Your Voice, Only Louder!

On 16 June 2020 West Lothian College’s Board of Governors said farewell to our Student President and Vice President, Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds, who had just completed a two-term period of office.

Board members thanked Michelle and Gemma for their contribution to improving the quality of our students’ learning experience, for the support they had given to students experiencing poverty and mental health challenges, and for their contribution to Board meetings.

Michelle and Gemma took up their paid sabbatical posts at the same time I started as principal at the college in August 2018, and it has been a great privilege to work with such passionate and hard-working advocates of our students. It is impossible to sum up their significant achievements in a few paragraphs but I’ll try.

One of the things that stands out most for me was their commitment to acting on behalf of our most vulnerable students and initiating a range of measures to support them. The work they did to promote better mental health and wellbeing through initiatives like a welfare hub that provided hygiene products, personal care services and advice, a reduced-price breakfast and free soup and a roll, and arranging support from local mental health charities made a huge difference to the students who benefitted from these.

A highlight in 2020 was the campaign to tackle mental health stigma that they designed and delivered in partnership with social care lecturer Marion Darling and construction lecturer Bajiter Pall. Over 1,000 students took part in a wonderful awareness-raising event at which college staff and partner organisations offered advice and services.

Another significant achievement was the work they did through SPARKLE, our Student Association’s evaluation tool to engage students in assessing the quality of their college experience. Through this, they developed excellent relationships with lecturers, managers and support staff across the college with the objective of acting on student feedback. The improvements that arose from this are too many to mention, although it is worth noting that feedback from this process was instrumental in improving access to wi-fi and upgrading computers in classrooms.

Their work in building a strong team of volunteer ambassadors to act on behalf of our students through the SPARKLE process led to our Student Association being recognised by the National Union of Students (Scotland) as College Student Association of the Year in 2019.

Michelle and Gemma have left a significant legacy at the college. Student success increased over the two years and evaluative feedback from the Student Association contributed to that. Another highlight for me was how they worked in partnership with staff to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and the central role they played in our college being awarded LGBT Charter Silver Status in June 2019.

I am delighted (but not surprised) that Michelle and Gemma secured full time jobs just before their sabbaticals came to an end. What a testimony to their talent, experience and skills!

Michelle is now working with West Lothian Women’s Aid and Gemma with Loretto Care. I know they will excel in their roles and I’m sure that their new employers will realise very quickly just how great they are!

The voice of students matters, and an effective Student Association in a college is essential in making sure this voice is heard. But being heard is not enough. That voice needs to influence and shape college decisions on resources, delivery of learning and teaching, etc.

Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds achieved this. They more than delivered on the vision of the West Lothian College Student Association — to be the voice of students, only louder!

Growing and Diversifying the Early Years and Childcare Workforce

In the week before the country closed down due to the coronavirus, I spoke at a Scotland Policy Conferences Keynote Seminar on 12 March on Growing and Diversifying the Early Years and Childcare Workforce. The aim of the event was to discuss how to achieve the Scottish Government’s planned expansion of funded hours in childcare to 1,140 hours for all 3 and 4 year olds, and eligible 2 year olds by August 2020.

I was invited to provide a college perspective on how we are helping to achieve the government’s expansion targets. I illustrated the contribution of colleges by describing the partnership approach between West Lothian College and West Lothian Council. 

On 30 March, the Scottish Government announced that to enable local authorities to focus on their response to the coronavirus pandemic they will no longer be legally obliged to deliver 1,140 hours of funded childcare from August 2020.

Colleges are essential to delivering the expansion of the early years workforce

Scottish Government funded early learning and childcare is available to all three-and four-year-olds and eligible two-year-olds. Currently, 600 free hours are provided to each child per year. This was planned to increase to 1,140 hours from August 2020.

Colleges have already played a fundamental role in delivering the skilled workforce required to meet rising childcare places. This is shown very clearly in the following chart from Audit Scotland’s recent Early learning and childcare follow up report. As well as college enrolments, colleges deliver almost all foundation apprenticeships, many modern apprenticeships, and a large number of SVQs to employees in early years settings.

Growing the Workforce

Colleges have a long history of successfully delivering industry-relevant courses and producing work-ready graduates dedicated to giving children the best start in life. Colleges are able and ready to provide the current and future workforce with training, reskilling and upskilling to support the expansion.

To illustrate this in a local context, West Lothian Council currently employs 1,085 people in 64 early learning and childcare settings, and requires an additional 100 practitioners to deliver the 1,140 hours. A critical success factor in developing West Lothian’s workforce is the strong partnership working between the council’s early years development team and the college.

To support this growing demand, West Lothian College has increased the number of HNC Childhood Practice students from forty to over a hundred each year over the past five years.

The college provides a range of full and part time pathways for those not ready for HNC study including Social Care: Children and Young People Foundation Apprenticeship (Level 6) and Skills for Work Early Education and Childcare (Level 5) aimed at senior school pupils, Preparation for Childcare (Level 4), National Certificate Childhood Practice (Levels 5 and 6) and Men into Early Years (Level 6).

Childminders will be critical in delivering 1,140 hours of funded early years and childcare provision, giving parents more choice as they select the provider that best meets the needs of their family.

Building on strong links with the local Scottish Childminding Association, the college has provided play sessions for childminders and their minded children, which have been organised and led by students. These sessions offer a unique opportunity for childminders, students and lecturers to interact.

A pilot programme of work placements for HNC Childhood Practice students in the homes of childminders was very successful and the college hopes to develop this model further as the potential for childminders to deliver funded early learning and childcare widens.

West Lothian Council and West Lothian College will continue to support childminders’ professional development through a planned programme of networking and training opportunities.

At a national level, the Scottish Childminding Association chose West Lothian College in November 2019 as its preferred SVQ training provider. This endorsement means that childminders across Scotland will be signposted to the college to undertake their SVQ. 

Influencing Curriculum Design

Council practitioners are partners in the college’s curriculum development.

Annual joint planning meetings plan course content to meet the future needs of early years and childcare settings.  Specific units that best reflect the priorities of the local authority are included in courses, for example Supervised Toothbrushing, Paediatric First Aid, and Forest Kindergarten qualifications.

In autumn 2019, West Lothian College created an outdoor forest classroom in the woodland on our campus grounds. It was built using recycled materials like wooden pallets for seating and plastic tarpaulin sheeting for shelter, and features a mud kitchen and fire area.

All lecturers have undertaken the Forest Kindergarten Train the Trainers course, and this has been integrated into students’ courses. The college also enabled council staff to complete this training. Children from early years and childcare settings across West Lothian visit the forest classroom every week, providing excellent opportunities for our students.


West Lothian Council practitioners and college lecturers have access to each other’s professional development training and events. The college hosted the council’s Annual Early Years CPL conference for over 400 practitioners. In August 2019, West Lothian Council held an induction day for 200 newly appointed early learning and childcare practitioners. All HNC lecturers from West Lothian College attended the event, which was designed on the new National Early Learning and Childcare Induction resource.

The college supports the Forth Valley and West Lothian Regional Improvement Collaborative to support practitioners focus on learning and teaching practice that will improve outcomes for children.

All HNC and HND students are invited to interview for the Pupil Support Worker supply list, which means they earn and gain valuable experience while continuing their professional development.

Diversifying the Workforce

As part of the recruitment drive to attract more people to work in early years and childcare there have been significant efforts to encourage more school leavers and more men into the profession.

The Scottish Funding Council is supporting this through the Men in Early Years Challenge Fund, launched by the Minister for Children and Young People in October 2018.  Currently, just 4% of the workforce in Scotland is male and the fund was designed to increase the proportion of men working in early years and childcare.

West Lothian College and Inverness College were awarded funding and used this for pilot projects that focused on increasing applications from male students and retaining those students to complete Scottish Social Services Council registered early years and childcare qualifications. There have been promising results from both projects.

The short film below summarises West Lothian College’s approach to encourage male school students to think differently about careers in early learning and childcare.


While the Scottish Government and local authorities have understandably shelved the expansion for now,  they will reinstate the statutory requirement when the time is right and ensure that all eligible children can access 1,140 hours of high quality early learning and childcare.

Colleges in Scotland, like West Lothian, will be ready to play a vital role in ensuring that there is a skilled workforce to realise this ambition.



Graduation is a special day and I was very privileged to be part of West Lothian College’s 2019 celebrations on Saturday 26 October. Sharing the success of our graduates rounded off a great year for the college. In 2018-19, we had the highest ever number of students and the best student results in over ten years. Here’s my message to this year’s graduates.

Congratulations on achieving your qualification!

Your success rounds off a very good year for West Lothian College. Our job at the college is to develop a highly skilled workforce and, looking at you today, tells me that we’re making great progress on that ambition.

I’m looking out at an audience with the skills, qualifications and knowledge that I know will make a difference to people’s lives, to our communities, and to the economy locally, nationally and internationally.

I see the early years professionals who will support our children in nurseries and primary schools.

I see the care practitioners, future nurses and social workers who will look after us in our communities, hospitals and care homes.

I see sport and fitness advisers who will help us have healthier lifestyles, and hair and beauty experts who will make us feel good about ourselves.

I see business experts and accountants who will become future managers and help run organisations more effectively.

I see artists who will create works of beauty that will inspire us, and events planners who will design events to entertain and excite us.

And I see engineers and technologists who will design, build and maintain the physical and digital infrastructure needed for life in the 21st century.

