Michelle Quinn is manager of Almond Engineering, a precision engineering company based in Livingston, West Lothian.
Last year, Michelle joined the board of Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian Regional Group (DYW-WL), which builds on foundations already in place through Curriculum for Excellence and is part of a Scottish Government-backed programme to better prepare school children for future employment. The headline aim of Developing the Young Workforce across Scotland is to reduce youth unemployment by 40% by 2021.
In this article, Michelle reflects on her own career journey and explains her reasons in reaching out to pupils who want to get into the world of work through apprenticeships, rather than opt for further or higher education.
For a variety of personal reasons, moving through school and then slipping seamlessly into more years of study at either further or higher education level, does not suit everyone.
This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about helping our young people across West Lothian. It mirrors my experiences when I left school in 2005. Back then, any ‘careers advice’ was largely limited to being handed a University entry (UCAS) form and told to complete it. That was pretty much it. This was the only ‘career guidance’ on offer. I was told by my school ‘that is pretty much all we can do for you!’
However, I had other plans. Being faced with at least four years of higher education was really not for me. I had seen people going off to university and doing a degree, but then struggling to find a graduate position or indeed a job of any reasonable calibre. That scared me. I was happy to take a job and work my way up from the bottom.
I thought that if I do that now, in four years’ time, I would have garnered invaluable work experience and effectively be as ‘qualified’ as them, but without the millstone of accrued university debt. So, in 2005, I found myself in a temporary job at Almond Engineering for a few weeks and almost thirteen years later I am still here – as Manager.
Whilst my entry into the world of work did not conform to the expected route taken by the majority of pupils, no careers advice was forthcoming on the advantages of apprenticeships which remained largely the preserve of boys wanting to ‘get a trade’ by becoming electricians, plumbers or builders. Had this been offered to me and seeing the benefits an Apprenticeship offered, then I might have jumped at the chance to join.
At Almond Engineering, I started as an office junior, but in those early days, an apprenticeship scheme would have enabled me to gain experience in manufacturing and this is one of the reasons why I am delighted to see Developing the Young Workforce in West Lothian working with schools and businesses across the region to promote the advantages of Apprenticeships for young people to consider as viable career path options.
Indeed, Apprenticeships have been brought into sharp focus with Scotland’s share of funding from the UK Government’s apprenticeship levy supporting a range of employment measures including the delivery of 30,000 Modern Apprenticeships starts each year by 2020 and the establishment of a new Flexible Workforce Development Fund to help employers up-skill and re-skill their workforce.
I am proud to sit on a board of exceptionally talented people driving the Youth Employment Agenda locally to help create meaningful opportunities for young people when they weigh up how their future career paths might evolve.
This is not just about informing young people of all the options open to them – it might be that university and college courses are suited to the individual, but we cannot disregard the wonderful opportunities that apprenticeships and ‘on the job training’ helps bring the world of work to life for young people. – but of course, this is something that isn’t feasible without direct industry involvement from companies like ourselves.
For Almond Engineering to grow, I need to look to bring the next generation of engineers, designers and fabricators into our manufacturing plant. Currently, there is a lack of skilled personnel across Scotland filling these job roles and that is worrying. I would go as far as to say that in the 37 years Almond Engineering has been in existence, this is the hardest time we have had recruiting. We have a sizeable order book, but often struggle to fill vacancies. That is why working with Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian will helps to safeguard our future success.
Indeed, we embarked on a programme to bring apprentices into Almond Engineering around nine years ago and it has proved very successful. It provided secure employment for six young people. However, there was no organisation there to offer the support to bridge the path between school and the world of work. Until now.
Developing the Young Workforce West Lothian has enabled us to partner with schools and get us in front of pupils and their parents, so we can explain our ethos and values to them and how a career with Almond Engineering will supply them with fantastic opportunities.
This year, we plan to hire two new apprentices working through DYW-WL for our design office & workshop. They will be encouraged to bring forward their own ideas, to think on their feet and be an integral part of our team from day one.
No initiative like Developing the Workforce existed when I left school. I was fortunate that Almond Engineering offered me employment and through my own endeavours and ambition, I now head, together with our Directors, the day to day operation of the business.
Back in the day, ideas of engaging with teachers, pupils and parents to discuss career opportunities would not have been widely considered, but what a difference now.
DYW-WL has made this an integral part of the career option conversation and long may that continue. It will certainly help future-proof Almond Engineering’s longer -term employment strategy.