Apps for Inclusive Learning

Our Learning Technologists have been installing a number of useful apps onto iPads to assist the Inclusive Learning department.

The Inclusive Learning teams help students who require additional support as a result of a specific learning disability, a sensory or physical impairment, Autistic Spectrum Disorder, a mental health condition or any other condition that impacts on their learning.

In this article, Learning Technologist Joe Downes talks us through the best apps for students to use to aid organisation, memory, writing, reading, numeracy and more.

MindJet Maps – Type of App: Mind Map

To begin with there are many different mind mapping apps out there and it is worth trying out different ones to find one that best suits your preferences. Many are free whilst others have free versions with paid-for features. It is also worth keeping in mind that iPads make it very easy to create mind maps due to their touch interface.

MindJet Maps lets you build and customise your mind maps with a few quick and easy swipes. Different colouring, shape and sub-sectioning options are available. Markers and different colours can also be placed on any strand of the map to distinguish themes or grouped areas of information.

Photos can be used using the iPad itself to take them, and these can be incorporated into the mind map. Notes can be made on each strand and web-links added to them.

What makes this app especially useful is its availability on College computers thus improving the transferability of any creations.

Other apps worth a mention: Inspiration, iMindMap HD

Flash Cards – Type of App: Memory Aids

The name says it all. These virtual cards, like their physical equivalents, are very handy revision tools. One side contains a word or concept and the other gives a definition, an example or further in-depth piece of information on that subject.

This app lets you custom build your own ‘deck’ of flashcards, filling in both sides with whatever information you desire – whatever helps you best. These can then be ‘studied’ for revision using the iPad to scroll through the cards and to flip them over to see the answers on the back.

One of the most useful aspects of this app is its ability to search a large bank of pre-built decks online. These are handily sorted by subject area and can be downloaded and used as your own.

This app’s simplicity makes it very easy to navigate, and it has a handy text reader which will read out the cards as well.

Other apps worth a mention: Forgetful and Quizlet

Dragon Dictation Type of App: Writing

This app allows the user to dictate to the iPad. The user speaks out loud and the app writes the speech out as text. This text can then be transferred elsewhere using the app’s ability to send or share its creations.

Dragon Dictation is very easy to use and is surprisingly good at interpreting speech into text. This tool could make writing notes much easier for students who struggle with typing or writing by hand.

Other apps worth a mention: Evernote, iTakeClassNotes, Inkflow

 ClaroSpeak  – Type of App: Reading


ClaroSpeak is a free, as well as a premium app. It is essentially a text reader which can read any typed document. Documents can be opened from a DropBox or Google Drive account or typed into the app itself. This helps users who have difficulty reading enabling them to access material and keep up to date with their learning. Users can click to different parts of the document to enable reading from any point, and background colours can be varied to make the whole experience suitable for different reading or visual situations. A premium version of this app also allows the user to take a picture of text and this is then imported into ClaroSpeak. As a consequence, the user needn’t feel limited to text within a digital medium, but any text found anywhere in the outside world.

Other apps worth a mention: ClaroPDF, Audible, vBookz PDF

Recolor Type of App: Mindfulness & Wellbeing

Recolor is one of many colouring apps that have really exploded since the increase in popularity of adult colouring books in recent years. The app contains a choice of different drawings including abstract designs, wildlife and 3d images such as a Grecian urn. The colour options are handily categorised into varied tones, including skins tones, smooth pearl, birds of paradise … the list goes on. The reason I found this app very pleasant is because it doesn’t try and prescribe any solution. There is no information to fill in beforehand, it is just a calming and focusing distraction that is creative and gives a sense of completion.

Other apps worth a mention: Breathe, Feely, Pacifica

New Campus Countdown: Focus on Business and IT

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 Paul McLaughlin, Head of Business and IT at the College.

Tell us about the Business and IT curriculum department at Ayrshire College.

Girls into ICT Day 4

We offer a diverse range of courses in Business and Computing – from short introductory courses that give the student a sound base to begin their journey, to highly specialist technical courses and professional awards.

