Jim McColl on the importance of skilling Scotland’s youth

MY vision for Newlands Junior College (NJC) was to create an establishment for young teenagers who struggle within the traditional education system, one that would give them support and opportunity to move onto to a successful and rewarding future.

Jim McColl outside the Newlands Junior College building. Picture: Sandy Young

With a renewed focus on skills and vocational training to help tackle high levels of youth unemployment there has never been a better time for such a place.

NJC opened last November on the same site where I trained during my engineering apprenticeship at the former Weir Pumps in the 1960s - with the building transformed into a state of the art facility.

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This independent vocational school in the south side of Glasgow, which has the backing of the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council, is a first for Scottish education and has been set up to help 14-16 year-olds gain practical experience to help them enter the world of work.

We meet the needs of our students by having a modified curriculum and an approach completely focused on the individual.

Uniquely, students who successfully complete their two years with us are guaranteed an apprenticeship or a place in further education. We already have 45 apprenticeships in place, thanks to a range of partners including such major companies as ScottishPower, Weir Group, Arnold Clark and my own Clyde Blowers.

Our students are fast developing as successful learners and confident individuals who’ll get jobs because they’ve developed a range of skills for learning, life and work through the NJC experience. This is helped by exposure to the real world through a series of careers events and Q&A sessions involving our partners.

We decided that NJC had to look like a place of work with a definite industrial feel, and that ethos of the workplace is important to us because we’re preparing our students for future success.

We speak of students not pupils, adults not children, solutions not problems.

In the core academic areas of English, IT, mathematics and physics almost all of our students are already performing at National 4 level, designed to provide young people with practical skills relevant to the workforce, with some students taking their studies to National 5.

All students are offered a choice of three out of nine vocational courses. Focusing on learning which is immediately useful, these courses appeal to non-academic young people.

Our partner City of Glasgow College runs the courses in engineering, construction, hairdressing, creative industries, hospitality/professional cookery, early education and childcare, science and health and business administration and a music technology course is offered through the Riverside Studios in Busby – 20 minutes away in East Renfrewshire.

NJC places great emphasis on personal development and motivation. Students take part in a two-year programme run in-house at the College by SkillForce Scotland that emphasises health, employability and skills for life and work.

The achievements by our students already in this area are outstanding. They paid a visit to Loch Eil and gained an Outward Bound certificate, as well as the National Navigation Award and a John Muir environmental award. All students are already working their way towards the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award, have completed the ASDAN Personal Development Bronze Award and have had the opportunity to gain First Aid and Heart Start certificates.

The nature of NJC demands small classes and a high teacher-pupil ratio, with the maximum number in any year group set at 30. We’re already seeking to recruit young people for our second intake in August this year. This is done by nomination from the 11 secondary schools on the south side of the city.

Through this new institution I think we’re seeing a glimpse of the future. I’m confident this will be the first of many similar ventures throughout Scotland that will ultimately share an ambition to make a difference for our young people.