Experts from across the technology sector are helping Young Enterprise Scotland pick up the pace of its online learning streams as it adjusts to the impact of the pandemic, writes Ann Wallace.

DURING his first video conference call of the lockdown back in March, Young Enterprise Scotland chief executive Geoff Leask had a clear message for the team.

“I remember saying to them – we will not be going back to the way we did things before,” he recalls. “It was our first online meeting of the pandemic. I wanted them to know that while we would still be delivering the same outcomes for young people throughout Scotland, we would be working in a very different way.

“And that has certainly been the case.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified many existing challenges in Scotland’s education system, amplifying issues around inclusion and social mobility. YE Scotland is driving enterprise learning, fast becoming widely recognised as key to the education of Scotland’s young people.

Economic resilience, says Geoff, needs enterprise and YE Scotland is putting entrepreneurial skills teaching from an early age firmly in the spotlight Geoff explains: “Education must be responsive to a wide range of needs – no one size fits all.

“But the pandemic has also shown us that change is possible – and at pace. New delivery models, new ways to support students, new ways to reach a wider audience have all been embraced.

“The conventional wisdom is that education is best delivered in a classroom, in-person. But innovations in online learning that were beginning to appear before the pandemic are now spreading, pushed on further by the impacts of lockdown and social distancing, and they are being adopted.”

He adds: “Our strategic plan for blended learning, making our enterprise programmes more widely accessible by digitising them, for example, was already underway.

“What the pandemic has done is to accelerate our ambitions, allowing us to develop them and to create more opportunities. And in common with many other areas of society, we have learned things can change and be achieved more quickly than we may have thought.”

With the help of the recently-formed Scottish Tech Army, YE Scotland has launched new streams of activity online over the past two months.

“The Scottish Tech Army does what it says on the tin,” smiles Geoff. “People from across the Scottish technology sector, some on furlough, some between contracts, have come together to see what kind of support they can offer organisations in the third sector, to enable them to progress to a blended way of working.

“They took a look under our bonnet, so to speak, and recognised we were not a million miles away from having the resources we needed. With a bit of fine tuning, we could make huge progress.”

Part of that progress includes supporting third year computer science students at the University of Glasgow in the process of creating new digital enterprise resources; and the online launch of Scotland’s leading enterprise programme for tertiary education, Bridge 2 Business, a collaboration between YE Scotland and further education colleges across the country.

The digitisation of resources makes the programme freely accessible to all students who have an interest in setting up their own company, or who are looking to take enterprise skills into the workplace, for the first time.

YE Scotland is also working in partnership with e-Sgoil, the online learning platform which allows schools across Scotland to remotely access live learning online, by providing weekly innovation and enterprise sessions.

“We are not alone in this – the Awards Network, for example, a forum of providers working together in raising awareness of non-formal learning awards available to young people aged 12 to 25 that use youth work approaches, are also involved,” explains Geoff.

“The key is that whether students go on to set up business on their own or not, our programmes will provide them with experience and skills for life and work. Our mantra has always been ‘learning by doing’.

“There is a growing recognition that the contextualisation of learning is vital in helping young people develop the skills they need – these are the things that cannot be learned in a book.”

For YE Scotland, the biggest advantage of digitisation, points out Geoff, is the increased equity of access and opportunity.

“Every school can engage with our resources, and a legacy is created – materials can be recorded and used again, they are not simply one-off sessions,” he adds.

“It is important to point out that this all goes back to the idea of a blended approach. We are very proud of our network of more than 500 volunteers, wonderful and enthusiastic people who work locally to offer young people a unique insight into the world of industry.

“That local connection is vital. Finding the hybrid, or blended, model – the best combination of remote or online learning and in-person teaching and mentoring – must remain the goal.”

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A firm business opportunity

20 Fife College students have been given a fantastic opportunity as part of Foundation Apprenticeships by setting up their own businesses.

The students are expected to attend school or college and take up a position within a local company as part of their apprenticeship, but current circumstances caused by the pandemic make the work experience element difficult to fulfil.

However, in an inspired move, Fife College in partnership with Young Enterprise Scotland (YES), has enrolled the students on to YES’s Company Programme.

HeraldScotland:

As part of this pioneering enterprise initiative, these young entrepreneurs have teamed up to run their own businesses, dealing with product development, sales, marketing and financial management as they work to turn their ideas into commercial success.

John Elliott, Academic Head at Fife College, said: “Adapting to new challenges is something we all have to learn. Working with YES, we found the perfect opportunities for our Foundation Apprentices to undertake an exciting workplace challenge to enhance their skills and studies. Now, our apprentices are developing skills of self-management, social intelligence and self-motivation while becoming business people.”