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SkillsScotland An independent publication from www.canongate.org


SDS’s new graduate apprenticeships


Renfrewshire Council’s breakthrough strategy

Positive action

Distributed with The Times Scotland 6 March 2017


Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn interviewed


Negotiating the maze: An employer’s view

How City of Glasgow College is changing the face of engineering


skills scotland comment

6 March 2017

SkillsScotland An independent publication by Canongate Communications.


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Shona Struthers: “Colleges are focused on the needs of the communities we serve”

John McMorris: “Apprentices are equipped with practical, demonstrable knowledge”

Numbers that add up to a very compelling story

Support for all apprentices, all year, every year

Providing skills for Scotland’s economic success

How we are meeting the needs of employers


Shona Struthers Colleges play a key role in training Scotland’s workforce, including preparing people for work and delivering the skilled personnel to support economic growth in Scotland. One of our priorities is ensuring that students are work-ready and able to meet the challenges of the employment market. That means an ongoing commitment to enhancing engagement with employers – which happens across the country with colleges supporting the economic needs of their regions. Colleges aim to ensure that students have practical work experience embedded in their courses. Modern Apprenticeships embody this industry-led focus, which has the key advantage of offering students the opportunity to shorten their learner journey to get them into their chosen career more quickly. When it comes to the reality of how skills are delivered, the numbers tell a compelling story: l Colleges deliver around 76 million hours of learning to over 227,000 students a year

l 35% of working age students study as part of their occupation l 78% of Scottish employers recruiting college leavers found them prepared for work l Over 80% of college leavers go on to positive destinations l There are around 10,000 students in colleges on Modern Apprenticeship programmes l Over 300 school pupils in 2015/16 undertook Foundation Apprenticeships. Colleges are vital in delivering success for Scotland – whether it is better youth employment figures than other parts of the UK, or training the staff to help deliver major ambitions such as doubling free nursery provision. Colleges are focused on the needs of the communities we serve, creating life-chances through our industry partnerships, but we recognise that more can always be done to serve our students’ needs. One pressing need is simplifying the ‘learner journey’. The aim is always to provide the best service that enables students to fulfil their potential whilst delivering economic benefits for Scotland. That can only be achieved if all those involved – industry, students, teachers and other educational institutions – work together. Shona Struthers is chief executive of Colleges Scotland.


John McMorris Once again, the Scottish Qualifications Authority is lending its support to Scottish Apprenticeship Week. More important however is the support we offer every young person who embarks upon a Modern Apprenticeship, throughout the year, every year. Modern Apprenticeships are an essential part of Scotland’s education and training landscape, and our qualifications, specifically our Scottish Vocational Qualifications, are an integral part of the majority of Modern Apprenticeships. These respected qualifications are designed to meet the national occupational standards outlined by a host of industries. This ensures that the skills young people develop during their apprenticeships meet the needs of employers. Young people who complete a Modern Apprenticeship are workready, and able to accurately demonstrate the skills, knowledge and experience that they have developed during their training. For five years we have delivered our own successful programme of Modern Apprenticeships, which incorporates valuable on-the-job training in a number or roles, with the opportunity

to complete a Business and IT SVQ. Uniquely, our apprentices also work towards a Higher National Certificate in Business Administration as part of their training. Our apprentices are equipped with practical, demonstrable knowledge, and skills that gives them the confidence to move on to the next stage in their development. We also support exciting local initiatives such as the Pre-Apprenticeship programme delivered by Craigroyston Community High School in Edinburgh. The school offers senior pupils a year-long preapprenticeship where they complete a SVQ during class-time and complete tasks that promote responsibility and work-readiness, before going on to a guaranteed apprenticeship. The flexibility of our qualifications give real substance to Modern Apprenticeships, but allow for innovative approaches that schools, colleges, and training providers can tailor to meet their own requirements. We support Scottish Apprenticeship Week, and we will champion the outstanding efforts of the thousands of young people using them to make a positive start to their careers. Find out more about how SQA’s qualifications support Modern Apprenticeships: www.sqa.org.uk/ apprenticeships John McMorris is director of business development at SQA

