Making Your Business Our Business

Ayrshire College is serious about employer engagement.

Our portfolio of vocational qualifications is aligned to the needs of industry sectors important to Ayrshire and we play a critical role in the success of the region’s economy.

By increasing the number of businesses we work with, we increase the number of opportunities for apprenticeships each year, the volume of employment opportunities for students and jobseekers, and the range and uptake of training courses delivered to industry.

A New Conversation, published by UKCES in 2014, summarised the necessary ingredients for effective engagement between colleges and employers.

  • First, it recommended that we need to agree that the primary purpose of a college is to contribute to its economic community. We do.
  • Second, it argued that college leaders need to develop new types of skills to succeed in strategic partnerships with employers. We have.
  • Third, it stressed that we need to be aware that the credibility of colleges with employers is tied up with what they offer. We agree.
  • Finally, employers need to get to know their local college and what it has to offer. Thousands of employers in Ayrshire have already done this.

How we engage with employers 

Our Making Your Business Our Business employer engagement strategy illustrates how we support employers. This interactive document includes video interviews with businesses, links to key strategies and blog posts. The goals in the strategy describe how we will:

  • Ensure our portfolio of courses is relevant and aligned to business needs
  • Increase the number of businesses we work with
  • Increase the number of Modern Apprentice new starts annually
  • Increase job opportunities for students and job seekers
  • Increase the range and uptake of training courses delivered to employers

By achieving these goals, we will help raise aspirations, inspire achievement and increase opportunities for Ayrshire’s businesses and communities.

A deal for a deal

Our offer to employers is that we will make your business our business by:

  • Providing the right skills at the right time to help grow your company
  • Involving you in evaluating our current courses and shaping our future provision
  • Offering industry relevant courses delivered in environments reflective of your sector
  • Helping with workforce planning for current and future skills needs
  • Offering apprenticeships to develop your employees
  • Helping you to recruit the right people.

In return, our ask of employers is that you make our business your business by:

  • Taking part in our evaluation and curriculum planning processes
  • Offering work placements, volunteering opportunities and project work for our students
  • Attending our careers events to raise awareness of your industry amongst students
  • Sponsoring the college by donating equipment and rewarding student excellence
  • Helping us tackle gender stereotyping in career choices.

How we engage with employers

All senior staff and curriculum leaders at Ayrshire College are responsible for engaging
with the local business community. To identify skills needs at a regional level, the College works with the Ayrshire Economic Partnership, with employer organisations such as the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses, and industry sector-specific organisations like the Ayrshire Engineering Alliance and Taste Ayrshire.

The college also supports the economy and skills boards of the three local authorities in the region, working with business growth advisers to support the skills needs of existing and new companies as well as those seeking to locate to Ayrshire.

How employers shape our curriculum 

Intelligence gained from our extensive engagement with employers and business organisations in Ayrshire, combined with analysis presented in the Skills Assessment for Ayrshire and Skills Investment Plans for various industry sectors, shape the college’s curriculum delivery plan each year.

Excellent external engagement with employers, industry bodies and community organisations influences course design, and creates opportunities for students and for validating college provision.

Opportunities for developments and validation at an industry sector level are taken forward at a range of college-led employer skills forums in areas such as aerospace, science and engineering. These forums comprise employers, college managers, sector skills councils, national skills and economic agencies, and local authorities.

Education Scotland, the national agency responsible for quality assurance in further education, said of Ayrshire College’s engagement with employers:

“Employer forums and strong employer engagement across the engineering areas provides strong intelligence to inform programme planning and delivery. The College responds promptly to feedback from employers where programmes don’t exactly match their requirements, and generally provide solutions. Effective, regular communication with employers based on mutual respect and a strong commitment to employer engagement allows the college to share plans”

If you would like to talk to us about our support for employers, please contact Stuart Millar, Director of Business Development at


More students benefit from Community Windpower Ltd partnership

On our website, we recently brought you the news that two of our Wind Turbine Technician students had joined Community Windpower Ltd on a two week work placement in Frodsham.