Courses are available part time, full time and flexibly, and we use a variety of methods to engage students.

Client projects are central to our delivery and we have excellent links with vendors like Oracle, Microsoft, CIW, Sage and MTA. Our students also get involved in local, regional and national competitions, and progress to encouraging positive destinations. Most move on to further college courses or university. We have strong articulation links providing good selection of degree opportunities.

Many students secure employment after completing their courses. This is helped by client and project work, as well as the opportunities created for real life work experience both at NC and HNC level, allowing students to develop their skills and expertise in a workplace environment.

What initiatives are your team involved with?

The Aspire Games Studio

We have an ‘indie’ games studio to give students an outlet for their creativity and the skills they learn on their course. Games students collaborate with design and sound production students across two campuses, actively working towards the production of their first games which will eventually be brought to market.

All students have the chance to participate and are assigned a mentor from the curriculum team to help them realise their vision. The venture has proven enormously beneficial in terms of independent working and motivating the students. It provides the key skills required for students to eventually set up their own business or to work in an small or micro business environment.



The College started CoderDojo Ayrshire in November 2014, supported by Craig Steel and Martin Goodfellow, the co-founders of CoderDojo Scotland. Staff and students from across the college volunteer and nearly 30 dojos have since been held since then, where young people across Ayrshire learn to code in a fun and supportive environment.

The team willingly give their own time at evenings and on weekends and in their first year of activity they have worked with nearly 400 youngsters making the Ayrshire CoderDojo one of the busiest in Scotland.

The Dojos are not only engaging more young people in computing, they have also been a great way to encourage more girls into STEM.

Credit Union

The Credit Union project is a partnership between Ayrshire College and 1stAlliance Credit Union, and is based in Kilwinning. The project exposes students to a set of challenges and provides the group with a support network and a set of external deadlines to which they have to work.

The project is integrated into the NC Business and Accounts course and allows us to deliver our curriculum with a social enterprise project at its centre. Students learn by running a real world project with all the associated challenges. They also help to address the wider issue of financial capability within the student community and the wider Ayrshire community.

What makes the department so successful?

Projects are a key tool to enhance the student learning. To this end, we have an extensive portfolio of client work and a number of courses now use live projects to help prepare for assessments. The students choose, develop and manage these during their lessons.

Some students have found their own clients and do additional work above and beyond the course. These students were mentored and supported by staff throughout this process.

Professional and vendor awards are still highly sought after and held in high regard by employers throughout the sector. We are delivering vendor awards within HN programmes which offer additional certification opportunities to learners and improving their potential for employment.

We embed and offer professional certification with CIW, Microsoft and Oracle, and for a number of years now we have offered Microsoft Office Specialist and A+ to NC level courses. Microsoft Office specialist was also offered in a part-time/evening/distance learning capacity and proved popular.

Employment places a premium on transferable skills but also on an individual’s ability to understand, articulate and utilise these skills. Our courses provide a mix of knowledge and skills based learning ensuring we retain highly motivated engaged and successful learners who are self-confident, self-assured, articulate, knowledgeable and professional individuals who know their role in society.


What skills are you looking for in your students?

We are looking for keen and highly motivated students who want to learn new skills.

Often computing isn’t offered at schools in the senior phase so, in that instance, we would ideally be looking for a strong performance in maths or science based subjects to gain entry onto our level 5 courses or above.

If someone was really keen to start learning and didn’t have the appropriate qualifications they could start on a Level 4 Introduction to Coding and Web Development course.

Problem solving is a key skill for anyone who wants to work in the computing industry so think about instances in your life where you developed these skills.

In Business we look for related subjects at school although we are happy to talk to any potential student without these subjects about why they think they might be right for the course. Employers are looking for skills like communication, timekeeping and team working. If these are things you are good at you could potentially have a career in Business.

What options are open to Business and IT students once they have finished their courses?

We have excellent articulation links with Glasgow Caledonian and the University of the West of Scotland with many of our students progressing to degrees such as Business Management, International Business, Accounting and Management Technology and Enterprise once their studies with us come to an end.