Skills Development Scotland

6 March 2017

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Learning, earning – and driving economic growth at the same time Graduate-level apprenticeships are creating new ways to work, earn and gain a degree International experience demonstrates how degree-level apprenticeships can drive economic growth and benefit the Scottish economy. As a result Skills Development Scotland has developed Graduate Level Apprenticeships (GLAs); a new work based learning programme which builds on the success of Foundation and Modern Apprenticeships. Apprentices are in paid employment while gaining a degree up to Masters level. They spend about 80% of their working hours with their employer and 20% of their time at university or college. Learning goes straight into practice and day-to-day work counts towards their qualification. For employers, GLAs provide the combination of knowledge, skills and capabilities required by both individuals and industry, and provide a way to up-skill new employees or existing staff. GLAs are open to Scottish residents over the age of 16 and the admission process is designed to recognise previous qualifications and experience. In 2017 more than 340 Apprentices will begin one of four GLAs at eight universities and colleges across Scotland. 30 of these individuals will get the chance to gain a degree in IT from Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, while up to 75 will enrol on GLAs in IT and Engineering at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University.

Professor Richard A. Williams OBE, Principal at Heriot-Watt University, on what GLAs offer. Graduate Level Apprenticeships offer an exciting new approach to skills development. Providing individuals with the opportunity to increase their professional skills and enhance their career prospects while earning and studying to degree level, offers a highly efficient and effective way to meet the needs of industry. At Heriot-Watt University, we have a long heritage of working closely with industry and transferring this knowledge into social and economic impact. GLAs will give us the opportunity to work with some of Scotland’s leading organisations to combine academic knowledge with skills development in the workplace to the benefit of the Scottish economy. GLAs are not just about day release from work to come to university, or distance learning in the evenings after work. They are about developing new practices of work-based learning that integrate academic thinking with learning, skills and knowledge that is developed through

Software development is one of four GLAs currently on offer effective practice in the workplace. At HeriotWatt we also connect with global practices throughout our campuses in Asia and the Middle East, providing a broad, international context for Apprentices’ studies. These are interesting concepts that will, over time, enrich and extend our educational models. GLAs also complete the ‘apprenticeship family’ in a way that sets out a clear pathway through vocational and workbased education to the same degree outcome as the conventional route through university. Apprenticeships in whatever form are attractive as they provide the skills companies need and, for the individual, act as a stepping stone into the labour market. This is particularly key when addressing youth unemployment. Here in the UK and Scotland, we continue to place great emphasis on the prestige of a university degree. Yet recent research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development shows that half of all graduates are leaving university to work in a non-graduate position whilst burdened with significant debt. GLAs are opening up another option for professionals to access a high-quality education and develop desirable and relevant skills without pausing their careers. Increasingly, research shows that work-based learning widens access to higher education, increases adult participation and develops the capabilities and skills sets of organisations and individuals. What GLAs will do is bridge the gap for those students who would not otherwise have considered going to university, whether that is because of financial reasons, their availability to study or a lack of opportunity on leaving school.

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal of RGU, on why his university is getting involved. We are in a period of unprecedented change. Advances in technology and globalisation are rapidly changing business and enterprise, leading to demand for a future workforce that can survive and thrive in this new environment. Given this evolution of the job market, it is important that learners develop expertise that is adaptable and supports them in sustaining careers in the economies of the future. With work-based learning the workplace is the classroom - individuals work and learn concurrently and the skills acquired are immediately applied at work. This also provides a rich environment in which to learn other skills – meta-cognitive skills – that enable us to learn, work with others, make connections, identify opportunities and embrace change. Work-based learning helps to move away from a reliance on narrow expertise or singular skills towards a wider, adaptive