James Seymour and Billy Shearer were interviewed from the many students who had registered their interest in the opportunity. Almost everyone in the class sent in their CVs for consideration – after the placement was heralded as a huge success last year, the first time we’d worked with Community Windpower.

Andrew Brown, one of two students selected in 2015, said “I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Community Windpower. I have learned a lot and I am very sure this will benefit myself for future employment.”

Now that Andrew has finished his studies, he has indeed found employment within the wind energy industry.

So we’ve decided to catch up with James and Billy to find out how they found the placement this year.

Community Windpower Ltd

Billy (right)

I thought it was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience within the renewables industry, and see what goes on behind the scenes. The course we’re doing at Ayrshire College is a lot more maintenance based so I was interested to see how it works as a business, and what goes on behind the maintenance role.

I’ve always been fascinated by the technology. I went up to Whitelees one day through my last job with Scottish Power and as soon as I saw it for myself, I realised what I wanted to do. I wanted to work with these machines and get into the renewables industry.

It’s a job to be proud of, I feel like I’m making a bit of a difference.

So we went away for two weeks, just outside of Chester. The first week I was with the Planning and Development team, where I was in charge of doing a site assessment report. They gave me a location and took me through the process of finding it on the map, putting all the constraints on top of it – the issues and boundaries that they come across – and then I had to report on it. At the end of the two weeks I had to actually present to the team, with the opportunity for it to be turned into a live project.

The second week was with the Operations and Technical team, dealing with SCADA systems. They monitor the windfarm and the turbines, and on a daily basis download all the data from the turbine: how much energy it’s produced, what faults occurred, any downtime on the turbine. They then need to report on that.

We learn a lot about SCADA systems within the College so it was good to get hands-on experience of working with them.

One of the highlights for me was going to one of their windfarms at Dalry. They took us on site and we got into the base of the turbine. We met with some of the techs and the site manager who gave us plenty of advice too.

The experience was totally invaluable.

James (left)

I decided to apply because I was really looking for as much experience as I could get from this industry. I thought if I could get in with Community Windpower, it’d be a good start.

Billy and I swapped during the two weeks, so the first week I was working with the SCADA systems, communicating with the people working with the turbines.

The whole experience was brilliant. You got to see a site from development all the way up to operations. When a site’s actually in operation you then got to see the working of it on a day-to-day basis.

I’d thought about getting into the industry for ages. I’d worked for Motorola in East Kilbride and then when that was closed down, I gave it a lot of thought, but someone talked me out of it. It’s always been at the back of my mind and finally I got back around to it; I’m really enjoying it.

A big thanks to Community Windpower for taking us down, being really accepting of us and helping us out with everything that we were asking. They gave us a great insight into what the industry is like.

Ben Fielding is a Project Manager with Community Windpower, and he has been instrumental in developing the company’s relationship with the College.

Ben said “The placement scheme has been designed to provide the students with invaluable work experience within the industry.

“Ayrshire College and Community Windpower are committed to further student placements.”

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.

Guest post – Business owner Wendy Pring on why would you want to develop a young person?

Wendy Pring is a Chartered Civil Engineer by trade. Before forming KCP in 2003, which she runs with her husband Karl, Wendy was an engineering manager for FCC Environment with experience in programming and logistics of their waste management activities.

Wendy is heavily involved the promotion of STEM subjects in education, taking an active role in the local schools, college and community to promote this. She is especially passionate about encouraging girls to consider STEM subjects as a career.

KCP is a leading material transfer and waste management solutions company. KCP uses a fleet of specially adapted vehicles and equipment to service clients across the anaerobic digestion, landfill, industrial, farming, food and drink sectors.

In this guest post for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, Wendy explains why it pays to invest in the young workforce.

  It’s Scottish Modern Apprentice Week, established to raise the profile of a currently underutilised demographic.

What does the phrase apprenticeship mean to us nowadays? To many of us we possibly think of YTS schemes, for others it is a worthwhile route to a trade and a career. These views are generational to some extent and represent the changes in economics, employment and politics.

All current research identifies huge shortfalls in all manner of STEM related careers, as well as a greater want to increase the employment of young people. In Scotland, information about Modern Apprentices (MA) can be accessed via Skills Development Scotland (SDS). Funding for an MA can also be accessed from SDS or via your local authority Economic Development Department.