So, I’m very confident that we’re developing a highly skilled workforce. Every week I hear about the impact of our former students and I’ll share one example.

Last month, we held a major technology conference for 400 students in this same hall. It was sponsored by international tech company, Adobe. So, why did this California-based company give thousands of dollars to a college in Livingston in Scotland? Simple. Because they’re now benefiting from the talent of former HNC Computing graduate, Den Jones, who is their Director of Enterprise Security!

For many of you, sticking in at college and achieving your qualification was only possible because of the support of those around you – your family, friends and fellow students. Your lecturers, other staff at the college, and your Student Association also played a vital role.

Student President Michelle Low, Vice President Gemma Reynolds, and development officer Micole Cochrane did a tremendous job last year. I have never worked with such a caring, hard working and relentless student association team, and wasn’t surprised when the National Union of Students named them Student Association of the Year.

They worked tirelessly on your behalf all year, making sure that I knew about anything that could improve your experience at college. They encouraged you to share your views on what we do well and what could be better, and they shared your feedback with me. As a result, we made lots of changes.

What I hope you’ll take from this is that your opinion counts. What you think matters. Taking the time to tell us what you thought about the college led to real improvements that students this year are benefiting from. I’d encourage you to take every opportunity throughout your life to provide feedback on how to make things better. With the possibility of a general election soon, remember that you can make a difference by taking the time to express your views. You’ve made a difference here, you can make a difference in elections.

Take time out to be proud of yourself and that qualification you now have.

Don’t forget that you were the main reason for your success. You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You managed your way through any difficulties you faced. You kept going even when it got tough.

That determination and staying power should give you confidence in your ability to succeed in whatever you do next.

Today’s graduates are likely to have many career changes throughout their life. That might sound scary, but you can make these changes work for you.

Stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. This will help you get the most out of your career in a fast-moving world. Change will happen – be ready for it and learn to adapt.

Build your networks. Connect with experts on social media platforms like LinkedIn to keep up-to-date with your industry, seek their advice, and get yourself noticed for that dream job.

Build your resilience. Sometimes in life and work things go wrong – a bad boss, a problem at work, a family crisis, ill health. Invest time in keeping yourself mentally strong. This will help you cope with any challenges you face so that you come out of these situations stronger.

Finally, in whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. That way, you will be a better student, a better employee, a better manager, a better person.

Well done and thank you for choosing West Lothian College!

We’d love you to stay part of our family, so please keep in touch and let us know how you are getting on.


West Lothian College — a year in numbers

At this point in the college year, our priority is ensuring our students are settling well into their new courses. If you follow us on Twitter (@westlocoll) you will see many examples of how we’re achieving that.

We also reflect on the year that has just finished to understand how we can continue to improve our students’ experience of college. The following numbers present a high level picture of activity at West Lothian College in 2018-19.

Highest ever number of student enrolments at 8,988, up a thousand over the year

  • 2,171 full time and 6,817 part time enrolments
  • An increasing proportion of our full time students (90%) live in West Lothian
  • Half of our part time students live outside West Lothian

Increasing demand for courses

  • Overall steady demand for full time courses – stable for full time HE (higher education) qualifications, although declining for full time FE (further education)
  • Significantly rising demand for part time courses

Top destination for school leavers in West Lothian

  • 550 out of 1,905 school leavers chose West Lothian College making us the number one destination of all colleges and universities
  • The number of school leavers who chose West Lothian College was almost the same as the total number (552) who moved onto more than ten universities across Scotland
  • 72% of the 763 school leavers who moved onto college chose West Lothian College
  • Of those who didn’t 15% went to Edinburgh College, 4% went to City of Glasgow, 3% to SRUC and 2% to Forth Valley

School leavers represented a quarter of full time students in 2018-19, meaning

  • The majority of full time students were not school leavers
  • One third of full time students were over the age of 25
  • 60% of all students (including part time) are over 25

Increase in work-based learning

  • 1,205 employees in 26 companies in West Lothian took part in 127 courses through the Flexible Workforce Development Fund
  • We delivered over 900 SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications) to employees in 170 companies across Scotland

Continued growth in apprenticeships

  • We had nearly 300 modern apprentices in training, including 145 new starts
  • There were 171 foundation apprentices, including 95 new starts
  • An increasing number of students progressed onto graduate apprenticeships

We trained 2,215 Children’s Hearing Scotland panellists across Scotland

123 students and 34 staff took part in 18 Erasmus visits to 10 countries

Welcoming to all | Students at the centre | Always striving for better

Proud to be an interrupter!

Wednesday 11 September 2019. Remember that date. It marked the beginning of something big in digital in West Lothian.

Over 370 people attended West Lothian College’s inaugural digital festival, Interrupt19. It was the first large-scale digital conference of its kind in Scotland – aimed specifically at college computing students and school pupils who had access to some of the leading digital experts in Scotland just three weeks into their courses!

The other unique aspect of Interrupt19 is that was a festival for students run by students with our HNC Events students responsible for ensuring the event ran smoothly, and our Media and Communications students capturing the speeches and other activities on digital and social media.

Why Interrupt19?

In the computing context an interrupt is a signal to the processor alerting it to a high priority event that needs immediate attention and suspending current activities to deal with that.

So it was with Interrupt19. We suspended normal activity for our computing students on 11 September to allow them to engage with a wide range of industry experts on mission critical topics like cyber security, data science and the internet of things.

We will hold the Interrupt digital festival each year and expect it to grow exponentially. This year our main audience was our computing students, most of whom are studying at HNC level or above. Also attending were senior pupils from local secondary schools and local stakeholders keen to find out more about the impact of digital and data developments on them.

Interrupt19 had an action-packed agenda. Keynote speakers Gillian Docherty, Chief Executive of The Data Lab, Eamonn Keane, Head of Cyber Security at the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, Professor Bill Buchanan from Edinburgh Napier University, Toni Scullion, winner of last year’s Scottish Women in Technology award for secondary education, and Ronnie Corse, Head of Technology at Sky introduced delegates to the world of data and cyber security, and inspired them to take control of their own digital future.

Interactive workshops led by The Turing’s Testers from St Kentigern’s Academy, ethical hackers from Curious Frank, Sky Careers, companies like EyeAcademy and Adarma, Edinburgh Napier University, and Kenji Lamb enabled delegates to find out about emerging technologies relevant to the world today and tomorrow.

Why digital matters and what we’re doing

At West Lothian College we are helping to address the digital skills shortage in Scotland so that as many people as possible can take advantage of the opportunities available now and in the future.

Our digital offer starts with stimulating interest in tech at an early age by running coding events for school pupils. We build on this by delivering computing qualifications like the Software Development foundation apprenticeship to senior secondary pupils.

Recognising the need to invest in the skills of and right facilities for our computing students, this year we launched an extended range of digital courses and a new Cyber Lab. Equipped with high spec state of the art technology this bespoke facility enables our students to develop their skills in an environment relevant to the companies they aspire to work in.

In August 2019, sixty students started our new HNC Cyber Security course. Next year we will offer HND Cyber Security and introduce HNC Data Science. Our successful partnerships with universities like Edinburgh Napier have resulted in many of our computing graduates moving straight into second or third year of relevant degrees. And some of our HND students have secured jobs with companies like Sky who are now sponsoring them through graduate apprenticeships at universities like Heriot-Watt.

Meet our interrupters

West Lothian College has an excellent team delivering our computing courses. They were instrumental in designing Interrupt19 and establishing our Cyber Lab.

Our other interrupters were those on the project team who led on the planning of the event over the past few months – David Torsney, Louise Byrne, Elaine Campbell and Greg Clark.

A big thanks to our sponsors who helped make Interrupt19 such a professional event – Adobe, DYW West Lothian and Entrotec. Our headline sponsor, Adobe, came about as a result of one of our former students, Den Jones, who is now Director of Enterprise Security at Adobe in California.

Den Jones

Daring to be digital and proud to be interrupters!

The theme of this year’s Interrupt festival was ‘daring to be digital’ and that was our call to action to students and school pupils across West Lothian.

Dare to learn, use and harness the power of digital.

But also, care. Care about what you create and strive to do good with digital. Care about the potential dangers and protect yourself and others against cyber threats.

What’s next?

Interrupt19 is just the start. The college will be hosting a range of digital events over the next year to provide further opportunities for our students, staff and stakeholders.

Ada Lovelace Day, 8 October 2019

We will arrange a guest lecture on Ada Lovelace Day to raise awareness of women in tech.

Cyber Scotland Week, 17-23 February 2020

We will arrange an event for students and employers during Cyber Scotland Week. Cyber Scotland Week draws together events across Scotland to showcase innovation, raise awareness of good cyber resilience practice and promote a career within the industry.

DataFest, 9-20 March 2020

We will register to run a fringe event for students and local businesses during DataFest20. DataFest showcases Scotland’s leading role in data science and artificial intelligence on the international stage, and offers a networking platform to interact with local and international talent, industry, academia and data enthusiasts. The DataFest20 Fringe programme supports collaboration through events across Scotland exploring, hacking and debating data innovation.

Interrupt20, 16 September 2020

So, Wednesday 11 September 2019. Remember that date. It marked the beginning of something big in digital in West Lothian.

If you want to join us >>>

If you want to be an interrupter too >>>

Connect with us!


How I got into tech

My life before computers

I never planned to have a career in technology.

