Meet the apprentice – Tammy Niven, GSK

Tammy Niven is a manufacturing apprentice at GSK in Irvine and currently attends college five days a week to study an HNC in manufacturing. She will be onsite at GSK in June.

What made you apply for your apprenticeship?

Well, in fifth year at school I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do. I saw the GSK apprenticeships advertised and they were really appealing to me. As I looked into it, manufacturing was the field that looked right for me so I applied for that. It’s ideal as you’re still furthering your education as well.

A manufacturing apprenticeship at GSK is much more than working on a production line, which is what made it so attractive to me. You’re part of a really important process.

Why’s Ayrshire College a right fit for you?

Ayrshire College is easily accessible and the lecturers are great, there’s a great sense of community. The lecturers want to help you because everyone’s got a common goal in wanting to pass their courses. If you need help you just ask and they’ll help you.

How are you finding the course at Ayrshire College?

I’m really enjoying the course especially physics, although it is really hard, but I think the challenge is what I like about it.

What are your ambitions for the future?

My plans for the future are that I definitely want to stay with GSK because it’s such a massive successful company. I’ll complete my manufacturing course and hopefully complete my apprenticeship and get a job at the end of it.

What are your most looking forward to about coming to GSK?

I’m looking forward to the hands-on work at GSK because I’ve not had much taste of that so far. We do practical stuff at the College but it will be great to find out what they actually do at GSK, so I’m looking forward to that.

Brian Surgenor, Training Manager at GSK, explained why apprentices are so important for the company.

Why are apprentices important for GSK?

It gives youngsters a good breeding into the industry and brings apprentices on. We bring them in, we train them up to our standards on our systems and our safety, and we can then plan for the future by slotting them into jobs once jobs become available.

How do you tailor the apprenticeships to get the best out of them?

It’s a three year apprenticeship, so we send our apprentices to the College for the first year to do their HNC. Then we bring them into day release for City and Guilds, and then do process and safety training. After the three years they’re actually ready to slot into a job if there’s a job available for them.

How do you monitor the progress of your apprentices?

We go the College every four weeks to get a progress report. If there are any problems with anything at all, the College contacts us and we set up meetings.

How is the relationship with Ayrshire College?

The direct link is really important, because we get a heads-up straight away if there’s a problem with anything. We’re developing a good relationship with the College as they give us really good feedback which helps us plan for the future.

What are the plans going forward for GSK?

We’ve got 37 apprentices on the plant at the moment, and we’ve just started 3 who start college in September and another 7 starting in the plant. And we’re taking on another three next year. So it’s pretty rosy here – we’re looking to take apprentices on every year if we can.

Hear more from Tammy and Brian in this video.


Meet the apprentice – Emma Tait, Cecchini’s restaurant

Yesterday, we brought you up to date with our Trump Turnberry apprentices. Today, we’re keeping it in the kitchen as we bring you the latest from Cecchini’s apprentice Emma Tait.

Emma Tait works at Cecchini's Ardrossan restaurant

Emma Tait works at Cecchini’s Ardrossan restaurant

Emma is coming to the end of her second year as an apprentice where she has been coming to the College on a day release basis. She recognises the importance of college-based learning, as it presents the opportunity to test her skills on dishes that are not on the menu at Cecchini’s.

She said “Our menu at the restaurant is big, but we don’t get whole fish bought in for example. So, at college I can fillet a whole salmon and that’s a skill I can take away and bring in here.”

Obviously, she’s thrilled to be in the kitchen at the restaurant too. She said “It gives me the experience and the knowledge of working in a professional kitchen, rather than just going to college. It’s a very, very high pressure environment in the restaurant kitchen – not an easy job at all. But if you love what you do, you learn to cope and the staff here help you along the way.”

Speaking of the staff, boss Anthony Cecchini, who has restaurants in Ayr and Prestwick as well as the Ardrossan site that Emma predominantly works in, highly rates the apprenticeship route. He said “Obviously you’ve got to start somewhere and that’s where I started – in the kitchen. I think it’s a brilliant industry to be in and, for apprentices who come on board, the skills they learn can take them all around the world if they wish.

“I think it’s absolutely fantastic that Emma goes to college. I did that years and years ago. It was a great base for training to come into the workplace. To do your apprenticeship side-by-side, workplace and college, it’s tremendous.”

