophobic – irrespective of how it is meant or whether or not it is directed at someone who is gay or lesbian.

      We all have a responsibility to challenge this, especially those of us working in the education sector when we know gender and sexual orientation are still major factors in determining or at least most certainly impacting upon educational experience.

      Having first started working in education almost 10 years ago, I never imagined I would become a champion of LGBT+ equality. I am immensely proud to be part of a college which takes LGBT+ inclusion very seriously.

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      We, for the first time in Ayrshire, with our partners in the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, held LGBT Conversation Cafes in our Ayr, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning campuses in February 2015.

      Having grown up and lived in North Ayrshire for most of my life, I knew how significant these cafes were in bringing people together to discuss and make better the experiences of LGBT people living, working or studying in Ayrshire.

      As I introduced the Café at Kilwinning campus, I saw faces who, I believe, wanted to make a difference to the lives of LGBT people. These were the faces I wanted to see when I was younger; the faces who would have told me it was okay to be gay.

      The Cafes told us that the education sector as a whole, despite some examples of good practice across Ayrshire, was still a difficult experience especially schooling education.

      The College was marked out as being a more supportive environment in comparison, however key points were still raised about the visibility of LGBT role models, the availability of LGBT literature and a more confident staff team equipped with the knowledge and skills to support LGBT students.

      Since then, we have been proactive in addressing these and I am especially pleased that we continue to be innovative in achieving many firsts; a trans awareness webinar on GLOWTV, a non-binary webinar on both GLOWTV and College Development Network (CDN) and LGBT student forums to name a few.

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      We are also developing ever stronger relationships with our local schools such as Kilwinning Academy.

      Recently myself and Oceana from Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA) facilitated LGBT+ training to Kilwinning Academy’s teaching staff.  This was not only personally an important moment but one too which demonstrated the College can positively support others in being LGBT+ inclusive environments with the effects potentially felt much wider in the local communities of Ayrshire.  I thank Kilwinning Academy for this opportunity as well as their determination to successfully support their LGBT+ pupils and staff.

      Our commitment to the wider community will also further be demonstrated in the upcoming ‘Translating LGBT+’ Conference on Monday the 29th of February.

      With all 100 attendees’ spaces now taken, the College as a member of the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, have achieved yet another first – an LGBT+ conference in Ayrshire. And so whilst I may channel my childhood heroes on the day as I co-facilitate one of the workshops, I will be proud to be female and gay knowing that real heroes celebrate diversity and promote acceptance, understanding and tolerance of all.

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      The Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group is a multi-agency partnership of Ayrshire College, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, East, North and South Ayrshire Councils, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Third sector organisations, including Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Break the Silence and LGBT Youth Scotland.  The group work together to improve the experiences of LGBT+ people living, working or studying in Ayrshire. 

      New Campus Countdown: Focus on Hair, Beauty, Complementary Therapies and Make-Up Artistry

      We are one month closer to the opening of our new campus in Kilmarnock. As we continue our countdown it’s time to turn the spotlight on another curriculum area.

      We caught up with Angela Sheridan Head of Learning and Skills – Hair, Beauty, Complementary Therapies and Make-up Artistry.

      Tell us about the Hair, Beauty, Complementary Therapies and Make-Up Artistry Department at Ayrshire College.

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      Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy runs at Kilmarnock, Kilwinning and Ayr Campuses, Complementary Therapy at Kilmarnock and Kilwinning and Make-up Artistry at Ayr and Kilwinning.

      We deliver a range of full-time courses for students. Part-time courses are available for Hairdressing Modern Apprentices. Modern Apprentices can choose to be assessed in the workplace or attend college one day per week. In addition we have a range of short evening courses for those who would prefer to study part-time in the evening.

      Our curriculum work closely with the Business Development Team and employers, to devise bespoke courses to meet business needs. The main aim of our curriculum design is to provide meaningful learning which incorporates real live briefs that ensure progression and preparation for industry, whilst developing transferable skills.

      Our students are encouraged to take part in activities to develop not only practical skills and confidence, but to open their eyes to the wider environment. This in turn builds on skills for learning, life and work and provides invaluable experiences.

      Our students take part in many competitions and have won many awards. These competitions develop confident individuals and recognise excellence in learning.

      Most of our courses are recognised by HABIA (Hair and Beauty Industry Authority). These qualifications are recognised internationally and past students have secured employment abroad in places as far as Dubia and Australia. It’s exciting for our students to experience such great opportunities.

      Working in a diverse and ever evolving industry, which is continuously launching new products and techniques, is both rewarding and challenging.

      What initiatives are your team involved with?

      Our area is involved in many vocational and ethical initiatives. We recently launched our “Man in the Mirror” campaign which highlights and addresses gender imbalance and stereotyping in our area. An initial event provided taster treatments and encouraged feedback on experiences and interest, pertaining to the industry and our courses. The campaign was launched on International Men’s day at Ayr Campus and was a huge success.

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      It is important that we are producing highly skilled and creative individuals who have the ability to promote their skills successfully. We work closely with many professional product houses to develop retailing skills and our commercial environments ensure that our students have many opportunities to develop promotional, practical and time management skills to meet industry requirements.

      How important are Modern Apprentices and work-placements to the department?

      Modern Apprentices are very important to the department. They help the College support employers across Ayrshire and beyond. It’s good for full-time students to see Modern Apprentices in college at the same time as them – it inspires them to secure employment for themselves.

