Annette Bruton: How students can make sense of their career path

Further education is looking at how to reach young people at earlier stages to help them explore what they want to do. Picture: Toby Williams
Further education is looking at how to reach young people at earlier stages to help them explore what they want to do. Picture: Toby Williams
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The opportunity to develop real skills and experience is invaluable for those trying to choose a career says Annette Bruton

I’ve spent some time recently visiting local schools, talking to students about their aspirations for their lives and careers, and even after a long career in education I still always come away from classrooms having learned something new. School students’ ambition and capacity for taking responsibility for their futures is consistently, wonderfully surprising, and hearing from them first hand is vital for us to understand how we can best support them in their decision making.

Increasingly, further education is looking at how it can reach young people at earlier stages, not to prescribe to them the paths they should take but instead to help them explore what they want to do and how they can do it. The school classroom is such a formative place; it’s where young people figure out much of where they fit into the world and what they want to become, which isn’t necessarily a simple or painless process. In our college and across the sector, we’re very aware of the responsibility to help them make sense of it all and we’re invested in finding new ways to do this, particularly in giving them the opportunity to develop real skills and experience.

The Scottish Government is fully behind this too and its youth employment strategy –Developing the Young Workforce – focuses on enabling young people to make informed and ambitious decisions about their futures and creating pathways to meet their needs. There’s a strong focus on vocational education as a driver for employment and the economy, and that’s where colleges can help ensure our young people and our society can thrive.

Edinburgh College runs college courses for senior phase school students from all secondary schools in Edinburgh, East Lothian and Midlothian to give them extra skills and experience they can use to get a job or apply for a full-time college or university course after leaving school. The 33 courses cover construction; engineering; creative industries; health, wellbeing and social sciences; and tourism and hospitality, and include college preparation courses for students with additional support needs. These programmes are well established and we have around 1,200 school-age pupils participating this year.

Recent developments are broadening the scope of how we cater for school students’ needs and, as well as providing modern apprenticeships for school leavers who have been taken on by employers, our burgeoning foundation apprenticeship programme for students still at school has proven a success.

Skills Development Scotland has just provided new funding for the college (and other colleges) to deliver an increased programme of foundation apprenticeships following the achievements of our first cohort. Foundation apprenticeships (FAs) allow S4 and S5 students to get vocational education and work experience, spending time at college or with an employer and completing the apprenticeship alongside their other subjects. Over two years, students prepare for careers in areas identified as vital for the Scottish economy, where there are excellent job prospects and skills gaps.

Our first seven foundation apprentices, in Financial Services, have excelled, impressing on work placements at firms including Tesco Bank, AEGON and Standard Life. They are all now heading on for positive destinations either to jobs or further studies. And, following this, the new funding will allow us to expand the programme and offer 60 places on FAs over two years in Civil Engineering and Software Development and Financial Services.

The principles of giving students experience of the real working world and the college environment run through our schools work, and our South East Scotland Academies Partnership (SESAP) exemplifies this. This partnership with Queen Margaret University, Borders College and local authorities helps smooth the transition between school, college and university, gives school students an opportunity to learn about career options, earn industry-recognised qualifications, and boost employability through work experience. This year, around 250 students are at the Health and Social Care, Creative Industries, Food Science and Nutrition, and Hospitality and Tourism academies.

We have also launched a STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) Academy, encompassing our Engineering Academy, with local schools and Edinburgh Napier University to meet the need from industry for these skills As a college, it’s important that we make sure there are opportunities for everyone. For school students who may not consider a mainstream college course or are not yet ready for further education, our new Future Steps Programme supports them to develop what they need to get into employment, an apprenticeship or college. The programme covers careers advice, work experience and confidence building.

Future Steps, like all our schools programmes, has been developed in close partnership with schools, with headteachers, guidance teachers, careers advisors and students providing crucial input. Young people don’t always make the best choices first time but if we give them the chance to try things out and explore they’ll eventually figure it out for themselves. We don’t always get it right ourselves but as long as we keep talking to young people in schools we’ll give them the best we can. Maybe as a former teacher I’m biased, but I say if in doubt get into the classroom.

Annette Bruton is Edinburgh College Principal

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