and resilient set of skills. Now the university is continuing to innovate by being at the forefront of the development of GLAs. The university is not simply delivering a new programme; it is using GLAs to stimulate and provide innovation across teaching and learning generally. Softening the divide between the traditional and work-based learning routes will help young people to move from learning into work with rich and deep skills for employment. Employers have a crucial role – not only in delivering enriched learning, but also in using work-based learning to create a skills pipeline to meet future needs. Indeed quality technical vocational training is a key driver of economic growth, training workers for technical and skilled jobs in growing fields. With industry and employer support, and capitalising on the opportunities delivered by technological advances, the university can provide new model partnerships between students, teachers and employers, building learning that is aligned to the future needs of the economy. Our learning and skills system must evolve to keep up with change. The pace of technological change that we see across the sectors now is probably minor compared with what is to come, and brings with it many opportunities that should be reflected in the education system. It is crucial that the benefits of these new technologies are shared widely and are promoted to enhance the learner experience. For more information about Graduate Level Apprenticeships visit apprenticeships.scot/ graduate


Skills scotland

STEM Awareness

6 March 2017

Success by design, by women A partnership in Renfrewshire has developed a pioneering STEM awareness programme

Skill enhancing practical sessions proved popular with young female students

By William Peakin There has for some time been a significant gender gap in terms of young women accessing STEM opportunities across Scotland. As an example, Renfrewshire Council’s Modern Apprenticeship Programme has worked hard over many years to encourage young women to apply for the craft and construction apprenticeships it has available, with limited success. But now a programme initiated by the council, and led in partnership with DYW West and West College Scotland, is offering an alternative approach to attracting young women into STEM careers. Working with local business, the partnership has delivered awareness raising events, supported young women with work experience opportunities and assisted them when taking subject choices. Michael Moran, Assistant Manager on the council’s employability programmes, said that the breakthrough came in changing the approach to engagement, from ‘push’ – employers and organisations going into schools, to pull – where teachers and pupils co-designed the engagement. It was agreed a ‘positive action’ approach was right, delivering a programme aimed at young women only. The proposal was discussed with two kinds of focus group – one comprising teachers, the other senior phase female students. Their views were taken into consideration in devising the programme outline and content. “The focus sessions were absolutely brilliant,” said Moran. “I outlined our idea to teachers first and they said: ‘Ok, but young women are not necessarily attracted to the same things as young men; you need to widen the horizon of what is being offered, they need to understand how they will make a difference and view the roles on offer as a career – not just a job!” “So, the teachers helped us form the nucleus of a draft programme and then we did three focus sessions with groups of young women. And that was transformative; they kind of ripped it to shreds! It was about them being honest about what made them insecure about accessing the sector, finding out how we could provide support and how we could put forward complete, or even partial solutions. We could see the barriers to young women considering a particular career and then work on ways to instill confidence in them so that they were no longer such big issues.” For example, it could be ensuring that pupils meet female role models in traditionally male environments – either studying construction at college or enjoying a successful career at a building firm. Another example was making sure that young women felt comfortable going on site by providing modern female specific personal protective equipment. “And it’s not just overcoming those initial barriers; it’s not just about the number of young women entering apprenticeships ,” said Moran, “it’s about young women

Why the initiative is so important: l Only 9% of the engineering workforce is female and the UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. l In the UK, 15.8% of engineering and technology undergraduates are female compared with 30% in India. l In 2013/14, women accounted for only 3.8% of engineering apprenticeship starts and 1.7% of construction skills starts. l 64% of engineering employers say a shortage of engineers in the UK is a threat to their business. l Enabling women to meet their full potential in work could add as much as $28 trillion to annual GDP in 2025. l Diversity matters: companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse. l 2% of companies across sectors currently have difficulties recruiting experienced STEM staff, and 20% find it difficult to recruit entrants to STEM. Source: Women’s Engineering Society

being able to see a career pathway beyond the apprenticeship as well.” Last October, phase one of the programme, an awareness raising event for S3-S6 students, took place as part of the STEM fortnight for Renfrewshire’s High Schools. 48 places were offered out, eventually 91 students from nine schools attended. Attendees heard about the opportunities available within the sector, including renewables, professional disciplines such as quantity surveying and estimating, as well as traditional trades. Each attendee participated in two short practical exercises, in areas such as renewables, painting and decorating, carpentry and joinery and bricklaying. They also attended two further workshops to discuss with local businesses the opportunities available and to meet female role models who had experience of working within the sector or who were working towards gaining qualifications allowing them to begin their career. Following evaluation of phase one, the second phase - more detailed follow up STEM sessions - will be delivered to over 100 students this week as part of Scottish Modern Apprenticeship Week and International Women’s Day. Bob Davidson, Programme Director DYW West commented. “ This is an excellent example of partners in our region working together to help young people into employment. We would like to thank the many organisations involved who are offering a fantastic arrange

