Guest post – Emma Bolger on tackling gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeships

Emma Bolger is National Training Programmes Equality Adviser at Skills Development Scotland where she focuses on equality in Modern Apprenticeships, particularly for young women.

We asked Emma to tell us a bit about her job. Here’s what she had to say.

My job is to challenge the belief that there are ‘jobs for boys’ or ‘jobs for girls.’ That’s why it is great to be supporting the Equality Challenge Fund project at Ayrshire College – a positive, dynamic and inspiring campaign aimed at increasing the interest of girls and women in science, technology and engineering apprenticeships, and targeting gender balance in these sectors.

Why focus on women?

I am often asked the question ‘Why does the focus always seem to be on women?’ There are three reasons.

First, in relation to gender, certain sectors recruit more men than women and vice versa. The lower take up of roles in some sectors, by either gender, is known as occupational segregation.

Secondly, women take up fewer places on Modern Apprenticeships in sectors in which the greatest investment is made in training (and attract a higher salary on completion) such as engineering, meaning young women receive less government funding when embarking on their career journey.

This is unfair.

Thirdly, the focus is also primarily on women because of another aspect of occupational segregation – the low number of women progressing to senior roles in all sectors.

The good news is the picture is changing.

Our aim is to tackle the gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeships through work with partners such as colleges. Through positive action projects and awareness raising activity, Skills Development Scotland and partners like Ayrshire College will continue to address lower uptake on national training programmes like apprenticeships and play our part in improving labour market equality.

We want to see a large increase in the number of females applying for and undertaking apprenticeships in traditionally male dominated areas. This is one of the targets in our Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships.

We also hope to increase the number of men taking up careers traditionally considered for women, and welcome other campaigns that Ayrshire College is leading like Men into Care and Man in the Mirror.

Equality Challenge Fund – Ayrshire College videos

Ayrshire College’s Equality Challenge Fund project aims to change perceptions about engineering and ICT amongst young women by raising awareness of the rewarding career options available and what apprentices actually do in the workplace.

The hashtag #WhatIActuallyDo is used to convey a day in the life of a female STEM apprentice. Women and men are seen working in teams together in high quality videos that show careers in STEM to be what they really are – exciting, dynamic and full of opportunity for all.

I was delighted to join Ayrshire College Chair Willie Mackie, Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith and Business Development Director Stuart Millar at Spirit Aerosystems to launch the video series, and to meet Anna Manson, one of the apprentices featured on the videos.

You can watch all of the videos here –

The Ayrshire College Equality Challenge Fund project will be celebrated at a major national event later this year.

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

Guest post – STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith on Scottish Apprenticeship Week

Grahame Smith is the General Secretary of the STUC, a Skills Development Scotland (SDS) Board Member and the Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) National Group link member for Ayrshire.

In this guest post, Grahame shares his views on the value of apprenticeships to young people, employers and the economy.

From its inception six years ago, Scottish Apprenticeship Week has offered a platform for all those with a shared interest in the success of apprenticeships to celebrate the benefits they bring to individuals, organisations and the Scottish economy.

However, the week has become much more than a just a celebration. It has provided the spark for many young people to consider pursuing a Modern Apprentice (MA) as a meaningful career choice and, for many employers, the catalyst for recruiting an apprentice.

More and more young people are seeing earning and learning as a genuine alternative to continuing in full time study, and more employers are seeing the business benefits of hiring and training apprentices to meet their skills needs.

According to SDS’s apprentice employer survey, 75% of firms believe apprentices improved their productivity; 71 per cent that they improved product service or quality; and 72% that employing apprentices improved morale.

Across Ayrshire during the last full year (2014-15) there were 1,976 Modern Apprenticeship starts. By 2021, the number of Modern Apprenticeships funded by the Scottish Government through SDS will increase from 25,000 to 30,000 starts each year. The opportunity this offers will only be realised if that commitment is reciprocated by employers and industry partners including, amongst others, colleges and the trade unions.

The task at a local level of encouraging and supporting more employers, particularly small and micro businesses, to engage with our schools and colleges and to take on apprentices has been offered to employer-led regional groups being established across Scotland. A recommendation of the Wood Commission on Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, on which I served, these group are now beginning to emerge. I am excited by the enthusiasm and commitment of the new DYW Ayrshire group and look forward to supporting its efforts in my role as both the DYW National Group link member for Ayrshire and a member of the SDS Board.