For computing students, degrees in Computer Games Design, Networking, Software Development and Computing Science are popular next steps.

Students also have routes into employment and some have turned client projects completed in college into work placements and then permanent employment.

How important is working with local employers to the department?

Working with local and national employers has been key in recent years and has led to a complete revamp of our curriculum delivery. Speakers from Oracle and the British Computer Society though the NHS and the banking sector have ensured that our delivery is up to speed with what skills industry currently requires.

We also have a growing number of placements and work experience opportunities that enhance and augment our students learning. One of the key focuses of the department in the coming year is to expand these opportunities for our learners.


What can students expect from the Business and IT department at the new Kilmarnock campus?

The well-appointed labs with high-end machines and the latest industry standard software will be available to students. It will be a really exciting opportunity to use these fantastic facilities to launch into a career in Business or Computing.

Learner engagement is one of our top priorities and we continuously aim to enhance the student’s experience. We encourage feedback from students, and they are involved in many ways in planning and evaluating their own learning. The two-way feedback and evaluation process allows students to effectively contribute to decision making in their progress and outcomes.

What does the future hold for the Business and IT department at Ayrshire College?

It is key for the department to further develop strong links with local and regional businesses to keep providing students with more placements and work experience. We need to further draw on the expertise of business contacts to keep our curriculum evolving to meet the needs of local and national employers.

In the digital technology sector 11,000 new jobs are being created in the UK every year, with an estimated shortfall of 70,000 within five years. These are high value jobs with an average starting salary of circa £30000.

It is a key priority for Ayrshire College and the Scottish Government to address this skills gap which is viewed as critical for the future of the Scottish economy. We will be striving to expand our provision while working with our partners in schools, businesses and the local authorities to encourage more people into the sector.


Guest Post – Oceana: Girl, interrupted

Oceanablogphoto.jpgLast month, Sara Turkington wrote a post describing some of the initiatives she has been involved with in her role as Equality and Inclusion Officer at Ayrshire College.

This month we welcome Oceana. Oceana is a trans activist, Community Development Worker with the Scottish Transgender Alliance, and a Stonewall Scotland LGBTI Role model. She is involved in many projects across Ayrshire and nationally, designed to raise awareness and promote understanding of LGBT+ issues. Oceana actively supports the College in our commitment to trans inclusion and has facilitated several student trans awareness sessions with Sara.

Oceana was recently part of the ‘Translating LGBT+ Conference’ held in East Ayrshire. The Conference was the first of its kind to be held in Ayrshire and was organised by the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, of which Ayrshire College is a member.

Trans is about gender, people are not trans by choice, we are trans by birth and have as little control over this reality as anyone else does. The only choice we have to make is how we are going to deal with this knowledge, and what steps we are prepared to take in order to be able to lead happy, productive lives.

There was no one more disappointed than I was when it became apparent I was a boy. As far as I was concerned I was a girl; I’d always been a girl, I just didn’t look like one. From the moment I became aware of the difference between boys and girls I knew something was wrong. Conditioned from birth to conform to the gender norm I was in permanent conflict, I hated my physical self but was too afraid to talk to anyone about it, and so I spent my entire adolescence thinking I was the only person in the world to have ever felt this way.

Not surprisingly then, the educational environment was not easy for me. I was intelligent, articulate and capable and yet I was completely unable to focus or concentrate on study. The pressure to conform was all-consuming and, after being excluded from school on multiple occasions for disruptive behaviour, I was eventually permanently expelled with no idea of what to do or where to go with my life.

Back then, I had no language to express my feelings or anyone to turn to for support. It wasn’t until much later in life, helped by the explosion of information provided by the internet and the advent of social media, that I was able to interact with others who felt the same way. I began to come to terms with my trans status and make informed decisions about what to do with the rest of my life.

Translating this cyber freedom to the real world is an altogether different challenge. Trans people are still isolated within our communities, they face the risk of verbal or physical abuse every time they leave their homes, and they are still greatly misunderstood by a large proportion of the wider population.

