Abigale Neate Wilson: Inspiring the graduates of the future

Student life can be tough, but also inspirational, says The Whisky Bond's Abigale Neate Wilson. Picture: John Devlin
Student life can be tough, but also inspirational, says The Whisky Bond's Abigale Neate Wilson. Picture: John Devlin
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With the new academic year getting under way, parents across Scotland are in the midst of not only excitement for their fledgling students, but apprehension.

After all, college and university life is a world away from what it was, even just a few years ago. Even for parents who went to university themselves, this can feel like a very distant memory of a very different time… crumbling halls of residences and sticky-floored student unions.

It’s tougher to be a student than it was even a generation ago

• READ MORE: More school leavers now in further or higher education

Many further education (FE) institutes now put far more emphasis on real-world experience, either alongside, or in place of, academic learning, depending on the course. This offers enormous benefits, in that students ultimately hit the workplace armed with practical, real-time experience, which is invaluable to both graduates and their future bosses.

However, no one can deny that it’s a tougher time to be a student – and a graduate – than it was even a generation ago.

Jobs are less plentiful and employers’ expectations are high. It’s a buyers’ market out there. And those graduates who fly the FE nest to try to make their own, self-employed way, face one of the toughest challenges of all.

For all that entrepreneurialism is celebrated, those first steps remain terrifying and financially perilous. Unless you can work from your flatshare kitchen table (not great if you’re using a blow torch to weld things), you need somewhere to work – where do you start? How do you pay for it?

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At The Whisky Bond, we see businesses at all stages – from graduates embarking on their first, exciting but nerve-wracking business plan, to established names that have become iconic Scottish brands. As a management team, we often ask ourselves: are we supporting new businesses enough? How do we help and guide them from the start-up stage, through the daunting process of taking office or studio space, and then expanding?

We have found that it’s fundamental to be flexible. New, young businesses don’t want to over-commit; but also need to be able to expand as soon as a big new commission or contract is won. Secondly, on-site support is worth its weight in gold. No one can be expected to know it all in a week. Thirdly, as site managers, encouraging the right connections helps save new businesses time and money – need printing? Go there. Need designs drawn up? Speak to them. Need someone to grab a coffee with while you brain-dump ten ideas for an event? The support is there.

In practical terms, offering physical space can help too. For example, we’ve just teamed up with Glasgow City College for the second year to award their John Mather Award prize-winners a free membership to our Distillery co-working area for six months. This will provide them with space to develop their winning project in a professional workplace – this year’s winners are product designers, who have come up with a design for a modular 3D printer.

What does The Whisky Bond get in return? A thriving, exciting, driven community of creators, who are ambassadors not only for us but for the city. Fresh viewpoints, digital natives, who are the future of the Scottish economy. The chance to work with people who create things that we’ve never even thought of.

In challenging times, working with inspiring people makes it all worthwhile.

Abigale Neate Wilson, project manager at The Whisky Bond, Glasgow

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