Work Experience in the Scottish Government

A Work Experience Student from James Hamilton Academy, Kilmarnock writes about ‘life as a Civil Servant’ for a week.

Why politics at 14?

At the age of 14, the Scottish Independence Referendum had a major impact on my outlook on life and my goals. As a strong Yes supporter without a vote I was extremely heartbroken when the results came through and Clackmannanshire set the tone for the night. After the vote, I didn’t give up, I became an activist. Over the last two years I have been extremely interested in politics and have been encouraged to do something about the huge unfairness on the working class of Scotland. I have been trying to improve my political knowledge and experience in any way possible. When I found out about the Fairer Scotland event in Kilmarnock, I knew I just had to go.

I was majorly impressed to hear that Government were going out and about into communities to let them have their say on a Fairer Scotland. When have the government previously journeyed to Kilmarnock to actually listen to the views of the people? I went along with a few friends from Yes East Ayrshire and was really amazed at the set up! I had the image of a formal meeting, suits, rows of seats and hushed silences not tables with sticky notes and pens, people in jeans and t-shirts and to actually have a discussion led by the people who were in the room not someone talking to us.

How did I end up in 5 Atlantic Quay for a week?

Being the youngest person at the event at 15, I felt this gave me an ideal opportunity to give my personal input on issues surrounding the youth and how the Scottish Government could help with this. After giving my views around the table and after some debating with my fellow participators Karen – an amazingly kind, hardworking member of the Social Justice team – mentioned the opportunity to do work experience in the Scottish Government if that would be of interest to me? Obviously I was delighted! I was hugely interested in the work of the Government and thought this would be a great opportunity to really find out.

I arranged my work experience with the school and was shocked at how bad the WorkIt system was for pupils. WorkIt is a ‘web application which provides pupils, school and local authority coordinators and Health and Safety officers with a single point of contact as they plan, prepare and take part in work placements. It ensures that everyone is kept informed and can track their involvement in the work placement programme.’.

It definitely doesn’t do what it says on the tin…….. It has hardly any work experience that related to pupils preferences and also their preferred future aims in relation to jobs. I was one of the extremely lucky pupils who got something which could be useful to them in the future. Most were stuck in Kilmarnock doing jobs such as cleaning a gym and being a barista for a week when they wanted to be a mortician or a graphic designer! I’m also very lucky as I have been able to travel to Glasgow to do this. I was the only pupil allowed to leave the Kilmarnock area! I was lucky I got out without being tagged.

The anticipation, visions and surprises

On the build-up to my first day I had formed a vision in my head of the building being immensely bland, and for the staff to be super formal, smart and very ‘yes minister’ type. Well, what I surprise I got, huge glass tower, funky décor, modern, spacious, good IT equipment and decent grub. And the civil servants of Atlantic Quay wore pink glittery lanywards, jeans, trainers, t-shirts, some suits, dresses, colourful  and even mosher style. All smart but casual and smiling, didn’t think that would happen! Everyone I met was so friendly and happy to talk to you! I was worried that they would look down on me as a working class girl from Ayrshire but it was the complete opposite. I was so lucky to be met with such an amazing team in the Social Justice and Regeneration Division. It was made up by some of the best people you could meet. They were all so welcoming and I felt part of the team straight away.

There was one thing though…

Despite the positives, there were a few things I noticed that I feel needs to be addressed. The lack of ethnic minorities within the government I feel is concerning, it’s an issue in politics in general but also in Scotland and the UK in general. Much more needs to be done to get those who wouldn’t normally be interested in politics or those who are deterred involved. Another thing I noticed was  the lack of those with disabilities within the government. I understand that people from within Government are trying to change these issues and I welcome this and give full support. I felt comfortable enough to feed this back this back to the division who seem to have taken it on board.

Day 1 – Antics and excitement

I was introduced to the House Team and was given a tour around the windowed roasting glass tower. I was happy to hear of the partnership between John Paul Academy, in Summerston, and the Scottish Government. We need more youth involvement in both politics and Government. My favourite part of the day and week was that I met with policy officials from zero hours contracts. I grasped this opportunity with both hands to engage in a debate and give my side of the argument. It was truly a memorable debate and feel that my points were listened to but understood the challenges that Scottish Government face and how difficult it is for them to change things for the better.

Day 2 – Unique Opportunities

On Tuesday my schedule was changed last minute to include a meeting with Jeane Freeman, the new Minister for Social Security. Believe it or not, not many civil servants actually meet the Ministers that they serve let alone having them come in and personally meet their team.

After my introduction to Minister I spoke to the Social Justice Delivery team who focus on food poverty and informed about the government’s plans and actions to help those in need. I was surprised to hear of the work Centrestage does within my area in Ayrshire. I had no idea of the work that went on literally up my street.

Despite not being able to meet those who focus on the Named Persons Act I had the opportunity to email them with questions as this is an area I’m interested in and sceptical on. I was glad that the team I was working with were doing all they could to give me as much experience as possible.

