International Women’s Day – Let’s celebrate by taking those ideas forward!

Melissa is the Programme Executive for Bridge 2 Business covering Ayrshire College. The programme promotes enterprise and aims to give students the opportunity to develop enterprise skills and to encourage them to start their own business by giving them the necessary tools. Today Melissa is sharing with us how she “fell” into enterprise, how women have inspired her along the way and how with the help of Bridge 2 Business you can turn those little business ideas in your head into reality. 


Eighteen months ago, I sent a text to my friend Christina. That simple text started a series of events that practically changed the course of my life – to be more specific, my career!

One night, as I was perusing my university website, I came across a funding opportunity for projects and couldn’t look away. I couldn’t just close that tab and move over to Netflix. I looked at the announcement for a while and sent a text to my friend telling her about the funding and asking if she would be interested in doing a project together. At that time I did not know what it would be.

Christina and I met up for a coffee, started brainstorming, shaped our abstract ideas into a concrete project and LEVEL-UP! A two-day skills development conference, was born. (This is a very simplified version of the events, believe me there was a lot more planning, hesitations and “why should we do this?” involved.)


LEVEL-UP! 2016 Organising Committee

The conference was a success and last month – one year after the first edition of our conference, a second edition was completed and we sent the papers off to register our company. Oh – and we both got jobs with Bridge 2 Business thanks to the skills we gained by undertaking the project. Which leads me to my next point:

I am an entrepreneur

A fancy word of French origin (at least I think it’s French) that for a long time I could not relate to at all. Mainly because that word seemed so foreign to me and its “sibling” term “businessman” made me think of older men in suits ready to board into the business class of BA flights, so they could get to their next big meeting. However, the reality is very different. What helped me realise this, was seeing the different shapes and forms an entrepreneur can take. They can be any gender, and of all ages. I would never in a million years have seen myself as someone who would own a business with other people or ever think I would be someone that could potentially be her own boss.  (There is still a long way to go until I will be my own boss full-time but at least for some time during the week, I am).

Something that really stuck with me along the way, were the amazing women I have met since starting this adventure. I am not only saying this because it is International Women’s Day and we are supposed to be focusing on the work of women. I have been inspired by so many women and not only by their achievements but by the way they lead their own path, the way they present their ideas, the way they are approachable, friendly and awesome. They helped me think that I could indeed take on any quest and define myself as an entrepreneur.

Anyway. So what? Why would this matter to you?

Well, the first message of Bridge 2 Business is to inspire. Hopefully, with this blog post, you are able to see a different aspect of what it is to be an entrepreneur or to have an entrepreneurial mindset. It doesn’t need to be something big or exceptional, it is mainly about believing in your ideas and putting them into action. Taking those little risks in life that we know will make the big difference. It can also be as simple as a text (and follow-up work – lots of it!).

Action is key. Even if you have no idea where to start or how to do it, taking that one step forward will bring you closer to the goal. So don’t just brush off your ideas or think they are silly. Don’t let hesitations or insecurities prevent you from expressing your ideas.

If you want to read about awesome entrepreneurs around Scotland, have a look at the Bridge 2 Business website.

Bridge 2 Business Banner

Bridge 2 Business is now officially running in Ayrshire College. If you have an idea for a business or want to take on a project, but have no clue how to get started, this is where we can help. We all have to start somewhere and seeking the right support and connections is the first step! 

 If you want to know more about the programme visit our website or contact Melissa directly

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!