At school, I had a wide range of interests and achieved highers in Maths, Chemistry, English, German, Geography, History and Modern Studies. While I went through phases of liking particular subjects, my favourite subject throughout secondary school was English. A career in computing was nowhere on my radar – there weren’t even any computers in schools at the time!

When I was in my final year at school, I bowed to pressure from teachers to apply for university. At the time I was interested in African politics, prompted by the brutal murder of Steve Biko by the apartheid regime in South Africa, so I thought ‘if I’m going to be forced to go to university I’ll study something I’m really interested in and go as far away from home as possible!”

Big mistake!

I went to the University of Sussex to study African and Asian studies but, as I had neither the confidence nor the desire to survive at university and missed home, my stay at Brighton was a short one!

I returned to Scotland and spent the next few years in and out of jobs at a time of economic recession and high youth unemployment. In the mid-1980s, aged 25, I went back to full-time study to do a BSc Computer Information Systems at Glasgow College of Technology.

My husband and I had just had our first child, taken out our first mortgage – just as interest rates began to soar – and we needed to increase our family income. So, my motivations for choosing a computing degree were vocational and financial – it was a growing industry sector and I knew I was likely to get a good job with decent money when I graduated. And I did!

The early signs that I was a techie

Although I didn’t set out to have a career in technology, when I look back to my childhood and early adulthood, the signs were there – but neither I nor my parents and teachers spotted them. Seems like I’ve always had an affinity with technology and gadgets – I just never imagined how that could link to a career! Here is my retrospective detective work on how Jackie ended up in tech.

Late 1960s

When I around seven years old I asked for a ‘modern’ electronic till for Christmas. This was cutting edge technology at the time! I had just started to see them in large shops and was fascinated. You can see from the buttons on the till that this was before decimalisation (basing currency on multiples of 10 and 100). On 14 February 1971 when I was eight years old, there were 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound. The next day the pound was made up of 100 new pence!


I got a tape recorder for my tenth birthday and used it to record family sing-songs, the chart countdown every Sunday on the radio (we couldn’t afford to buy singles), and spending hours asking family and friends “What do you think of polo mints?” (a popular TV advert at the time although I’ve yet to meet anyone who remembers this!) 


When I was eleven, I won a prize for General Excellence in Primary 7. The prize was a book token – worth a mighty 15p! – and the book I bought was ‘The Telephone’, a Ladybird book about telecommunications. Two men were responsible for my interest in telephones – the inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, and my dad who was a telephone fitter. In the 1960s and 1970s, my family moved around Scotland as my dad helped setup telephone exchanges from Lanark to Inverness. Communication is a thread that weaves through my career.

Early 1970s

As a young teenager in my third year at secondary school, I asked for a Chemistry Set and microscope for Christmas. I had chosen Chemistry as one of my O-Grades (older readers will remember these, in later years they were superseded by Standard Grades, Intermediates and now Nationals). I became interested in Physics and did a crash O-Grade in fifth year at school. I started the Higher in sixth year – the only girl in a class full of boys. That didn’t bother me, but my teacher was openly hostile to having a girl in his class. I decided that I wasn’t going to subject myself to his taunts and I left the course. Decades later, I’m still annoyed at myself for letting him win!


In the early 1980s, I campaigned against rising rates of youth unemployment.  I had a talent for designing leaflets but it was becoming a chore to type these on a manual typewriter when it was very difficult to judge the space required for text. I bought a Canon Typestar 5 electronic typewriter which revolutionised how I drafted documents. I could now type a line of text, review it on the 15-digit display (yes, you read that correctly) and make any changes before hitting return to print it onto the sheet of paper! I used this brilliant wee machine to type up essays throughout my degree study. It wasn’t until I worked in industry that I had access to the new personal computers (PCs) which had just arrived on the scene.


A couple of years before I started my computing degree I bought my first computer – a Commodore Plus/4! Fairly radical at the time, I was able to programme in Basic. It even had some rudimentary application software built in, for example a word processor and spreadsheet.

Whirlwind tour of my career 

I started my career in manufacturing at Motorola Semiconductors where I did some programming, supported the computer network and trained staff on packages like Harvard Graphics (Microsoft Office hadn’t yet appeared on the scene!) I wasn’t the best programmer, but my boss described me as a ‘great de-bugger’ (at least I think that’s what he said) because I could spot a misplaced punctuation mark a mile away! My forensic approach to grammar and punctuation served me well here and in my future careers as a lecturer and civil servant!

Next, I worked at AVEX Electronics where I was responsible for introducing and installing a computer network across three sites. This is where I really discovered the power of digital networks, and the potential they opened up for individuals within and outwith an organisation to share information and collaborate on projects.

Designing and delivering training courses to support employees through a major systems change sparked an interest in learning and I applied for a lecturing post at the University of Paisley. Here, as well as teaching about computer networks, I became interested in learning with networked technology and I was an early pioneer of developing online courses.

I took this interest forward when I became director of learning at the Scottish Council for Educational Technology, and assistant chief executive at Learning and Teaching Scotland, where I lead departments responsible for educational software development and technology training courses for schools, colleges and universities.

In 2000, I organised one of the first large-scale educational conferences to be broadcast live online across the world, and managed a project team responsible for implementing the National Grid for Learning (the precursor to Glow) to enable schools across Scotland to access educational resources on the Internet.

I became interested in the policy underpinning education and lifelong learning in Scotland, and developed this further when I joined the Scottish Government in 2003. In my ten years in government most of the roles I had related to skills and employment not technology, although I was responsible for e-learning policy for a couple of years.

I took up a role as vice principal at Ayrshire College in 2013 where I had a wide range of responsibilities which include our management information systems and data analytics. I am now principal at West Lothian College where I see digital as central to almost everything we do.

So, although I’m involved at a different level than when I set out 30 years ago, I’ve kind of come full circle in my career!

Skills for success

The skills that I’ve used most throughout my career are communication, problem solving and managing change. I enjoy innovating and am always looking for better ways of doing things.

Challenges as a woman in a man’s world

I only became aware of gender imbalance in computing when I started my degree, as just around a quarter of my classmates were women. Looking back, I can see that the way the course was delivered by some lecturers (male and female) was geared more towards men. Some lecturers made it obvious that they didn’t think computing was for women.

When I started in the manufacturing industry I noticed that there weren’t many women doing the same sort of job as me. In my workplace I just got stuck into my job and I was only ever really uncomfortable when I went to industry conferences, where I was often the lone woman in a room full of men.

These were lonely places to be.

Sadly, in the ICT and digital sector, this hasn’t changed that much over the past three decades. Proportionately, there are fewer women working in computing now than when I started, and I know from speaking to young female programmers that women still experience isolation in many workplaces.

The good news is that there is a lot of determination to change this and, hopefully, in 30 years time the young programmer I mentioned won’t be telling us that it is still a lonely place for women!

Tips for success in a digital career

Stay interested, keep learning and embrace change! 

If you don’t, it’s unlikely that you will get the most out of your career in the frighteningly fast-moving field like digital technology. Thirty years after I started my learning and career journey in computing, the technology we use today and how we use it is unrecognisable. For example, if you’re under 30, you probably won’t know what these are: 

Build your networks! 

A huge advantage today that I couldn’t even have dreamed of when I started out in my career is the global reach that social media has and how accessible it makes access to experts in your field.

Connect with industry experts on LinkedIn – a great way to keep up-to-date with new developments, seek advice and get yourself noticed for that dream job you’re looking for.

Go to meetups like the ones organised by The Data Lab where you can learn new things in an informal setting over a beer and pizza!

Join professional associations like the British Computer Society and the Institute of Engineering and Technology to connect with people in similar roles.

Seek mentors and support your peers

Engage with mentoring networks which connect students, employers and influencers in the world of tech.

Many of my mentors over the years were men (as I’ve said, there weren’t that many women in IT) and I learned a lot from them. The nice thing is that I know (because they’ve told me) that they learned a lot from me too!

Proud to support PRIDE

On 27 July 2019 nearly 2,000 people took part in West Lothian PRIDE at West Lothian College. 

The college has hosted West Lothian PRIDE festival for five years now and I’m very proud that we are a partner in this important annual event.

I was invited to speak at the rally along with Deputy Council Leader, Kirsteen Sullivan, and James Morton from the Scottish Transgender Alliance. It was really special for me to take part in the event as I was approaching my first year anniversary as principal of the college and we had just recently achieved the LGBT Charter of Rights at Silver level.

The LGBT Charter of Rights is based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Created by a group of LGBT young people and wider stakeholders, the Charter describes basic rights such as the right to be yourself, the right to privacy, be kept safe from harm, and the right to an education – rights that most people take for granted.

Being awarded the LGBT Charter makes a clear statement that equality and diversity are at the heart of West Lothian College. It sends a positive message that our college is a champion of LGBT inclusion where LGBT students, staff and visitors will be safe, supported and included.

At the PRIDE rally, Julia Vidania from LGBT Youth Scotland presented me with the college’s LGBT Charter Award. Joining me on stage for this presentation were our Student President and Vice President, Michelle Low and Gemma Reynolds, and Julia Simpson, the college’s learning and development officer.

Along with students like Becky, Emily, Mark and Calvin who helped set up the college’s LGBT A-Z Club, they have been instrumental in leading a wide range of training, initiatives and awareness raising activities across the college – all of which contributed to determining the level of Charter status we were awarded.