With Emma approaching the third year of her apprenticeship, Anthony summed up the progress she has made during her time at Cecchini’s. “The improvement’s been vast, absolutely brilliant. Emma’s very dedicated and works every weekend. She works hard and will do anything she’s asked to do, which is brilliant.”

To hear more from Emma and Cecchini’s Managing Director Anthony Cecchini watch the video.


Hairdressing apprentices a cut above the rest

Becoming a hairdresser nowadays requires more than just an ability to cut hair. You need to be able to style, you need to be able to colour and you need to be able to communicate.

The importance of that final point is evident straight away when speaking to the employers of hairdressing apprentices Jacqui Dunlop and Shannon McClue.

Jacqui Dunlop works in Ayr at Susanna's Salon.

Jacqui Dunlop works in Ayr at Susanna’s Salon

Susanna Ross owns Susanna’s Salon in Ayr and, when asked what qualities she looks for in a member of staff, she immediately spoke about the need for prospective employees to not be shy.

She said “They need to be able to use their technical ability in the salon but also their confidence. They need to have the gift of the gab because they need to communicate with clients. If you go and have your hair done, there’s nothing worse than somebody not speaking to you.”

It was the first thing Marlene Lamont, owner of Urban Hair in Cumnock, spoke about too.

Shannon McClue works at Urban Hair in Cumnock

Marlene said “I would apprentices really need to have good communication skills, definitely. In saying that, once they start to get confident they become more open. So some come in shy but as they develop their skills they come on.”
Apprentices Jacqui and Shannon both appeared confident when we visited them and saw them working on their clients.
However, Shannon echoed her boss’s thoughts on growing into the role. She said, “Starting my apprenticeship, I was really shy and quite nervous, but after working with the public for quite a while has definitely brought my confidence out.”

Shannon has always wanted to do hairdressing because she is interested in “arty stuff”. Marlene agrees that an artistic talent is also an important quality to have.

“I think you need a wee bit of art in you. A lot of people think ‘I’ll just be a hairdresser’ but it’s not as easy as that. Artistic skills comes in handy.”

Meanwhile, Susanna invited a couple of young hopefuls in on a trial basis to ensure she was getting her ideal candidate when she was thinking about hiring an apprentice. Eventually she chose Jacqui because she is genuinely enthuastic about what she does.

Jacqui said: “Being able to change somebody – the way they look and the way they feel is great. It’s a great feeling.”

Both owners are delighted with the standard of apprentice they have taken on, and both appear committed to taking on more apprentices over the coming years.

Marlene, of Urban Hair said: “My young ones are coming in as apprentices and they’re fabulous, they really are.

“I think if the employer takes the time to teach them properly and doesn’t treat them like people who are just there to wash hair, then they can develop their skills and their personal development. I think apprenticeships are a great idea – I think they’re brilliant.”

To hear more from Jacqui and Shannon, and their employers, watch the videos below.


Coming up trumps with an apprenticeship at Turnberry

During Scottish Apprenticeship Week last year, we published a blog about a group of eight Modern Apprentices who had been recruited by Trump Turnberry (the company took on another two during the year). A year on, we look at their progress and hear from Executive Chef Munur Kara and award-winning apprentice Paul Tyrrell.

Some of the apprentices and junior chefs went on to have great success at the 2015 ScotHot Awards – Scotland’s biggest hospitality, tourism, and food and drink show with competitors come from all over the country. There were gold awards for Rury Patterson and Steve Walker, silver for Paul Tyrrell, Scott Jacket and Robert McCurdie, with Charlie Dedman, Leigh McGill, Andrew Mackay and Paul Tyrrell (scooping his second prize) receiving bronze.

ScotHot 2015 - Turnberry

Trump Turnberry apprentices celebrate their outstanding achievements at ScotHot 2015

The College’s work-based assessor,  Joanne Martin said “The apprentices’ fantastic success was down to their commitment and drive to do well. I witnessed them coming in on their days off to practise their dishes and looking to their senior chefs for guidance, support and feedback – which they received in abundance. Each individual chef was encouraged from the outset to give it their all – which they did – and it paid off!”