of opportunities including a week’s work experience in quantity surveying with Clark Contracts, a tour of a local Ashleigh Construction building sites, a visit to Renfrewshire Council’s building depot as well as tours of British Airways’ engineering hanger at Glasgow Airport, Rolls Royce’s Inchinnan engineering plant and the Royal Alexandria Hospital’s engineering department. In addition West College Scotland is providing skill enhancing sessions in renewables, carpentry and joinery, bricklaying and painting & decorating.” The Renfrewshire STEM Awareness Programme for Young Women was supported financially by Skills Development Scotland, through its Equalities Action Fund. The fund has supported seven projects across Scotland which aimed to encourage innovative and proactive approaches to increasing uptake of Modern Apprenticeships amongst young people who are either from an ethnic minority community, are disabled, care experienced or underrepresented by gender. SDS Head of National Training Programmes Development, Karen Murray, said: “These employer-led projects are a great example of good practice which can be shared more widely across industry. Working with partners SDS is committed to improving equality and diversity in apprenticeships and it is encouraging to see the range of positive outcomes of each of the projects supported by the Equality Action Fund.”

City of Glasgow College

6 March 2017 Bumni Onanuga and Laura Phillips at work in the college’s Riverside campus, part of a £228m twin site development opened in 2015

skills scotland


technological expert will play a more vital role than ever before,” said Laura. “Emerging technologies, from blockchain to robotics, will start to shape our daily lives. The world will need experts to create and navigate the pathway and bridge the gap for everyone to have access to these incredible technologies. “The only advice I would give to other women would be, to take the first step. You don’t know what you are capable of until you challenge yourself. If you stay in your comfort zone nothing will ever change. The journey may not always be easy; however, the satisfaction of achieving what you set out to do is worth any short-term sacrifices.” As well as preparing for the

Engineering change in the workplace Creating an essential talent pipeline from education to employment By William Peakin Bunmi Onanuga is studying for an HND in mechanical engineering at the City of Glasgow College, a follow-up to completing her HNC last year. Bunmi is a pioneer; the HNC course was Scotland’s first women-only in engineering, part of a wider eff ort by the college and partners to address the stark gender inequality that exists in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical (STEM) professions. With the HNC, Bunmi was returning to education after 15 years raising a family and working in administrative and personnel roles: “The job satisfaction factor was missing,” she said. “I was enthused about enrolling in an all-female class; I believed I would be able to build relationships quickly and easily. Also, I had a feeling that I might find it easier to ask for help from my classmates and support from lecturers.” The HNC was her introduction to mechanical engineering, with subjects underpinned by physics and maths: “These got my brain engaged. Engineering drawing with computer aided design (CAD) software was an interesting one. Initially, I found it challenging, but with frequent use I gained confidence.”

Last summer, Bunmi secured a work placement with a Glasgow-based construction company, following an interview arranged by the college and Equate Scotland, the organisation working to increase the number of women in science, engineering, technology and the built environment. “The industry experience was an eye opener for me,” said Bunmi. “It enhanced my resolve to remain in education and I started on the HND course after the placement. The HND class is mixed, gender wise; representative of the work place. But I believe that the HNC all-female class was a confidence building frame for me.” After completing her HND, Bunmi is planning to study mechanical electronic systems engineering at university, and then work in the construction, science or technology industries. She is also aiming to become a chartered engineer. “My advice to women aspiring to be engineers,” says Bunmi, “is sign up for the course and you will be fine. It may require a bit of hard work, but it is very rewarding when you put in the hours. There is no better time to start than now.” The college works with around 1,500 large and small employers to support employability and prosperity for its students from 130 different nationalities. Lecturers themselves encourage and motivate and are passionate about improving the gender imbalance in their classrooms. Carol Murray, Director of Building,