Staff and students at West Lothian College take part in annual events like PRIDE and LGBT History Month. While taking part in these yearly events is important, our rainbow flag flies proudly on our campus all year round, signalling our ongoing commitment to inclusion. We celebrate diversity, promote equality, and challenge hatred and discrimination every day, week and month.

Being awarded LGBT Charter Silver status is a fantastic testimony to the commitment of West Lothian College staff and students.

We know we can do more. We want to do more.

Our aspiration now is to go for Gold and send an even stronger message that we champion LGBT inclusion!



My career – long and winding but no wrong path!

At school I achieved Higher qualifications in English, Maths, Chemistry, German, Geography, History and Modern Studies. I enjoyed all of these subjects but I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left school. In my sixth year, however, I gave in to (well-meaning) pressure from teachers to apply for university.

I wasn’t convinced that university was right for me and thought, naively and a bit stubbornly, if I’m going to be forced to go I’ll go as far away from home as possible and study something that I’m really passionate about!

So, I went to the University of Sussex, over 500 miles away from home, to study African and Asian politics! Why? Because in the late 1970s I was involved in campaigning against the apartheid regime in South Africa to free Nelson Mandela!

However, I had neither the confidence nor the motivation to survive at university. I missed home and my stay at Brighton was a short one! I returned to Scotland and spent the next few years in and out of jobs during a period of economic recession and mass youth unemployment.

After these years of not getting very far, I went back to full-time education to study a degree in computer information systems. My motivation for choosing computing was purely financial – it was a growing industry sector and I knew I would get a good job with decent money when I graduated. And I did!

I started my career in manufacturing at Motorola where I did some programming and supported staff on a range of computer systems. Next, I worked at AVEX Electronics where I installed a new computer network of hundreds of personal computers (PCs) which were just becoming popular in industry.

Designing and delivering training courses for employees on these PCs and a major new manufacturing system sparked an interest in teaching that led to me applying for a lecturing post at the University of Paisley. Here, as well as teaching about computer networks, I became interested in delivering courses using technology and became an early pioneer in online learning.

I took this interest forward when I was director of learning and assistant chief executive at a couple of national organisations (Scottish Council for Educational Technology and Learning & Teaching Scotland) where I led departments responsible for educational software development and technology training courses for staff in schools, colleges and universities.

These roles led to an interest in the policies underpinning education in Scotland, and I took this further when I joined the Scottish Government as a policy analyst in 2003. In my ten years in government most of the roles I had related to skills and employment, for example advising ministers on initiatives to tackle rising youth employment resulting from the economic recession in 2008.

Six years ago I became vice principal at Ayrshire College where I had responsibility for a range of subject areas as well as departments like marketing, quality, business development and information systems.

A year ago today (6 August 2018) I started as principal and chief executive of West Lothian College. The skills and experience I’ve acquired in my long and varied career are being put to good use in this role, and I am very excited about the possibilities for the college in the years ahead.

When I left school I really had no idea what career I wanted. I made a few choices early on that led me down a path I didn’t want to follow. So I changed direction! Throughout my career I’ve chosen a different career path when it felt right for me – so far I’ve had seven major career changes and worked for eleven different employers!

Sometimes it wasn’t obvious – even to me – what the connection between one career and another was. People close to me often thought I was making risky decisions and advised me against them. But I always did what felt right for me and although there were some strange turns along the way none of the paths I chose led to a dead end.

When I look back over my career pathway, my route has been long and winding but there was no wrong path. Every twist and turn, even the occasional dead-end, led to new insights into what drove me and those insights led me to my next destination.

If I went back to the future and keyed my current destination into a career sat-nav when I left school, I’m sure it wouldn’t have suggested the route I’ve travelled. My route was fuelled by my passion for what I was interested in at the time and I wouldn’t change that for the world!


Interrupt19 — Daring to be digital!

At West Lothian College we want to help address the digital skills shortage in Scotland, so that as many people as possible can take advantage of the many opportunities available now and in the future.

It is widely reported that over 12,500 digital technologies job opportunities are created each year in Scotland.

While 40% of people in digital technologies roles work in the tech industry, 60% are employed in sectors like financial services, manufacturing, and healthcare. This shows that digital technologies are increasingly essential to all sectors of the economy. According to tech industry body, ScotlandIS, the number of people working in technology related jobs is growing at a faster rate in non-tech sectors than in the digital technologies industry itself!

We want to enable people, businesses and communities in West Lothian to have the skills to take advantage of these opportunities. Central to that ambition are students on digital and computing courses at the college. Their skills will be vital to enabling companies in every sector of the economy to benefit from developments like Big Data, the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence.

Our digital offer starts with stimulating interest in tech at an early age by running coding events for school pupils. We build on this by delivering computing qualifications like the Software Development Foundation Apprenticeship to senior secondary pupils.

In August we will welcome our first three cohorts of students onto our HNC Cyber Security course and next year we will offer HND Cyber Security. We are embedding data science into all our computing qualifications and aiming to offer HNC Data Science from 2020. These, and the other computing qualifications we deliver, are highly relevant to industry and for progression to degree study. Our very successful partnership with Edinburgh Napier University leads to many of our computing graduates moving straight into second or third year of related degrees at the university.

Recognising the need to invest in the skills of and right facilities for our computing students we are launching a new Cyber Lab in September. Equipped with high spec state of the art technology, this bespoke facility will enable our students to develop their skills in an environment relevant to the companies they aspire to work in.

In the computing context an interrupt is a signal to the processor alerting it to a high priority event that needs immediate attention and suspending current activities to deal with that.

So it is with our Interrupt19 festival – we are suspending normal activity for our computing students on Wednesday 11 September to allow them to benefit from a wide range of industry experts on mission critical topics like cyber security, data science and the internet of things.

We plan to hold the Interrupt festival annually and expect it to grow each year. This year our main audience is over 250 computing students, most of whom are studying at HNC level or above. Also attending will be up to 100 senior secondary school pupils and some local businesses keen to find out more about the impact of digital and data developments on them.

Interrupt19 has an action-packed agenda. Fantastic speakers like Gillian Docherty from The Data Lab, Eamonn Keane from the Scottish Business Resilience Centre and Professor Bill Buchanan from Edinburgh Napier University will introduce delegates to the world of data and cyber security and inspire them to take control of their own digital future.

Interactive workshops led by leading tech contributors like Toni Scullion, winner of last year’s Scottish Women in Technology award for secondary education, and ethical hackers from the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, will enable delegates to try out current and emerging technologies relevant to the world today and tomorrow.

West Lothian College is working hard to help address the digital skills gap — Interrupt19 will help inspire Scotland’s future digital creators.

Welcoming to all | Students at the centre of everything we do | Always striving for better

Investing in our people

On 30 May 2019, West Lothian College moved beyond its existing Investors in People Bronze status to achieve Silver accreditation. 

West Lothian College first achieved Investors in People recognition in 2010 and achieved Bronze status under the previous 5th Generation Framework in 2016.

We use the Investors in People framework to review and improve our people management strategies, and to ensure they have maximum impact on the overall student experience.

There are four levels of accreditation in the current Investors in People 6th Generation Framework – Standard, Silver, Gold and Platinum. I am delighted that we have made progress on our improvement journey by being awarded Silver accreditation.

This demonstrates that we are living our three core values of being welcoming to all, having students at the centre of everything we do, and always striving for better.

It also shows that we are making progress on the aims of our People Strategy to:

  • Attract a highly talented and diverse workforce
  • Enable and drive delivery of the college plan through our people
  • Create a culture in which our people thrive.

The Investors in People framework assesses organisations against the three areas of Leading, Supporting and Improving. Within these areas are nine performance indicators and we are assessed against these indicators using a performance model made up of four levels – developed, established, advanced and high-performing.

The diagram below is the external assessment of West Lothian College. It shows that we are performing at an advanced level on Leading and Inspiring People, and on Building Capability. Our performance for the remaining seven indicators has been judged as established.

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Achieving Silver is a great achievement, and a recognition of the progress we are making against the 9 indicators. It shows that we still have work to do to improve everyone’s experience of working at the college and that is something we will remain firmly focused on.

Investors in People assessments take place every three years and our goal is to achieve at least Gold status in 2022. By doing so, we will demonstrate that we are continuing to strive for better in creating a culture in which our people thrive.


Welcoming to all | Students at the Centre of everything we do | Always striving for better

Ambitious for West Lothian

On 14 March I welcomed 42 guests – including 30 businesses from the private sector as well as national and local stakeholders – to our award-winning Terrace training restaurant to talk about how we can make a difference together.

I started as principal of West Lothian College seven months ago.

Since then, I’ve spent time getting to know staff and students, getting out to West Lothian’s towns and communities, meeting national and local stakeholders, and visiting employers. The dinner was a great opportunity to bring together some of the key influencers in the West Lothian’s business community.

Our vision at West Lothian College is straightforward – we want to help deliver a highly skilled and enterprising workforce. We have big ambitions for the college and believe we can play a vital role in helping people, businesses and communities across West Lothian to be successful.

These are exciting times for West Lothian.

A growing population, growing employment, major developments started in Winchburgh, and new possibilities coming through the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Deal. The college wants to ensure that people have the skills to get the most out of these possibilities. Building on a long history and solid foundations, we are confident we can do that.

