Making Modern Apprenticeships accessible to all young people

kaheadshot2Kirsteen Allison
is an equalities adviser at Skills Development Scotland where she leads on disability. Her role is to tackle under representation in Modern Apprenticeships and training.

As we start to prepare for Scottish Apprenticeship Week in March, we asked Kirsteen to write a guest post on the importance of ensuring that all young people have access to apprenticeships.

I have a number of disabilities. I am hearing impaired and visually impaired. My speech is also slightly affected by my hearing impairment. Having these disabilities means I bring the perspective of a disabled person to my role.

I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to persuade employers to recruit disabled people. I know how insensitive, ignorant and discriminative people can be. I know how hard it can be to ‘fit in’ to a new workplace.

A young disabled person leaving school, entering the world of work for the first time, is particularly vulnerable. They are unlikely to have any experience of applying for jobs or a job interview, so encountering an employer who has concerns about what support they may need, can be frightening and make the young person more inclined to ‘stick’ to a similar environment to school, such as college.

At that young age, they may have received no information on the support available in the world of work, what their rights are, and what the wide range of post school options are.

I had several part time jobs whilst at school and at university. However, it wasn’t until I graduated with my postgraduate diploma and got my first ‘real’ job at the age of 23 (in the same company I work for today) that I had any idea of Access to Work. This is a fund that can contribute towards the cost of any reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

This fund pays for my communication support to help me hear in meetings and equipment to help me hear on the phone. It enables me to do my job and do it well. If I had known about this sooner, it would have avoided many uncomfortable interview situations and misunderstandings in previous employment.

Take my first interview, after achieving my degree and before my postgraduate diploma. It got off to a bad start with the interviewer declaring “oh, you don’t look deaf!” If anyone knows how I should look, please tell me!

He then proceeded to ask me how much it would ‘cost’ his company to hire me. I was taken aback and unable to answer him properly. I did not know he was referring to my disabilities and the potential cost of supporting me. Furthermore, I had no idea how much it would ‘cost’ the company for support – how could I know?

I didn’t know what equipment or support was available to me, nor was I aware of Access to Work. Clearly the employer was not aware either, nor was he aware of the Disability Discrimination Act (as it was at that time) which would have prevented him from asking such questions.

So, what I try to do in my current role is inform young people, parents and teachers of the range of opportunities available after school and raise their awareness of Access to Work funding and other support that is available to them in the world of work. We’ve updated our websites with information on post-school options and videos of disabled young people undertaking a variety of apprenticeships.

We try to ensure that apprenticeships and training opportunities are as accessible as possible by proving training providers with equality training and resources on how to ensure they are recruiting diversely. We established the ASN Access Fund to fund reasonable adjustments on Employability Fund programmes. We have also been trying to challenge misconceptions about recruiting a disabled person.

We are having some good success.

Last year, one particular employer was concerned that it would be too dangerous to recruit a disabled person to an engineering apprenticeship. After speaking to myself, my colleagues and some disability organisations, they have now recruited a physically disabled apprentice.

However, we have a long way to go before we change the perceptions of every employer and indeed every disabled young person who may be thinking the world of work is not for them. We are always keen to hear from employers, disability organisations and disabled people on the work we are doing and answer any questions they may have.

Want to know more?

You can contact Kirsteen at For more information on Modern Apprenticeships, visit

Foundation Apprenticeships

Last year we introduced an Engineering Foundation Apprenticeship as part of our school college course programme.

School pupils can study a Foundation Apprenticeship in S5 to S6 as one of their school subjects. This type of course offers pupils the opportunity of significant work experience before they have left school.

In this blog post, Fraser Wallace, a fifth year pupil at Greenwood Academy, tells us about his experience as a foundation apprentice so far.


Fraser has been studying the Foundation Apprenticeship in Engineering since August 2016.

Why did you decide to study a Foundation Apprenticeship?

Doing the course works wells with me being at school. I don’t have to keep my options to just my Highers, I can do a college course at the same time.

It also means I can reduce the amount of time it will take me to get the job I want.

Why did you choose the Foundation Apprenticeship in engineering?

Engineering is a massive sector and has something for everyone. There will always be a need and demand for engineers, which is appealing. I prefer to learn by being in the workshop and practising what we are learning. I am very excited to get to work with a company, it’s a brilliant idea. They will get to meet me and know my name before I have even applied for a job.

Did you have any experience in engineering before you started the course?

I did my work experience at General Electric, which was brilliant. I also help my dad fixing things around the house. He works offshore in engineering. I knew I wanted to do engineering before I started the course, but I thought it would be good to try it out before I commit.

What do you do in the course?

I spend two afternoons a week at college. On Tuesday it’s practical with my engineering lecturer, Sarah. At the moment we are wiring electric boards. On Thursday it’s more theory based covering topics like safety, engineering processes and things like the reactions of metal when we are working with it. Next semester we are starting Computer Aided Design (CAD) work.

What do you like best about the course?

Doing the practical work and especially getting to try it yourself. It’s a great feeling knowing that you are trusted to practise a task independently. I really like the course content as well, it’s very interesting.

What has been the most challenging aspect of the course so far?

I haven’t found anything in the course too difficult at the moment.

How does it work with your school studies?