Trans students are on the front line of this challenge, our institutions are filled with those who share the misconceptions and misunderstandings of the wider communities they serve, and it is here that we have a real opportunity to change minds and make a difference to peoples’ lives. I am actively involved in this process of change and one of the most important and rewarding relationships I have is with Ayrshire College.

Twelve months ago I received a telephone call from Sara Turkington, the College’s Equality and Inclusion Officer, and it started a process that has subsequently enabled me to support the College in all sorts of ways – from signposting support options for students to trans awareness presentations and webinars. I am very proud of the work that Sara and I have been able to do and looking forward with great excitement to what can be achieved in the next twelve months.

Access to education is one of the most fundamental and powerful tools society can give and the ability to be yourself within the learning environment is crucial to its success. Trans students, like any other, should be worried about what they are going to do with their lives, not which bathroom they are going to use.

Ayrshire College is making huge strides toward LGBT+ equality, and I am deeply impressed by the progressive and inclusive attitude of the College as a whole.

Keep up the good work!

For further information on the Scottish Transgender Alliance please visit For LGBT Youth, go to

If you would like to learn more about Ayrshire College’s LGBT+ work please contact the Equality and Inclusion team at

Guest post – Elma Murray on the economic vision for North Ayrshire

 Elma Murray was appointed Chief Executive of North Ayrshire Council in 2009. Over the last seven years she has dedicated herself to work with councillors to transform North Ayrshire into one of the top performing councils in the UK.

With a local government career spanning more than 33 years she is passionate about public sector services and their vital role in supporting local people, businesses and the most vulnerable in our communities.

In this guest post, Elma shares describes the economic vision for North Ayrshire.

The key to all successful teams and organisations is pride, team work and unity. Of course other factors like leadership, skill and innovation are important, but it makes things a lot easier if everyone is working together.

That’s very much my mantra at North Ayrshire Council and I’m very lucky to have inspirational and passionate staff who set high standards for themselves and their colleagues.

Our services have different remits and responsibilities. But in the broad sense we are all working hard to change the perception of North Ayrshire and to make it the best place possible to live and grow up in.

And that UNITED approach is at the heart of our fresh approach to North Ayrshire’s economy.

On Friday 4 March at the Waterside Hotel in West Kilbride, we held a Business Conference – featuring a range of partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors – to celebrate our successes and, more importantly, to share our vision for the future.

Our strategy to growing our economy in North Ayrshire is unique. It is based on partnership from across the breadth of the public, private and voluntary sectors.

We set up Team North Ayrshire just over two years ago. Team North Ayrshire consists of key leaders from the public, private and voluntary sector who have committed to helping drive business growth in North Ayrshire.

This support network offers greater collaboration, a single point of contact and more flexible support programmes to North Ayrshire businesses.

Already we are seeing some really positive results. In the last two years those claiming unemployment has fallen by 41% and our employment rate has risen from 60% to 65%.

Our approach is going from strength to strength. We have worked hard with our partners and businesses to make a fantastic start on tackling the barriers to sustainable economic growth in North Ayrshire, and building a more resilient economy.

It has given us a much firmer platform to build from and allowed us to set ourselves realistic and ambitious aims.

I spoke about these at length during the Business Conference. In general terms these are:

  • To ensure North Ayrshire has the most improved economy by 2025
  • All sections of the community aspire to achieve and benefit significantly from economic growth
  • To have a seamless partnership, creating local wealth and health with our businesses and local communities
  • The best support environment for businessi in Scotland.

We need to continue to listen to our local business people and communities and then play our part in creating the best environment for them to flourish.

I just need to look over the water to Arran to give myself a quick reminder that we are gifted with some of the best natural assets in Scotland.

I know we have the best people and I’m excited about our potential to create the best infrastructure and climate to attract new investment to this area for everyone’s benefit.

The Council, and our partners, are all absolutely committed to making North Ayrshire the ‘place to be’ for business, residents, and visitors. 