Over 8,000 people take part in education and training with the college each year, two thirds on a part time basis. We support hundreds of modern and foundation apprentices, and deliver over 1,000 SVQs (Scottish Vocational Qualifications) in workplaces across Scotland. This year, around 1,800 employees in companies across West Lothian will benefit from training courses through the Flexible Workforce Development Fund. We deliver the third year of Napier University’s business degree at our campus – so far to 300 students over 10 years.

With a growing population and potential for growth in the economy, we want to do more for employers which, of course, will ultimately benefit our students. We need to know what that more looks like – is it more apprenticeships, more short courses, more support for generic skills like management and digital?

We want to make sure that everyone who studies at the college leaves with the skills and qualifications employers recognise and need, so that they can secure jobs that make the most of their talents. To achieve that we need to know more about employers, what skills they need now and what they’re likely to need in the future. Knowing this will help us to ensure that our courses and qualifications reflect industry requirements.

We’re keen to adopt new and more flexible ways of working to fit around employer expectations, so that training is delivered at a place and a pace that suits their needs – whether that’s full or part time courses, apprenticeships, at the college or in the workplace.

Although finances are tight in the college sector, we’re committed to keeping our facilities up to date and relevant so that they are close to what students will experience in the workplace. We’ve made good progress this year. For example, we have set up a simulated hospital ward for nursing and care students, we’ve just bought a hybrid vehicle and safety testing system for students working in the automotive industry, and in August we will launch a new centre for cyber security.

The dinner on 14 March was about recognising the excellent partnerships we have with hundreds of companies in West Lothian. It was also about establishing new relationships. Some of our guests didn’t already work with the college. By the end of the evening I know that everyone was keen to do so.


Award winning students make for an award winning restaurant

On the same day as the dinner, four of our students came top in their categories at the Scottish Culinary Awards in Glasgow – beating students in other colleges, and experienced chefs in the Sheraton Hotel, the RAF, the Royal Navy and Sodexo!

The students who prepared and served the food at the dinner are on a range of courses at the college including Professional Cookery and Hospitality. Events like this contribute to their learning experience and provide evidence for their course assessments. They help our students develop skills that are relevant to the sectors they aim to work in – and their skills speak for themselves!


The college’s training restaurant has received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor five years in a row – making it West Lothian’s most highly rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. We’ve even been awarded a TripAdvisor Hall of Fame Certificate for these five consecutive years of high ratings from our customers – an outstanding endorsement of the high quality of our students and staff!

Welcoming to all  |  Students at the centre  |  Always striving for better

Graduation – a new dawn, a new day, a new life

I started as principal of West Lothian College in August this year.  On Saturday 27 October, I was very privileged and and felt very proud to join 230 graduating students and nearly 700 of their guests celebrate their success at our Graduation Ceremony.

Graduation is one of the most special days in the college year. A day devoted to recognising the tremendous achievements of our students and reflecting on what contributed to their success.

At West Lothian College, we want to inspire everyone who comes to college to reach their full potential. And one of the best ways to inspire others is through celebrating the success of our students. You are our best ambassadors. Your success inspires others in your families, the communities you live in, and the companies you work in.

We’re ambitious for all our students and every day we all work hard to help them progress on to good jobs, apprenticeships or university. I was delighted to read the Scottish Funding Council’s College Leaver Destinations 2016-17 report which shows that our students have the highest rate of positive destinations (97.3%) when they leave college of all other college regions outside of Glasgow, and the lowest rate of negative destinations (1.8%) of all regions.

Giving our students access to opportunities to enhance their learning is a contributory factor in achieving such high positive destinations. For example, last year more than a hundred students went abroad for work placements through a number of international projects.

One of our business students, Katelyn Livingston, won a scholarship to study the second year of her HND Business Management at a college in America. When she returns next year she will study the third year of BA Business at the college and complete the final year of the degree at Napier University.

And this year, some of our HNC Mechanical Engineering students took part in a multi award-winning Malaysian project with Mitsubishi. Being involved in experiences like this builds the confidence, skills and ambitions of students.

Central to our students completing their qualifications successfully are those who support you over the year – family, friends and fellow students.  Also fundamental to your success are the lecturers and all the other college staff who support you throughout your studies.

But the main contributor to your success is YOU.

You did the hard work to achieve your qualification. You managed their way through any difficulties you faced over the year. You kept going even when it was tough. And, having shown that determination, you should be confident in your ability to succeed in whatever next step you’ve chosen.

These days we’re told that graduates are likely to have many career changes throughout your life. That might sound a bit scary but there are things you can do to cope with those changes.

Stay interested in whatever you do, keep learning and don’t be afraid of change. This will help you get the most out of your career in the fast-moving world that we live in. Change will happen, and it’s better to learn to adapt to change and embrace it.

Build your networks. Connect with experts on platforms like LinkedIn, a great way to keep up-to-date with new developments, seek advice and get yourself noticed for that dream job you’re looking for.

Develop resilience and grit. Sometimes in life and work things go wrong – a bad boss, a poor career choice, a problem at work, a family crisis, ill health – physical or mental. Invest time in keeping yourself mentally strong, as this will help you cope with any challenges you face so that you come out of these situations stronger.

Finally, in whatever you do in life, be kind, be fair and treat people the way you want to be treated yourself. That way, you will be a better student, a better employee, a better manager, a better person.

Well done to all of you!

You’ve joined an exclusive club of people in West Lothian – that third of the population with higher education qualifications. Qualifications that are relevant to and sought after by employers in West Lothian and beyond.

Please keep in touch with the college. We would love to hear how you are getting on in whatever you’re doing now. And welcome you back to share your experiences with other students!

Shortening (and Expanding) the Learner Journey

This is the tenth year of West Lothian College’s partnership with Napier University, where we deliver year 3 of the BA Business Management degree at the college, and our students progress to fourth year honours or masters at university. Over 300 of our students have now studied this degree at college.

After graduating with a first class honours degree in June one of our BA Business Management students, Megan Waugh, is now working as a global logistics and supply chain management trainee at Danish multinational, Velux.

After the first year of her HND at college, she spent her second year at Clark College in Washington State. Current HND Business student, Katelyn Livingston, who finished the first year of her HND in June, is now attending Clark College in Vancouver, Washington in the US after securing one of the scholarships offered by West Lothian College. The Scottish Scholarship was awarded to Katelyn after a series of interviews. After a year of study at Clark College, she will return to West Lothian College where she will complete her Business Management degree.

Katelyn has settled into her home for the next year, saying “My experience has been wonderful so far. It’s been a very exciting time with lots happening like orientation, registering for classes and exploring a brand new beautiful city.“

Looking forward to classes starting at Clark College, Katelyn acknowledged the part that West Lothian College has played in getting her to this point after being out of education for some time. “West Lothian College helped me so much when it came to finding a clear path into further education and looking towards a career. It’s not always been easy but my time at college has definitely taught me that hard work pays off.”

When asked what advice she would give to anybody considering a course at West Lothian College Katelyn said, “Absolutely do it! The support, resources and opportunities available to students are great, particularly if you’re like me and returning to college after a few years out of education. If you’re willing to put in the effort the results will be worth it.”

Katelyn is relishing the year ahead and can’t wait to get started. “I feel like it was just a few days ago I sent my application for this opportunity, it’s a little bit surreal that I’m really here. I’m so excited to make the most of my time in US and for my classes to start!”

This long established arrangement between West Lothian College and Napier University is a great example of shortening the learner journey for HN students to achieve a degree, ensuring that there are no costly and demotivating duplicate years.

The scholarship, allowing students to study year two of their HND in America, expands the learner journey in value and experience – but not in time and cost!


This article was based on a case study on West Lothian College’s website.

GE are family!

Tracy Govan, Fraser Wallace, Jamie Hepburn MSP, Stephen McNab, Aiden McIntyre

The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills visited Ayrshire College in July to launch year two of the Flexible Workforce Development Fund. Some of the employers who are taking advantage of the FWDF through the college to develop their workforce came along to share their experiences with the minister. One of these companies is Prestwick-based GE Caledonian, an aeronautical engine overhaul facility providing services for aviation engines and components as well as avionics, electrical power and mechanical systems for aircraft.

GE has worked with Ayrshire College for many years, a relationship which continues to improve with age. As well as taking advantage of the FWDF to train employees, the company has a long track record in developing its workforce through apprenticeships.

Central to the GE approach is Apprentice Leader, Stephen McNab who has grown and extended his apprenticeship family in the past two years to include foundation and graduate apprentices. He brought some of the GE family along to meet the minister – Aiden McIntyre, Aircraft Engine Mechanic, who completed his apprenticeship last year; Tracy Govan who is in the fourth and final year of her apprenticeship; and Fraser Wallace who has just completed his engineering foundation apprenticeship at Ayrshire College.

Thirteen new modern apprentices joined the GE family recently – all recruited from the college’s engineering students. They include Fraser Wallace who completed his engineering foundation apprenticeship in June. Fraser did his work experience with GE and they were so impressed with him that they offered him a contract a year ago! While Fraser could have started his modern apprenticeship with the company last summer, GE demonstrated their commitment to the foundation apprenticeship by encouraging him to complete it in his sixth and final year at school. Fraser is going straight into the second year of the modern apprenticeship because of the skills he developed over the past two years on the foundation apprenticeship.