For us, we identified the need for an MA late last year. I am also a member of the steering group of Developing Young Workforce Ayrshire, and increasing MA starts across the region is a KPI for this group. 

So, what were we as a company looking for? We wanted a young person who would firstly have a can-do, positive attitude and secondly fit in with rest of the team.

For a small or micro business (SME), there is always a worry of how can I manage someone and how can I find the time to train them. This is always an obstacle, regardless of the outcome which everyone hopes is a full-time permanent position in the company. This can be a blocker for an SME as it’s a promise that is harder to fulfil. But this does not need to be the case.

For others it is a logistical issue. This affects us, we are four miles from the nearest town and not on a bus route, so there was another challenge – how would a new apprentice get to us? 

But recent conversations identified that sometimes larger companies have similar problems. The intake of MAs to some larger SMEs and corporates is well established and provides well executed programs. Micro businesses should also be considering this approach and aiming to use these opportunities to contribute to employment. Anyone with children will appreciate the potential abilities in young people, especially in digital applications.

 A lot of SMEs will berate the availability of good skilled labour. This is an opportunity to help and prepare a young person, to train them in the way you like it done, for them to encourage and establish strong relationships with other members of your team, and hopefully create a viable role for themselves in the process.

Modern Apprentices go to college and there is ongoing assistance and support from the relevant government organisations. Speak to local organisations, we dealt with Yipworld in identifying local young people. We knew distance would be an issue and we really did have to concentrate on local knowledge and support networks for our young employees.

Modern Apprentices are not a source of cheap labour, they are an investment in the growth and sustainability of your business. Will it be hard – not necessarily. It won’t be easy but a statistic highlighted at the first Responsible Business Forum last week is that 82% of businesses in Scotland are micro SMEs – that is a lot of extra places!

Will everyone have a successful journey?

Will every MA have a permanent position after they complete their training?

Will all MAs be equipped with the right skills at the beginning?

None of these outcomes are guaranteed. But if we don’t try we won’t know!

Re-visit the apprentice – Jack Lynes, Billy Bowie Tankers

For Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2015, we dropped into Billy Bowie Tankers in Kilmarnock to catch up with apprentice, Jack Lynes and Fleet Operations Manager, Douglas Bowie.

Jack’s interview was part of a series of video case studies that we produced to showcase the talents of Ayrshire College apprentices in a range of sectors.

Over the course of this year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week, we’ll be re-publishing a selection of those interviews and catching up with the apprentices to see how they have progressed.

Original interview published on 19 May 2015


19-year-old Jack Lynes is coming to the end of his first year as an apprentice at Billy Bowie Tankers in Kilmarnock. He currently attends Ayrshire College’s Kilmarnock campus on a day release arrangement studying Level 2 Car Mechanics (Heavy).

While he was at Stewarton Academy, Jack knew he wasn’t suited to working in an office environment. He knew he wanted to work with his hands but wasn’t sure about what work he should be doing. So, last year he decided to attend a jobs fair at the Palace Theatre where he gravitated towards the Billy Bowie Tankers stall.

“Once I got talking to the guys from Billy Bowie, I felt this apprenticeship was definitely the right thing for me.” Jack said.

And, for Douglas Bowie, Fleet Operations Manager at Billy Bowie Tankers, the feeling was mutual.

“It was a very straightforward process getting an apprentice. We went to a jobs fair with the idea of wanting an apprentice and that got the wheels running. Jack approached us and said he was unemployed and looking for a start as an apprentice.

“After that, we spoke to the College and East Ayrshire Council and between us we managed to put a package together and offer Jack a job.”

So, what made Jack feel an apprentice was the right route for him to take?

“The apprenticeship’s right for me because it’s the right mix between learning at college and getting the practical experience in the workplace. Some things can go wrong in the workplace and jobs often take longer than they do at college.

“I think the apprenticeship route to reach your goal further on in life is the best way to do it. You’re getting the papers behind you by going to college, and you’re getting the benefit of being in the workplace.”