A key challenge for all committed to MAs is to increase access to apprenticeship opportunities. In December 2015, SDS launched its Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland. This five-year plan sets out the action SDS and partner organisations will take to address gender imbalances in the MA programme, as well as the low numbers of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds or with disabilities or leaving care starting an apprenticeship.

Redressing gender imbalances in apprenticeships, for example females in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) related jobs, is part of the plan. This, amongst other things, will be supported by SDS’s Equality Challenge Fund. The fund is aimed at innovative projects involving equality partners, charities, colleges, training providers and employers to get more young people from under-represented groups onto Modern Apprenticeships.

These projects are already having an impact across the country.

One, led by Ayrshire College, is changing perceptions about engineering and ICT among young women. There are rewarding careers to be found in both industries, so it’s no exaggeration to say that this project could be life-changing for the young women participating and crucial to the future of companies in these sectors currently struggling to find the skilled workers they need.

An MA is often a young person’s first real experience of the workplace and it is essential that it’s a positive one. That’s not just about the quality of the training. It is also about the quality of the workplace environment, and the terms and conditions under which they are expected to work. Some apprenticeship pay rates are unacceptably low and with travel and other costs to consider, a prospective apprentice might be turned off from a work-based training opportunity that otherwise would benefit them, the employer and our economy.

Ultimately, it’s down to employers to play their part. Many do and the support is there from SDS, from Ayrshire College and from the DYW Ayrshire group being managed by the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce to help many more. They have to provide the opportunities and, in return, they will get motivated young people with new ideas, enthusiasm and the talent they need to help them realise their business ambitions.

Apprenticeships key to developing Ayrshire’s young workforce 

It’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 – a nationwide campaign celebrating apprenticeships. At Ayrshire College, we promote apprentices throughout the year by featuring case studies on our website, our blog and our e-zines. Scottish Apprenticeship Week is another opportunity to demonstrate the rewards of taking on an apprentice to companies who haven’t yet done so.

Vice principal Jackie Galbraith describes our commitment to apprenticeships and highlights what you can look forward to throughout the week.

 Last year, we demonstrated our commitment to Developing the Young Workforce by continuing to stimulate demand amongst employers and increase our support for Modern Apprenticeships (MAs).

A total of 805 MAs undertook training at the college in 2014-15; 507 through our contract with Skills Development Scotland (SDS), and 298 sub-contracted by industry bodies like the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB). Most of the apprenticeships we support are in engineering and construction. Nine out of every ten of our apprentices are aged between 16 and 24, and over 80 percent are undertaking Level 3 apprenticeships. The number of new MAs we started in 2014-15 was up 14 percent on the previous year – a sign that employers are willing to take on apprentices if they are relevant, high quality and fulfil a business need.

In May 2015, Education Scotland carried out a review of off-the-job training for engineering Modern Apprentices supported by Ayrshire College. They awarded grades for six high-level questions on the themes of outcomes and impact; service delivery; and leadership and quality culture. We were awarded four Excellent and two Very Good grades for the high quality of our apprenticeship delivery. About the success rate if apprentices, the report stated:

“In most areas, rates are significantly higher than the national average of 75%, and withdrawal rates are very low. Progression by apprentices onto level 3 programmes (on-the-job training) is 100%, with attainment rates of 86% for completed MAs.”

This high quality also applies to our delivery of the education component of the MAs we train for industry bodies. For example, according to the CITB, while the average performance rating for providers delivering CITB Apprentice Programmes is 75%, Ayrshire College’s performance rating is 92.3%.

High quality STEM apprenticeships, and vocational courses at school, college and university are vital to the ambitions of the recently published manufacturing action plan, A Manufacturing Future for Scotland.

We have a great week of activity lined up for Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 including –

  • New video case studies of apprentices in companies like Spirit Aerosystems, Hyspec Engineering, Woodward and GSK
  • Daily posts on our blog highlighting how apprentices are supporting industry sectors central to Ayrshire’s economy
  • Guest blog posts from STUC General Secretary Grahame Smith and Skills Development Scotland’s Equality Adviser Emma Bolger

During this year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week we are focusing on three themes –

  1. Tackling gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeships
  2. Making your business our business
  3. Developing the young workforce in Ayrshire.