“We have developed a world leading technical and professional college which is redefining the essence of college education ” Principal Paul Little

Engineering & Energy, the first female engineer at Rolls Royce, has brought that expertise and experience to the college and she was integral to the introduction of the pioneering womeninto-engineering classes. “I know first hand how tough it can be but I think we all agree that more women need to be encouraged into the sector,” she said. “STEM education creates critical thinkers and enables the next generation of innovators so anything we can do to encourage women, no matter their age or background, is very important.” Bunmi’s fellow student, Laura Phillips was similarly also at a crossroads in her working life: “When I returned to academia, I was a little apprehensive as I had been a working in insurance for quite some time. But by taking the step to enroll, I was making a commitment to ensure positive career developments in my future. From then I have never looked back; gaining an A in my HNC has given me the confidence and selfbelief to truly thrive academically and professionally.” Laura has also completed a work

placement with an offshore renewable energy research centre for wind, wave and tidal energy. She has become an executive member of the Scottish Association for Engineering Education and, along with Bumni, a ‘primary engineer’ working alongside children as they undertake STEM projects at school. Ultimately, Laura has her sights set on working in the space sector. “In today’s world, the engineer and

final stage of their HND, and applying to universities, Bunmi and Laura were asked by Skills Development Scotland to devise a web application in the form of a STEM equality game aimed at raising awareness of equality issues in the sector. It has led to an invitation to submit a final stage abstract to the Vocational Training Council’s annual International STEM Students Forum. Their submission, on the impact of ‘serious and persuasive games’ in engaging students with equality issues, is now being considered for inclusion at the forum in Hong Kong. City of Glasgow College’s women only initiative is cited as a pivotal case study within the Scottish Government’s ‘Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce’ plans and features in a recent Higher Education Academy research paper. Alongside Equate Scotland and employer groups, the college recently launched a best practice guide for employers which offers solutions that could make a real difference within the STEM sector. The partnership with Equate Scotland to promote gender equality in the engineering sector complements the work the college does with a range of partners to promote opportunities for women interested in careers in the construction and engineering sectors. Faculty statistics show an increase in female participation in construction trade occupations from 10.8% in 2014/15 to 14.9% in 2015/16, compared with an industry average of only 2%.

“We have realised a world-lead-

ing technical and professional college which is redefining the essence of college education in the UK and beyond,” said Paul Little, City of Glasgow College’s principal and chief executive, “where individual students matter more than the subject and where personalised learning flourishes through our watch words of inspiration, excellence and innovation. “Our success speaks for itself through courses such as our pioneering women-into-engineering – the first of their kind in Scotland. They have been widely welcomed by industry and resulted in a significant increase in enrolments, work placements and public awareness of the gender imbalance across the sector.” “Ultimately, we aim to create an essential talent pipeline from education to employment. Developing it in such an exciting way will no doubt continue to increase the number of students from all backgrounds who are attracted to STEM professions and deliver real change for the better.” If you are interested in finding out more about these courses, go to www. cityofglasgowcollege.ac.uk


Skills scotland


6 March 2017

Preparing Scotland for the future To achieve inclusive growth we need to tackle low levels of pay, progression and productivity COMMENT

By Russell Gunson Reform of the skills system in Scotland could be at the centre of delivering inclusive economic growth, strengthening Scotland’s economy and tackling entrenched inequalities. At the beginning of the year, IPPR Scotland published a report ‘Equipping Scotland for the Future’ which set out some of the challenges facing Scotland’s economy and labour market, and in particular current weaknesses around low pay, low levels of career progression and low levels of productivity. Historically, pay rates in the rest of the UK have been higher than in Scotland. While in recent years average pay in Scotland has been catching up, this has been at a time when pay in Scotland and the UK have fallen in real terms. Equally, our work found that Scotland has low rates career progression. The ability to move from low-skilled work, to higher-skilled work – otherwise known as career progression – is crucial in delivering economic growth and in tackling in-work poverty. In Scotland, however, if you are in a low-skilled job, you are more likely to stay there than in almost any other part of the UK. At the same time, while productivity in Scotland has improved in recent years, we continue to underperform compared to the whole of the UK. Delivering increased productivity – a measure of the economic value delivered by each worker – is crucial to economic growth, increased pay, and increased tax revenue. There are just as substantial challenges, and opportunities too, facing the