Jack’s boss Douglas said, “Jack has come on leaps and bounds in his first year. When he first came to us, he could hardly hold a spanner. A year later, we’ve got him working with minimum supervision.”

Jack’s long term ambition is to become the boss of a garage. Perhaps one day we will see Jack Lynes Tankers driving on the streets of Ayrshire! For now, hear more from Jack and his employer in this video.

Update one year on

Jack is still with the company and has ‘come on leaps and bounds’ since last year, according to Douglas Bowie, Fleet Operations Manager. During the year, Billy Bowie Tankers expanded with the arrival of a new apprentice, 17-year-old Dylan Allan who was taken on as a welder. Dylan has made a similarly successful impact halfway through his first year.


Dylan said “The guys here are great to work with. They really know what they’re doing so if you’re ever stuck you just ask. Even Jack, the second year apprentice, is always willing to help.

“I’m at the college one day a week learning the basics, and then putting them into action here the rest of the time. I feel like I’m progressing as I get used to the machines and the equipment. It’s not just welding I’m doing, there are mechanical aspects, so I’m getting a good grasp of everything here.”

Douglas added “No task appears to be a problem for Dylan. Although he obviously still needs guidance, he is a hard worker who does what you require.

“Choosing the right person is a very big consideration when you take on an apprentice. We’re only a small team, just four of us, so anyone who’s brought in needs to be able to gel with them. They have to be a good team player and confident enough to ask questions, and Dylan certainly is.”

Guest post – Ayrshire business leader Alison Somerville on apprenticeships

Alison Somerville As a college we place a great deal of importance on establishing productive and sustainable relationships with local employers, particularly when it comes to supporting our apprentices. We are therefore delighted to welcome Alison Somerville to our blog. Alison Somerville is Managing Director of Dustacco Engineering Ltd and Watermiser Ltd, both well-established engineering companies based in Newmilns in East Ayrshire.

Alison is on the employer-led Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) Ayrshire Steering Group. DYW Ayrshire was established in October 2015 to improve links between education and employers to support young people towards employment. Alison has agreed to share her thoughts with our readers for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016. She explains why she is involved in DYW Ayrshire, and how her companies are providing opportunities for our students.

For a long time now, Dustacco has brought apprentices in and through the business. We really value what young people bring to the organisation.

It’s imperative that we plan for the future. Whether we like it or not, everyone is getting older so it’s important that we bring young people in and transfer valuable practical skills to them. Otherwise we may not have enough skilled workers to carry out the work.

So, bringing young people in is a win-win. It helps us create a sustainable future for the business, and also engages young people into work – hopefully into a fulfilling and rewarding future, and lifelong career.

We have the ‘Investors in People’ accreditation and successfully attained the ‘Investors in Young People’ standard in February last year. So, we were an early adopter of this fantastic approach which helps to align business processes to supporting young people into work.

I am on the Developing the Young Workforce Ayrshire Steering Group and I also try to do what I can on the STEM agenda. Albeit this all needs to be shoe-horned into a busy ‘regular’ work schedule too, so it’s a matter of prioritising and doing what we can as a business.

We’ve developed really strong links with the Kilmarnock campus of Ayrshire College and we work with their engineering department to undertake work experience for young people. This lets them get a taste of the work environment before committing to taking on a full apprenticeship. It’s a good opportunity for both parties to see if it’s going to work out.

Right now we have four Modern Apprentices in our business, all at different stages in welding and fabrication. Just shortly, we will be bringing more young people in for Watermiser as we are looking for one or two apprentices to train as Laminators and Welder/Fabricators.

I recognise that as a female in a predominantly male world, I can also play a part in showing females their value in ALL disciplines and subject areas.

I believe that some parents and maybe even some teachers can be somewhat gender biased when helping young people to find career paths, and it’s important to show that taking the path of least resistance might not always be what’s best.

Diversity is good and it’s great to see females in construction and engineering but we ALL need to play a part in opening young female minds to the idea that they could make a big difference in these areas.

