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.
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.
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.