Day 3 – A trip to the Capital

Off to Edinburgh to meet the Elections Team and visit the Young Scot. When Shona – an energetic, spectacular team member with hope and real life experience – and I got to St Andrew’s House we spoke with the Team Leader of the elections team who Shona used to work with. She informed me about the work they do but also that the day was unique due to the issue of the registration to vote in the EU referendum had crashed and they had to prepare for the possibility of it coming up in First Ministers Questions. The whole building was buzzing and a bit more stressed than usual.  It really was a unique experience for anyone in Government but as an ‘outsider’ it was fascinating.

Next stop was to find out about the work of Young Scot as I had no idea of all the work they done.  Most young people my age just know about the card and the discounts available but I don’t feel that they truly showcase the other amazing work that they do. They do a lot of great stuff such as day schools and giving young people the opportunity to work in teams to create new innovative ideas.

Day 4 – My 15 minutes of fame

On day one and within an hour of starting they asked if I would be willing to deliver a presentation on my working week. It was to be delivered at a Divisional meeting and I had the scope to deliver it however was most comfortable for me. I chose just to talk and had a PowerPoint to speak to – the latter designed by Andrew, a diligent worker who was an incredible pleasure to be a fellow team member with. It went down a treat and I was thankfully for all the amazing and positive feedback. It was great to get this experience as I quite enjoy public speaking but being able to present to a division in the government is a very original experience for anyone let alone a 15 year old girl from Ayrshire.

After my 15 minutes of fame I found out more on the Modern Apprenticeships and Graduate Interns in the Scottish Government and thought this was a good opportunity for youth to get involved in areas like the government if they felt school wasn’t for them.

Day 5 – The end of this journey but the start of another

Friday was sadly my last day. I was truly disappointed that I had to leave such an amazing environment and team but was so thankful for the opportunity to actually get into the Government  and witness first-hand the hard work of the civil servants and how all the cogs work behind the scenes.

I feel that too much thanks and praise is placed on MSPs and ministers. In reality it is the civil servants that are the real cement in the government and keeping things together. Overall I have enjoyed my time at the Scottish Government so much and I am so glad I had the amazing chance to experience the ‘life of a civil servant’.

I am looking forward to the next part of my political journey whether it be in the Civil Service or challenging them. We shall see what doors and opportunities open for me as I start chapping away and having my voice heard.


To find out more please see the following links

The importance of participative placemaking in a Fairer Scotland

One of a series of five guides produced by PAS to address problems faced by Gypsy/Travellers in dealing with the planning system.
One of a series of five guides produced by PAS to address problems faced by Gypsy/Travellers in dealing with the planning system.
Petra Biberbach (Chief Executive, PAS)

The late-19th century establishment of the British planning system was a direct response to poor living conditions, social inequalities and public health issues associated with rapid urbanisation. Pioneers like Ebenezer Howard recognised the importance of places which foster wellbeing and are sustainable. By uniting good design with higher building standards, and a clear desire to promote social objectives, the planning system facilitates outcomes such as quality places, decent housing, employment, public services and amenities – all with positive impacts on equality, equity and wellbeing.

The extent to which people get involved in decisions that impact them, be it the delivery of local services or the design of well-functioning places, are important measurements of an inclusive society and an important indicator of the overall wellbeing of our country. Meaningful public participation, not only in the processes, but also in the decision-making are at the heart of a Fairer Scotland.

The importance of a participative approach
It is often argued that process and bureaucracy have taken precedence over the original aims of planning, with emphasis on social justice fading. It is striking that the Fairer Scotland report states that only 22% of people in Scotland feel that they can influence decisions in their local area; and also that people in lower socio-economic group feel that they have a lower level of influence. The planning system is of course a prominent example of local decision-making. If we are to create places that will deliver better, more equitable outcomes, then all people must have the opportunities and the capacity to engage effectively at the earliest opportunity – genuine participative placemaking. Achieving this is the focus of PAS’s educational role in helping people to become active citizens.

Improving the system
A hallmark of a fairer society is one in which levels of civic engagement are high and democratic processes are accessible to all. It is clear that the current Scottish Government attaches high priority to the greater involvement of communities in placemaking, evidenced by the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and the current Land Reform (Scotland) Bill. However, the creation of empowered communities throughout Scotland is dependent upon easy access to information, training and support required to engage effectively with planning and placemaking – and disadvantaged communities may often require greater initial support. The involvement Community Councils is essential, but also of young people, seldom-heard groups and other community groups, in allowing decisions to be influenced at the most local level.

The role of PAS
PAS – as an educational charity facilitating everyone to have their voice heard in discussions and decisions about their local area – has a key role to play in the Fairer Scotland debate. All of our work is focused on engagement and participative placemaking – detailed below are just two examples of PAS projects which have directly addressed those seldom-heard by decision-makers.