Ayrshire College is committed to tackling gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Here is a summary of some of our recent work on this and what’s coming next.

During Scottish Apprentice Week 2016 we featured stories on our blog from female apprentices working in Ayrshire. We are sure that their stories will inspire other young people to consider a career in engineering and science.


On International Women’s Day 2016, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP visited Ayrshire College to launch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film. The video was the brainchild of the college’s inspirational Student President Angela Alexander, and features 22 female students and apprentices forging careers in science, technology and engineering.

Today is the start of British Science Week which runs from 11-20 March. It’s an exciting programme of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) events and activities across the UK for people of all ages.

British Science Week provides another great platform to raise awareness of exciting careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and a great opportunity to launch our newest campaign – #WhatIActuallyDo.

Meagan Forrest 3

Supported by funding from the Skills Development Scotland’s Equality Challenge Fund, the #WhatIActuallyDo campaign aims to improve the perception of careers in STEM by school pupils. We aim to dispel myths about what jobs in the industry actually are and raise the aspirations of young women to seek apprenticeships within the sector.

We’ve been working with employers to showcase young female apprentices and find out what they actually do in their jobs. We’ve created ‘a day in the life’ videos of apprentices from Spirit Aerosystems, Hyspec Engineering, Woodward and Ryanair – as well as interviews and blog posts giving us an insight into why they chose this career and what they love about their job as well as their hopes for the future.

You can access all of these videos here:

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP on #ThisAyrshireGirlCan

On International Women’s Day 2016 the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, visited the Kilwinning Campus of Ayrshire College to launch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film. The video was the brainchild of the college’s inspirational Student President, Angela Alexander, and features 22 female students and apprentices forging careers in science, technology and engineering.

Here is what the First Minister said to the 100 Ayrshire primary and secondary school pupils and students who attended the film premiere.

It’s fantastic to join so many other Ayrshire girls to celebrate International Women’s Day, and to launch this hugely worthwhile initiative.

And thanks also to Abbie and Adele, for providing such great role models of young women in science. There are many others. Last year’s modern apprentice of the year for the whole of Scotland was Laura Black, who is an engineer for BAE systems on the Clyde. 12 of the 18 Science Festivals in Scotland are run by women. I’m fortunate enough to meet excellent female apprentices, researchers, employees and managers on visits to colleges, universities and factories across Scotland. 

They follow a distinguished history of women in science in Scotland. You might have seen that the Royal Bank of Scotland recently decided to put Mary Somerville on its new £10 banknotes. She was a nineteenth century astronomer from Jedburgh, whose work was very influential in leading to the discovery of planet Neptune. She now has a crater on the moon named after her.

But despite that history, and the many modern examples and role models we see in Scotland, women are still seriously underrepresented in science and engineering. For example in Engineering and Energy related modern apprenticeships last year, 96% of new starts were male.

That’s not a reflection of any lack of talent or ability. It’s a reflection of the fact that there are incredibly talented and resourceful girls and young women who for some reason – whether it’s the advice they receive, the stereotypes they see in the media, or the role models they have available to them – decide not to choose subjects and careers they’re very well suited to.

That limits their opportunities as individuals. And it also holds Scotland back as a nation.

It’s worth thinking about some of the work in Scotland which depends on science, technology, engineering or maths. The engineering work required to complete the new Queensferry Crossing over the Forth; the research taking place into offshore wind, wave and tidal power in Scotland; the developments in life sciences being pioneered in educational research facilities and in manufacturing plants; the work of our digital media and hi-tech companies.  

The people who are working on those projects are boosting our economic growth, and they’re also making a big difference to people’s quality of life.

For example I visited the Glaxosmithkline plant at Irvine two weeks ago. The expansion of the facility there will apparently enable them to produce antibiotics for an additional 100 million patients every year. Being involved in that, or in energy research, or in manufacturing, is an incredibly worthwhile thing to be doing.

So we need many more talented people to go into these areas in the future.

And we want half of them to be young women. Scotland won’t be as successful as it can be, if we continue to underuse the talent and potential of half of our population.