Watch this video where Alison talks more about the benefits of working with Ayrshire College and introduces us to one of Dustacco’s apprentices

Vocational skills give young people the edge

Guest blog from Jan Hodges OBE, Chief Executive of the Edge Foundation

IMG_0744.JPGIn January 2015, Ayrshire College was awarded £100,000 from the Edge Foundation’s Innovation Fund to support the creation of a Skills Centre of Excellence, located within Irvine Royal Academy, a secondary school in North Ayrshire. This ground-breaking facility is responding to the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy and is a shining example of how schools, colleges and businesses can work together.

The ethos behind this unique partnership is a determination to prepare young people for work by providing more vocational options in the senior phase of secondary school (fourth year and above).  Courses will be influenced by the needs of the local economy, and better links with the business community will ensure that young people make informed decisions about future study and careers.

Jan Hodges OBE is the chief executive of the Edge Foundation. In this guest blog post, she describes how vocational education can give young people the edge.

The need to support skills

Supporting innovation in education is a huge part of our mission here at the Edge Foundation. Over the years we have worked, often in partnership with those who share our vision, to create projects that offer a practical demonstration of the many benefits of high quality technical, practical and vocational learning.

Picture1Many of these have resulted in the creation of new types of institution and new approaches to blending academic and vocational learning in the curriculum and the Skills Centre of Excellence at Irvine Royal Academy is a great example of this.

We are passionate about the fact that all young people should be able to experience this mix of academic and vocational learning and that, from a young age, they are aware that there are many paths to success. The Centre sets the bar high when it comes to colleges and schools working together to ensure that this happens.

Offering school pupils direct access to a range of vocational courses previously only available at FE colleges is a huge step forward in building the bridge between school and employment. By opening their eyes to the courses, further education options and careers available to them, the Centre will equip these young people with the knowledge and opportunity for them to make informed decisions about their futures; decisions that are based on their individual ambitions and talents.

Not only do we support and encourage the practical demonstration of the benefits of technical, practical and vocational learning but we also celebrate those who choose these pathways. In 2008 we set up VQ Day. This national celebration of vocational excellence has gone from strength to strength and now, in its eighth year, we’re looking for it to be even bigger. We want schools, colleges, learning providers and employers up and down the UK to get involved and celebrate the achievements of their vocational learners.

At the heart of the VQ Day celebrations are the VQ Awards. Nominations are now open and in Scotland we have two awards: VQ Learner of the Year and VQ Employer of the Year. These awards recognise the success of students who take vocational qualifications and the employers who support and promote them in the workplace.

The deadline for entries to both awards is 1 May. You can download everything you need to celebrate VQ Day from the website.

The traditional route through education is losing some of its shine as an increasing number of graduates are struggling to find roles that require their degrees. Now more than ever it is important that the awareness is raised of the many other alternative routes available.

Contrary to many outdated opinions, studying vocationally can open doors to opportunities that would otherwise be unknown. Many vocational courses and foundation apprenticeships with work based elements, such as those on offer at the Skills Centre, encourage the development of the skills and attitude that make the leap from education to employment more of a smooth step.

Working closely with employers can also nurture in students an entrepreneurial streak and a passion for developing their own ideas for businesses. This is a route we are also keen to support at Edge, which is why we launched the Edge Challenge.

Now in its third year, the Edge Challenge is an exciting competition to find the next generation of young entrepreneurs. It is run by the Edge Foundation in partnership with the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and the Gazelle Colleges Group.

The competition is open to 16-25 year old students (past and current) of any FE or Sixth Form college, who have taken (or are undertaking) a course of technical, practical or vocational education and have a bright and original business idea. For more information, and to be in with a chance of winning up to £4000, head to the website.

Whichever path is taken, we want to ensure that all young people leave the system with the confidence, ambition and the skills to succeed, whatever their different abilities and interests. The Skills Centre of Excellence will go a long way to doing this and will be a beacon for technical, practical and vocational learning in Scotland.

We are delighted to be able to support Ayrshire College as they embark on this venture.


Developing the Young Workforce

On Wednesday 18 February, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Angela Constance MSP formally opened the Skills Centre of Excellence at Irvine Royal Academy. The Skills Centre of Excellence is an innovative shared campus development between Ayrshire College and Irvine Royal Academy. It will help achieve many of the recommendations of Education Working for All! and the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce.