The ability to move to higher-skilled work is crucial in delivering economic growth Scotland of tomorrow. Our population is set to become markedly older over the coming years. While this is welcome, there are financial implications, particularly as demand for services increase as the proportion of older people increases, and public finances come under pressure as the working age population proportionally shrinks. And at the same time, technological change will reshape Scotland’s labour market and economy, including through the automation of many low and mid-skilled roles. This will threaten many existing roles, including in sectors that have not witnessed automation to date, while also introducing new types of employment and sectors. These are big challenges, but it is within our power to make the decisions now that can improve our economy now, and prepare our country for the future. And if we get it right, the rewards could

be great. Firstly, we need to set a national ambition for the skills system as a whole, moving to fund the system based on achieving improvements in pay, progression and productivity. It is no longer enough for us to believe that someone in any training or learning, or someone in any job, is a positive outcome. Equally, bringing the skills sys-

tem as a whole together at the regional level, through regional integration, could also help, removing administrative barriers that risk getting in the way of learners’ potential, harming employers too in the process, and risk public investment going to the wrong places. We would also like to explore what a new targeted education and learning route for those in low-paid and low progression sectors would look like. The aim would be to bring employers, learners and skills providers together

to design learning tailored specifically for them, and in return, delivering improvements that would benefit all three parties. Lastly, delivering a flexible and responsive skills system that can support the learners of the future throughout multiple careers, with multiple roles and multiple employers will be crucial. The Scottish Government has two policy agendas that could make a contribution to delivering the skills system we want to see. Firstly, the newly announced Flexible Workforce Development Fund. The fund, worth £10m, to be introduced this autumn, could be a first step towards the skills system we believe we need to see, focused on low paid and low-skilled workers and sectors. More generally, how Scotland implements the UK-wide Apprenticeships Levy over the coming years offers potential opportunities to reshape the skills system.

At the same time, the current Enterprise and Skills Review – looking at Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Scottish Funding Council and Skills Development Scotland – is also an opportunity to focus our minds on how we can bring the skills system together at the regional level, and set clear national ambitions for the sector as a whole. To achieve inclusive growth, and to meet the challenges of today and of tomorrow, we need to tackle low levels of pay, progression and productivity. By focusing on delivering a skills system that focuses on low pay, low productivity workers and sectors we can reduce inequalities and increase economic growth, delivering a fairer economy and a stronger one too. Russell Gunson is Director of IPPR Scotland.

Developing a skilled, productive and engaged workforce The Scottish Government says it is already addressing criticisms of the skills system By William Peakin Employability and Training Minister Jamie Hepburn believes the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report Equipping Scotland for the Future: Key Challenges for the Scottish Skills System, published in January, is an affirmation of the Scottish Government’s new approach. Those interviewed for the report said there was a lack of clarity in the skills system: “That leads people [and] agencies to compete around available resource rather than to collaborate around desired outcomes,” said one. “So, they focus on carving up the input measures – who gets the money

– rather than sharing accountability for the outcome measures, what these skills deliver and how they’re driven.” Another highlighted a lack of integration: “The transaction costs and opportunities lost in … silos is really alarming. Institutions spend time bidding to different government bodies for funds rather than the actual bodies getting their purses together to enable institutions to benefit learners more.” The routes learners took need more certainty, said another: “Schools are compulsory and protected by the law, universities are selective and protected by the Queen – via royal charters – but nobody protects colleges, they depend on our professionalism.” Employers face challenges also:

“It was clear that, for many participants from across the skills system, employers are not always currently able to engage in the system in the most beneficial way,” said the report. It added: “Improving employer and learner engagement throughout the