That’s why the Scottish Government has supported the Careerwise programme – which encourages women to take up modern apprenticeships in careers related to science, technology, engineering and maths, and which offers female undergraduates high quality work placements.

It’s also why tackling gender segregation is an important part of our implementation plan for developing Scotland’s young workforce.

And it’s why I’m delighted to support this initiative. No girl in Ayrshire – or anywhere else – should be put off from their ambitions by preconceived ideas.

It’s important that everyone understands that you can study science, technology, engineering and maths. You can take up jobs in in medical research, energy or aeronautics, and in digital media. For science and for engineering – as for any area in life – if you have the ability, and if you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams.

And by doing that, you can have a great career, and you can make a positive difference to the world around you.

That’s the message that this video is designed to put across. It’s one which is well worth supporting. So I commend Ayrshire College for launching this initiative. And I wish all of you all the best for the future.  

Watch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan video

Guest post – Student President Angela Alexander on #ThisAyrshireGirlCan

What motivated you to initiate the campaign?

The Ayrshire College Student Association developed the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan initiative after being inspired by the #ThisGirlCan campaign which encouraged women into sport and celebrated their achievement. We felt that Ayrshire College had some pretty inspirational women of its own – and not just in sport!

I wanted to see a change in Ayrshire and the college also had plans to address this, so we worked on it together. From the start, the college has supported the student association to develop a strong campaign that may help us see changes in Ayrshire in the not so distant future. 

How did the campaign get going?

We started with a celebration on International Women’s Day in 2015 by asking students to make a pledge on standing up for equality for women, about women being strong. Both men and women supported us on the day – including the college Chair Willie Mackie, Willie Coffey MSP and Alan Brown MP. The encouragement I got on that day made me think about how I could turn this into something bigger.


What is the focus of the campaign?

I spoke with our Principal and other members of staff to see how I could help address the gender imbalance by developing a more sustainable student association campaign specifically for the sports department. This is when I realised that the biggest area where women are under-represented was in the area of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). In the UK, women make up 47% of our workforce but only 13% in the STEM sector. 

We decided that our campaign should celebrate women who have embarked on studying towards careers such as engineering, technology and trades which are traditionally dominated by males. We wanted to help address the gender imbalance in these subjects and show that if this Ayrshire girl can, any girl can.

What are your hopes for the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film?

In partnership with the college, education, industry and the third sector, we hope that the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film will help to attract girls at an early age to subjects which are currently dominated by their male counterparts. 

It is important for families to understand the opportunities available to young people and help foster an environment where future career choices are based on interest and aptitude, rather than gender. 

The film celebrates 22 women on STEM courses at Ayrshire College – including Modern Apprentices working in companies like GSK, Hyspec Engineering and Spirit Aerosystems. A copy of the film will be distributed to every primary and secondary school in Ayrshire. We hope that the inspirational women in the film will inspire others into STEM.  

What next?

I never thought that the campaign would be as successful as it has been – it was even been shortlisted in the NUS Scotland Campaign of the Year award!

Watch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan video

Who can be an engineer? This Ayrshire Girl Can!

For International Women’s Day, vice principal Jackie Galbraith talks about the efforts being made by Ayrshire College and the Ayrshire College Student Association to tackle gender imbalance in areas like engineering.

One hundred years ago this month, during the First World War, Glasgow munitions worker Jeannie Riley wrote to her husband who was stationed in France. In her letter she said:

“I am still sticking in at my work. I will be an engineer before long. There are 25 more women coming in on Monday and we were told that the amount of work we do in three weeks would have taken the men three years.” Sadly, Jeannie would not have had the chance to become an engineer – the jobs carried out by women during the war went back to the men when they returned.

Changes in society, medicine and technology in the UK over the past century have benefited women enormously. However, the proportion of women in the engineering workforce has not kept up with developments elsewhere. The 2015 IET (Institution of Engineering and Technology) annual skills survey showed that just 9% of the engineering workforce is female, and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians are women.

