Guest post – Elma Murray on the economic vision for North Ayrshire

Elma Murray was appointed Chief Executive of North Ayrshire Council in 2009. Over the last seven years she has dedicated herself to work with councillors to transform North Ayrshire into one of the top performing councils in the UK.

With a local government career spanning more than 33 years she is passionate about public sector services and their vital role in supporting local people, businesses and the most vulnerable in our communities.

In this guest post, Elma shares describes the economic vision for North Ayrshire.

The key to all successful teams and organisations is pride, team work and unity. Of course other factors like leadership, skill and innovation are important, but it makes things a lot easier if everyone is working together.

That’s very much my mantra at North Ayrshire Council and I’m very lucky to have inspirational and passionate staff who set high standards for themselves and their colleagues.

Our services have different remits and responsibilities. But in the broad sense we are all working hard to change the perception of North Ayrshire and to make it the best place possible to live and grow up in.

And that UNITED approach is at the heart of our fresh approach to North Ayrshire’s economy.

On Friday 4 March at the Waterside Hotel in West Kilbride, we held a Business Conference – featuring a range of partners from the public, private and voluntary sectors – to celebrate our successes and, more importantly, to share our vision for the future.

Our strategy to growing our economy in North Ayrshire is unique. It is based on partnership from across the breadth of the public, private and voluntary sectors.

We set up Team North Ayrshire just over two years ago. Team North Ayrshire consists of key leaders from the public, private and voluntary sector who have committed to helping drive business growth in North Ayrshire.

This support network offers greater collaboration, a single point of contact and more flexible support programmes to North Ayrshire businesses.

Already we are seeing some really positive results. In the last two years those claiming unemployment has fallen by 41% and our employment rate has risen from 60% to 65%.

Our approach is going from strength to strength. We have worked hard with our partners and businesses to make a fantastic start on tackling the barriers to sustainable economic growth in North Ayrshire, and building a more resilient economy.

It has given us a much firmer platform to build from and allowed us to set ourselves realistic and ambitious aims.

I spoke about these at length during the Business Conference. In general terms these are:

  • To ensure North Ayrshire has the most improved economy by 2025
  • All sections of the community aspire to achieve and benefit significantly from economic growth
  • To have a seamless partnership, creating local wealth and health with our businesses and local communities
  • The best support environment for businessi in Scotland.

We need to continue to listen to our local business people and communities and then play our part in creating the best environment for them to flourish.

I just need to look over the water to Arran to give myself a quick reminder that we are gifted with some of the best natural assets in Scotland.

I know we have the best people and I’m excited about our potential to create the best infrastructure and climate to attract new investment to this area for everyone’s benefit.

The Council, and our partners, are all absolutely committed to making North Ayrshire the ‘place to be’ for business, residents, and visitors.


Ayrshire College is committed to tackling gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Here is a summary of some of our recent work on this and what’s coming next.

During Scottish Apprentice Week 2016 we featured stories on our blog from female apprentices working in Ayrshire. We are sure that their stories will inspire other young people to consider a career in engineering and science.


On International Women’s Day 2016, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP visited Ayrshire College to launch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film. The video was the brainchild of the college’s inspirational Student President Angela Alexander, and features 22 female students and apprentices forging careers in science, technology and engineering.

Today is the start of British Science Week which runs from 11-20 March. It’s an exciting programme of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) events and activities across the UK for people of all ages.

British Science Week provides another great platform to raise awareness of exciting careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and a great opportunity to launch our newest campaign – #WhatIActuallyDo.

Meagan Forrest 3

Supported by funding from the Skills Development Scotland’s Equality Challenge Fund, the #WhatIActuallyDo campaign aims to improve the perception of careers in STEM by school pupils. We aim to dispel myths about what jobs in the industry actually are and raise the aspirations of young women to seek apprenticeships within the sector.