Jamie Hepburn: Work is underway to reform the skills system. skills system, and from the classroom level to the boardroom and governance level, would allow the possibility for a co-designed skills system, and a much more responsive system both to demand from employers and learners’ needs.” The report also said that the flexibility and transferability of learning could be improved. Speaking to SkillsScotland last month, Hepburn said: “I think the findings of this report

actually justify the approach we are taking. There’s a lot of work underway to reform the skills system. We are taking forward the Enterprise Skills Review, we are looking at the whole process of the learner’s journey and we are taking the Developing the Young Workforce approach to get better interaction between the school environment and employers so that young people coming out of school are better equipped for the world of work.” In February, Hepburn met academics, trade union representatives and experts from business and industry “to start work on supporting the Government’s ambitions to create more, better paid, quality jobs”. The creation of the strategic labour market group was one of the actions outlined in the Government’s labour market strategy, published last summer. It has been tasked with ways of increasing employment and developing “a skilled, productive, engaged workforce that meets the needs of employers; equal opportunities to access work

and progress in employment; fulfilling, secure and well-paid jobs where employees’ contributions are encouraged, respected and valued; and a sustainable working population that can retain and attract new talent.” The group will also measure the

strategy’s progress, make recommendations on adapting to changes in the labour market such as the impact of Brexit, and consider new research on developing the workforce. “We recognise that creating a fairer society, where there are no barriers to work and employees are skilled, valued and meet the needs of employers is key to our ambitions of building a strong and inclusive economy,” said Hepburn. “Our labour market must be responsive and adaptable and we must ensure that we are taking all the steps we can to get more people into secure, well paid, quality work which is why getting businesses, trade unions, policy and academia together to come up with new ideas is crucial.”

‘After graduating from Scotland’s first coding academy, I’m now a free agent’ Intrigued by logic and puzzles, for Katrina Coutts a piece in the career jigsaw has fallen into place What were you doing before CodeClan? After gaining a degree in psychology, I decided on work experience in journalism. It seemed like a career path that could provide a lot of variety and opportunity. I got on to a postgraduate journalism course and moved to Aberdeen, working as a general news reporter before moving into health reporting. After a few years, I took a role in public relations and for nine years I worked in media relations and communications roles with the civil service in London and in the charity sector. While I enjoyed what I did, I also felt like the path I’d taken wasn’t the best for me. The crunch came after I had my second child a couple of years ago. Up until then some of my career choices had been heavily influenced by family, the kind of compromise all mums make. But after having my daughter I felt we’d completed our family, we’d settled in Edinburgh and everything was in place for me to really consider what I wanted to do with my life. My strengths at school had always

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6 March 2017


Katrina Coutts: ‘Career choices had been heavily influenced by family, the kind of compromise all mums make’

been in sciences and I love logic and puzzles. Digital communication had exploded during my time in PR and marketing and, having worked closely with web teams and developers, I realised it was the work they did that most intrigued me. What was the entry process like? I found out about CodeClan from a friend working in the industry. I went to an open evening to find out more, filled in an application and went to the interview. The focus was on whether you had the aptitude to learn programming and involved logic tests, talking about my previous work and discussing why I wanted to join. CodeClan is an intensive few months. You need to have the drive to get through it. I was apprehensive as I wasn’t sure what level and experience everyone else would be at but there is three weeks of pre-course work to help get you started. My cohort was a diverse group of 19, from a midwife and teacher to some guys from the oil and gas industry. Readjusting to life in the classroom was tough but I got into the swing of it and although I had all this work to do and a young family, I felt energised and excited. Describe your time on the course. At 9am each day we had ‘stand-up’, where we talked about what we’d done the day before and what challenged

us. We had lessons throughout the day, interspersed with labs and paired programming. The course is project-led and after each section of the syllabus we did an individual or a course project. The main languages we focused on were Ruby, Java and Javascript. Aside from those we learned about databases, version control and a variety of tools and frameworks to give us a broad introduction to life in software development. The instructors are always there to help, but you’re encouraged to try and find things out yourself. I was surprised by how much of an online community there is among developers. Whatever you’re trying to do or having an issue with, someone will have encountered it before and posted it on StackOverflow or created a tutorial about it. I found myself growing in confidence to the point where, for part of my final week’s work, I decided to explore a new framework we’d not covered; React Native. There will always be other languages and tools I’ll have to pick up but having