Despite the heritage of women like Jeannie who broke into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) during and following the war, the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe.  And, while opportunities in engineering are growing, there is not a corresponding increase in the take-up by women.

I wonder what Jeannie would have thought about this?

Across the UK, companies are crying out for engineers – 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers is a threat to their business. The average age of an engineer is 54 and there are not enough young people studying engineering to fill the projected growth in jobs. So, the industry is in real trouble if it continues to fail to attract young people, and young women in particular.

Some engineering companies are making concerted efforts to attract more young people and to address gender imbalance. On a recent visit to Spirit Aerosystems to meet third-year engineering apprentice Anna Manson, we were greeted with a poster which neatly summed up the company’s commitment to this. – Building bodies. Shaping Minds.

Spirit is focused on ‘equipping young people with the skills necessary to be successful’ because ‘the young minds we help shape today are the body builders of the future.’ This simple statement captures very well what developing the young workforce is all about.

Ayrshire has a higher proportion of manufacturing jobs than the Scottish average, which means that there continues to be great opportunities in engineering for young people in sectors like aerospace and life science.

Each year, throughout the year, Ayrshire College takes every opportunity to stimulate young people’s interest in STEM courses and careers, and to highlight and celebrate the contribution of girls and women in STEM. Last month, for example, we hosted a very successful Girls into STEM workshop for second year schoolgirls in East Ayrshire secondary schools.

This week, our Student Association is launching a film to mark the one-year anniversary of its #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign. The campaign celebrates women studying towards careers which are traditionally dominated by men such as engineering, technology and trades. It aims to address gender imbalance in these areas and show that if this Ayrshire girl can, any girl can!

During Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, the college launched a series of videos of young women working in engineering and manufacturing companies across Ayrshire, featuring apprentices like Anna Manson below. These apprentices describe what they actually do in the workplace and what motivated them to choose STEM as a career.

Have a look at the videos at

Research carried out by Olivia Jones at the National Centre for Universities and Business shows that young women don’t have an innate dislike for engineering. She found that when you emphasise the creative, people-based, problem-solving and environmental aspects of engineering girls start to see the appeal. Olivia said:

“We have to talk to girls about engineering honestly and in a way that they conveys how relevant and exciting it actually is. When girls are presented with real women who are engineers they can see that engineering doesn’t need to be dressed up to be interesting and that engineers are normal men and women who they can relate to.

I have no doubt that girls (and boys) will relate to the young women in the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film produced by our Student Association and in the #WhatIActuallyDo videos created by the college. The female engineering apprentices featured in our blog back up Olivia’s research.

Who knows, if Jeannie Riley had lived in this century she might have ended up an engineering apprentice like Anna!


Modern Apprentice? You’re hired!

Willie Mackie is chairman of Ayrshire College, and sits on the boards of Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, Colleges Scotland and College Development Network. He is also Chair of Taste Ayrshire, a past President of Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and a member of the Ayrshire Economic Partnership.

In our final blog post for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, Willie talks about the young apprentices he met during the week and describes his experience of being an apprentice for a day.

The 2016 celebration of Scottish Apprenticeships week is sadly coming to an end, but what a week it has been!

I read many great things about the Modern Apprenticeship programme, but there is no substitute for meeting face to face our inspiring students  who are directly benefiting from this wonderful programme. This week it has been my pleasure to meet 3 apprentices who embody everything that’s great about the MA programme. First I met Anna Manson, a third year apprentice with Spirit Aerosystems based at Prestwick Airport, who is flying the flag for female engineers of the future. I have rarely met such an enthusiastic ambassador for engineering. Great credit is also due to Spirit Aerosystems who are recognising her talents and providing her with a marvellous opportunity to develop her skills.

My next visit was to the College’s Aeronautical Engineering Training Centre to meet Connor Duncan, a first year apprentice also with Spirit, who was to be my mentor in a crash course of basic riveting. Courtesy of Connor’s skill, patience and good humour (and excellent coaching from lecturer John Sloan) I managed to (mostly) get the rivets in the right place. Here was a young man who had commitment emblazoned on his forehead. He told me the MA programme is going to help him on a journey to far-away places. I don’t think he was meaning Glasgow, so good luck to him!