Munur Kara is the Executive Chef at Trump Turnberry and explained the rationale for taking on apprentice chefs. He said: “When we hire apprentices, we always plan their future so that they’ve got a good three to four years career-wise lined up at Trump Turnberry. Ayrshire College has given our apprentices tasks that they have to follow. With the staffing levels that we’ve got here, this is a good help for me as it’s an extra pair of hands in getting the apprentices through the experience and the knowledge that they need to have to go to the next level.”

One of the apprentices, Paul Tyrrell, already had experience of working in London under Heston Blumenthal before he came to Ayrshire College. Although he already possessed that experience, Paul understood the benefits of going through an apprenticeship as he bids to make his way to the very top.

He said: “You can go into restaurants, hotels and any catering establishment, and learn the hands-on way of doing things. But you also need to know the theory behind the practical work and I think you get that through being an apprentice. It’s all very well being a good cook but, later on in life when you do move up the ranks, you need to know the theory side as well as the practical side. It’s very important to know both.”

Munur Kara said, “Paul’s moved on really well and adapted to busy restaurants and hotels, adapting his style when pressure’s on. He can command, and when there’s work to be done he puts his head down and gets the job done.”

“Trump Turnberry plans to carry on down the apprenticeship route. We will keep following on year-on-year. I’m planning on getting some more people on board next year – the conveyor belt will just keep going. As the apprentices come in, they’ll get signed up to Ayrshire College and then they’ll go forward.”

To hear more from Paul and Munur watch this video.


Meet the employer – Wallace McDowall

Over 45 years ago Wallace McDowall was established as a sheet metal fabricator and has grown into one of the UK’s leading sub-contract engineering companies. The company is committed to the continual development of its highly-skilled workforce and investing in new technology.

Wallace McDowall values modern apprenticeships and recruits new apprentices every year. At one point last year, they had 17 apprentices in different roles in the workshop and the office – all but one of them recruited through Ayrshire College. The company recruits apprentices from students who have been on the Performing Engineering Operations course and uses work experience placements as part of recruitment process. Logan Collins, Operations Director at Wallace McDowall, talks about how he works with the College to get the right apprentices for their needs.

Our apprenticeship program is integral to the growth of our business and we are committed to developing our future workforce with the help of Ayrshire College. We believe that by bringing young people in as apprentices, who serve their time here and know the way we work, they will stay with us. We have former apprentices working successfully at all levels of our company including senior management. This year, we’re looking to take on four fabrication apprentices and two machine shop apprentices.

We’ve worked with the College for a while and have a good working relationship with them. We go up to meet them and they come down here to meet us, and we’ve attended various events together. I just pick up the phone to Lynn, the Engineering Curriculum Administrator, tell her what I’m looking for and she’ll put an advert up in the College.

Just last month, she shortlisted ten potential fabrication apprentices and ten potential machine shop apprentices for us. We then shorten it down to around six and arrange to get them in for a work trial. We’ll have them in over three or four weeks before we make a decision. We let students know at the start that this week-long work trial is effectively an interview and that they’ve got a week to impress me. If we get someone we think is brilliant, we will offer them a job straight away. We’ve done that in the past.

There’s investment in it as well, we’ve got to invest in taking on an apprentice. They’re not going to be contributing too much for the first six or seven months but we’re fortunate that we’ve chosen good groups of apprentices. I’m seeing an improvement in the apprentices we have. We’ve got one guy who has finished his apprenticeship in that he’s submitted his portfolio, everything’s been passed and he’s got his certificate. Although he’s in the process of finishing his HNC, we’ve already promoted him to a shift leader based on what he’s done with us!

I think the College prepares students for work a lot better than in the past and they listen well to our feedback. We had a problem a few years ago where we were getting potential welders who didn’t have experience of the type of welding that they were coming in here to do. That’s no longer an issue as students are getting shown what’s expected and that makes a big difference.

So, what does it feel like to be an apprentice at Wallace McDowall? Twenty year old Carra Woods is an apprentice fabricator and welder and tells us about her experience. 

When the apprenticeship vacancy came up, I applied for it through the College because I did my SVQ Level 2 there. I’m in the first year of my apprenticeship and come to college every Tuesday for my day release. During the four days in the workshop, it’s constant work – we’re building everything! We don’t get to do all the jobs because we’re still learning. But we get a shot at most jobs!