Participants in a Young Placemakers™ project in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.
Participants in a Young Placemakers™ project in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

Young Placemakers®
As a group often disadvantaged by an unfair and unequal society, it is essential that young people are educated from an early age in their rights and responsibilities as citizens and have an understanding of how to get involved in local decision-making. PAS’s Young Placemakers initiative encourages and empowers young people to become involved in shaping their places. The programme creates motivated young community leaders, who can inspire their peers to think about the places where they live and the future of their communities. PAS recognises the clear-sightedness and capability of young people in identifying and expressing the needs of their communities.

Gypsy/Travellers and the Scottish Planning System research project
Gypsy/Travellers are a group whose quality of life and social outcomes, such as health, educational attainment and employment opportunities, are very much tied to the availability of good-quality and culturally-appropriate accommodation. Inadequate provision has contributed to significantly poorer living standards for Gypsy/Travellers. PAS was commissioned by the Scottish Government to research the engagement of Gypsy/Travellers with the Scottish planning system, with the intention of increasing the level and quality of the engagement of Gypsy/Travellers, making their voices heard, and improving the quality of outcomes, as well as improving professional practice at local authority level.

The possibilities of change
The examples of PAS’s Young Placemakers® programme and Gypsy/Travellers project demonstrate how – if we address disadvantage by promoting wider participation in place – a whole range of social outcomes can be improved. Active participation of all communities in Scotland in the processes shaping their environment will yield multiple benefits. It will create more equitable opportunities to influence decision-making. It will help reinvigorate civic life and the involvement of people in the democratic process. It will above all produce better quality places, which meet people’s needs and aspirations, and in doing so promote improved living standards and equality of opportunity. These benefits do however depend on the right support and delivery structures and the allocation of necessary resources.

More information
Website, The PAS website
PAS promotes education for all in the planning process, to encourage community engagement in creating positive places. With over 20 years of experience, the expertise of our staff and volunteers inspires and empowers people across Scotland.

Creating a Fairer Scotland, the people’s conversation

The 2014 Independence Referendum was the catalyst for a titanic increase in participative, diverse, democratic citizenship.
The 2014 Independence Referendum was the catalyst for a titanic increase in participative, diverse, democratic citizenship.

Danny Boyle (Parliamentary and Policy Officer – BEMIS Scotland).

Scotland is changing. The public appetite for progressive, informed and collaborative development within issues which affect our everyday lives and those of future generations has showed little sign of abating since September 18th 2014.

Social Justice is both personal and at the heart of our communal aspirations. It is an experience we want to live in our everyday lives and a process through which we strive to make Scotland a country which reflects the potential and diversity of its citizens.

The 2014 Independence Referendum was the catalyst for a titanic increase in participative, diverse, democratic citizenship. Inherent within this process were the hopes and aspirations of the people of Scotland. Amongst others education, health, employment, housing, equality, human rights, internationalism, trident and Scotland’s place in the UK and the world were articulately debated, considered and discussed in front of global audience.

From the streets, civic and community centres of our cities, towns and villages. Down the local pub, around the dinner table and in churches, mosques, synagogues and temples the richness, confident and dynamic diversity of the people of Scotland evolved into questions, solutions, aspirations and belief built around a pivot of social justice.

The 2014 Independence Referendum was the catalyst for a titanic increase in participative, diverse, democratic citizenship. Inherent within this process were the hopes and aspirations of the people of Scotland.

The Social Justice agenda is not new. It has been a cornerstone of political theory and discussion since the foundations of representative and equitable framework of governance were set down and progressed by the ancient Greeks.

Danny Boyle, Parliamentary and Policy Officer [BEMIS Scotland]
Danny Boyle, Parliamentary and Policy Officer [BEMIS Scotland]
At its heart is creating fair and equitable responses to the needs of diverse citizens. Not elite groups or vested interests and certainly not systems upon which the criteria for social justice is benchmarked against a profit sheet.

A true democracy underpinned by an objective of ‘social justice’ will always place the people at the heart of the process, in its inception, development and implementation. A process articulated by diverse people, with varying interests combined by a spirit of humanity, cultural diversity and active citizenship.

In 2015 Scotland has never been more diverse. The 2011 Scottish Census indicated that over 8% of the population identified themselves as being from ethnic or cultural minority communities. Within this 8% there are intricate, nuanced and beautifully unique identities which offer significant opportunities for Scotland.

In the context of the social justice process our diversity is a strength. Invigorating and informed ideas reside within us all regardless of age, disability, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or belief.

People and communities are also best placed to articulate what ‘social justice’ means to them. As it’s experienced on a day to day basis. How the process should be informed and how it can be made better in the days, weeks, months, years and decades to come.

In truth it should never end but it must come alongside action, outcomes and tangible change.

Scotland, all of us, are in an advantageous place to continue the process of social justice and it is right that the emphasis on its design should reside in the knowledge and experience of diverse citizens.

BEMIS Scotland are the national Ethnic and Cultural Minorities led umbrella body supporting the development of the Ethnic Minorities Voluntary Sector in Scotland and the communities that this sector represents.

Our vision is of a Scotland that is equal, inclusive and responsive: A society where:

  • people from the diverse communities are valued, treated with dignity and respect
  • have equal citizenship, opportunities and equality of life
  • and who actively participate in civic society.