I picked up a bus pass from my school reception which gets me to the Irvine campus for the course and then back to the school. The bus gets me to the campus in plenty of time. I am taking 3 Highers along with the Foundation Apprenticeship. I was going to take a fourth Higher, but when I saw the option to take Engineering I thought it wasn’t an opportunity I was going to get again at school. I needed to take it this year.

My parents at first were hesitant but they know this is what I want to do. They support me 100%.

How does it differ from being at school?

It’s a different style of teaching at college, you are treated more like an adult. It’s nice to have a feeling of independence.

How did you hear about Foundation Apprenticeships?

Through my guidance teacher, he knew I wanted to do engineering so gave me information about the course. I researched what the course was and then went to the Foundation Apprenticeship information session at Ayrshire College in April. This helped answer any questions that I and my parents had.

What was the process of applying?

I completed an application form and then went for an interview. I took the aptitude test and passed, it was quite basic maths.

What do you want to do when you finish school?

I would like to be an Aeronautical Engineer. Most of these companies recruit through college and apprenticeship programs. I knew someone that was an apprentice at General Electric and they put him through university.

Why would you like to be an Engineer?

There are always problems in the world to solve. I won’t be working on the same problem everyday either. There will always be new challenges.

Fraser will continue the Foundation Apprenticeship in engineering through his 5th and 6th year of school. Completing the course will give him a head start when applying for a job, Modern Apprenticeship, or a full-time college or university College course.

Sarah Taylor, Engineering Lecturer teaching the Foundation Apprenticeship, said: “The Foundation Apprenticeship allows school pupils to undergo elements of modern apprenticeship training in Engineering whilst maintaining the benefits of completing National 5’s and Highers at school.  This adds to the employability of the pupils and gives them additional skills and knowledge most school leavers would not have.  Hopefully l, the course will encourage them to pursue a career in an engineering discipline”.

Meet Stewarton Academy’s Ayrshire College Award Winner

Ayrshire College has provided a new award for all 25 secondary schools in Ayrshire for pupils who did exceptionally well on their school-college course over the last year.

We offer a wide range of vocational courses that pupils can take along with their school subjects over their senior phase of fourth, fifth and sixth year. Each school decides on which pupil should receive the award and presented it to them during the school prize giving.

Rachel Floyd, is Stewarton Academy’s Ayrshire College Award winner.

Rachel started a Skills for Work Early Education and Childcare course at the start of S5. She aspires to work with children and felt this course was a great stepping stone onto a career path in the sector.

Alexis Barbour, Deputy Head Teacher, commented that Rachel earned this award by “overcoming the challenges of travelling to college, meeting and working with new people and being organised. These challenges can be considerable for some pupils and Rachel initially found it very difficult. However her determination and strength of character developed and with the support of college staff, school staff and her parents she made excellent progress. She now has the confidence to leave school and study at college full-time.”

Why did you decide to take a course in Skills for Work Early Education and Childcare?

I really want to work with children and I feel it is the right career choice for me. I thought doing the course would help me get a job in childcare.

Tell me a bit about the course. What kind of things did you do?

We learnt about the emotional and social aspects of early education and childcare. We would learn the theory of play in childcare, and to help us understand it, you would do the activities yourself. This meant the course had a lot of practical parts to it such as dancing, painting and even an activity involving voice pad technology. It really helped me understand what it would be like for the children doing it and how I could put the theory into practice in a job.

What did you like about the course?

I really liked doing all the play activities, just learning how to play with the children was a lot of fun. We made story books and got to make playdough to see what it felt like to play with. We also made powder paint, which gets everywhere, so I went home pink that day. It was really fun.

What was the most challenging part of the course?

Taking notes during class, as it is different from school. The lecturer talks a bit faster and it’s a different style of learning from being in a school classroom.  One week it was theory, the next week it was practical. There were also assessments every few weeks to make sure that we were on track. It was still really good and I enjoyed it.

How does going to school and taking a college course work?

I went to school Monday, Wednesday and Friday all day and college on Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. I took the college course along with Media, Hospitality, English and History at school (National 4 & National 5 levels).  I was also allowed time for vocational learning in a nursery. I gained a lot of practical experience.

How did you balance school and college?

It didn’t really affect me. I had study periods during the week which I used to study.  I didn’t do any extra hours outside a normal school timetable. I also had a part-time job at the same time. I just balanced everything and it worked.

How does college differ from school?

It is a bit different from school. At college you can be yourself and you don’t feel restricted in what subjects you can take. There is more freedom and independence.  I am looking forward to continuing at college.

When did you find out you had won the Ayrshire College Award and how did you feel?

I found out from one of my teachers, who told me I had won. I didn’t know anything about it.  I felt very proud and happy to receive the award. I was so proud of myself all day after my teacher told me.

What have you got planned now that you have finished school?

I am studying National 5 Early Education and Childcare full-time at the College. After that I am hoping to have a career working with special needs children in the hospital. I spend a lot of time with my cousin who has special needs and I think that it would be great helping others. This course has been great and I am excited to keep studying at college.

Jane Henderson, Developing the Young Workforce Manager, commented that “It was great to see Rachel receive her prize and see her achievement recognised with the fantastic Ayrshire College trophy. The school-college courses are a great experience for pupils and really provide them with an insight into a career pathway. I am glad to see Rachel has enjoyed her course and is moving on to a full-time course with us this year”.