Tracy Govan is in the fourth and final year of her apprenticeship at GE. Tracy worked in a supermarket for eleven years, before a change in company structure forced her to consider what she wanted to do.  She decided to change her career and do something completely different.  Tracy had always liked being hands-on and learning new things, so she went back to college to do the Performing Engineering Operations course. And, because of the skills she developed at college, she was recruited by GE straight into the second year of a modern apprenticeship!

Ayrshire College’s latest cohort of engineering foundation apprentices benefiting from a visit from GE’s Apprentice Mentor, Gordon (3rd from left)

For GE, it’s not just about the apprenticeship family. GE helps to bring learning to life for our full-time students by arranging for them to see leading edge technology in action in the workplace. They provide mentors for the college’s STEM activity with schools, for example at our Mission Discovery space school programme with senior phase students. And, they are great supporters of our This Ayrshire Girl Can campaign.

Stephen and Gordon, I salute you!

It has been an honour, a pleasure and a great laugh working with you and your colleagues over the last few years, and I look forward to watching your GE family grow from strength to strength.

Colleges at the heart of Scotland’s communities

First published on September 2017 in the Ayrshire College Blog

One of our vice principals was invited to speak to the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on College and Universities earlier this year about how colleges engage with local communities.

The Convener of the Group, Liz Smith MSP, said that the role of colleges and universities in the community had been overlooked in recent years, and that this was an opportunity to bring that role back into focus.

In this post, Jackie Galbraith summarises what she shared with the Cross Party Group.

Communities at the heart of everything we do

As I prepared for my short presentation, I reflected on why I had applied for my current role as vice principal at Ayrshire College four years ago, just as the new regional college was being created as part of the government’s reform of post-16 education in Scotland.

I was clear then about my motivations for wanting to play a role in the college sector.

I’d been passionate about the value of vocational education for over three decades – as a student, in industry, as a lecturer, as a senior manager in national educational organisations, and as a policy adviser in government. I wanted to be part of the college sector that was central to meeting the Scottish Government ambitions for developing the young workforce!

I was delighted to discover that Ayrshire College was the main provider of engineering and construction apprenticeships in the region. I was excited to learn that the college was a centre of excellence in fulfilling the skills needs of a strong aerospace sector. And, I was impressed with how it was responding to employment growth in sectors like care, tourism and digital.

But, there was something else.

Before I started my new job I watched a TedxTalk by the newly appointed principal of Ayrshire College, Heather Dunk, which added another layer to my excitement!

The principal point in Heather’s talk was that the college’s unique selling point was that it cared. Cared for students and cared for communities. She illustrated this by describing the learning journey of two students, Jodie and Lee, who started at the college in the HIVE (Hope, Innovation and Vision in Education), a specialist learning space that provides personalised support for young people who have disengaged from education.

I knew that colleges played an important role in communities, but to see this in such sharp focus was refreshing and energising!

From the outset, community engagement has been in the DNA of Ayrshire College, demonstrated by the time and energy that staff and students allocate to this. A culture of engaging with and supporting communities is embedded across all curriculum areas and embraced enthusiastically by our Student Association who, as well as engaging students in community-based campaigns, raised £14,000 for local charities in the past year alone!

We work collaboratively with the three community planning partnerships (CPPs) in the region and their priorities are reflected in our priorities. Building and supporting working, healthy and safe communities. At the cross party group, I shared some examples of how we are helping to deliver these priorities.

Colleges support working communities

Inclusive growth is defined as “broad based growth that enables the widest range of people and places to both contribute to and benefit from economic success”.

Colleges are critical to making inclusive growth a reality.

Working with local employability partnerships and employers, we build the confidence and skills of people in communities to take advantage of opportunities in economic and jobs growth in sectors like care, hospitality and construction.

We deliver our Ayrshire Hospitality and Bartender course at all of our campuses, in partnership with local employers and JobCentre Plus. Part of Diageo’s Learning for Life initiative, the course fast tracks long-term unemployed young people into jobs by helping them to gain new skills and nationally recognised qualifications. Delivered over a six-week period by the college, the course includes a two week work placement at a hospitality company where young people learn from industry experts. We’ve run 12 courses since 2014 with 146 people taking part. The success is clear – 65% of participants gained hospitality jobs immediately on completion of the course, and 75% within three months of completing.


Working with North Ayrshire Council, we run the Skills for Life programme to support unemployed people into work by helping them develop confidence and skills. In 2016-17, twenty of the first cohort of 24 students progressed into positive destinations including 18 who gained paid employment. The second cohort provided 27 lone parents with six weeks of intensive training at the college before moving into paid placements within North Ayrshire Council.

In partnership with East Ayrshire Council and Jobcentre Plus, we deliver the Me2You programme, where unemployed people take part in a work placement in schools for two days and attend training at the college for two days each week. Over the past two years, Me2You has run four times with a total of 32 participants – 21 have secured jobs and 5 others moved onto a positive destination.

We will continue to run courses like these, customised to local needs, as long as there is a need in Ayrshire’s communities.

Colleges support healthier communities

Some people face multiple barriers to having happy and productive lives. An important aspect of enabling people to secure and sustain employment is helping them improve their physical and mental health.

At Ayrshire College, we work hard to improve the health of our students, staff and the wider community. We have three unique shared posts, funded in partnership with NHS Ayrshire & Arran, PoliceScotland and the three integrated Health and Social Care Partnerships in Ayrshire. Our Addictions Liaison Officer, Campus Liaison Officer, and Mental Health & Wellbeing Liaison Officer deliver workshops on topics like hate crime, alcohol and drug use, domestic abuse, personal safety, mental health and sexual health.

Our contribution to a healthier Ayrshire is most vividly illustrated by the community focus of our sports curriculum. All full-time sport and fitness students volunteer in Ayrshire schools through the Active Schools partnerships in East, North and South Ayrshire. Well received by pupils and their teachers, this provides students with invaluable coaching experience in a real life setting, while increasing the fitness of young people.

Each year our sports students are instrumental in delivering Ayrshire Sportsability’s Festival of Sport, a focal point for disability sport in the region and a highlight for students who coach over 600 young people each year in eight different activities over the four days of the festival.

Our sports staff and students have been recognised at a national level for their campaigns to improve the fitness of local residents, young and old. For example, Get East Ayrshire Active has engaged thousands of shoppers in Kilmarnock town centre to introduce changes to their lives that have significant health benefits to them and their wider community. It provides active travel advice, free health checks, referrals to free fitness classes for children, older adults and families, dietary tips and cooking advice.


Colleges support safer communities

An important aspect of our work in supporting safer communities is helping students to understand and challenge racist, sectarian and homophobic behaviour. For example, this year sports students organised an anti-racism event in partnership with Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS). One Ayrshire – Many Cultures complements Colour of our Scarves, an SDS initiative that tackles discrimination of all kinds in sport and promotes equality.

We work with regional and local Violence against Women partnerships to raise awareness of gender-based violence and 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence is firmly established in the college calendar. Last year our Student Association organised a Reclaim the Night walk which brought students, staff and others together to campaign for the safety of women and girls. Sports staff and students organise an annual Blow the Whistle on Domestic Violence 5-a-side football tournament which raises awareness of domestic abuse and  money for East Ayrshire Women’s Aid to help families.

Caring is a critical success factor

Research shows that there are important links between skills and employability, health and crime. We see that every day in Ayrshire. People’s lives are transformed when they gain hope and confidence through learning new skills. This, in turn, builds aspirations in communities.

As well as having a positive impact on the lives of people in the communities we work with, the College’s culture of engagement and support develops the broader skills of our students who, through their involvement with people of different ages, abilities and cultures become more empathetic, tolerant and employable individuals. Volunteering activities enrich their learning experience, promote active citizenship and help them develop the essential skills required by employers.

So, as well as making a difference to their communities, volunteering makes a difference to the students who take part.

Students like Natasha Kerr, who in 2016 was named Scotland’s Youth Worker of the Year at YouthLink’s National Youth Worker of the Year awards, at which she was also named Volunteer of the Year. Natasha dedicated more than 800 hours last year to volunteering with Kilmarnock Harriers, Catrine Youth Club and East Ayrshire Vibrant Communities where she coached young people in a range of sports. Natasha was offered a place at St Andrew’s University as a result of her achievement in the National Youth Worker awards.


I learned very quickly when I joined Ayrshire College that it is possible to be a world class vocational education provider at the same time as a being a caring, enabling community college breathing life into localities. It’s not about being one or the other – they complement each other.

Regardless of whether a student ends up working as an engineer in a world-leading aerospace company, an early years practitioner, a joiner, a hairdresser, a network support technician or a care worker, what they learn through their volunteering activities and community-based live projects makes them extremely valuable assets to the workforce. We’re developing a young workforce that meets the skills needs of Ayrshire’s economy. Just as important, we are creating a young workforce that cares for its communities and contributes to their success.

Our Principal said in August 2013 that caring was a critical success factor for Ayrshire College. I’m proud to work in a college with staff and students who care so much for our communities. 

Data changes everything!

First published in March 2017 on Ayrshire College Blog

On Tuesday 21 March, 150 people from the private, public and education sectors took part in our Ayrshire Bytes: Data Changes Everything conference at our Kilmarnock Campus. Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith explains why we applied to be part of DataFest17.

We were very proud to have been approved as an official fringe event of DataFest17 – the only one outside the cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. DataFest17 was a week-long festival of data innovation from 20-24 March 2017 which showcased Scotland’s leading role in data on the international stage.