I don’t really learn well from sitting down with a book. I’m more of a practical person and an apprenticeship just felt right. It’s good to have a mixture of the college and the workplace, balancing theory with practical skills. Having to communicate and work with others is very important in the workshop. You’ve got to work with your workmates when you’re doing a job, you can’t just decide you want to do things your way, it’s a team effort.

I would definitely recommend an apprenticeship – it’s great to work, earn and learn at the same time.


College Chair backs Scottish Apprenticeship Week

Willie Mackie, Chair of Ayrshire College and a member of the Board of Skills Development Scotland, shares his thoughts on the importance of modern apprenticeships. 

Scottish Apprenticeship Week is one of the most important and inspiring weeks of the year, as colleges and other training providers across Scotland promote the benefits of investing in apprentices.

There is nothing more inspiring for me as Chair of Ayrshire College, and as a board member of Skills Development Scotland, to see first hand the positive impact the modern apprenticeship programme can have on our young people.

The College is a major provider of apprenticeships in Ayrshire and has supported 1,000 apprenticeships over the past 20 months. Since August 2013, I have had the great privilege of meeting many of the apprentices trained by the College like the aircraft engineers at Prestwick Airport Maintenance below.

Willie and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning meeting aircraft engineering apprentices

Building on strong foundations

The highlight of a recent visit to Rosyth to see the excellent programme run jointly by Fife College and Skills Development Scotland to pilot the new foundation apprenticeship was a discussion with students who were very happy to share their experiences. Not only were the students enjoying the work experience, but the programme was also building their self-confidence and social skills. 

The partnership approach in Fife, where private and public sector partners work collaboratively in pursuit of a common goal to develop the young workforce, is one which underpins the ethos of Ayrshire College. This year, in partnership with North Ayrshire Council, the College established an innovative skills centre of excellence located on the campus of Irvine Royal Academy. Nearly 300 students have studied hospitality, sport and care courses at the centre this year, and from August young people at school will be able to participate on a wide range of courses including an engineering foundation apprenticeship supported by Skills Development Scotland. 

One of the apprentices I met most recently was Dale Dunlop who, in his sixth year at Irvine Royal Academy, attended Ayrshire College two days a week to study a Performing Engineering Operations course. This experience led to Dale being offered a modern apprenticeship at TPS Weldtech, and he and his employer talk in this video about the benefits for both of them.

It is no accident that where such collaboration exists the modern apprenticeship programme flourishes and I see it as a key responsibility of mine to encourage as many students, as many businesses and as many stakeholders as I can to proactively engage in this wonderful programme. I have been very fortunate over 30 years to have had direct contact with businesses of all shapes and sizes. I have met many inspiring business leaders who freely give of their time to meet students and/or invite them to see their businesses or spend time on the shop floor.

I very strongly believe this early engagement with business can inspire students to think differently about their chosen career path. SDS and colleges across Scotland are focussing more and more on early intervention in schools and through the senior phase to highlight the significant career opportunities which exist within vocational education and training.

Spreading the word

Capturing real life examples is a much more impactful way of getting these messages across and I am delighted to see new video case studies appearing on the Ayrshire College website throughout the week – I would strongly recommend an early viewing!

Thanks to a revolution in technology and how we are able to communicate (this blog being a good example) our ability to encourage, motivate and inform students and employers about the modern apprenticeship programme is only limited by our imagination.

On a personal note, I will be shouting about the modern apprenticeship programme this week and I hope you will be too!

For anyone who is thinking about enquiring or finding out about the Modern Apprenticeship programme I would encourage you to make the call, send the email – you will find someone who is enthusiastic and who can help guide you to the most appropriate place. If you live in Ayrshire, contact Stuart Cree at the College by email at

Most importantly good luck in your endeavours, it will transform your life!




Meet the apprentice – Jack Lynes, Billy Bowie Tankers

To celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2015 we will be releasing video case studies of current students at various stages of their apprenticeships. First up is Apprentice HGV Fitter Jack Lynes at Billy Bowie Tankers.

Jack Lynes, Modern apprentice

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 he wasn’t sure about what work he should be doing. So, last year he decided to attend a jobs fare at the Palace Theatre organised by the local MP, 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.”

Jack when he started his apprenticeship a year ago

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 said.

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.