the confidence to approach the challenge of learning new things is something CodeClan helped me prepare for. What about finding a job when you graduated? In the last few weeks of the course, jobs became a big focus. I knew that I wanted a position where my previous career and skills would be of value. Most importantly, I wanted to work for a company that had a good attitude towards junior developers and training. Although FreeAgent has just turned 10, it’s still got a bit of a start-up feel to it. From those I spoke to in the industry, it also had a good reputation in terms of technologies it uses and the opportunities it provides for staff to learn and keep up to date. It also seemed like a fun environment and somewhere without a very structured hierarchy, where staff of any level get a chance to put their ideas forward and take on responsibility.

And how’s the job going so far? I completed CodeClan in November and started in my role as a junior software engineer at FreeAgent – working on its website – a few weeks later. It’s early days but I love it. I’m part of a new team that the company is forming, so being part of this process is exciting. Getting to put the skills I’ve learnt into action is really fulfilling and because I’m working closely with colleagues in the communications team, it’s a great fit for me because I can tap into previous skills. Being immersed in this environment and surrounded by a fantastic team of engineers is an amazing opportunity. I’m focusing on growing my skills and finding areas that I most want to develop in. There’s a lot of support at FreeAgent to guide me and support me in this, which is fantastic. Katrina Coutts is a junior software engineer at FreeAgent, the online accounting software firm.

‘The Government needs to stop and take stock’ Employers looking to take on a Modern Apprentice are faced with a maze of gobbledygook COMMENT

By Cynthia Guthrie In 2007 the Scottish Government set out their ambitious Skills for Scotland – A Lifelong Skills Strategy, an all-encompassing paper, covering individual skills development from school to the workplace, including colleges and universities. Its aspirational goals and objectives were laudable and certainly ambitious. However in practice, as an employer, it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees. Since 2007 there has been a plethora of initiatives and sub strategies,

some of which appear to have had a negative impact on other areas of education and the economy. A couple of examples include the drive to get 16-24 year olds into the workforce through ‘Developing the Young Workforce’ et al and widening access initiatives in further and higher education. Employing young people I was told that at the last count there were 136 providers in Scotland, all trying to deliver the Government’s targets on youth employment. Some have been set up as charities, some private sector businesses and some are delivered through councils and other public sector bodies. All receive Government funding. In spite of this, as an employer looking to take on a Modern Apprentice in the last year, I was faced with a maze of acronyms and gobbledygook when trying to find a suitable provider. Through

this, and also recently trying to recruit via the Job Centre for a vacancy in our company, I have come to the conclusion that the Government needs to stop – take a deep breath – and take stock of the current situation. Much of the funding that is being spent in this area could be saved by consolidation of services and resources. Wider access initiatives The Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) targets have been laid down for colleges and universities which allocate a percentage of their entire intake to be reserved for young people from deprived areas. This is commendable, however in practice presents a major challenge to those colleges and universities whose geographical locations do not meet the SIMD postcode criteria. It also restricts places for both young and mature people throughout Scot-

land who may have a burning desire to attend College or University. According to the latest report from Audit Scotland it has become increasingly difficult in recent years for Scottish and EU undergraduate students to gain a place at a Scottish university. Applications have increased by 23% since 2010, yet the number of offers made by universities, in line with their funding allocations, has increased by only 9%. If we do not provide funding for access to University places for our young people where can they go? South of the Border? Overseas? Can we really afford to lose them? Historically traditional apprenticeships were a combination of work based learning and day release at further education colleges. In my experience this mix produced top quality, skilled workers who had the advantage of college attendance widening their

attitudes and enhancing learning. In the current economic environment it is challenging for companies to release apprentices during working hours. There are ways round this by further education colleges and universities working with employers to provide blended learning solutions in- house. I am of the view that further education colleges and universities provide the very best learning and skills development and they should be properly funded and employers directed to use their facilities to gain the best outcomes for their staff. The Government is on the right track with the apprenticeship levy, however in my view, they should divert some of the funding currently given to third party providers to colleges and universities. Cynthia Guthrie is joint managing director of Guthrie Group.

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