We’ve been working with employers to showcase young female apprentices and find out what they actually do in their jobs. We’ve created ‘a day in the life’ videos of apprentices from Spirit Aerosystems, Hyspec Engineering, Woodward and Ryanair – as well as interviews and blog posts giving us an insight into why they chose this career and what they love about their job as well as their hopes for the future.

You can access all of these videos here:

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP on #ThisAyrshireGirlCan

On International Women’s Day 2016 the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, visited the Kilwinning Campus of Ayrshire College to launch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan film. The video was the brainchild of the college’s inspirational Student President, Angela Alexander, and features 22 female students and apprentices forging careers in science, technology and engineering.

Here is what the First Minister said to the 100 Ayrshire primary and secondary school pupils and students who attended the film premiere.

It’s fantastic to join so many other Ayrshire girls to celebrate International Women’s Day, and to launch this hugely worthwhile initiative.

And thanks also to Abbie and Adele, for providing such great role models of young women in science. There are many others. Last year’s modern apprentice of the year for the whole of Scotland was Laura Black, who is an engineer for BAE systems on the Clyde. 12 of the 18 Science Festivals in Scotland are run by women. I’m fortunate enough to meet excellent female apprentices, researchers, employees and managers on visits to colleges, universities and factories across Scotland.

They follow a distinguished history of women in science in Scotland. You might have seen that the Royal Bank of Scotland recently decided to put Mary Somerville on its new £10 banknotes. She was a nineteenth century astronomer from Jedburgh, whose work was very influential in leading to the discovery of planet Neptune. She now has a crater on the moon named after her.

But despite that history, and the many modern examples and role models we see in Scotland, women are still seriously underrepresented in science and engineering. For example in Engineering and Energy related modern apprenticeships last year, 96% of new starts were male.

That’s not a reflection of any lack of talent or ability. It’s a reflection of the fact that there are incredibly talented and resourceful girls and young women who for some reason – whether it’s the advice they receive, the stereotypes they see in the media, or the role models they have available to them – decide not to choose subjects and careers they’re very well suited to.

That limits their opportunities as individuals. And it also holds Scotland back as a nation.

It’s worth thinking about some of the work in Scotland which depends on science, technology, engineering or maths. The engineering work required to complete the new Queensferry Crossing over the Forth; the research taking place into offshore wind, wave and tidal power in Scotland; the developments in life sciences being pioneered in educational research facilities and in manufacturing plants; the work of our digital media and hi-tech companies.

The people who are working on those projects are boosting our economic growth, and they’re also making a big difference to people’s quality of life.

For example I visited the Glaxosmithkline plant at Irvine two weeks ago. The expansion of the facility there will apparently enable them to produce antibiotics for an additional 100 million patients every year. Being involved in that, or in energy research, or in manufacturing, is an incredibly worthwhile thing to be doing.

So we need many more talented people to go into these areas in the future.

And we want half of them to be young women. Scotland won’t be as successful as it can be, if we continue to underuse the talent and potential of half of our population.

That’s why the Scottish Government has supported the Careerwise programme – which encourages women to take up modern apprenticeships in careers related to science, technology, engineering and maths, and which offers female undergraduates high quality work placements.

It’s also why tackling gender segregation is an important part of our implementation plan for developing Scotland’s young workforce.

And it’s why I’m delighted to support this initiative. No girl in Ayrshire – or anywhere else – should be put off from their ambitions by preconceived ideas.

It’s important that everyone understands that you can study science, technology, engineering and maths. You can take up jobs in in medical research, energy or aeronautics, and in digital media. For science and for engineering – as for any area in life – if you have the ability, and if you work hard enough, you can achieve your dreams.

And by doing that, you can have a great career, and you can make a positive difference to the world around you.

That’s the message that this video is designed to put across. It’s one which is well worth supporting. So I commend Ayrshire College for launching this initiative. And I wish all of you all the best for the future.

Watch the #ThisAyrshireGirlCan video

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!