Education and Careers: take a different path to success

Scotland is home to a wealth of universities, colleges, Modern Apprenticeships and organisations offering a range of experiences to enhance an individual’s skill-set.

With the Scottish exam results now released, this supplement aims to highlight the many opportunities available to school leavers and those who are changing careers. And anyone who is unsure of what they want to do next should start by speaking to a careers advisor.

“At this time of year, the key advice is to not panic and jump for the options that are available but to take a measured response to thoughts for the future,” says Erin Bartley of Skills Development Scotland (SDS).

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“They should have a good think about the things they enjoy and the things they can see themselves doing.

Volunteering with an organisation such as Project Trust can give a whole new outlook to those who elect to take a gap year.Volunteering with an organisation such as Project Trust can give a whole new outlook to those who elect to take a gap year.
Volunteering with an organisation such as Project Trust can give a whole new outlook to those who elect to take a gap year.

“Speaking to a careers advisor can really open up the options that are available, and help people to see things that they maybe didn’t know about because there are lots of different routes they can go down.”

To help narrow the choices, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has a free-to-use careers quiz on its website. It uses employment data to match people to careers – and the courses required to reach their goals.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, says: “It is all about your likes and preferences, and the data used is from people who ended up in these careers and jobs. These are the potential paths people can take, and there are always more than one.

“There is a huge number of young people, school leavers and mature students who don’t know what they want to do and need to sit back and think about it, so the careers quiz is a good place to start.”

Mechanical engineering apprentice. Image: PhovoirMechanical engineering apprentice. Image: Phovoir
Mechanical engineering apprentice. Image: Phovoir

There are more than 25 colleges in Scotland with staff on hand to offer advice throughout the year. They provide a variety of coursesincluding apprenticeships, vocational training, higher education, professional development and, sometimes, degrees.

Iain Hawker, vice-principal at Fife College, says: “We have a wide variety of learning options with over 450 courses, allowing you to combine your studies with work or family life, including full-time and part-time study; online and distance learning, and even some courses that offer evening or weekend options.

“No matter what qualification results have been achieved at school, the course offering at Fife College is broad and allows entry at various levels of education.”

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While such institutions deliver academic qualifications, college students can also benefit from an all-round education.

Hawker points to Fife College Students’ Association, stating: “It is here to make sure students get the most out of their college experience through events and initiatives supporting the health and wellbeing of all students.”

Meanwhile, careers in law, medicine and teaching, for example, require degrees, which can be earned at one of Scotland’s 26 universities.

Undergraduate honours degree courses typically take four years to complete and can lead to a one- or two-year master’s degree, where students can continue to develop knowledge of their subject.

Lorraine Davidson, chief executive at the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, says: “With some of the top universities in the world on our doorstep, and no upfront tuition fees to be considered, a university education is much sought-after.”

But whether it is attending a university or taking another route towards a career, Davidson advises that digital and technical skills, resilience, teamwork and communication skills are all prized in the workplace, and that there are a variety of ways in which these can be gained.

“Do what you are most interested in, because that is where you are most likely to be happy and to succeed,” she says. “Don’t be swayed by what others are doing, but instead carefully consider how you want to spend the next few years. You are only starting out on your career journey and there is no wrong turn at this point.

“Any knowledge you gain – whether it is by working, volunteering, training or studying – will stand you in good stead for the workplace of the future.”


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Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the national skills body, delivers Modern Apprenticeships that allow people to earn while they learn.

They are primarily aimed at people aged between 16 and 24, but there is no age limit.

People can choose from more than 100 Modern Apprenticeships in different sectors, including business management, healthcare, construction, and engineering, among others.

Apprentices will learn on the job while also spending time studying at a college or university for an industry-recognised qualification accredited by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

According to SDS, 96 per cent of Modern Apprentices would recommend one to others and 92 per cent of them remain in work once qualified.

SDS also delivers Graduate Apprenticeships, where apprentices over 16 work full-time while earning an honours or master’s degree.

These have entry requirements similar to an undergraduate university course, but other education paths are taken into consideration.

To find out more information, and to apply for an apprenticeship, go online to

College and university Clearing

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Clearing runs from 5 July to 17 October year and it is used by universities and colleges to fill available spaces on courses.

People can apply for a course through the online UCAS clearing system if they didn’t apply before the original deadline, receive an offer they wanted, meet the conditions of an offer or received better results than expected and want to change course. There are around 28,000 courses available through clearing, with some 2,500 based in Scotland.

With so much choice available, Clearing Plus is an online tool that matches available courses and applicants based on their original choices and grades. Alternatively, courses can be explored through the UCAS search tool.

While it is important not to rush into an application, UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant notes places can fill up quickly.

She says: “Whilst there is lots of choice, it is increasingly a competitive landscape. If someone is looking for a highly selective course – we know law and psychology are always popular, and we have seen an almost 10 per cent rise in demand for computing – or if it is a selective institution, such as the two Russell Group institutions in Scotland [Edinburgh and Glasgow], then you need to move quite quickly.”

Take a gap year

Project Trust has more than 56 years of experience in the field of international volunteering.

Established as an educational charity in 1967, the trust has spent the last five decades inspiring and empowering school leavers to embark on a long-term, structured volunteering placement in Africa, Asia or the Americas.

A Project Trust placement is a great opportunity to learn, contribute and explore. The challenge will help volunteers develop independence, confidence and resilience. A long-term, international placement allows each participant to become fully immersed in a new culture and community.

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Volunteers will learn about languages, religions, foods and lifestyles which are completely different from those they are used to.

They will also have a positive impact on the community they are living in, as well as having time to explore the country.

Returned volunteers have the capacity to change the world for the better because their Project Trust experience will have enabled them to develop a life-long passion for equality, social justice and environmental sustainability.

For those who have been unable to secure a place at college, university or work this year, there is still the chance to apply for a volunteering placement with Project Trust for departures in January 2024.

Project Trust is currently working in Ghana, Senegal, Malawi, Honduras, Thailand, Japan and Cambodia.

The majority of its placements are either teaching or youth development projects, with a smaller number of community development placements.

Find out more online at

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