Angela Constance with Modern Apprentice Dale Dunlop and his employer Steven Dunsmuir from TPS Weldtech

This blog post illustrates how Ayrshire College is already developing Ayrshire’s young workforce and describes how the Skills Centre of Excellence will offer even more high quality vocational options for young people.


Developing the young workforce is a top priority for Ayrshire College. To achieve this, we work hard to make sure that the courses we offer respond to the needs of the regional economy. This is only possible by working closely with employers, industry bodies and local partners, and this video highlights some of the successes of that approach.

Here’s a summary of the young people featured in the video.

James – Modern Apprentice at GSK, Irvine

18-year-old James wanted to study a science higher education qualification when he left school. After ruling out university, he decided to embark on a science course at college. When he saw an advert for a process chemistry apprenticeship at Glaxo SmithKline he applied, was successful and combined study for an HNC Applied Science at the College with work-based learning at the company.

Shaun – Modern Apprentice at Dustacco Engineering in Newmilns

Shaun knew at school that he wanted to work in a job related to engineering and went to college to study a Level 2 qualification. In his second year at college he chose to specialise in welding and secured a month-long work experience placement with Dustacco Engineering who then offered him an apprenticeship.

Lesley – Owner of Lesley McDonald Hair & Beauty, Troon

Lesley achieved a clutch of Highers at school and was encouraged to go to university. However, she wanted to be a hairdresser and chose to follow her ambitions. In 2010, at just 22 years old, Lesley set up her own company and four years on she now employs six staff. A firm believer in balancing college learning with experience in the workplace, two of her employees are undertaking qualifications at Ayrshire College. Practising what she believes in, Lesley graduated last year with an HNC.

Find out more about these young people by clicking on their names – James, Shaun, Lesley.


The Skills Centre supports government ambitions to ensure all young people access high quality vocational qualifications from a young age, which are based on labour market needs. The College’s ambition is that all young people should experience the highest quality learning, complemented by relevant work experience or volunteering opportunities, in a setting that builds their confidence and gives them the best possible platform to progress onto further learning or employment.

The long term goals of the Skills Centre of Excellence are:

  • Young people at school will experience a more balanced learning experience with practical, vocational courses directly relevant to industry requirements
  • Young people will leave with up-to-date skills, confidence and attitude to make a positive contribution to the local economy
  • To become a beacon of best practice in terms of positive outcomes for young people and the school/college/employer partnerships necessary to achieve that
  • Businesses will have more confidence to recruit young people from the area.

Why was the Skills Centre established?

North Ayrshire has had a low performing economy and experienced the highest rate of unemployment, particularly amongst young people, in Scotland for many years. Efforts are being made by the local authority and national agencies to diversify and grow the employer base, and skilled young people with valued industry qualifications and experience are critical in supporting these efforts.

There is great potential to improve success for young people if more relevant, high quality courses are available to them. Taking part in practical, vocational learning will motivate young people to achieve recognised and valued qualifications. Exposure to employers at a young age will counter negative perceptions of some industry sectors and help school students make better career choices in tune with local labour market opportunities.

How will employers influence the Skills Centre?

Central to the success of the Centre will be employer buy-in and support. Building on well-established and trusted relationships with the college, employers have already influenced courses offered at the Skills Centre for 2014-15. Industry sector workshops with employers in August started the process of reviewing course provision for 2015-16. This engagement will continue to ensure that courses are refreshed in line with developments in industry sectors, eg to address skills gaps, emerging technologies, etc.

What will be delivered in the Skills Centre?

In year one, 220 students aged 15-24 will take part in vocational courses offered by the Skills Centre; plans for year two (commencing in August 2015) are for 340 students. Courses will support the skills needs of industry sectors with economic and employment growth potential in North Ayrshire. In year one, courses have been offered in the areas of hospitality, care and sport; in year two, engineering and construction courses will also be available.

The Skills Centre offers school students access to vocational courses previously available only by attending a traditional college building, enabling the delivery of vocational courses to young people in fourth, fifth and sixth year at secondary school.