Tackling gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeships 

One of the key objectives in our Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, an ambition set out in more detail in our Outcome Agreement for 2015-16. Our commitment to this was acknowledged by Education Scotland which said “the college is taking positive action to address the need to recruit more females into engineering apprenticeship programmes and is involved in a number of initiatives to progress this.”

In 2015, I was a member of the Scottish Funding Council’s gender steering group, which contributed to the interim Gender Action Plan for colleges and universities, published on 22 February 2016. The Scottish Government has invested £1.5 million over two years to enable the Scottish Funding Council to pursue a range of enhanced opportunities for young people, including a programme of equality projects. Supported by the funding, we have planned a range of activity which we will update you on throughout the year via our blog and other media.

Last year, SDS published an Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland to improve the participation of under-represented groups. As part of this, they introduced an Equality Challenge Fund aimed at innovative projects to get more young people from under-represented groups onto Modern Apprenticeships. A project led by Ayrshire College aims to change perceptions about engineering and ICT amongst young women. On Tuesday Willie Mackie, the Chair of the college, will visit apprentice Anna Manson at Spirit Aerosystems with Emma Bolger from SDS to launch our new video series funded by the Equality Challenge Fund. Look out for Anna’s video and Emma’s guest post on our blog this week.

Making YOUR business our business

In partnership with the Ayrshire Engineering Alliance, we are hosting a skills conference for employers on Thursday to demonstrate how the college makes it our business to support the skills needs of employers.

 Also on Thursday, college Chair Willie Mackie will become an apprentice for a day – an aeronautical apprentice in the morning and a hospitality apprentice in the afternoon. You can find out how Willie got on in our blog on Friday.

Throughout the week, college staff will be supporting a range of events across the region organised by East, North and South Ayrshire councils.

Fittingly, Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2016 rounds off in Ayrshire at a business conference hosted by Team North Ayrshire and at the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner. The college is a strategic partner in each of these important employer networks, and we are working hard to support the skills needs of the hundreds of businesses which will participate in these events.

Developing Ayrshire’s young workforce

Last year, we worked with Skills Development Scotland to pilot an engineering foundation apprenticeship and you can read about the experience of one of these senior phase pupils on our blog. As part of our programme of high quality vocational provision for senior phase pupils, we will be offering a range of Foundation Apprenticeships to young people in Ayrshire’s secondary schools from August.

Vocational qualifications are richer when they are accompanied with high quality, relevant work experience. The DYW Ayrshire regional group was launched in October to improve the relationship between schools and employers, and equip young people with the skills and attitudes to help businesses prosper.

The college is an important partner in the DYW Ayrshire group. The Chair of the group is industry leader and college board member Jim English, who is General Manager at Hyspec Engineering, and I have the privilege of being Vice Chair. Jim’s commitment to developing his company’s young workforce is demonstrated in one of our new videos which features one of Hyspec’s apprentices, Megan.

Finally, as one of Ayrshire’s largest employers, we at the college also want to invest in our young workforce and we will be recruiting two apprentices in the next few weeks – one in ICT, the other in digital marketing. These are fantastic opportunities for young people in Ayrshire and we will share their apprenticeship journey on our blog throughout the year. 


Celebrating LGBT+ History Month

In celebration of LGBT+ History Month 2016, Ayrshire College’s Equality and Inclusion Officer Sara Turkington has agreed to share her thoughts with us.

Sara has been instrumental in organising a number of important LGBT+ initiatives through her work at Ayrshire College and as the College’s representative on the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group.

Thanks to her efforts, and the efforts of the Equality and Inclusion team, the Ayrshire College Student Association and the aforementioned Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, Ayrshire College received award nominations in the Equality Initiative of the Year category at Equality Network’s LGBTI Awards 2015.


Growing up my heroes were male or teenage mutant ninja turtles – they certainly weren’t gay.