      Work-placement opportunities for full-time students are invaluable and contribute immensely to the development of their skills and knowledge. The partnership is a two-way process with our employers appreciating the benefits of having a willing student to assist with workplace tasks.

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      What do you think makes the department so successful?

      The commitment of staff contributes greatly to the overall success of the department. All of our lecturers have vast industry experience and maintain strong links within industry, which helps students with their learning and work placements.

      Our staff also work well with colleagues from other departments such as Student Services, Funding and Inclusive Learning to ensure students are supported.

      What skills are you looking for in your students?

      We look for good employability skills and welcome individuals who are creative, hard working, self-motivated, self-disciplined, good communicators, team players and enjoy working with people. To be successful students must continually practise to perfect their time-management, practical skills and promotional skills.

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      The main challenge we face is encouraging young adults at 16/17 years old to think about what sort of career they want to have, and ensure that once they have made this important decision they are able to stick with it for four years during their studies.

      We work tirelessly with students so it is very rewarding for lecturers to see students evolve and develop throughout their time at College. They go from being uncertain about what to do, undertake intensive training and at the end of their college journey are industry ready.

      What options are open to Hair, Beauty, Complementary Therapies and Make-Up Artistry students once they have finished their courses?

      We offer courses at different levels, meaning a progression route is open to all students. Full-time students have an opportunity to progress to the next level and graduating students can progress to employment, self-employment or degree courses.

      Apprentices are either work-based or attend college on a day release basis to complete their qualification. The majority of our hairdressing apprentices secure permanent employment after they qualify. Many transferable skills which can allow them to branch off into different career routes.

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      How important is working with local employers to the department?

      Local employers are very important as they support our work experience programme. Each year, approximately 100 full-time students take part in a block of work experience. We also help local employers to recruit by providing college salon spaces for group interviewing and skill testing days. Employers are able observe groups of students who fit their job description and students benefit from the process and the feedback they receive. It has taken years to build and consolidate these partnerships which provide real benefits to students, the College and the employer.

      What can students expect from the Hair, Beauty and Complementary Therapies department at the new campus?

      Students can expect modern salons reflecting industry standards, with state of the art equipment and professional product ranges. It will offer students a great chance to experience a realistic vision of their future career. In addition our commercial salon will provide our graduating students with the opportunity of an internship in an environment which replicates a high street salon.

      What does the future hold for the Hair, Beauty, Complementary Therapies and Make-up Artistry department at Ayrshire College?

      We will continue our great work with local employers and as a team use our skills to help propel our students into a range of careers. We will keep up-to-date with industry advancements to ensure our learners are well prepared for our ever evolving industry.
      Overall, we will continue to strive to provide a seven star service to students, staff and local employers across Ayrshire and contribute to the wellbeing of our communities.

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      Guest post – Why coding is the new must have creative skill!

      At a recent meeting of BCSWomen, Ayrshire College vice principal Jackie Galbraith met a young web developer, Carole Rennie Logan, who works at a digital agency in Glasgow. Jackie was a developer 25 years ago and was interested to hear from Carole how things have (or haven’t) changed for women in the computing industry in a quarter of a century. Sadly, Carole confirmed that being a female developer is still a bit like being part of an endangered species! 

      However, Carole is determined to change this and mentors at CoderDojo computer coding clubs in Glasgow, where she makes coding skills available to people who wouldn’t usually get the chance to learn them. Carole is particularly enthusiastic about encouraging more girls into science, technology, engineering and maths.  

      Read what Carole has to say.


      Coding has quite rightly been attracting more attention in the last few years as an essential skill in an ever more techy world. But it’s still often pitched only to people who are into science, maths and engineering – and not to creatives.

      Yet, arguably, coding is becoming the essential creative skill to have. 

      How often do you hear “there should be an app for that” or “I have a cool idea for a website”? Most people have to leave it there as they don’t know where to start in bringing these ideas to life. With coding skills you can turn your cool idea into a reality!

      When people picture a developer they often picture someone in the movies watching 1’s and 0’s fly across the screen, not a typical creative type. Being a web developer, I am guilty of describing myself as “just the developer, I didn’t do the design … I’m not that creative”. 

      This needs to change. Developers have the new must have creative skill – coding!

      Personally, I think the most valuable skills in knowing how to code is not being expert in a specific language, but learning and having the desire to pick up new skills. You may not have experience in building a phone app or the language used for this but, if you know the concepts of programming which are usually the same across languages, you just need to learn the syntax. So, if your awesome idea needs to know a language or framework you haven’t used before, you can do some research and have a play around with it until you can build what you need.

      This is why coding clubs like CoderDojo are so important as they give young people the opportunity to learn and share their ideas with other coders. One of my favourite things about being a CoderDojo mentor is seeing the ideas that people have and how they just throw themselves into coding without the fear of “what if I break it?” that sometimes we adults suffer from. 

      So, let’s encourage people who shy away from ‘geeky’ things in favour of more traditional arty hobbies to give programming a try – it might just be the tool to turn their vision into reality!


      Want to find out about other women challenging gender imbalance in the digital world? 

      Loraine Johnston leads on our computing curriculum at the College and established CoderDojo Ayrshire in November 2014 in partnership with CoderDojo Scotland. Like Carole, she mentors young coders and runs coding clubs all over Ayrshire throughout the year.

      Dr Claire Quigley is a Project Officer for CoderDojo Scotland at the Glasgow Science Centre, where she supports the CoderDojo network of computer coding clubs for young people across Scotland. She worked in partnership with Loraine to establish Coderdojo Ayrshire.