Working with Skills Development Scotland and North Ayrshire Council, the college will pilot foundation apprenticeships in engineering in the Skills Centre from August 2015, with work-based elements provided by the private sector. With these, young people will be able to progress on to Level 2 and 3 Modern Apprenticeships, full-time college courses or a job.

How has the Skills Centre been funded?

To date £900,000 has been committed to the development of the Skills Centre – 400,000 from Ayrshire College; 350,000 from the Scottish Funding Council; 100,000 from the Edge Foundation Innovation Fund; and50,000 from Skills Development Scotland.

Ayrshire College is the only college in Scotland to benefit from the UK Edge Foundation Innovation Fund, securing a maximum grant of £100,000. This was announced by the Edge Foundation on 21 January 2015.


Celebrate vocational achievement on VQ Day on 10 June 2015! Find out more at


Tourism insights from Ayrshire & Arran Tourism’s Ros Halley

Ayrshire College works with many partners to ensure our courses are relevant to employers and students develop the skills necessary for the industry sector they will work in. Tourism is a key economic sector in Ayrshire and we invited Ros Halley, Tourism Manager at Ayrshire & Arran Tourism to share her views on the benefits of working in the industry.

Image by Guy Hinks. Ayrshire Tourism Event at the Marine Hotel Troon

What is the main purpose of your job as Tourism Manager?

My role as Ayrshire & Arran Tourism Manager covers the geography of three local authority areas, including the islands of Arran and Greater Cumbrae. Even more challenging is the fact that the role is also wide ranging in terms of involvement of different sectors operating locally and nationally.

Working with a range of partners can mean one day advising accommodation providers on the latest research or social media opportunities to the next day helping to identify the best walking routes or pulling together a legal framework for a new golf company.

The range of work spans all project management roles, from team management to building partnerships, preparing action plans to managing budgets and developing creative solutions to often complex issues involving many different partners. Essentially a product development role, as Tourism Manager I am responsible for product improvement, improving local service levels, enhancing the quality of our tourism experience, developing partnerships, improving business to business communications and engaging communities.

How has this role developed/changed since you started?

Since starting in this position in 2012, the role has changed quite considerably. At the beginning there was a great deal of effort required just to open minds to the possibility of organising tourism on a pan-Ayrshire level. Many of the businesses had felt let down and there was a general reluctance to accept change and participate in working groups or develop meaningful activities across different industry sectors (accommodation, visitor attractions, transport, food, etc).

Today, we are in a very different position with over half of all tourism businesses in Ayrshire registered with Ayrshire & Arran Tourism and a high level of participation at all of our events. My focus is now on ensuring that the momentum and support is translated into real and lasting improvements and that these are all ultimately targeted at bringing in additional visitors to the region.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is the variety and the opportunity to meet so many different people, learn about different aspects of tourism and help others to be able to make the most of the opportunities.

What would you say to encourage people to consider a career in tourism? 

As someone who has been fortunate to have spent many years working in this industry, I would encourage anyone with an interest in people, a love of culture, a passion for the outdoors or hospitality to consider tourism as a good career path!

The skills required are varied and transferable and, whilst an understanding of the local area can add huge value to the visitor experience, much more important is a passion for the area and an ability to make the experience come alive! Working in tourism is about making connections, building relationships and creating experiences.

Do you think the sector still has an image of temporary employment, low pay and unsocial hours or has this changed?

I am aware that for some people the idea of tourism as a career is still somewhat unattractive. However, things have really moved on and there are real possibilities to experience many different aspects of tourism, to travel, to meet new people and continue to learn.

Depending on the sector, location or position you may have to work long hours at certain times of the year, but more often than not businesses nowadays are adopting work-life balance policies in order to attract the very best staff, so conditions are greatly improved.

Today, there are many opportunities to work in permanent, all year round positions that offer real career progression for those with skills and ambition.

How can we encourage young people to consider tourism as a profession?

The best way to encourage anyone to change their opinion of tourism in Ayrshire is to create opportunities to experience the area as a visitor, to travel, to see, to do, to stay, to eat and to share with friends and family. Only by experiencing what we have to offer can we really sell this onto others.