Born in 1982, and with a tomboy persuasion, my family TV was always tuned into programmes like the A-Team, MacGyver, He-Man and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I also spent hours practising ‘that kick’ from the Karate Kid. They were my heroes because, well, they were heroes. They always defeated enemies or overcame hurdles; MacGyver had the brains and He-Man had the brawn. And they almost always saved or won the girl or had a female companion who wasn’t quite as strong or as clever as them.

Okay, there was Princess She-Ra, twin sister of He-Man, but, for me, she still embodied powerful cues about what it meant to be female. Let’s face it, Princess She-Ra was like a really strong Barbie – blonde, thin and immaculate at all times.  Honestly, I was happy being a tomboy. Being a girl? No thanks. These characters taught me that.

33 years on, the undercurrent of heteronormativity which also accompanied these TV programmes still arguably exists in some form or another and permeates throughout all aspects of our everyday lives. I didn’t realise it when I was younger, but now I know that ‘who’ I am in terms of both my gender and sexual orientation weren’t portrayed as ‘good’ or ‘desirable.’ And that was difficult.

Times have changed, I don’t doubt that. But I am not a young person who has to contend with having language like ‘that’s so gay’ said to them or around them in their most frequented spaces such as school or college. In 2014, for example, Stonewall Scotland’s ‘The teacher’s report’ found that 91% of secondary staff in Scottish schools hear pupils use expressions like ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’.

Such acceptance of this language does not betray the fact it is homophobic – irrespective of how it is meant or whether or not it is directed at someone who is gay or lesbian.

We all have a responsibility to challenge this, especially those of us working in the education sector when we know gender and sexual orientation are still major factors in determining or at least most certainly impacting upon educational experience.

Having first started working in education almost 10 years ago, I never imagined I would become a champion of LGBT+ equality. I am immensely proud to be part of a college which takes LGBT+ inclusion very seriously.


We, for the first time in Ayrshire, with our partners in the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, held LGBT Conversation Cafes in our Ayr, Kilmarnock and Kilwinning campuses in February 2015.

Having grown up and lived in North Ayrshire for most of my life, I knew how significant these cafes were in bringing people together to discuss and make better the experiences of LGBT people living, working or studying in Ayrshire.

As I introduced the Café at Kilwinning campus, I saw faces who, I believe, wanted to make a difference to the lives of LGBT people. These were the faces I wanted to see when I was younger; the faces who would have told me it was okay to be gay.

The Cafes told us that the education sector as a whole, despite some examples of good practice across Ayrshire, was still a difficult experience especially schooling education.

The College was marked out as being a more supportive environment in comparison, however key points were still raised about the visibility of LGBT role models, the availability of LGBT literature and a more confident staff team equipped with the knowledge and skills to support LGBT students.

Since then, we have been proactive in addressing these and I am especially pleased that we continue to be innovative in achieving many firsts; a trans awareness webinar on GLOWTV, a non-binary webinar on both GLOWTV and College Development Network (CDN) and LGBT student forums to name a few.


We are also developing ever stronger relationships with our local schools such as Kilwinning Academy.

Recently myself and Oceana from Scottish Transgender Alliance (STA) facilitated LGBT+ training to Kilwinning Academy’s teaching staff.  This was not only personally an important moment but one too which demonstrated the College can positively support others in being LGBT+ inclusive environments with the effects potentially felt much wider in the local communities of Ayrshire.  I thank Kilwinning Academy for this opportunity as well as their determination to successfully support their LGBT+ pupils and staff.

Our commitment to the wider community will also further be demonstrated in the upcoming ‘Translating LGBT+’ Conference on Monday the 29th of February.

With all 100 attendees’ spaces now taken, the College as a member of the Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group, have achieved yet another first – an LGBT+ conference in Ayrshire. And so whilst I may channel my childhood heroes on the day as I co-facilitate one of the workshops, I will be proud to be female and gay knowing that real heroes celebrate diversity and promote acceptance, understanding and tolerance of all.


The Ayrshire LGBT+ Development Group is a multi-agency partnership of Ayrshire College, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, East, North and South Ayrshire Councils, Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Third sector organisations, including Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), Break the Silence and LGBT Youth Scotland.  The group work together to improve the experiences of LGBT+ people living, working or studying in Ayrshire.