My final visit saw me visiting Cecchini’s Restaurant in Ardrossan to meet Emma Tait, a third year hospitality apprentice. Emma was very busy finishing lunchtime service and preparing for a party of 70 who were arriving shortly. Emma’s dream is to run her own hospitality business one day and, from chatting to her, I see no reason why she will not succeed. We made a flaming (very flaming) brandy and cream sauce – I had slightly smaller eyebrows when we finished up but Emma was in complete control at all times!

The common theme running through all these visits was how the MA experience was not only building relevant skills but also building the confidence and ambition of the students. They were building new social networks in parallel with their on, and off, the job training.

None of this is possible without the proactive input from employers (in this case, Spirit Aerosystems and Cecchini’s) and my thanks go to them for what they are doing to develop the workforce of the future.

My Skills Development Scotland board colleague, Grahame Smith, in his guest blog post at the start of this week, highlighted the growing success of the MA programme and how this is being seen as a real alternative to full time study. My experience this week provided compelling evidence this is most definitely the case.

My final observation is a reflection on the positive collaboration between Ayrshire College, Skills Development Scotland and employers. Get this relationship right – and on the basis of what I have seen this week, we are getting it right – and we are delivering life-changing experiences for our young people. That’s an exciting prospect for the future.

I wish Anna, Connor and Emma every success in their future endeavours.

Roll on Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017!

You can read more about Anna and Emma by clicking on their names.

Re-visit the apprentice – Dale Dunlop, TPS Weldtech

For the launch of the Skills Centre of Excellence within Irvine Royal Academy on 18 February 2015, TPS Weldtech apprentice Dale Dunlop spoke to invited guests about his unique pathway into an apprenticeship.

We have re-packaged his thoughts from last year for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, and have spoken to Dale to get an update on how he’s progressing.


Dale’s story is unique in the sense that he stayed on for sixth year at Irvine Royal Academy, while he began his college journey.

Through partnership working between the Irvine school and Ayrshire College, Dale was able to find a balance that suited him and his situation.

Fresh from a rejection from TPS Weldtech for an electrical engineer apprenticeship – solely due to his colour-blindness – Dale was unsure what his next step would be. Would he stay on for his final year at secondary school? Would he move onto college? Or would he look at other apprenticeship?

It’s a common dilemma for many young people. Dale’s solution was to start a Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) course at the college, while taking on a few more Highers at Irvine Royal.

The option to balance school with college is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

Dale said “It worked out great for me, I would recommend it to anyone. The school helped me apply to college, which meant I got a PEO Level 2 through the college, plus I got my Higher grades here for graphic design and a couple of other subjects.

“The College gave me some time if I needed to go into school to do stuff, and vice versa. If I wasn’t so busy at school, I could go to college and do more there. The college and the school spoke to each other well and I managed to balance my life between them with no bother.”


Soon after, TPS Weldtech came calling to offer Dale a different apprenticeship within the company.

Dale said “I got the job as soon as I left school. I actually got a phone call saying they were looking to take on someone else. I was offered a job which was a lot more mechanical based.”

Steven Dunsmuir, Service & Automation Manager at TPS Weldtech, said “The fact that he came to us already having his SVQ Level 2 Performing Engineering Operations was a massive bonus to me because it put him a year ahead, or level pegging, with a first year apprentice. So that was very beneficial.

“I think the skills that they learn at Ayrshire College benefit them within the workplace. The breadth of knowledge and the practical experience that they gain at the college certainly sets them up well for the world of work.”


Dale is now finishing his 2nd year of his apprenticeship and is still really enjoying the role.

He said “The tradesman gives me jobs now and I’m under my own instructions to do it. So you get your head down and batter into it.

“We’re getting a lot of new jobs that we have to get our heads around, particularly oil and gas related jobs. You learn something new every day, but it’s getting to the stage now where you need to improve.”

Watch Dale discuss the route he took to his apprenticeship.