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Negotiating the gap between school and work

How D&A College’s Future Skills programme is bridging the gap between school and work, with high quality work placement and apprenticeship opportunities for young people.
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There is an ever increasing need to find imaginative ways to bridge the gap between school and work.

With this in mind, Dundee and Angus (D&A) College began a highly successful pilot programme four years ago involving local secondary school, Menzieshill. The pilot proved to be highly successful and went a long way towards easing the pupils into suitable apprenticeships. So far so good, but since then enhanced engagement with employers and a renewed focus on developing the young workforce has resulted in the pilot blossoming into a full Future Skills College.

The Future Skills College was officially launched earlier this year as a joint employer and educational partnership and charity. In 2017-18, 27 young people in S5 and S6 from across the D&A region took part in this innovative curriculum, giving them the opportunity to start their careers in plumbing, electrical, early years education and childcare.

With a success rate of over 90%, the project has grown to such an extent that it is now fully supported by Dundee City Council, Angus Council and the range of local employers keen to attract the very best new apprentices.

Crucially, the Future Skills College begins with the employers, as the curriculum and opportunities available are determined relative to employer need. Through our employer connections the potential number of high quality work placements and future apprenticeship opportunities are identified and jointly agreed up front.

Unlike other provision, if there is limited opportunity for placement and an apprenticeship for successful participants then the provision is not offered.

All of this ‘brokerage’ is supported through a dedicated member of staff funded by DC Thomson through their Northwood Trust and working in partnership with the employers, College and education authorities to secure the best outcomes for all involved.

Once provision is agreed for the year ahead, school pupils have an opportunity to apply and the College manages and oversees the employer links, vocational learning and work placement elements of the programme. Here is the typical week for a pupil on the plumbing programme:

  • Monday - Plumbing theory in College.
  • Tuesday - High quality work placement with companies.
  • Wednesday - Maths and English (National 5 or Higher) delivered in College by education authority.
  • Thursday - Maths and English (National 5 or Higher) delivered in College by education authority.
  • Friday - Practical plumbing skills in College.

Negotiating the shifting sands of employment for young peopleBuilding Services Course Leader, Andy Curtis coordinates the overall Future Skills College programme for D&A and oversees both the practical and theory part of the plumbing and electrical curriculum, with colleagues in childcare and education, IT or business undertaking a similar role within their specialisms.

The College, in partnership with our employers, assesses each school pupil and matches them with the most appropriate employer and opportunity. This ensures that both pupils and employers have a clear understanding of the needs, commitment and aspirations of each other. “We ask a fair amount of these kids, but we need to. Sometimes their placement will be in Aberdeen and they have to be out at 6.30 to get there. It’s a long day, but they need to understand about commitment and good timekeeping.”

Andy believes it’s crucial that the pupils continue their academic progression at school and sit their National 5/Higher English and Maths. “We want to offer these companies good quality candidates. Sometimes when a company employs an apprentice, they discover further down the line that they’re not up to scratch and they’ve already wasted money and time reaching this point.”

Andy and his team are in constant touch with the companies, assessing their needs and reviewing the performance of each candidate. This approach has been so successful that the Future Skills college is expanding rapidly, growing to 60 learners in session 2018-19. The expansion won’t end there, and the plan is that further employer connections will be crystallised with new employment areas added each year based on the availability of vacancies with employers.

There are also plans to roll out the project across the wider Tay cities region targeting skill demands in areas such as joinery, painting and decorating, hospitality/tourism, life sciences, accountancy and the creative and digital industries.

Building on current successes and a target of 200 students for 2019-20, we aim to increase this to 800 over the next six years. The partnership is seeking further private funding to bolster the foundation backing we’ve already received from the locally based Northwood Charitable Trust. Furthermore, the Future Skills College is piloting a ‘preparation programme’ in 2018-19 for S4 school pupils. As Andy says, “Some of the young people take time to mature, so reaching out to them a year earlier gives us a chance to build their confidence and let them test the waters, so to speak”.

The Future Skills College is an innovative and successful model of how employer connections can be used to increase opportunities and enhance career management for young people. For more information go to the Future Skills College website or email laurie@futureskillscollege.org.uk.

Zoe Bing, Communications Officer, Dundee & Angus College - 9 Oct 2018