Developing Ayrshire’s workforce with apprenticeships

The Scottish Government has a target of creating 25,000 new apprenticeship places each year, with an ambition for this to reach 30,000 a year by 2020. Ayrshire College is helping to make this goal a reality for the benefit of local people and businesses. The College has trained 1,000 apprentices, employed in over 500 companies, since it was created less than two years ago. A further 300 apprentices will start their training with the College in 2015-16.

Read on to find out more about our commitment to modern apprenticeships and how we are supporting Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2015.

At Ayrshire College, we promote the contributions and achievements of our apprentices throughout the year, by featuring case studies on our website, in our e-magazines and at awards ceremonies. Scottish Apprenticeship Week is a great opportunity to demonstrate the rewards of taking on an apprentice to those who haven’t yet done so. During the week, our activities include –

  • Seven new video case studies of apprentices and their employers – GSK, Billy Bowie Tankers, Trump Turnberry, Cecchini’s restaurant, Urban Hair, Susannah’s Salon and TPS Weldtech
  • Daily posts on our blog highlighting how apprentices are supporting industry sectors central to Ayrshire’s economy
  • A drop-in session for employers on Wednesday 20 May from 9am at our Kilmarnock Campus to highlight the support available to employ apprentices
  • A celebration of the vocational achievements of around 100 students, including apprentices, at our annual John Mather Charitable Trust Awards ceremony on Wednesday 20 May
  • An event on Thursday 21 May aimed at encouraging men to consider a career in the care sector.

Apprentices add real value!

More than three quarters of apprenticeships supported by the College are in the engineering and construction sectors. We also offer automotive, hospitality and hairdressing apprenticeships and, from this year, we are introducing fashion and textiles, horticulture, and creative apprenticeships.

Willie Mackie, Chair of the College said,

“Modern Apprentices add real value to businesses, young people and Ayrshire’s economy. The skills developed through work-based learning are valued by employers and by young people looking to get the best possible start in their careers. Ayrshire College is a major provider of modern apprenticeships and I am delighted that, just 20 months after the college was created, we have trained 1,000 apprentices. ”

The charts below demonstrate the sector breakdown of the 1,000 apprenticeships supported by the College since August 2013. The left-hand diagram breaks down the 600 modern apprenticeships contracted directly with Skills Development Scotland. The right-hand diagam shows the sector breakdown of all 1,000 and includes apprenticeship training delivered on behalf of industry bodies like the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the Scottish & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation (SNIPEF) and the Scottish Electrical Charitable Training Trust (SECTT).New starts agreed for 2015-16 show significant growth in engineering apprenticeships and an increase in hospitality apprenticeships – two growing sectors in Ayrshire’s economy.

Apprentices are integral to company growth!

An engineering company with a proud track record in recruiting apprentices is Wallace McDowall in Monkton. Operations Director Logan Collins said,

“At the moment, we have 17 modern apprentices spread across all areas of our business. All but one of them were recruited through Ayrshire College, which provides excellent initial and ongoing training to offer the best support for the apprentices. We use work experience placements with students as part of our recruitment process and are committed to developing our future workforce with the help of the College. Our apprenticeship program is integral to the future growth of our business. We have former apprentices working successfully at all levels of our company including senior management.”

One of the apprentices taken on by Wallace McDowall last year was SVQ Level 2 Engineering student Carra Woods who said,

“I went on work experience at Wallace McDowall and at the end of the week I was offered an apprenticeship! It’s going well and I come back to college one day a week. I would definitely recommend an apprenticeship – it’s great to work, earn and learn at the same time.”


Apprentices are good for you!

Trump Turnberry’s Executive Chef Munur Kara said,

“Apprentices are very good for us. They work on site in a live kitchen where they gain experience of the pressure that they can be in when they start moving up the ranks. When we take on apprentices, we always plan their future and the next step working towards the commis chef, then the demi-chef de partie and the chef de partie, so they’ve got a good three to four years career-wise lined up ready at Trump Turnberry.”

What our apprentices say

James Ross wanted to study a science higher education qualification when he left school. When he saw an advert for a process chemistry apprenticeship at GSK he applied and is combining study for an HNC Applied Science at the College with work-based learning at the company.

Shaun Hawkins, knew at school that he wanted to work in engineering and studied an SVQ Level 2 engineering qualification at Ayrshire College. He specialised in welding in his second year at college and secured a month-long work experience placement with Dustacco who then offered him an apprenticeship.

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