How has the tourism sector in Ayrshire been performing and where are the growth areas?

Since the recession, tourism businesses in Ayrshire & Arran have had to work hard to regain some of the lost business. In 2014 we have started to see the most significant patterns of growth since 2008. Although encouraging, it will be necessary for the area to truly restructure to offer a more joined up visitor experience. Our tourism experiences need to be organised and easily accessible to reach a modern, value driven and quality conscious market.  We need to be able to reach out and grab attention, and then ensure that every step along the way we offer a quality service and maximise the opportunities to sell-on and encourage repeat visits.


Young people building an enterprising Ayrshire

At a recent meeting of the Ayrshire branch of the Federation of Small Businesses Jackie Galbraith, Vice Principal for Strategy, Performance and Planning at Ayrshire College met some of Stewarton Academy’s Young Enterprise team. Here’s what they had to say.

Stewarton Academy’s young entrepreneurs

Why did you set up the company?

We set up the company as part of Young Enterprise to gain valuable experience in the world of business, and to learn a bit about what it takes to run a small enterprise. The experience has allowed us to get an insight into all aspects of business such as sales, creativity, finance and management in real life situations. It has been really enjoyable so far.

What are you aiming to do with it?

First and foremost, like all businesses, we are looking to make a profit. We aim to produce and sell quality products in the local area and beyond. We are aiming to complete the young enterprise project as the most successful team in Ayrshire. Hopefully we will convey to an audience our great triumphs and successes, as well as our solutions to the many problems that have occurred over the past year.

Who is involved in the team and in what roles?

We currently have 10 team members – two specialising in Finance, two Managing Directors, two Sales people, one HR, one Operations Director, one Corporate Secretary and one Computing Expert. Between us, we have all the essential aspects of business covered.

What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?

We have had to overcome numerous challenges. Firstly, our first batch of portable chargers didn’t arrive until long after we needed them, and we had to order an emergency stop gap from a UK supplier. We now always use UK suppliers to avoid long delivery times and high costs. We also lost our design and marketing director at a crucial time, but thankfully our corporate secretary created an excellent design which we now use on our bags for life.

Tell me a little bit about yourselves – what you’re studying and what you plan to do on leaving school?

Jonathan (Chief Executive Officer) – The world of business and finance fascinates me, so I applied for university courses in that field. I have received an unconditional for my first choice course (Business Enterprise and Finance at Strathclyde) which I look forward to studying. Ideally I want to be a trader (stocks and shares) for a big bank, but I can definitely see myself running a business at some point in the future.

Niall (Chief Operating Officer) – I hope to study international business. From a young age I have had a keen interest in business and this project has concreted my desire to become a successful business person. It has also helped to prove that not everyone will agree with your approach to business and that you have to adapt in order to suit the best interests of the company.

Arran (Chief Finance Officer) – I plan on studying mechanical engineering at university after sixth year. I aim one day to work for a successful engineering company in Scotland, with the possibility of running or helping manage a company.

What advice you would give to others interested in setting up a company?

Running a business as part of young enterprise will be extremely beneficial to you, as it provides real world experience and looks great when applying for jobs. In hindsight, I would have loved to have been told that compromise is an essential role in setting up a company. It’s not too complex, mostly common sense, but it would surprise you how many mistakes we made when setting up. I am quite certain other start-ups have faced similar problems. Plan your business carefully and start as soon as you can as timing is crucial.

One of the products designed by the Stewarton team

Business Enterprise in East Ayrshire

East Ayrshire Council’s Business Enterprise Fund sparked the launch of Business Enterprise and Skills Centres in all of the area’s nine secondary schools. Each school has selected initiatives and programmes to suit the requirements and talents of students to help make them ready for a bright future in the world of work.

Programmes are backed by accredited qualifications at a range of levels up to Higher. These make young people more desirable to employers and develop their personal awareness and skills like communication, teamworking and leadership. Local business leaders play a great part by acting as role models, offering their experience and support in mentoring students and backing this ambitious education initiative.

Find out more about East Ayrshire Business Enterprise