An Interview with Katie Higgins

Now that the campaign on Foundation Apprenticeships is winding down, now is a good time to chat to Katie Higgins, Co-ordinator for Developing the Young Workforce at East Lothian Works. She is responsible for the planning and logistics of Foundation Apprenticeships in East Lothian, and so Katie is one of the best people to speak to on the subject matter. She is fairly new to the role, having only started less than a year ago, and yet she’s gone full steam ahead, implementing three new Foundation Apprenticeship frameworks, and co-ordinating many different events and activities.

I sat down with Katie to ask her a couple of questions.

What does your job role involve?
My job involves the co-ordination of a variety of projects and annual events within the education department of East Lothian Council and East Lothian Works (the employability hub). The projects I manage are all inclusive of East Lothian Council and the Scottish Government’s aim to develop Scotland’s young workforce. This includes:

  • The setting up of projects such as the introduction and running of our new Foundation Apprenticeship qualifications through speaking with employers, pupils, and schools, to allow the implementation and duration to run as smoothly as possible.
  • Working on large scale events such as ‘Jobs Kingdom Live’, where all P5 pupils get the opportunity to try out jobs in different industries through hands on activities.
  • Being a part of the introduction of a Common School Day for all secondary schools across the local authority.

Overall my role involves ensuring that every young person is given the opportunities and support they require to succeed in the future, whatever that may look like, and to ensure that these opportunities are equal for all.

What is the hardest part about your job?
The hardest part about my job would definitely be the multiple hats I have to wear. I have to react differently to a variety of circumstances, and I need to rapidly adapt to change and think of solutions on the spot. Co-ordinating all stakeholders of one project can be extremely difficult, and I do this amongst a variety of projects. Being able to change my attitude and how I approach circumstances depending on who I am dealing with and what it is about can be challenging, but also very rewarding on a personal development level.

What are the best parts about your job?
The best part about my job is being able to see the positive outcomes that the projects I co-ordinate are having on young people. Being able to meet our Foundation Apprenticeship pupils and see how the course has sparked a passion within them for that subject area. Also hearing about what and where they are progressing onto next is amazing to hear and it is proof that the hard work is having a desired impact on young people’s journeys and that, no matter how big or small, the work I am doing influences that. Additionally, seeing pupils, especially primary pupils, get excited over events they’ll get to take part in definitely makes it rewarding.

What are the positives of Foundation Apprenticeships?
To me the positives of Foundation Apprenticeships are:

  • How versatile they are and how they can benefit such a large proportion of young people, no matter what their post-school destination looks like. They can benefit young people going straight into the workplace, those going into Modern or Graduate Apprenticeships, and also those going into further and higher education. No other qualification seems to be quite as versatile.
  • The level of work experience the pupils gain, and the fact that they can actually gain a qualification by doing a job in that industry rather than only learning about the theory was an opportunity I never had as a pupil or a graduate. Having been told ‘you don’t have enough experience’, even though I went to university for four years, speaks volumes to how a lot of the education system is set up and I feel that this failed me, whereas a lot of students embarking on Foundation Apprenticeships will never have this obstacle.

What kind of person should apply for a Foundation Apprenticeship?
I would advise everyone, if they meet the entry requirements and have an interest in the industry or topic, to apply. For me, there is no harm in applying for anything; I would rather apply and not quite make it than never try and wonder what the outcomes would have been if I had tried to begin with.
The Foundation Apprenticeships can be really beneficial for those who want to see what it would be like to work in that industry. To me, the Foundation Apprenticeships are a learning curve for young people either way. They will spark a passion and encourage them to continue down a route within that sector which is excellent, or it will make them realise that maybe it’s actually not what they thought it would be, and although they gained a qualification and lots of experience, they won’t go into that industry. This is fine because they made the decision through being informed enough, and it is based on trial and error. Regardless, if the young person decides not to directly enter that industry they will have built multiple transferrable skills that will benefit them through any job alongside an additional qualification! So I would encourage everyone who is capable of completing a Foundation Apprenticeship to apply.

What kind of feedback have you received from students on Foundation Apprenticeships?
There has been some really positive feedback from students telling me how much they are loving being out on placement and how glad they are that they decided to give it a shot. For a lot of the pupils, being able to put the learning into practice and being able to gain the experience of what it would be like in that job is a brilliant eye opener. We have had pupils that haven’t enjoyed the course as much as they initially thought they would, and that’s ok, because they gave it a try and gained experience by doing it. They also made the decision about their career based on an informed decision, and to me that is positive regardless.

If you were to give one piece of advice to those embarking on a Foundation Apprenticeship, what would it be?
My one piece of advice would be to be open minded. Like every subject, there may be areas you dislike, or you have to do a short placement in a field that isn’t your favourite, but it’s beneficial regardless. The transferrable skills that you learn in any placement will benefit you no matter what route you decide to progress down once leaving school. Also, be open minded to the fact that you might enjoy something much more than originally thought; if you are too close minded and don’t give something a go, then you’ll never know. We have had pupils completely change their mind on what they want to do after leaving school, and this is down to them being open minded enough to let the experience inform them.

I’d like to thank Katie for taking the time to be interviewed. If you have any questions regarding Foundation Apprenticeships, email vocationalopps@eastlothian.gov.uk, or speak to your guidance teacher for advice and/or an application form. For more information, check out our blog post about Foundation Apprenticeships here.

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