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.

Re-visit the apprentice – Dale Dunlop, TPS Weldtech

For the launch of the Skills Centre of Excellence within Irvine Royal Academy on 18 February 2015, TPS Weldtech apprentice Dale Dunlop spoke to invited guests about his unique pathway into an apprenticeship.

We have re-packaged his thoughts from last year for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, and have spoken to Dale to get an update on how he’s progressing.


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Dale’s story is unique in the sense that he stayed on for sixth year at Irvine Royal Academy, while he began his college journey.

Through partnership working between the Irvine school and Ayrshire College, Dale was able to find a balance that suited him and his situation.

Fresh from a rejection from TPS Weldtech for an electrical engineer apprenticeship – solely due to his colour-blindness – Dale was unsure what his next step would be. Would he stay on for his final year at secondary school? Would he move onto college? Or would he look at other apprenticeship?

It’s a common dilemma for many young people. Dale’s solution was to start a Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) course at the college, while taking on a few more Highers at Irvine Royal.

The option to balance school with college is becoming an increasingly attractive option.

Dale said “It worked out great for me, I would recommend it to anyone. The school helped me apply to college, which meant I got a PEO Level 2 through the college, plus I got my Higher grades here for graphic design and a couple of other subjects.

“The College gave me some time if I needed to go into school to do stuff, and vice versa. If I wasn’t so busy at school, I could go to college and do more there. The college and the school spoke to each other well and I managed to balance my life between them with no bother.”

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Soon after, TPS Weldtech came calling to offer Dale a different apprenticeship within the company.

Dale said “I got the job as soon as I left school. I actually got a phone call saying they were looking to take on someone else. I was offered a job which was a lot more mechanical based.”

Steven Dunsmuir, Service & Automation Manager at TPS Weldtech, said “The fact that he came to us already having his SVQ Level 2 Performing Engineering Operations was a massive bonus to me because it put him a year ahead, or level pegging, with a first year apprentice. So that was very beneficial.

“I think the skills that they learn at Ayrshire College benefit them within the workplace. The breadth of knowledge and the practical experience that they gain at the college certainly sets them up well for the world of work.”

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Dale is now finishing his 2nd year of his apprenticeship and is still really enjoying the role.

He said “The tradesman gives me jobs now and I’m under my own instructions to do it. So you get your head down and batter into it.

“We’re getting a lot of new jobs that we have to get our heads around, particularly oil and gas related jobs. You learn something new every day, but it’s getting to the stage now where you need to improve.”


Watch Dale discuss the route he took to his apprenticeship.

Meet the apprentice – Megan Forrest, Hyspec Engineering

We have been catching up with a number of our apprentices to celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016.

Four apprentices working in different companies in Ayrshire agreed to be filmed in their workplace to share what attracted them down the apprenticeship route and how they are finding the balance between working on site and studying at Ayrshire College.

The final apprentice we present is Megan Forrest, an apprentice tool maker with Hyspec Engineering.


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“Not a lot of people my age can say they enjoy what they do every day.” Megan began.

One of the major reasons Megan gets so much enjoyment out of her apprenticeship is the variety of work.

Megan said “Because I’m doing a tool making apprentice I’ve got a wider spectrum of tasks compared with many other apprentices out there.

“You never see the same thing twice. Your mind is constantly going and you’re learning something new every day. I think you never stop learning.”

Megan made the relatively late decision in sixth year at secondary school to focus on a career in engineering. The decision arrived following a conversation with her Dad, who is an engineer in Ireland.

She said “When I was younger I wanted to become a zookeeper! But having looked into a bit more, the wage packet wasn’t sufficient enough for me to do the things I wanted to do in life. The next option was to become a vet. I did some work experience with a veterinarian in Kilmarnock, but there was an operation I was watching where seeing the blood made me get out of there.

“Once I talked things over with my Dad it just clicked that I should try and go for an apprenticeship.”

Engineering has been kind to Megan’s dad, sending him all over the world to places Megan dreams about visiting – like China, Japan and Russia.

“This is a good way for me to be able to see the world like he has” Megan said.

“It really does open up the world to me. Plus the fact that everything is so hands-on is a major benefit to me.

“Thankfully I had a Saturday job when I applied for the apprenticeship, because as anyone is with any interview, I was nervous. The Saturday job helped purely because it meant the apprenticeship wasn’t my first interview.”

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Now that Megan is an apprentice, she juggles work with coming to the College for part of the week.

Megan said “We can bring things from the work into the college, and vice versa.

“There are apprentices from other companies in my class, but we don’t really talk about work when we’re in college. We just get to know each other and have some banter. But if we’re stuck on something we’ll help out. I stayed back to help two other people with their quality management stuff, that’s the kind of thing we do for each other.

“At the end of this apprenticeship, I’ll be time served, and the qualifications I’ll have gained will help employers know that I’ve been through all this training, I know all the basics, I can do this, that and the next thing.”

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 – Emma Tait, Cecchini’s restaurant

Over the course of Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016, as well as introducing new apprentices to our blog, we have been re-publishing a selection of interviews produced last year to showcase the talents of Ayrshire apprentices in a variety of sectors.

We will be catching up with the apprentices to see how they have progressed. Today we returned to the kitchen of Cecchini’s restaurant in Ardrossan to speak with apprentice Emma Tait.

Not only did we catch up with Emma – our Chairman Willie Mackie took on her role in the kitchen!

Willie has been trying out apprenticeships all day. First at the Ayr campus where he became an aeronautical engineering apprentice, and then at Cecchini’s where he became a chef for the afternoon.

Tomorrow we’ll be finishing our Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 themed blog posts with Willie talking about his time as an apprentice.

But first, here’s Emma!


Original interview published on 22 May 2015 

Emma is coming to the end of her second year as an apprentice where she has been attending 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.

Emma 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 bring in here.”

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.”

Managing Director 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.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that Emma goes to college. I did the same years ago. It was a great basis 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 has 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 Anthony watch the video.


Update one year on

Emma is now in her third year of the modern apprenticeship and is continuing to develop her career at Cecchini’s.

Asked, almost one year on, if she has noticed a significant progression within the kitchen Emma said “Definitely! As you spend more time in the business you learn more things.

“I’m now a Junior Sous Chef, which means I take care of orders to the restaurant and also take charge of the kitchen whenever the Head Chef and the Sous Chef are not in.

“My plan is to continue my apprenticeship, staying on with Cecchini’s and hopefully I’ll work my way up and see where it takes me.”

On Ayrshire College Chairman Willie Mackie joining her for an afternoon shift, Emma said…

“He did well, I think Cecchini’s would hire him!

“It was nice to be able to pass on what I’ve learnt to someone else. You know what somebody new to this is going through – the kitchen can be tough. But he was good!”