Leading figures from a range of industry sectors shared their views on how data and digital are changing everything we do. They included:

  • Gillian Docherty, chief executive of The Data Lab (the Innovation Centre which organises DataFest) who addressed the theme of the conference by taking us on a journey to 2035 and shared examples of how data will have changed our lives. You can watch Gillian’s fascinating talk here:

  • Brendan Faulds, former chief executive of the Digital Health & Care Institute (the Innovation Centre for health and care) who told the story of health and social care services in Scotland, the part data has played in its past and present, and the role it will play in shaping its future
  • Vicky Brock, chief executive of Clear Returns, who demonstrated how to use data to influence shopper behaviour
  • Richard Millar, senior manufacturing systems engineer at Spirit Aerosystems, who talked about the factory of the future
  • Craig Hume, managing director of Kilmarnock based Utopia Computers, who explained why honesty and openness are key to a more secure digital world.

Developing Ayrshire’s Digital Talent

Our ambition for Ayrshire is to enable its people, businesses and communities to have the skills to take advantage of the potential of digital technologies.

Central to that are students on digital and computing courses at the College, thirty of whom will take part in the conference. Their skills will be vital to enabling companies in every sector of the economy to benefit from developments like big data, the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. The Scottish Government reported this month that an additional 12,800 digital skills roles are needed each year in Scotland. As well as in the digital industry, these jobs will be in sectors of the economy like finance, manufacturing, retail, health and tourism.

These jobs will only be filled if increasing numbers of people choose to develop the skills required and we are working hard to inspire more young people at school to choose courses which develop digital skills. Our hugely successful Coderdojo Ayrshire computing coding clubs for seven to seventeen year-olds have introduced hundreds of primary and secondary age young people to programming and developing apps.

On International Girls in ICT Day on 27 April, in partnership with SmartSTEMs, we are taking our #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to a new level with a Technology Workout for 120 first and second year secondary school girls. As well as hearing from inspirational female speakers, the girls will take part in a wide range of interactive workshops led by industry and take part in our award-winning CoderDojo Ayrshire.

Supported by funding from the Developing the Young Workforce Ayrshire regional group, Ayrshire College has teamed up with Apps for Good, an open source technology education movement, to equip young people to research, design and make digital products and take them to market. Most children are consumers of technology. Apps for Good aims for young people to become makers using technology. Aimed at pupils in third year at secondary school this project will provide a pathway for young people prior to making their subject choices.

For fourth year pupils looking at their options for fifth and sixth year at secondary school the IT: Software Development Foundation Apprenticeship will be delivered in college two afternoons a week from August 2017. Find out more here.

Ayrshire – byte or be bitten

There is no doubt that data and the digital technologies that enable companies to analyse, visualise and act on it are disrupting the way we work, learn and play.

If you would like to speak to us about your digital skills needs, or you would like to support the work we are doing to encourage young people to pursue digital careers, please contact Moira Birtwistle at or Ged Freel at

ADAmant that we will attract more women into STEM!

First published in October 2016 on Ayrshire College Blog

Vice principal Jackie Galbraith shares her thoughts on the importance of recognising and celebrating women in STEM in the past, present and future.

It’s Ada Lovelace Day 2016, and Ayrshire College is ADAmant that we will attract more girls and women into science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM).

This is a key priority for us and we are working with schools, employers and national organisations to raise awareness of opportunities for women in STEM sectors, encourage take-up of STEM courses by girls and women, help students succeed on their courses, and connect female STEM students on different courses across the college, with students in other colleges and universities, and with women in industry.

Many people argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in STEM. There are tens of thousands of high value, high quality jobs in sectors like digital and engineering. Employers don’t just need women to fill these jobs – they WANT them, because of the skills they bring! And, increasingly there are more diverse and equally valued routes to becoming a STEM professional – through college, apprenticeships and/or university.

But, we have a problem.

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. The proportion of young women taking STEM subjects at school, college and university is stubbornly low. And, incredibly, there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in computing and digital technology now than when I was a computing student 30 years ago!

And yet, throughout history, women have played an important role in STEM . However, you need to seek them out! It’s important to recognise women from the past and present to stake our claim in this exciting world. Days like Ada Lovelace Day are about celebrating the pioneering, but often unknown or forgotten, work of women in fields like computing.

Women like Ada Lovelace, the mother of programming born 200 years ago who wrote the first ever computer programme 100 years before computers were even invented! Unlike her mentor Charles Babbage, whose analytical engine was the forerunner of the physical computer, Ada had the vision to imagine that a computer could create images and music, and not just do complicated sums.

Women like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville (soon to be recognised on a £10 bank note), born in 1780 who, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science, is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune. Mary was the young Ada Lovelace ‘s mathematics tutor and mentor.

Florence Nightingale’s infographic

Women like Florence Nightingale, well known for her dedication to injured soldiers during the Crimean War, but less famous for her mathematical ability. Florence’s analysis of large amounts of data, presented graphically ,demonstrated that significantly more men were dying from preventable diseases in hospital than from wounds inflicted in battle. This led to the government allocating funds to improve the cleanliness of hospitals. Hundreds of years before the terms ‘big data’, ‘data scientist’ and ‘data visualisation’ became the latest big things, Florence was a big deal!

It is not just rich, privileged women who have made an impact over the centuries. Jeannie Riley, one of many Glasgow female munitions workers during the First World War, dreamed of becoming an engineer. Sadly, when Jeanie’s husband and other men returned from the trenches in France, the aspirations of women like Jeanie were denied and they had to give up their jobs in industry.

Like Jeannie, American Mary Sherman Morgan dropped out of education during World War II to take a job at a munitions factory. After the war ended, she began working at North American Aviation as an aspiring rocket scientist. In the 1940s, an elite team of mathematicians and scientists started working on a project that would carry the US into space. Eventually becoming NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, what made it unusual was that many of those who charted the course to space exploration were women!

In January 2017, a new film tells the story of African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose calculations helped John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth. Known as computers, these women played a critical role in space exploration.

It is important to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in the past. This is becoming easier with films like Hidden Figures and books like Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

It is even more important to acknowledge and promote women in STEM today. Today’s women in STEM include our own students and staff (click on the links to find out more). They include the STEM ambassadors in schools across Ayrshire, as well as women in STEM industry sectors making an impact on companies in the region.


Tomorrow’s women in STEM are the girls in today’s nursery, primary and secondary schools – some of whom are connecting to engineering, science, construction and technology through activities like Primary Engineer, the Bloodhound Challenge, and Ayrshire College’s Girls in STEM and CoderDojo workshops.

We remain ADAmant that we will challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, and that we will encourage more girls and women to embark on exciting STEM courses.

If you’re just as ADAmant, please get in touch.

Who can be an engineer? This Ayrshire Girl Can!

First published in March 2016 on Ayrshire College Blog

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!


Tackling gender imbalance in colleges and universities – whose job is it anyway?

Published in June 2016 on the Ayrshire College Blog

The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) held a workshop on 31 May 2016 to share the findings of research carried out by the Higher Education Academy which mapped the approaches being used to address gender imbalance in Scotland’s colleges and universities, to assess what approaches work best and why. The findings of the research are outlined in a report, Whose Job is it Anyway? Analysis of approaches to tackling gender imbalances at the subject level in Scotland’s colleges and universities.

The aim of the research was to:

  • Map initiatives in Scotland’s colleges and universities to tackle gender imbalances
  • Assess what approaches work best and why
  • Assess what approaches don’t work and understand what lessons can be learned
  • Recommend actions to achieve sustained improvements.

One of the key objectives in Ayrshire College’s 2014-17 Strategic Plan is to challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices. Significant efforts have been made on this priority for action over the past two years, and the work the College is doing to tackle gender imbalance in subject areas like care, engineering and computing was referenced extensively throughout the Higher Education Academy report.

At the workshop representatives from colleges, universities, NUS Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Equate Scotland, the Equality Challenge Unit and the College Development Network heard presentations from Fiona Burns, Access Policy Lead at SFC and from the author of the research report, Dr Pauline Hanesworth from the Higher Education Academy.

Vice Principal Jackie Galbraith, a member of the SFC Gender Steering Group, took part in the workshop, along with Angela Alexander, Ayrshire College Student President and Jane Henderson, the College’s Developing the Young Workforce Manager.

In this article, Jackie outlines the challenges we are trying to address, summarises the conclusions of the report and describes the approach taken by Ayrshire College to tackling gender imbalance.

The context and the challenge

In June 2016, statistical publications from Skills Development Scotland (Modern Apprenticeship Statistics Full Year Report 2015/16) and the Scottish Qualifications Authority (Annual Statistics Report 2015) demonstrated that there is still much to do to address gender imbalance in Modern Apprenticeship frameworks, college courses and subject qualifications at school.

Scotland’s youth employment strategy, Developing the Young Workforce, has a KPI (key performance indicator) to reduce the number of Modern Apprenticeship frameworks with a 75:25 or worse gender balance to 60% of  frameworks by 2021. In 2015/16, 74% of MA frameworks had a gender balance of 75:25 or worse.

For colleges, one of the KPIs is to increase by five percentage points the minority gender share in each of the ten largest and most imbalanced subjects by 2021. These are long-term targets which rely on shifting deeply ingrained social and cultural factors. As an illustration of the challenge, look at female and male entries to Higher National Certificates/Diplomas in 2015.  The challenge continues at university and the following diagram, based on figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency published in February 2016, shows that the numbers of female graduates in areas like the physical sciences, computing and the built environment declined in 2015 compared to the previous year.

So, we have a problem. At a time when high quality, high value jobs abound in sectors like digital, the built environment and engineering, these industries persistently fail to attract women – despite considerable efforts by many employers and others to address this. Similarly, jobs growth in the early years sector is clear and the value of having more men in that sector is increasingly understood – yet the number of males continues to be low.

Enter the Scottish Funding Council’s gender action plan.

The SFC Gender Action Plan 

Fiona Burns outlined the ambitions set out in the Scottish Funding Council’s interim Gender Action Plan which was published in February 2016. By 2020, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that:

  • Actions to improve gender equality are mainstreamed
  • There are targeted approaches to tackling underrepresentation at a subject level
  • All widening participation initiatives will be focused on achieving more admissions from males and females.

By 2030, SFC is asking all colleges and universities to ensure that no subject has an extreme gender imbalance (75:25) and universities to reduce the gap between males and females in undergraduate study to five percentage points.

Fiona invited workshop participants to identify the key messages from the report that are of most useful in tackling gender imbalances, and what the SFC should do to enable the sectors to use the research to shape policy and practice. The outcomes from discussions on the day will inform the final version of the Gender Action Plan which is due to be published later in the summer.

Research findings

Dr Pauline Hanesworth presented the findings and recommendations of the research project, describing a framework of action. Seven themes for tackling gender imbalance effectively emerged in the research. These were:

  1. Strategic approaches – adopt a stronger strategic oversight that could maximise staff capacity and impact potential
  2. Mechanisms for success – capitalise on existing mechanisms
  3. Evidencing impact – develop understanding of what the results of tackling gender imbalances look like
  4. External enablers – connect to external activity
  5. Student involvement – support for the continuity and capacity of students as partners in tackling gender imbalances
  6. Cross-sector support – colleges and universities learning from each other’s specific experiences and expertise
  7. Subject focus – focus on all subject imbalances.

A framework for action, represented in the diagram below, was offered for consideration.

At the centre of the framework is a commitment to support subject choice and challenge gender stereotypes. Two foundations are required to support this commitment – institutional infrastructure and sector support.

1. Institutional infrastructure

  • Systems for strategic oversight and institutional commitment
  • Staff development and resource support
  • Mechanisms to develop and support effective relationships.

2. Sector support

  • Mechanisms for collaborative partnership working
  • Capacity and finance
  • Further research and resources.

Supporting these foundations are four areas of focus:

  1. Influencing the influencers
  2. Raising awareness and impacting on aspirations
  3. Encouraging applications
  4. Supporting student success

Finally, a number of enablers in the outer circle of the framework diagram were identified to ensure successful application of the model.

The main recommendations in the report are that colleges and universities should:

1. Develop institutional commitment to tackle student gender participation imbalances

2. Develop the capacity and motivation of all staff to tackle student gender participation imbalances

3. Adopt a theory of change methodology for the development of approaches

4. Develop holistic and longitudinal approaches that support young people throughout their educational choice process

5. Adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines the four areas of focus described above

6. Support student involvement in approaches through the development of student-led, student/staff co-created and student-delivered initiatives

7. Work in collaboration with other institutions and in partnership with other sectors

In addition, national sector agencies are encouraged to:

8. Develop a national campaign and strategy for tackling of gender inequality

9. Create a virtual and physical hub of and for practitioners tackling student gender participation imbalances

10. Broaden the remits of sector agencies and organisations to support the gender equality work of colleges and universities

The Ayrshire College approach

So, whose job is it to tackle gender imbalance in college and university courses? The Higher Education Academy report reached the conclusion that it is all of our jobs.

We agree, and well before this research was conducted we were already making progress on the recommendations subsequently outlined for colleges. Tackling inequalities underpins all of the College’s strategic documents including our Outcome Agreement and our work to address gender imbalance in careers and learning choices takes many forms.

Sparking an interest in STEM at a young age is very important and the College does this in a range of ways, for example by supporting Primary Engineer in primary schools, by running CoderDojo coding clubs (including girls-only clubs) for young people from the age of 7 and by organising STEM workshops for female pupils in college campuses. This interest in STEM needs to be sustained throughout primary and secondary school and onto college, and influencing those who influence young people’s subject and career choices is vital. For example, at our recent annual employers’ dinner the theme was tackling gender stereotypes in careers.

Central to our approach to tackling gender imbalance is working with students and we support the Ayrshire College Student Association’s  #ThisAyrshireGirlCan campaign to encourage women to study for careers which are traditionally dominated by men in areas like engineering, technology and construction. In March 2016, in partnership with the College, the Student Association created a film to celebrate female STEM students.

Working in partnership with local, regional and national organisations is important in tackling gender imbalance and underpins the Ayrshire College approach. Supported with funding from Skills Development Scotland, we produced a video series #WhatIActuallyDo to tackle gender imbalance in STEM apprenticeships by raising awareness of what apprentices actually do in their jobs. The short films featured five female engineering apprentices working in Hyspec Engineering, GSK, Prestwick Aircraft Maintenance, Spirit Aerosystems and Woodward. As well as interviews with the apprentices on what motivated them to pursue their chosen career and short films showing a day in the life of the apprentice, there are interviews with their employers talking about the benefits of apprenticeships to their companies.

The young women in these short films offer positive role models for others. One of the apprentices featured in the video series, Abbie Robb, reached the final for the Interconnect Scotland STEM Student of the Year award – the only apprentice and college student to do so! On International Women’s Day this year, Abbie spoke about her experience as an apprentice aircraft engineer to an audience of over 100 primary and secondary school girls and female STEM students.

When young women embark on STEM courses, we want to ensure they get the best possible experience which builds their confidence in moving on after college in the sector of their choice. On Monday 13 June we launched Ayrshire Connects – a mentoring network for female STEM students across the College to connect to each other, to students in other colleges and universities, to employers and women in the industry sectors they aspire to enter, and to senior pupils in secondary schools across Ayrshire. We are looking forward to working with Equate Scotland to connect the Ayrshire network to Interconnect Scotland.

ayrshire connects

Throughout the year, the College takes every opportunity to promote women in STEM by organising events and social media campaigns, for example around Girls in ICT Day in April every year and Ada Lovelace Day in October. Look out for new stories on our blog leading up to National Women in Engineering Day (#NWED16) on 23 June.

And, it’s not just about supporting women in male-dominated areas – we also have sustained activity to encourage boys and men into female-dominated sectors like care through our #ThisManCares campaign.

Follow us on social media to find out more about how we are tackling gender imbalance or get in touch with me at – we would love to hear from you.

Want to know more? Click on the links below

Whose Job is it Anyway? Higher Education Academy report

SFC Interim Gender Action Plan

Alison Malcolm, SFC Policy Officer – blog post on the SFC Gender Action Plan

#ThisManCares – Ayrshire College campaign to attract men into courses and careers in care

#ThisAyrshireGirlCan – Ayrshire College Student Association campaign to promote women in STEM

#WhatIActuallyDo – Ayrshire College video campaign highlighting female apprentices in science and engineering

Destination College – first choice for many, second chance for some, but not second best!

Yesterday (27 February), the Scottish Government published the latest destinations of school leavers in Scotland.

Today, journalists, politicians and others are trying to make sense of these figures – and, in some cases, not doing a very good job!

A BBC article reported that the “figures showed that the percentage signing up for university last year was 40.7%” and that “26.8% opted for a college course”.

That’s not the case.

The facts are that 40.7% of school leavers moved onto HE (higher education) courses and 26.8% moved onto FE (further education) courses. At least a quarter of those choosing to study HE qualifications do so at college, so a more realistic figure for school leavers going straight to university is around 30%. And, over 37% move onto college to study either FE or HE qualifications.

HE courses include HNCs (Higher National Certificates) and HNDs (Higher National Diplomas). Much of the increase in school leavers opting for HE study is down to more of them choosing HNC/Ds at college, sometimes with a view to progressing onto a degree at a later stage.

FACT – Each year, more school leavers go to college than university. College is the top destination for school leavers, whether they opt for FE or HE courses!

FACT – 41% of full-time Scottish entrants to higher education in 2015-16 were to college courses.

FACT – Colleges play a crucial role in providing access to HE for many people who otherwise would never consider it. In 2015-16, 14.8% of full-time first degree students lived in the most deprived 20% areas in Scotland. In the same year, 27.7% of full-time HE students at college were from these areas.

For most young people who start college straight from school, we are their first choice.

In the Ayrshire region, compared with the rest of Scotland, an even greater proportion of school leavers go straight to college than university to study further or higher education qualifications.

For other students, college is a second chance.

People who maybe left school and spent a few years in insecure, low-paid jobs or unemployed before deciding to do something more positive with their lives. People with significant life or work experience who have decided to pursue a new or different career. People who didn’t have the chance to pursue education after school.

First choice or second chance, colleges are not second best. We strive to ensure that all of our students have a first class experience.

That’s what I’ve seen in the four years I’ve been at Ayrshire College. Young, and not so young, lives transformed by the power of learning that prepares them for life, work or further education (including at university).

And, that’s why I get so exorcised when I see the contribution of colleges to building young people’s future being downplayed, albeit unintentionally, by misinterpretation of the facts.

My plea is simple … please report these statistics properly and help people understand how colleges help school leavers, and those who left school a while ago, to achieve their ambitions, whatever they may be.